Book Review: The Bluest Eye

I picked up a copy of Toni Morrison’s Nobel Prize-winning novel, The Bluest Eye sometime last year in a Barnes and Noble haul. As is typical of me, I often buy 4-5 books at a time while already immersed in 2-3 books, so the new titles get temporarily shelved.

After finishing World of Wonders last week, I was in the mood for fiction that wasn’t too long and settled on The Bluest Eye. In one afternoon, I breezed through most of the book and finished it a day later. The story was captivating, but in a very sad way.

My favorite book (and musical) is Victor Hugo’s Les Misèrables which is full of miserable people. However, the overarching theme is one of grace and redemption. One the other hand, The Bluest Eye was pretty much just full of miserable people.

The ruin of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, is told mostly by the narrative of a school friend, Claudia MacTeer, through vignettes that are broken up into the four seasons. While the way Claudia describes situations and processes her feelings is that of a 10-year-old, her vocabulary and purported knowledge of the histories of the adult characters don’t match her youth. It’s almost as if you are reading a story that adult Claudia wrote of events of her childhood.

I felt that there was false levity demonstrated by characters, most of whom didn’t consider themselves bad or evil because they rationalized—some through relativity, others ignorance, and others religious convictions—that they were inherently good. However, I didn’t find any displays of altruism and few of authentic generosity.

“… for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. …We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.”

The Bluest Eye (1970, First Vintage International Edition, 2007) p.205-206

The foreword, written by the author decades after publishing the book did give a bit of context into her purpose in writing the story of Pecola. The character was intentionally written to be an unfairly pathetic creature who is a by-product of a cycle of tough situations and racism, perpetuated by the choices of adults around her and the immaturity of her juvenile peers. Yet even the author notes that she was not quite satisfied with the end result.

I’m sure the book created waves in society and culture in 1970—further bringing to light the storied past of racial and gender oppression in America. I’m assuming it also caused a ruckus in its descriptions of womanhood and sexual relations from the point of view of women. I guess in the current age of leave-nothing-to-the-imagination entertainment industry and even ads for postpartum awareness, it’s no longer shockingly notable to be presented with the woman’s experience—for which I am glad. I wasn’t around in the 70s and didn’t do much research into original reviews of this book, but perhaps Morrison was at the forefront of a movement to normalize the experiences of a woman instead of perpetuating the female mystique.

Undoubtedly, Morrison is a skillful writer and storyteller. This was my first time reading her work and I would definitely give another of her titles a try. However, I’m not sure The Bluest Eye is a work that I would recommend as a must-read. It felt like an understandably-required high school English novel rather than a pleasant fictitious escape that I admittedly was looking for.

This book may be for you if you also like: presumably anything else by Toni Morrison; Their Eyes Were Watching God (book); fiction; novels told in form of a memoir; America in the late 1930s/early 1940s; sad stories.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s