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Toni Morrison's the Bluest Eye - a Look at Sexism and Racism

Essay by review  •  March 19, 2011  •  Book/Movie Report  •  1,851 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,576 Views

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Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye:

A look at Sexism and Racism

Toni Morrison, the author of The Bluest Eye, centers her novel around two things: beauty and wealth in their relation to race and a brutal rape of a young girl by her father. Morrison explores and exposes these themes in relation to the underlying factors of black society: racism and sexism. Every character has a problem to deal with and it involves racism and/or sexism. Whether the character is the victim or the aggressor, they can do nothing about their problem or condition, especially when concerning gender and race. Morrison's characters are clearly at the mercy of preconceived notions maintained by society. Because of these notions, the racism found in The Bluest Eye is not whites against blacks. But instead it is about the racism of lighter colored blacks against darker colored blacks and rich blacks against poor blacks. Along with racism within the black community, sexism is exemplified both against women and against men. As Morrison investigates the racism and sexism of the community, she gives the reader more perspective as to why certain characters do or say certain things.

Morrison provides the reader with a light-skinned black character whose racist attitudes affect the poorer, darker blacks in the community, especially the main characters, Claudia MacTeer and Pecola Breedlove. Maureen Peal comes from a rich black family and triggers admiration along with envy in every child at school, including Claudia. Although Maureen is light-skinned, she embodies everything that is considered "white," at least by Claudia's standards: "Patent leather shoes with buckles...fluffy sweaters the color of lemon drops tucked into skirts with pleats... brightly colored knee socks with white borders, a brown velvet coat trimmed in white rabbit fur, and a matching muff" (P.62). But Claudia and her sister Frieda are able to recognize "the thing that made Maureen beautiful and not them" was only in terms of its effects on other people (P.74). Despite knowing that they are "nicer, brighter," they cannot ignore "the honey voices of parents and aunts and the obedience in the eyes of [their] peers, the slippery light in the eyes of their teachers" when Maureen is around or the topic of conversation (P.74). The way Maureen dresses and behaves in front of adults is not the only way she affects Claudia and Frieda. With racist comments such as, "What do I care about her old black daddy...and you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos. I am cute," she infuriates the girls, for in their eyes Maureen is black too. Racist attitudes like Maureen's affect the poorer, darker blacks and can eventually lead them to think racist thoughts of their own.

Pauline Breedlove, Pecola's mother, experiences racism within the black community when she moves to Lorain. Being a dark-skinned black woman from the south, she does not understand why "northern colored folk was different... and why they were no better than whites for meanness" (P.117). She recognizes the hierarchy, or the "difference between colored people and niggers" within the black community, especially from the light-skinned women she encounters (P.87). One of these light-skinned black women is Geraldine, Junior's mother, who believes "colored people were neat and quiet; niggers were dirty and loud" (P.87). She even tells her son that she does "not like him to play with niggers" (P.87). The other light-skinned women of Lorain feel the same way as Geraldine about dark-skinned black people, which forced Pauline, without even realizing it, to place racial stereotypes on the light-skinned black people in her community.

The racist attitudes of both blacks and whites lead Pauline to a very vulnerable state of loneliness, so she finds comfort even in taking a job as a servant at a white family's house, the Fishers. She finds contentment in this companionship, despite the fact that she is demeaned the family, as exemplified in the words of Mr. Fisher, who states of Pauline, "I would rather sell her blueberry cobblers than real estate," indicating the Fisher's assumption that a black servant could not possibly understand the commercial world (P.127). Pauline is so blinded by her loneliness and all the racism she has endured that she does not even realize what her employers think about her. Because one of the few jobs open to dark-skinned black women is a servant or a nanny, she is forced to take this job and ultimately ignores her family. Her life falls apart right in front of her, but she cannot do anything about it because the racism she receives affects her so much. Racism has been so ingrained in Pauline, and most of the characters in the novel, that it is not even questioned, but rather accepted as reality.

Racism is not the only thing that is detrimental within the black community. While racism is one of the most important themes in The Bluest Eye, the topics of sexism and sexual abuse are central to a novel based around a rape. Morrison starts the story with the gruesome fact that Cholly Breedlove will rape his daughter Pecola and she will have his baby. There are two more sexual encounters in the novel where force is involved: one with two white men forcing Cholly Breedlove to have sex in front of them, and the other with Henry Washington forcing himself upon Frieda MacTeer. These sexual encounters differ in their victims, aggressors, and reactions afterward. Although there exist these variations, Morrison channels the idea of sexism within the black community and sheds light on how much of a problem it really is.

When Henry Washington, a man who rents a room from the MacTeers, nearly molests Frieda, her father protects her by almost killing him. In most people's eyes, this form of rape, a man forcing himself on a woman, has the most common people as the aggressor and the victim: the male is the aggressor and the female is the victim. And her father chasing after him shows the common form of reaction to a rape, when a father feels hatred towards the aggressor. Freida's concerns about being "ruined... like the Maginot Line," a local prostitute, and being affected negatively for the rest of her life are commonplace for

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