In numerous cultures, there is an ideal beauty that most people attempt to acquire. However, imagine a scenario in which beauty were impossible to grasp and there were nothing one could do to be ‘beautiful’. In the novel the Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison recounts the story of a powerless girl struggling to prosper against the stereotypes and racism she is up against and growing up being convinced that she is unappealing, useless, and dirty. For Pecola Breedlove, this state of longing for beauty and hatred itself is reality. The definition of beauty in the society of the time involves, blue eyes, blonde hair, and pale white skin. The novel exhibits the stereotypes that Pecola struggles with each and every day. The novel focuses on the theme of how a single definition of beauty can damage an entire community.
The novel makes it clear that society and culture encourages the black children to worship ‘whiteness’. Through film, novels, food, magazines and advertisements, the characters are constantly exposed to pictures of representations of whiteness. Pecola the black protagonist completely accepts and embraces the white definition of beauty. From the moment Pecola enters the world she is exposed to the raw standard of beauty. Soon after giving birth to Pecola, Mrs. Breedlove defines her as ugly through the words, “[She had a] head of pretty hair, but the Lord was she ugly” (126). Throughout Mrs. Breedlove’s life she has been forced to acquire the standards of beauty, subjecting Pecola to a standard of beauty from the beginning of her life. While eating a ‘Mary Jane’ candy, “She remembers the Mary Janes. Each pale yellow wrapper had a picture on it. A picture of little Mary Jane, for whom the candy is named. Smiling white face. Blonde hair in gentle disarray, blue eyes looking at her out of a world of clean comfort. The eyes are petulant, mischievous. To Pecola they are simply pretty. She eats the candy, and its sweetness is good.” (50). The Mary Jane candy was revealed as a representation of white beauty by this quotation. In fact, as Pecola explains the ‘perfect’, sweet, easy and loving qualities that is identified with the Mary Jane candy, she is actually explaining the characteristics of the white culture. Pecola’s desire to be considered beautiful becomes an unhealthy obsession, and reveals her commitment to submit herself into ‘white beauty’. As Pecola ends her statement with “Be Mary Jane”, Pecola’s inclination to be white rather than black is revealed while also highlighting the beauty standards and how it negatively affects the young black girls. The horrific standard is maintained throughout Pecola’s life, and Pecola’s self hatred and doubt grows.
However, Claudia remains free. When she is young, Claudia does not understand why being white was so magnificent and rejects the white standard of beauty. When Claudia is given the gift of a doll with white characteristics, she states, “all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured”(20). Rather then finding the doll beautiful, she wanted to “dismember it” (20). Claudia is resistant to the idea that blacks automatically adhere to the white beauty standards. Claudia’s youth prevents her from conforming to the white standard of beauty.
Not only are the black children affected by the racism and the power of whiteness, so are the adults. Pauline Breedlove, Pecola’s mother, strengthens the impression the girls have received of white superiority. Mrs. Breedlove becomes obsessed with “beauty, order, cleanliness, and praise” receives from her employers, the Fishers, house, and ultimately abandons her own house’s cleanliness (127). Mrs. Breedloves dirty and ugly world consists of Pecola and Sammy. She escapes her reality by going to work everyday where she can have order and control. Mrs. Breedlove distanced herself from her own reality as she found happiness in the Fishers home. The joy derived from the cleanliness, which resulted from the purity of whiteness. In addition, when Mrs. Breedlove is in the movie theater and loses her front tooth on a piece of candy, she is immediately brainwashed to think that she is ugly and worthless. Mrs. Breedlove, “just didn’t care no more after that. [She] let [her] hair go back, plaited it up, and settled down to just being ugly, [and] everything went then” (123). From going to the movies religiously, Mrs. Breedlove has developed the mindset that in order to be happy you have to dress a certain way. She believes that according to the standard of beauty with a missing tooth she is flawed, so she gives up on her life and lets herself go. Thus it is apparent that the theme of whiteness and beauty is present through each character.
The plot effectively conveys the theme of destructive stereotyping and discrimination. An African American woman, Geraldine, finds Pecola after being persuaded into the house by her son. Geraldine “looked at Pecola. Saw the dirty torn dress, the plaits sticking out on her head, hair matted where the plaits had come undone, the muddy shoes….’Get out’, she said, her voice quiet. “You nasty little black bitch. Get out of my house’” (92). This quotation unveils the painful truth of Geraldine’s entire first impressions and judgments of Pecola. Geraldine’s snap reaction to Pecola is solely based on her appearance without even considering her situation. This quotation conveys Morrison’s message of the severe stereotypes and the toxic nature of appearance-based judgment. The black characters are characterized by being disgusting. It is suggested that the Breedlove’s are stuck in poverty because of their ugliness, and their house is a clear representation of that. They “lived there because they were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly. Although their poverty was traditional and stultifying, it was not unique. But their ugliness was unique. No one could have convinced them that they were not relentlessly and aggressively ugly,” (38). Everything is definitely not what it seems. As a matter of fact, the Breedlove home is a place of pain and neglect with no happiness anywhere near.
It is essential for all races and individuals to fully comprehend how mass culture affects, influences and forms values and ideals for all cultures and for all individuals. In order for people aspire to fight and develop to their fullest potential, people need to realize it first. The Bluest Eye gives a vivid portrait of the subtle and powerful cultural influence and the impact it makes on the community. By explaining the impact of cultural ideas on black people, the racial oppression functions in the context of white-defined internalization of appearance and discussed its harmful effect on African-Ameicans as well as others within their community.