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the saddest story

The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison

Read with Feminist Book Club @FeministBC 

This is my contribution to the discussion:

I think the main theme of the novel is the self-hatred produced by a racist culture. The most overt image of this is Pecola’s pathological desire for blue eyes, but it is also powerfully evident in the character of Geraldine, mother of Junior, who is one of the women who ‘come from Mobile’ and dedicate themselves to the erasure of their natural ‘funk’, and even more so in Pauline, Pecola’s mother. I found Pauline’s story the most affecting, because she was unable to show any tenderness to her own children, yet doted on the white child of the family she worked for (the berry cobbler scene is as disturbing to me as the rape) and was described by them as the perfect servant. Evidently, she doesn’t neglect Pecola because she is a cold, cruel person, but because a racist culture has ingrained in her a hatred of what it has designated as blackness (her husband’s fecklessness, her home’s hopeless poverty and cheerlessness, and her children’s ‘ugliness’). Morrison, in describing her behaviour to her family, ends by saying ‘and the world itself agreed with her’.

I think this blackness-as-designated-by-white-supremacy is the same thing as the ‘funk’ that the ‘women from Mobile’ try to expunge from themselves. Geraldine’s son yearns for blackness in sexual terms when he longs to play with black boys. White-supremacy (and the black self-hatred that is its offspring) is a hatred and fear of the black body and its sexuality.

Just before the rape scene, Cholly’s ‘freedom’ is described. I struggle to understand this idea of freedom, but it seems to arise from a litany of proscriptions he has transgressed. He has refused to conform to the demands of white supremacy, but as no alternative narrative to make sense of his experience or identity is available to him (Morrison suggests music could provide one, pointing, I guess, to the Black Arts movement and the reclamation of Black beauty/body/sexuality) he is almost a person without socialisation, without culture, so he can only behave reactively or out of feeling. As his experiences are largely negative, so are his actions. He is able to rape his own daughter without shame, in fact partially out of confused tenderness towards her, as he has no longer any way to make sense of relationships or the feeling of love – or, perhaps, since all his feelings are despised by white supremacy, they are in total confusion, with no way to distinguish kind from cruel, transgression from goodness.

Claudia (and her sister) is to some extent liberated from racialized self-loathing, as exemplified by her rejection of the white dolls she was given. However, I don’t think Morrison has made Claudia immune, rather, she is pointing out that people enact moments and points of resistance to the onslaught of the white supremacist hegemony.

I loved the book. I felt every word of it was a poisoned dart in the flesh of oppression. I was quite rightly discomforted.