This book is Toni Morrison’s first novel. In it, the Nobel Prize winner tells the story of a girl called Pecola who is convinced that her blackness makes her ugly and worthless. Pecola lives a grim and loveless life, she comes to believe that it is her blackness that has made her life so terrible, and that if she had blue eyes, her life would be very different.
This is what Pecola and her family think of themselves:
You looked at them and wondered why they 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 each accepted it without question. And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it as a mantle over them, and went about the world with it.
That is the plot of the book in a nutshell. It’s a very short book, just about 150 pages or so, but extremely poignant and unforgettable, something I’ve come to appreciate in Toni Morrison novels.
I do however go in prepared mentally for a tough reading experience. So far, I’ve read Sula, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, and they have all been somewhat tough reads (Sula being the easiest, and Beloved the hardest). This is because Toni Morrison uses a very storyteller like style to tell her stories and at times her language is pretty colloquial.
However, probably because I am used to her writing, I didn’t find The Bluest Eye tough to read at all. It also helps that the issue of beauty being whitified is something that I a dark-skinned south Indian can easily relate to, considering how much white skin and light eyes are prized so highly in our Indian culture too. The writing in this book is linear and straightforward as well (especially when I compare it to Beloved, which was all over the place).
So, yes, in terms of readability, it’s fantastic. I raced through the book over a weekend.
In terms of writing too, the book wowed me. I loved how Morrison chose not to use a first person narrative for the most part of the story. The story is told through the voices of two young girls who are friends of Pecola. This style of writing gave me a little distance from Pecola’s troubles and helped me to analyze what was going wrong in Pecola’s life without getting drowned in her sorrows. Does that make sense? Morrison’s goal in writing this novel was not for readers to sob over Pecola’s fate, but to actually think through why she felt ugly and black, and how we in turn can be sensitive towards promoting one standard of beauty while ignoring others, and how we can avoid people internalizing racist ideas of beauty.
In terms of plot, I am a bit on the fence. There are a few incestuous episodes in the book, and there is a longish back story explaining the background of the culprit, but I did not think what the culprit went through in his youth justified his actions later. It also seemed like racism was being blamed for this person to commit incest, but frankly I didn’t really see a connection. Not everything can be blamed on racism, and this particular evil is so terrible that I couldn’t get with Morrison trying to explain his actions because of a fairly mild teenage trauma.
Apart from that, there is one other character, another child molester called Soaphead Church who is introduced into the story. Now a small book of 150 pages or so having two child molesters was a bit too much for me. Also, Soaphead really didn’t have much of a role to play, and his back story just made me anxious that there were more horrors in store for Pecola. Eventually, his role in the story was only very superficial and I wonder what could have been the reason for including him in this book.
Anyway these were my only nit-picks with the book. Overall I loved it as I expected to. Reading Toni Morrison feels like food for the soul. She never fails to move me or make me think about the way I view the world. Amazing writer, and I highly recommend this first novel of hers. It’s a universal read.
I read this book as part of my participation in the Classics club reading challenge. I haven’t been very participative of late, this is the first classic I’ve read this year. Hopefully, I get to more over the summer. I know I am definitely going to read more Toni Morrison for sure.
You can also purchase a copy of this book from Amazon