Essay on 'The Bluest Eye' Book Review

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Summary

This book takes place at the end of the Great Depression, and nine-year-old Claudia and ten-year-old Frieda MacTeer live with their parents in Lorain, Ohio. The two girls’ parents are more concerned with their problems than paying attention to their children, but there's an undercurrent of affection and security in their household. Henry Washington and a little girl Pecola are taken in by the MacTeers as boarders since Pecola's father tries to burn down his family's home. Claudia and Frieda are very sorry for her and do everything in their power to make her feel at home. After a while, Pecola can return to her home, where her life is very complicated. Her father drinks, her mother has been distant, and the two of them sometimes beat each other. Her brother, Sammy, always runs away. Pecola is constantly making claims that if she had blue eyes, she'd be cherished and her life would be transformed. She continues to gain proof of her sense of ugliness; a grocer looks straight through her as she buys candy, boys make fun of her, and a light-skinned girl, Maureen, makes fun of her for a while.

Pecola’s parents, Pauline and Cholly, have had a very tough life. Her mother claims to always be feeling alone and often loses herself in movies, reaffirming her conviction that she is ugly and that passionate love is reserved for the pretty. She works for a white woman as a housekeeper and loves her house while despising her own home. Cholly, the father of Pecola, was abandoned by his parents and adopted by his great aunt, who died when he was a young teenager. He has lost interest in most things, including his marriage and his own life. One day Pecola was washing dishes and her father Cholly came home and raped her. When Pecola’s mother comes home and finds her on the floor, unconscious, she doesn’t believe Pecola in what happened and beats her. When Claudia and Frieda find out that Pecola has been impregnated by her father, they want the baby to live, unlike the rest of the neighborhood. The girls sacrifice the money they've saved for a bicycle and plant marigold seeds. They say that Pecola's baby will live if the flowers are alive, but the flowers fail to bloom, and Pecola’s baby dies as it is born prematurely. Cholly then runs away after raping Pecola a second time, and Pecola goes mad, believing that she now has blue eyes and that her wish has been fulfilled.

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Themes and ideas

The overarching theme is how the black female characters internalize their idea of beauty with what the white idea of beauty is, not how they see themselves, but how the external white world sees them and deems them worthy human beings. Implicate signals that whiteness is preferable seem to be everywhere, including the white baby doll offered to Claudia, the idealization of Shirley Temple, the presumption that light-skinned Maureen is prettier than all the other black girls, the idealization of white attractiveness in film, and Pauline Breedlove's affinity for the little white girl she works for over her daughter. Also, the violence black girls and women experience from the men in their lives, and how they suffer at the hands of these men because of the violence and humiliations they experienced as boys and young men.

Pecola believes that if she had blue eyes she would be loved beautiful and respected and not feel ugly and unwanted. I also think there was a lot of transference of emotions, for example, the violence Cholly perpetrated on Pecola as the result of the violence done to him as a child and young man. All of these characters are victims of violence done to them as children and young adults. They express repressed anger over the hateful treatment they receive by being violent to those they love. Pecola's preference for blue eyes, while somewhat irrational, is founded on one perspective of her world; she insists that the cruelty she sees and encounters is linked to how she is seen. If she had pretty blue eyes, Pecola believes, people wouldn't want to do awful things in front of her or to her.

The Bluest Eye is a story that holds a lot of power and consists of many, often conflicting, interlocking stories. Characters share tales that make sense of their lives, and these stories have a great influence on both good and bad. The stories told about Pecola in the eyes of the adults contradict both Claudia and Freidas’ views of her, each side making their claims about Pecola’s worth and her beauty. When the adults describe Pecola's pregnancy and wish that her baby will die, Claudia and Frieda want to reinvent this scenario as a promising one, positioning themselves as saviors.

Discussion of a passage

Pages 173-174

The passage discusses the conversation between Pecola and the so-called magician with the ability to grant wishes when Pecola asks for blue eyes and white skin so that she can be beautiful. The magician looks at her with sorrow, reflecting on how society has implanted this ideal of beauty into the mind of a child, and he is disappointed that there is nothing he can do to help. He realizes after talking with Pecola further that she will not change her idea of beauty until she is changed to what her idea of beauty is, the beauty standard of white society. This passage is deeply important to the theme of the novel and is prominent in everyday life. The deeper meaning of this passage is the white beauty standard being forced upon black society, and society’s views of what is beautiful and what is not. Pecola wants to be beautiful in the eyes of society, which has influenced her own opinions of perfection so much that she doesn’t see herself as beautiful without these standards. The magician in this passage symbolizes those who see beauty as differences, who see good looks as being without standards, and who see Pecola as the beautiful girl she truly is, with no need for change.

Discussion of character

Pecola Breedlove is the character that comes to mind because of what she went through and what was done to her, and her belief that if only she had blue eyes she would be beautiful and loved. This was tragic because this obsession drove her mad, but she was finally happy in her madness. Young black girls grew up in a white culture that never acknowledged them or their worth or their attributes and beauty – their black beauty, not a kind of beauty that was compared to what the white culture deemed acceptable and beautiful.

When the novel starts, Pecola is a frail and delicate girl, and by the end of the novel, she is broken down and is now almost entirely ruined by violence. At the beginning of the book, two desires form the foundation of her inner life, the first being that she believes that she needs to learn how to get people to love her; second, when compelled to see the brutal struggles of her parents, she desperately wants to vanish. Neither desire is given, and Pecola is pulled even deeper into her dream realm, which is her only shield against the pain of her life. She hopes that getting the blue eyes she wants will change both how people view her and what she is forced to see. By the conclusion of the book, she deludingly insists that her wish has been fulfilled, but only at the expense of her sanity. Pecola's destiny is worse than death because she is not able to escape from her world, and she is forced to exist in the harsh world she has only known all of her life.

Concluding reflection

The Bluest Eye is relevant to today’s cultural and racial oppression experienced by women of color and black girls and women in particular, and how white society imposes its ideal of beauty on black girls and women. In turn, they feel worthless and ugly because they cannot attain blue eyes, white skin, or blonde hair. This can be shown in the book in the scene where Pecola drank all that white milk, which can be interpreted as a metaphor for possibly taking the white inside her and having it come through her skin. This is just another example of how Pecola wishes to have white skin and blue eyes, the white beauty standard that has been imposed onto her and countless other black girls and women. Pecola believed she needed to obtain this so that she would be acceptable and not be seen as ugly, unwanted, and worthless.

In the article “Six Seuss Books Bore a Bias” from The New York Times, the issue of black identity and how living in a predominantly white culture affects black children is covered in this piece, and shows great correlation to The Bluest Eye. This article states that racism must be eliminated from society and culture, including, most specifically, from that of children. Teaching a child to despise or feel afraid of themselves is a violation of their innocence and an obstacle to their great potential. There are many older books and shows that are based heavily on racial stereotypes, including Pepé Le Pew, Speedy Gonzales, Mammy Two Shoes, and most prominently, the six books of Dr. Seuss that are now in question to be no longer published. The author of this article states that “because of racist and insensitive imagery, saying ‘these books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,’ I cheered as some bemoaned another victim of so-called ‘cancel culture’.”

This novel is also relevant to today’s issues with racism towards the black community, and this is shown in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

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Essay on ‘The Bluest Eye’ Book Review. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/essay-on-the-bluest-eye-book-review/> [Accessed 16 Jun. 2024].
Essay on ‘The Bluest Eye’ Book Review [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2024 Apr 18 [cited 2024 Jun 16]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/essay-on-the-bluest-eye-book-review/
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