In The Bluest Eye, the society that is depicted here leans towards a certain standard of beauty. Most of the characters in the novel consider being white as the epitome of beauty. It is no wonder even African-American girls were cultured to aspire to be white when they grow up. These girls have been raised in an environment that frowns upon black beauty. They are considered to be ugly. They are always looked down upon.
The Bluest Eyes Beauty vs Ugliness
Beauty Standards on Bluest Eyes
This societal standard for preferring white beauty influences the attitudes of many people in the novel. We have characters such as Pecola who have frequently been considered as ugly. This is the reason why pecola wanted the bluest eyes which when considered carefully was the symbol of beauty and purity that was specific to white people. She had a strong conviction that if she had blue eyes she would be beautiful, hence showing the inculcated belief in the minds to the character in the book that white beauty was superior.
As the novel progresses, the characters are at many times subjected to specific images that portray whiteness. This is done through books, movies, toys, magazines, candy and advertisements. According to Portales Marco, Shirley Temple is a person of concern to many of the African-American characters. Frieda and Pecola are seen to bow over her beauty. They pictured her as the culmination of beauty.
The Bluest Eyes: Movies Role
Later, Mrs. Breedlove is depicted as leaning in the societal standard of beauty when she spends long periods at the movies. Morrison puts it there in the dark Pauline was introduced to the ultimate form of beauty. She generated ideas that were based in envy and marred by pure insecurity.
At the end, it is said that she was unable to look at a face and not be able to assign a measure of beauty. Through this, she stripped her mind of previous perception of beauty and came to see herself as ugly.
You would be wrong to think she was enjoying the content of the movie. Her main concern was just to admire the white actresses in the movies. She even spends days and days at the movies just admiring them and fantasizing about them. She always wonders how she could be like them or how she could be part and parcel of their world.
Social Environment of The Bluest Eyes
As the novel progresses, the aspect of whiteness being the society's standard of beauty gets a new perspective. It begins to lean on the inner side rather than focusing on the exterior of the body. Hence, it is viewed as the signifying factor of a person's value and worth.
Thus, many characters would rate their value in the community, family or the society as a whole in terms of their beauty. The sense of self-worth was to be derived from the ideals of beauty that the society has set.
This internalization of beauty and ugliness had some detrimental effects as denoted in the novel. Some of the lives of the characters remained in misery owing to this perception. An example could be given of the Breedloves. The narrator of the novel tries to suggest that their poverty stricken status is closely related to their perception of beauty and ugliness. They believe that they are bound to be in poverty permanently since they are ugly. Their attitudes, hopes and aspirations are all influenced by their self-perception of ugliness hence they see themselves as people who were born to suffer.
Another example of a character that internalized this perception of beauty and ugliness is Pecola. She experiences a lot of abuse in her life when she was at home and at one point she was neglected in her own home. She does not see this as mere misfortune. She believes that she experiences this due to the fact that she is ugly according to the societal standard of beauty. She is in fact rationalizing her suffering and trying to justify why she deserved it.
A rational stand on this would be that anyone regardless of race or color has some fundamental rights that should be ensured at all times. The fact that one is white and another is not should not be a basis for any form of discrimination.
When some characters try to use beauty and ugliness as the justification for the ills that they are facing, it shows a problem of self-esteem and low self-worth. Indeed, the example of these two characters shows the devastating effect that the internalization of the society's beauty of standard has on the lives of the characters.
The society's standard of beauty also seems to empower some characters in the novel. There is the case of Maureen Peal. The narrator depicts the presence of her beauty to be a force of power. She has lighter skin and eyes as compared to other children in school. According to the society, she is beautiful owing to her lighter complexion. Even though she is of African descent, she is more white than most of the black people. Her beauty is depicted to have the ability to stop violent experiences that Pecola faces in school especially at the hands of boys.
The teasing boys consider Maureen to be attractive and thus they would not want to misbehave under her gaze. This ingrains a certain belief in the mind of Pecola with regard to the power that beauty possesses.
The Bluest Eyes: Pecola Prays for Blue Eyes
Pecola starts to believe that beauty has some sort of power. It is at this point that Pecola starts to long for the blue eyes. She symbolizes the blue eyes as the ultimate form of beauty and whiteness. She strongly believes that once she has those blue eyes, she would be able to escape her misery. She wants to see life in a different perspective. According to her, beauty is the form of power that can save her from her sad and painful encounters in life. This longing for the blue eyes quickly becomes an obsession as it seems that more and more misfortunes keep coming her way.
