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Quest for Personal Identity in Toni Morrison's the Bluest Eye

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Post World War I, many new opportunities were given to the growing and

expanding group of African Americans living in the North. Almost 500,00

African Americans moved to the northern states between 1910 and 1920. This

was the beginning of a continuing migration northward. More than 1,500,000

blacks went north in the 1930's and 2,500,00 in the 1940's. Life in the

North was very hard for African Americans. Race riots, limited housing

resulting in slum housing, and restricted job opportunities were only a few

of the many hardships that the African American people had to face at this

time. Families often had to separate, social agencies were overcrowded with

people that all needed help, crime rates increased and many other resulting

problems ensued. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison takes place during this

time period. A main theme in this novel is the "quest for individual

identity and the influences of the family and community in that quest"

(Trescott). This theme is present throughout the novel and evident in many

of the characters. Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove, and Pauline

Breedlove and are all embodiments of this quest for identity, as well as

symbols of the quest of many of the Black northern newcomers of that time.

The Breedlove family is a group of people under the same roof, a family by

name only. Cholly (the father) is a constantly drunk and abusive man. His

abusive manner is apparent towards his wife Pauline physically and towards

his daughter Pecola sexually. Pauline is a "mammy" to a white family and

continues to favor them over her biological family. Pecola is a little black

girl with low self esteem. The world has led her to believe that she is ugly

and that the epitome of "beautiful" requires blue eyes. Therefore every

night she prays that she will wake up with blue eyes.

Brought up as a poor unwanted girl, Pecola Breedlove desires the acceptance

and love of society. The image of "Shirley Temple beauty" surrounds her. In

her mind, if she was to be beautiful, people would finally love and accept

her. The idea that blue eyes are a necessity for beauty has been imprinted on

Pecola her whole life. "If [I] looked different, beautiful, maybe Cholly

would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they would say, `Why look

at pretty eyed Pecola. We mustn't do bad things in front of those pretty

[blue] eyes'" (Morrison 46). Many people have helped imprint this ideal of

beauty on her. Mr. Yacowbski as a symbol for the rest of society's norm,

treats her as if she were invisible. "He does not see her, because for him

there is nothing to see. How can a fifty-two-year-old white immigrant

storekeeper... see a little black girl?" (Morrison 48). Her classmates also

have an effect on her. They seem to think that because she is not beautiful,

she is not worth anything except as the focal point of their mockery. "Black

e mo. Black e mo. Yadaddsleepsnekked. Black e mo black e mo ya dadd sleeps

nekked. Black e mo..." (Morrison 65). Shouted by her classmates on such a

regular basis, this scorn seemed not to penetrate anymore. As if it were not

bad enough being ridiculed by children her own age, adults also had to mock

her. Geraldine, a colored woman, who refused to tolerate "niggers", happened

to walk in while Pecola was in her house. "`Get out,' she said her voice

quiet. `You nasty little black bitch. Get out of my house'" (Morrison 92). By

having an adult point out to her that she really was a "nasty" little girl,

it seems all the more true. Pecola was never able to get away from this kind

of ridicule.

At home she was put through the same thing, if not worse because her family

members were the ones who were supposed to love her. Her mother was not able

conceal her obvious affection towards a white girl over her. One day as

Pecola was visiting her mother at the home where she is working, Pecola

accidentally knocked over a blueberry pie. Obviously burned by the hot

pastry, her mother completely ignored Pecola's feelings of pain and instead

tended to the comforting of her white "daughter". "`Crazy floor,

mess ...look what you...get on floor , my floor....'

Her words were hotter and darker than the smoking berries. The little [white]

girl in pink started to cry. Mrs. Breedlove turned to her. `Hush, baby, hush.

Don't cry no more'" (Morrison 109). Her mother viewed Pecola as an obstacle

that had the potential to get in the way of her white charge's happiness and

consequently her happiness. Her mother



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