by Toni Morrison
Description via Goodreads
You looked at them and wondered why you were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had accepted it without question (39)
I can't remember the last time I pitied a character as much as I pitied Pecola Breedlove. While she isn't the main character of this novel she is easily the most important in my opinion. Pecola Breedlove wants blue eyes, like those creepy baby dolls that everyone adores. But she will never have those eyes and she will never be adored as they are--not socially, not romantically, not even adored by her mother or father. In fact, because of her blackness, for she is definitely the wrong kind of black, she's somewhat an outcast within the black community.
Pecola Breedlove. An interesting name. A revealing name. One quick google search* told me the name Pecola means: (1) You sense and feel much that you do not understand, and sometimes you are alarmed at your thoughts and wonder about their origin and (2) You crave understanding and affection but your intensity of desire and your self-consciousness prevent you from finding the happiness you desire. Another search** told me it simply meant "a brazen woman". I find these two definitions somewhat contradicting...the former being more reflective of the trauma Pecola experiences in the book. The latter seems more ironic. It's as ironic as her last name, Breedlove. Pecola is not exactly the product of love and she most likely won't experience any herself.
In fact, The Bluest Eye and the concept of beauty found within it (having blue eyes, lighter skin, non-curly hair) is only one theme that makes this book relevant. It's also about love, or the lack thereof. It's about letting someone or something have so much control over your thoughts and perception that you ultimately accept it as truth. And the truth for Pecola and many blacks in the 1940s is that they weren't lovable-- because of their skin color, they were not deserving of love. And so they did not love each other. Pecola's father hated himself (he had some daddy issues) and so he hated everyone else. He raped his daughter and then hated himself more and his daughter for what he'd done...in this way Morrison marries the concept of love and beauty.
For some reason I was slightly shocked by the sexual content in this book at first...but then I got over it. There are a few graphic scenes, but in the grand scheme they're not inappropriate. Sex and sexuality are outwardly taboo, but it's the thread connecting everyone. Sex created those lighter-skinned and darker- skinned blacks. Sex was veiled as love. Sex numbed the pain and sometimes it fueled the pain. Morrison marries love, beauty, hate, sexuality and history.
In the end, I didn't like this book. But not because of the writing, no, the writing is brilliant, poetic...didactic at times, but some people need things spelled out for them. On a personal note, as someone of color, I've heard these lessons on love and beauty pretty much all my life, so that's probably why it came off as preachy. But it deserves to be read.
*The first search led me here
**The second search led me here
The Bluest Eye