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Essay/Term paper: Quest for personal identity in toni morrison's the bluest eye

Essay, term paper, research paper:  English Papers

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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 foo...my floor,

mess ...look what you...get on out...crazy...crazy...my 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 refused to show any love to Pecola

because it might interfere with more important things. For a little girl, the

love of her mother is the most important love she can receive. Without that,

how can she think that she is worth anything at all?

Finally the rape by her father is the last evidence Pecola needs to believe

completely that she is an ugly unlovable girl. While in most cases a father

figure is one who little girls look to for guidance and approval, Cholly is

the exact opposite. He hurts Pecola in a physical way that in one attempt

measures up to the years of hurtful mockery. He took away from her the one

thing that was utterly and completely hers. After the rape, Pecola was never

even remotely the same:

She was so sad to see. Grown people looked away; children, those who were not

frightened by her, laughed outright. The damage done was total. She spent

her days, walking up and down her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so

distant only she could hear. Elbows bent, hands on shoulders, she flailed

her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly. Beating

the air, a winged but grounded bird intent on the blue void it could not

reach-could not even see- but which filled the valleys of the mind.

In short, after the rape, Pecola went insane. Pecola's search for identity

was defined by her everlasting desire to be loved. Her purpose in life was to

be beautiful and as a result of that to be loved. Her family and community

made it impossible for her to ever be sanely content.

Cholly Breedlove the father and eventually rapist of Pecola, is a bastard.

He was born to an unwed mother; his father ran away the day of his birth and

his mother abandoned him three days later. This horrible beginning reflects

his everyday views and actions. His mother attempted to leave him alone in

the world. His father figure was an empty void in his life. After his legal

guardian, his aunt, dies, Cholly decided that as an inner mission he needs to

find his father to find himself. To understand exactly who he is he needs to

look into his past. A long search ends in an extremely disappointing -

crushing- experience. As Cholly tries to explain his identity to his father,

he becomes flustered, "The man's eyes frightened him. `I just thought... I

mean my name is Cholly.'" His father's face changes as he begins to

understand. He shouts at Cholly, "Tell that bitch she got her money. Now, get

the fuck outta my face!'" (Morrison 156). This extremely embarrassing

encounter with his father scars him for life. His only image of a father

figure is one who brings pain. Cholly's sexual history starts off painfully

as well. His first attempt at sex was scorned, mocked and watched by two

white police officers. "The men had shone a flashlight right on his behind .

He had stopped, terrified. They chuckled. The beam of the flashlight did not

move. `Go on,' they said. `Go on and finish. And, nigger, make it good.' The

flashlight did not move" (Morrison 42). These first two episodes left a huge

impact on him that eventually caused him to do something that would not have

happened had he had proper guidance in those areas. Cholly's family (or lack

thereof) and his community as a boy ultimately influenced the way he was as a

man. Their effects on him molded his personality and as a result influenced

his identity.

Another cause of his eventual downfall was the way the community perceived

him. They treated him disrespectfully, talked about him behind his back, and

made a mockery of his name. After Cholly attempts to burn his own house down,

he earns a reputation as being a scoundrel. Who, "having put his family

outdoors, had catapulted himself beyond the reaches of human consideration.

He had joined the animals; was indeed, an old dog, a snake, a ratty nigger"

(Morrison 18). As long as society had an idea of who this man was and what

he stood for, it was impossible for Cholly to rise above them. While it is

hard to make a good first impression, it is near impossible to change that

impression. With that in mind he could go nowhere but down.

Cholly's ultimate downfall, occur simultaneously with the rape of Pecola:

The tenderness welled up in him, as he sank to his knees, his eyes on the

foot of his daughter. Crawling on all fours toward her, he raised his hand

and caught the foot in an upward stroke...His mouth trembled at the firm

sweetness of her flesh. He closed his eyes, letting his fingers dig into her

waist. The rigidness of her shocked body, the silence of her stunned throat,

was better than Pauline's easy laughter had been. The confused mixture of his

memories of Pauline and the doing of a wild and forbidden thing excited him,

and a bolt of desire ran down his genitals, giving it length, and softening

the lips of his anus. He wanted to fuck-tenderly. But the tenderness would

not hold. The tightness of her vagina was more than he could bear. His soul

seemed to slip down to his guts and fly out to her, and the gigantic thrust

he made into her then provoked the only sound she made-a hollow suck of air

in the back of her throat. Like the rapid loss of air from a circus balloon.

With this final act, Cholly lost all humanity conceivable. His search for

himself ended in destruction.

Pauline Breedlove, wife of Cholly, mother of Pecola, is a servant in a

white household. The times she was there working for this family without any

reminder of her own failures were the only times that she felt truly happy .

