The Bluest Eye: Tough Love at the Core of Color
We as humans strive for many things- comfort, success, money, beauty, but among everything, our core revolves around love. A child is born and is innocent, and as that child grows through their experiences, love fuels the way they survive. How do we as humans deal with survival? In addition, how does a powerless black girl survive in an era that doesn’t deem her important or beautiful? Understanding that survival is a skill set and that love comes in many different forms, protrudes from within the characters in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Called in these instances are “tough love” moments, where emotional survival mixes with perceptive qualities that the little girls in this book possess.
In all chapters there are underlying metaphoric references to the seasons. In “autumn”, we are first introduced to the girls, Claudia and Frieda. They are given the impression that they are somehow different from other little girls on a constant basis. From the start is a scene where a white neighbor, Rosemary, is making fun of Frieda and Claudia from their Buick. Morrison makes it very clear in this instance that there is an automatic sense of entitlement, this representing the decade and white privilege. The girls, recognize this arrogance, and imagine in their heads how they would treat Rosemary if she were to get out of the car. This shows the reader that we can assume Claudia and her family are poor and “different” from other little girls, so much different, that they are being made fun of. It is not yet mentioned, but this moment in particular paves the way for the rest of the novel regarding the standard of white beauty and white privilege. This scenario also tells that the reader is reading from a little black girl’s perspective and sets the pace in a beautifully tragic story (Morrison 9).
The first example of “tough love” in the book is when Claudia gets ill from collecting coal in the cold. Her mother is seemingly angry with her because she is sick, although Claudia does not initially understand that she is not upset with her, but her sickness. Claudia feels guilty for being sick, like it’s her fault, and begins to cry. Her mother, regardless of her blameful nature, tends to Claudia, and Frieda, Claudia’s sister, sings her to sleep. “So when I think of autumn, I think of somebody with hands who does not want me to die (Morrison 12).”
These words are true to the meaning of tough love from mother to daughter. Mrs. MacTeer is inconvenienced by Claudia’s sickness, but her maternal instincts are to care for her immediately by wrapping blankets around her and placing her in bed. This is why Claudia understands that her mother does not want her to die and that her sister is there in a time of need as well. The strength and importance in family is emphasized throughout the novel (“The LitCharts”).
Pecola Breedlove is a little black girl introduced to the MacTeer’s household as well. Forced from her home, Pecola, is naturally drawn to befriend Claudia and Frieda. One morning, Mrs. MacTeer assumes that the girls are “playing nasty” as Rosemary describes, and beats Frieda, under the impression that they are exploring their bodies inappropriately. This moment is important. Pecola has started her period and the girls have some idea of what it is but they are fearful of what Mrs. MacTeer (or anyone else for that matter) will do if they are seen. Pecola’s moment of starting her period is a physical and literal metaphor for coming into womanhood. The thought of something as large of a deal as getting her period is impacting enough, but the fact that Pecola is a young, black girl, makes it an even more fearful and daunting experience. Morrison highlights this moment clearly by putting the reader in Pecola’s shoes. Frightened, Frieda explains her definition of what Pecola is going through as “ministratin’” (menstruating), and offers to help by taking her around the corner and tasking Claudia to clean Pecola’s blood off the steps that dripped from under her dress. Once Mrs. MacTeer realizes what was really happening, Morrison writes, “Her eyes were sorry” (Morrison 31).
These moments in autumn signify concerns that revolve around certain individual reactions. The reader can tell that not only is Frieda trying to help Pecola by taking her off the front steps, but she is trying to protect her from fear of how her mother will react. Mrs. MacTeer initially assumes that what Rosemary is saying is true, and once she realizes that her assumption was wrong, she doesn’t apologize, but speaks with her eyes that she is sorry for the misunderstanding. There’s a continued and subtle sense of empathy throughout the novel that implies that many characters are sorry, but they don’t know how to relay that message by just saying so, and there are also times where “sorry” isn’t enough.
