I recently read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I chose to read this because of an article that I read about a parent who was attempting to ban this book from her child’s school library on the basis of it being “pornographic.” (I talked about the efforts to ban books in America in this post).
The Bluest Eye is the fictional account of a young black girl in the years following The Great Depression. It deals with racism, incest, and child molestation as well as issues surrounding our culture’s obsession with beauty and how it’s defined.
The same week that I read this book, which is fiction, I also read the real-life stories of Jaycee Dugard, who was held captive by a child rapist and pedophile for 18 years, and Melissa Moore, whose father was a serial killer who tortured and murdered women. I talked about these books in my Readin’ post here.
So, all three books deal with the difficult issues of child abuse, rape, incest, and pedophilia among other things. But two of the books are based on real, actual events, and one was a fictional story. I’ll let you guess which stories were the most horrific. As I said in my Readin’ post on the two non-fiction books, truth is stranger than fiction.
The Bluest Eye was published in 1970, and was Toni Morrison’s first novel. It is a beautifully written little book that deals with difficult issues. There is a scene where a young girl is raped by her father, but that is representative of the culmination of a myriad of issues that swirl around the characters. Incest is not the primary focus of the novel, but the brutality of the scene brings all of the issues faced by this one little girl to a crushing denouement.
In 1970, I was in the 8th grade and was about the same age as the characters in this book. I compared my life and experiences as a young, middle class, white girl with blue eyes to those of the young black girls growing up in Ohio in the early 1940s.
The black girls in this book compared themselves not only to the white girls (and white baby dolls), but to each other. Your beauty, i.e. ugliness, was defined by the darkness of your skin and the nappiness of your hair. The lighter the skin and straighter the hair, that is the closer you were to the white girls, the prettier you were deemed to be. The ramifications of these definitions impacted your ability to be loved and to love.
Our culture continues to be obsessed with often unrealistic definitions of what constitutes beauty – anoxeric looking women with long legs and large busts. Barbie dolls. For a mother raising five daughters, this is the theme in the book that resonated the most with me.
I can see why this book is on high school reading lists. In just 200 pages, you are provided with innumerable teachable lessons. My kids read it for an assignment, and I would recommend it to others especially if you want to generate great dialogue about real life issues.
It is very difficult to sit down with your kids, cold turkey, and say let’s talk about racism or sexism or beauty and conformity issues. It just does not happen that way. They shut down. If you see what they are reading at home or in school, you can open the door to talk to them. I have often picked up a book that they have read (if I haven’t read it before), and then talked to them about it. You will be surprised how quickly you can generate a lively conversation. You might learn something new about a book that you had not considered before, and the bonus is that you might even learn something new about your kid.
My nephew, after seeing the last three books that I read, suggested that I read something a little lighter next. Like a physics book.