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Book Review

The Optics of Race - A Review of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye

by Rena Lenchitz (’23)

            After reading Morrison’s Sula this past summer break, I was more than eager to be tasked with reading her first novel, The Bluest Eye, for my course in American Literature. After her passing in 2019, I decided I would be remiss to put off reading her notorious pieces any longer. In my opinion, Toni Morrison has become synonymous with the greatest American author of the 20th century. The explorations of race, sexuality, gender and morality have cemented her pieces as timeless classics. The Bluest Eye unearths a trope about race and identity that has become, now more than ever, pertinent to understanding how African American experiences have remained detrimentally diminished by the white majority of America.

            The foreword of the novel (written and released in the 90s) details how Morrison desperately hopes to convey this idea of self-loathing that is all too real for people of color — not only during the period in which the piece was written, but also in today’s world. The novel details a narrative about a young black girl, Pecola Breedlove, whose only wish in life is to leave her ugliness behind and be blessed with the world’s bluest eyes. In a glimpse into her traumatic upbringing and loss of innocence, Morrison guides the reader on a journey that focuses on one of humanity’s most potent and toxic emotions: hatred. As I leafed through the novel, Morrison’s eloquent diction did not mask the overwhelming amount of hatred felt by nearly all the characters; hate for others, hate for the way their world worked, and most importantly, hate for their own selves. The emotionally charged language is the most important element of the novel. Morrison’s purpose is to convey this desperate, vulnerable element of humanity through a black female child’s developmental experience.

            The novel uses seasonal changes to segment the storyline and signify the passage of time. Morrison discusses how this was initially not her intention, but it worked well in creating a structure that reinforced her characters’ development throughout the novel. Without revealing too many of the plot elements, there is one captivating scene that provides heart-wrenching closure and yet leaves the reader feeling as empty as ever. The novel closes with a conversation between two characters, later revealed to be Pecola Breedlove and Claudia MacTeer. Claudia sympathizes and reassures Pecola of her beauty after she has received the long-awaited gift of blue eyes. In this conversation, the reader aches for Pecola, who has been subject to unspeakable horrors no child should ever have to experience. This conversation is a delusion of Pecola’s; the only way to satisfy her most desired wish is to lose herself completely. Morrison uses this section of dialogue to convince the reader that despite attaining the most longed-for aspirations in one’s life, residual hatred of one’s self will never fully be extinguished.

            I could not help but dwell on a line from the very last page of the book: “Love is never any better than the lover”. In this case, Morrison refers to the experiences of her characters, all of whom attempt with such fervor to attain love in every aspect of their lives. It is in this line that Morrison reaffirms that love is a reflection of one’s character and cannot be reciprocated fully until one properly loves his or her self. The pain and anguish felt by those in The Bluest Eye speaks to the universality of all human’s emotional experiences; in her powerful and telling bildungsroman, Morrison masterfully intertwines the motif of hatred with the experience of black people throughout American history.

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