When “winter” appears, the reader is introduced to a new type of character. Maureen is a light skinned girl who comes from a rich family. After school, Pecola is being teased and fights with a group of boys who are discriminating her for her “blackness”. Upon arrival, Claudia and Frieda attempt to help Pecola, but the boys continue to scuffle with the girls until Maureen appears. Maureen helps Pecola up and the boys leave the group alone because they don’t want to fight around Maureen. This is because the boys view Maureen as exotic and beautiful. Because Maureen is light skinned and comes from money, she is automatically considered accomplished and pretty. Although Claudia hates Maureen mostly because of her skin, the girls have a moment of unity in helping Pecola out of the fight before they get in an argument with each other. It is important to note this moment as tough love, because it is not a traditional act of love, but the girls recognize Maureen to be humane enough to help Pecola up and not give into continuously taunting her like the boys. There is a small moment of pity and reflection upon Pecola in this instance, where Maureen recognizes that she in some ways is just like Pecola, in that she is a little black girl as well. Maureen then offers to go get some ice cream which sort of breaks the silence of the situation (Morrison 68).
In previous chapters the reader has experienced Pecola’s mother, Mrs. Breedlove (aka Pauline), as cold, strict, and turned away from her own daughter. In “spring” the reader experiences Mrs. Breedlove’s back story, where she herself as a child was ignored and neglected. She was taught in her adolescence that she was ugly because she had a slight limp from impaling her foot on a nail when she was a two-year old. Throughout her back story, as Pauline moves on in life, her family continues to neglect her and she is left to her own devices to maintain her sanity. She fantasizes of a god or a lover to come fulfill her empty gaps in life, and eventually finds Cholly. Initially, they are happy together, but once Pauline becomes pregnant with Pecola (their second child), her and Cholly’s relationship evolves into an abusive rollercoaster. Morrison illustrates Pauline’s past so that the reader can understand where she came from and why she is the way that she is. Later, after the birth of Pecola, Pauline describes how smart her baby is and how she likes to watch her figure out the world with her “…greedy sounds. Eyes all soft and wet.” Pauline continues on to say how ugly Pecola is (Morrison 126).
Although the tough love during Pauline’s pregnancy is not apparent at first, it comes more to life during her relationship with Cholly. It isn’t mentioned, but their relationship was based off trying to fix themselves by having another person in their life that they thought would fill the empty gap in their hearts, with love. Their fighting and then staying together is a tell tale sign that they were once crazy about each other and possibly afraid to leave each other at the same time. Although they exist in an ongoing abusive relationship, maybe Cholly feels like no one will love him again, so he must stay with Pauline to prove that he needs her, and vice versa. There is a sense of wanting their marriage to end up like the movies that Pauline goes to…but of course it is emphasized that because she is a black woman in that decade, that it will never be like the movies for her. Pauline, always fantasizing about a life she’ll never have, describes a sort of tough love for herself. By taking that time for her to be happy and soak in that fantasy world, she is showing some self strength and perseverance, even though her reality is nothing like the movies she sees, she knows when to not take a moment like this for granted (Morrison 123).
The final season of the book, “summer”, dawns a lot of emotions for the reader to feel. Here, we not only witness Pecola’s breaking point in sanity, but we also hear more about how her father, Cholly, has in most ways been the primary contributor to her downfall. The girls, Claudia and Frieda, have an extreme amount of pity for Pecola and attempt to save her baby, which was a result from her own father. Like Pauline’s back story, the reader is reminded that Cholly is the way he is because of his own past traumas (“Summer: Chapter 11”).
There are a lot of directions and themes that are contained in this book, but Cholly is depicted as a human who doesn’t know any better, so he feels he is showing his tough love by raping his daughter. Although his past does not justify Cholly’s actions, his back story helps the reader understand that there’s a humanizing effect to him, and that “good people can do bad things”.
This book is showcasing black characters that deal primarily with their own personal struggles and view Pecola as a reflection of themselves. All of their reactions are different, but Pecola is the centerpiece that either helps or hurts others realize who they are and why they are the way they are. Their struggles are personal and their survival is based off “black girls in a white world”. Tough love is present and also subtle in many instances, but tough love’s strongest character is through its emotional, little “survivor”, Pecola Breedlove.