After World War I, many new opportunities were given to the growing and expanding group of African Americans living in the northern part of America (Encarta). The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison takes place during this time period. A main theme in this novel is the search for individual or personal identity and the influences of the family and community in this search. This theme is present throughout the novel and evident in many of the characters. Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove, and Pauline Breedlove are all embodiments of this search for identity, as well as symbols of the search of many of the Black northern newcomers of that time.
Almost 500,000 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 2,500,00o 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 resulted (Encarta).
The Breedlove family is a typical Northern African American family of this time. The Breedlove family is a family by name only. They are just a group of people under the same roof. Cholly (the father) is a constantly drunk and an 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, who she favors 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 (Morrison 19). In her mind, if she were to be beautiful, people would finally love and accept her. The idea that blue eyes are essential for being beautiful 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 help imprint this ideal of beauty on Pecola. Her classmates have an enormous 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 seems not to hurt anymore. As if it were not bad enough being ridiculed by children her own age, adults also tend to mock her.
Mr. Yacowbski as a symbol for the rest of society’s norm, treats her as if she is 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). Geraldine, a colored woman, who refuses to tolerate “niggers”, happens to walk in while Pecola is in her house. “Get out,’ she says in her quiet voice. You nasty little black bitch. Get out of my house'” (Morrison 92). By having an adult point out to Pecola that she really is a “nasty” little girl, it seems all the more true.
Pecola is never able to get away from this kind of ridicule. At home she is put through the same thing, if not worse because her family members are the ones who are supposed to love her. Her mother is not able to conceal her obvious affection towards the white girl over Pecola. One day as Pecola is visiting her mother at the home where she works, she accidentally knocks over a blueberry pie. Obviously burned by the hot pastry, her mother completely ignores her feeling of pain and instead comforts her white “daughter”.
“Crazy foo… my floor, mess … look what you… get on out… azy… crazy… my floor, my floor…. ‘ Her words are hotter and darker than the smoking berries. The little [white] girl in pink starts to cry. Mrs. Breedlove turns to her. Hush, baby, hush. Don’t cry no more'” (Morrison 109). Her mother views Pecola as an obstacle that has the potential to get in the way of her white ‘daughter’s’ happiness and consequently her own happiness. Her mother refuses to show any love to Pecola because it might interfere with more important things (her job). For a little girl, the love of her mother is the most important love she can receive.
Without this, how can she think that she is worth anything at all? The last evidence Pecola needs to believe completely that she is an ugly unlovable girl who is worth nothing happens after the rape by her father. While in most cases a father figure is one who little girls look up to for guidance and approval, Cholly is the exact opposite. He hurts Pecola in a physical way that measures up to the years of hurtful mockery. He takes away from her the one thing that is utterly and completely hers. After the rape, Pecola is 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 a 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” (Morrison 205). In short, after the rape, Pecola goes insane. Pecola’s search for identity is defined by her everlasting desire to be loved.
Her purpose in life is to be beautiful and as a result that she wanted to be loved. Her family and community make it impossible for her to ever be sanely content. Cholly Breedlove the father, the rapist, and primarily the reason for Pecola’s insanity 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 decides that 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.
Cholly’s family (or lack of) 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 downward. 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” (Morrison 163). With this final act, Cholly lost all humanity conceivable. His search for himself ended in destruction. Cholly’s wife, Pauline, mother of Pecola leads a long search for her personal identity also. Pauline She is a servant in a white household. The times she is there working for this family without any reminder of her own failures are the only times that she feels truly happy.
It was there and only there that she finally feels as if she were part of something successful. In Pauline’s search for her identity and ultimately her happiness, she learns 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 helps 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 learns what physical beauty is, she also learns for what it stands. In that time physical beauty was the ideal of Shirley Temple beauty, the equation of blond hair and blue eyes to being beautiful. 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 learns these guidelines, she gives birth to Pecola and gets a job as a black “mammy” to a white family.
She quickly learns that when she is in the company of her white family, who are equal, happy, and worthy in the eyes of society, it rubs off on her and she feels as if she is part of all these positive virtues. On the other hand, the more time she spends with her own black family, the more time she realizes how ugly, poor, and unworthy they are. It is 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 only 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 these blue eyes. She believes that people treat her funny because they are jealous of her blue eyes and she has learns to happily accept this. 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 has become and he disappears. 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 chose the one that seemed right for her.
Pauline’s 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.