It could be said that this longing for blue eyes was an unrealistic action on Pecola's part, because she would never have them in reality. But this longing provides an insight into her world, beliefs and her thinking. Since she saw Maureen being considered by the boys as beautiful to the extent that they would not want to behave badly in front of her, then she imagines the same of herself. Maybe if she had those blue eyes, people would not want to do bad things in her presence.
She even stares at the mirror to try and figure out where her ugliness comes from with livid rage against herself. In The Bluest Eyes passage about Pecola being a mirror, she pictures the dandelion weeds and sympathizes with them. She thinks that she suffers the same fate as them. This is because as people view dandelions as weeds, she also thinks society views her as a weed.
The Bluest Eyes Theme of Madness
It is later seen in the novel that this obsession leads to her turning mad. But when she is not in a mad state, she realizes that she has blue eyes. However, this comes at a cost. She had to forgo the ability to see in order to see herself with blue eyes. Thus, we can deduce that the society's standard of beauty can have a detrimental effect on anyone who internalizes it.
The outward appearance of a person should never have an impact on the inner person. As denoted by the novel, through Pecola's case, beauty has some certain form of power, therefore its internalization could wield some destructive power on people, just as it had on Pecola.
Beauty and Use of Color in The Bluest Eyes
Morrison in this novel, depicts the extent to which the standards of white beauty have a negative impact on the lives of black women and girls. Even adult women have been taught to hate the color of their own bodies. They try to transfer this hate on to their children.
A case can be given of Mrs Breedlove. She seems to agree that Pecola is ugly because she does not conform to the society's standard of beauty. It is due to this that Geraldine goes ahead to even curse Pecola due to her blackness.
Let's also take an example of Claudia. She was given a white baby doll not by coincidence. It is because of society's standard of beauty. And even when she has a neutral position on whiteness and blackness, the narrator hints that she will just get there given time.
It is hinted that she will get there during adolescence, since this is where most people start taking note of themselves and maturation starts to occur. It is at this point that she will start accepting the society's view on matters and embark on the self-hate that black have on themselves.
According to Paul Douglas, as time progresses, Claudia proves to stand her ground against the societal standard of beauty. She proves that an individual can transcend the thinking of society.
Claudia prays that Pecola's baby survives all the turmoil. She wants Pecola's baby to counteract the society's set standards on beauty. She hopes that the perception that blue eyed, blonde haired girls are most beautiful will be changed by the black baby. She envisions a time where people will shift their mindsets and accept blackness as a form of beauty.
Geraldine tries to portray herself as colored rather than being a nigger. She even goes to the extent of teaching her own son the difference colored people and niggers since her son was somehow light skinned and hence acceptable in the eyes of the society.
The society's standard leaves Geraldine to view herself as somehow superior and more civilized in her own eyes. It goes further to make her segregate her own child from playing with other black children. Through the example of Geraldine, Toni Morrisons shows how people go to various extents to abandon their true identities all in the name of fitting into societal standards, in this case those of beauty.
Still on the society's perception of beauty, we can see that some people also try to whiten themselves. This is true of Soaphead Church's family. They had the habit of marrying light-skinned blacks so that they could lighten up their family features. What a tragedy!
Indeed the society that is the highlight of Toni Morrison's novel set a standard that glorified whiteness as a form of beauty. Most of the characters in the novel try to conform to this standard at the expense of their own cultures and identities.
The blacks in this novel were the hardest hit as they were perceived to be ugly according to the society's standards of beauty. What's more, the internalization of such a standard led to even more devastating effects on the victims. Their self-esteem and self-worth declined since they took it too personally.
Indeed, beauty is a relative concept to many people. But it cannot be set by a society, it purely relies upon an individual person to know what's beautiful in their own eyes.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. London: Pan Books, 1990. Print.
Seward, Adrienne Lanier, and Justine Tally, editors. INTRODUCTION. Toni Morrison: Memory and Meaning, University Press of Mississippi, 2014, pp. xv-2. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zwf30.5.
Kuenz, Jane. The Bluest Eye: Notes on History, Community, and Black Female Subjectivity. African American Review, vol. 27, no. 3, 1993, pp. 421431. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3041932.
Mahaffey, Paul Douglas. The Adolescent Complexities of Race, Gender, and Class in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. Race, Gender & Class, vol. 11, no. 4, 2004, pp. 155165. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43496824.
Portales, Marco. TONI MORRISON'S THE BLUEST EYE: SHIRLEY TEMPLE AND CHOLLY. The Centennial Review, vol. 30, no. 4, 1986, pp. 496506. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23738990.
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