It was there and only there that she finally felt as if she were part of

something successful. In Pauline's search for her identity and ultimately

her happiness, she learned exactly what she would have to sacrifice so that

she could be content, as well as the difference between herself and the rest

of society. The movie theater helped her realize the stark difference between

her and other women. "Along with the idea of romantic love, she was

introduced to another-physical beauty. She was never able, after her

education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign it some category in

the scale of absolute beauty..." (Morrison 122). As Pauline learned what

physical beauty was, she also learned for what it stood. In that time

physical beauty was the ideal of Shirly Temple beauty, the equation of blond

hair and blue eyes to beauty. It signified equality, happiness, worthiness,

and overall comfort. If you were a white woman with those qualities living in

northern America you were content, it was that simple. As Pauline learned

these guidelines, she gave birth to Pecola and got a job as a black "mammy"

to a white family. She quickly learned that when she was in the company of

her white family, who were equal, happy, and worthy in the eyes of society,

it rubbed off on her and she felt as if she was part of all these positive

virtues. On the other hand, the more time she spent with her own black

family, the more time she realized how ugly, poor, and unworthy they were.

It was as if "the master had said, `you are ugly people.' They had looked

about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact,

support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every

glance" (Morrison 39). In coming upon this realization, Pauline has a

decision to make. She could have stuck with her biological family, continued

to be unsatisfied but be accepted as an equal, or she could completely give

up on her own family and devote all her time, energy, and love on her white

charges. To Pauline this decision is obvious and she makes it hastily.

Without a second thought she mentally leaves her family in place for her

"Perfect Life". However she fails to realize that by committing herself to a

servant's life that's all she will ever amount to be - a black servant in a

white world.

Have all of the characters found their identity? Pecola Breedlove yearned

for blue eyes. At the end of the book she believes that she has those blue

eyes. She believes that people treat her funny because they are jealous of

her blue eyes and she has learned to happily accept that. Pecola yearned for

the acceptance and love of society seen through her eyes. No matter if that

acceptance and love were really there, she thought it was and therefore was

able to survive. "I [Soaphead Church], I have caused a miracle. I gave her

the eyes. I gave her the blue, blue, two blue eyes... No one else will see

her blue eyes. But she will. And she will live happily ever after" (Morrison

182). Pecola found herself only by going insane. Although Pecola is not

accepted by society for reasons she does not understand, she puts her

exclusion from society into terms she can comprehend. Society influences her

identity. They mold her into what she becomes by not giving her the guidance

and approval she needs. In the same way, Cholly found himself separated from

the community. After the realization of the perception the community has of

him, he is demoralized and does an act of inhumanity. He could not live with

the realization of the monster he had become and he disappeared. As a man he

did not know who he was. In a sense he needed an act that would completely

set him apart from the rest of the rational world for him to find himself. He

sanely found himself as Pecola insanely found herself. They finished with

varying results. While Pecola was separate but content, Cholly was separate

and unsatisfied. Pauline, on the other hand, chose an identity she could be

content with. She had an option to become two very different people and she

chose the one that seemed right for her. Her distorted view of reality made

it seem that the choice she made was accepted in society, and would allow her

to increase her status in society. However, her overseer saw it and

described it in actuality. "We could never find anyone like Polly. She will

not leave the kitchen until everything is in order. Really, she is the ideal

servant" (Morrison 128). This twist of perspective shows how Pauline is

really accredited. Are they satisfied with what they have found? It seems

that the only truly satisfied person is Pauline. Pecola is not content, she

will not ever be. Her father took away that option. Cholly is not satisfied.

He can not handle the naked truth that he is a beast, and therefore retreats

from society. Pauline, though looked down upon by society was somehow

satisfied with her identity. Her twisted view of reality made her believe

that she was accepted as an equal in society. The Breedlove family are

representatives of the black rising community in the north. Pecola a

"dismissed, trivialized, misread" ( Morrison 216) child, was representative

of the younger Black population. While her ending does not conform to

societies norm her story does. Cholly was a misunderstood Blackmale adult. He

was a part of the generation that started the Black community in the north.

For Cholly, the responsibilities of that were too great and he therefore

needed to withdraw from society. Pauline was representative of the part of

the Black --- that tried too hard to conform to the White culture. She found

what she was looking for and was able to convince herself that she was happy,

but she did not really have a place where she truly fit in. The Breedlove

family is a black family living in the 1940s. They have to deal with the

same problems, situations, and dilemmas as do the rest of the rising Black

community in the north. The Bluest Eye tells their story and offers their

experiences.



 

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