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Racist Beauty Ideals and Racial Self-Hatred
This paper examines Toni Morrison's novel the Bluest Eye from the perspective of three different interest groups:
Those who would interrogate the paper on the basis of issues related to gender, or of the feminist movement;
Those whose interests lie in the book's treatment of children's issues or advocacy, and Those engaging in a dialogue centering around issues of race.
It should also be understood that these topics are not necessarily separate, distinct and non-overlapping. In much of the analysis there will be areas of intersection of discussion of topics in question.
Much has already been written about Morrison's novel and its exploration of black family life in 1940s Midwest America. Morrison examines what it means to grow up young, black, and female in America and it is appropriate that this work considered from those perspectives.
The Bluest Eye is primarily the story of Pecola Breedlove and Claudia MacTeer, two children whose lives come together when Claudia's mother extends an act of charity to Pecola. Claudia narrates and through her eyes we learn what their lives were like. One of the pervasive themes that The Bluest Eye explores is racial self-hatred as Morrison examines the plight of black folk in that era. She focuses on their victimization by systemic racism and the resultant alienation that characterizes their existence. Being Black and being American demanded the ability to reconcile the challenges that racism posed, all the while enduring a basic struggle for survival.
As Holt comments in his analysis, he similarly explores the topic of alienation by Blacks to comment on its political uses. In his analysis of two essays written by W.E.B. Du Bois, Holt notes that "both passages have as their theme the fundamental duality of black life in America, the paradox of being so intimately a part of the national culture and yet so starkly apart from it" (Holt, 302).
Morrison's characters live with this paradox and this duality throughout the novel. Pauline's family relationships are fractured, she chooses to spend as much time as she can away from her family so she be the "valued" servant of the Fisher family. Pecola's alienation is so complete that her personality disintegrates following her rape, pregnancy and death of her baby.
The Bluest Eye takes its title from Pecola's desperate wish for blue eyes. Pecola has few friends or possessions, the grimness of her world is marked by poverty of spirit that she ultimately cannot survive. As the story unfolds, Morrison's introduces Pecola's world, one where an eleven-year-old black girl fixates on a bizarre fantasy that negates her blackness. Pecola grows more and more invested in this obsession because it is the only survival strategy she sees available to her. Pecola believes blue eyes will make her attractive, and fulfilled.
Morrison examines Pecola's life from a perspective that shifts between race and gender. Pecola suffers through her unhappy home life and childhood which confirm her poor opinion of herself on a daily basis. Pauline Breedlove has withdrawn from Pecola and instead bestows her love on a white child whose family employs Pauline, while Pecola's father is drunken and remote. Pecola believes she is ugly and unlovable, and the world relentlessly reinforces her belief.
The basis for Pecola's belief in her ugliness is grounded in a racial self-hatred that she is ill-equipped to deal with. Pecola first appears in the novel when she comes to live with the MacTeer family, which move is necessitated by her drunken father having set fire to the family home. Here is the first inkling we get that all is not well in Pecola's world. There is no support system, no extended family to take in Pecola. And during her stay with the MacTeers, Mrs. MacTeer is deeply offended that no one from Pecola's dysfunctional family stops by to check on her well-being.
Pecola struggles to overcome acomplex combination of racial self-loathing, rampant consumerism and fragility that pressure Pecola's fragile world. Pecola believes that having blue eyes will bring love and acceptance into her fragmented and barren existence. For Pecola, "Blue eyes epitomize everything desirable in white American culture & #8230; Pecola's longing for this cosmetic change expresses her deeper need to reform the world by reforming the way she sees it" (Fick, 11). Pecola needs to reshape the terms in which she engages with her family, friends and community; she sees blue eyes as a means to achieving this transformation. Following the rape by her drunken father, and the loss of her baby, Pecola's disintegration is complete. She retreats into herself to inhabit a fantasy world where she does indeed have blue eyes.
Compare Pecola's amazing solution, transformation from brown to blue eyes, with her friend Claudia's reaction to the barrage of white beauty standards. Claudia is determined to understand her family's admiration for the "big, blue-eyed Baby Doll" she receives because "all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl treasured." (20) Claudia takes no pleasure in the present, but instead dismembers the doll to inspect its inner workings. Claudia's seeing is so different from Pecola's, her vision is an angry introspection that drives Claudia to confront what she questions and instinctively reject a gift from which she had every reason to be alienated. Morrison, in both cases, uses the sense of sight to characterize each girl's perspective; their approaches could not have been more different.
There is no question that Morrison's handling of black girls playing with white dolls is intended to show the psychological damage done to the developing black child's self-esteem. Pecola, in her vulnerability, internalized society's racist messages, doing violence to her self-esteem in the process. The 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education reaffirmed this position, citing a report by psychologist Kenneth Clark on African-American children's racial identification. In more recent years there has been some debate as to whether Clark's recommendation may have been based on bad science. In her study of the ramifications of Brown v. Board, Bergner notes that with the rise of black power and black pride in the '60s and '70s, the psychic damage paradigm fell out of favor. "The doll test discourse not only reflects shifting racial politics but also configures notions of racial identity" (300-301). No matter which side of the debate one favors, it is clear from Morrison's treatment that she portrays the racial preference for white dolls as further evidence of trauma caused by systemic racial discrimination.
Chin also examines the topic of ethnically correct dolls in her analysis of the ethnically correct toy industry. She describes how the toy industry had touted ethnically correct dolls as a progressive solution to representation and inclusion in the toy box, as well as in children's lives. The children involved in Chin's study had very few ethnically correct dolls. Instead the girls had white dolls that they brought into their worlds through styling their hair in ways racially marked as black. Chin contrasts a case study of Mattel's Shani dolls with an ethnographic look at race and commodities among New haven kids, Chin's paper locates children's consumption within the context of social inequality; a context examined in few studies or consumption. Chin concludes that taking kids as primary ethnographic subjects suggests ways in which this largely silenced group can speak to larger social and theoretical issues, among them race, class, gender, and age (Chin, 305-321).
Morrison's novel is concerned with various manifestations of racism in America, one form of which is economic slavery. The novel is set in Lorain, Ohio in 1940-41 during a period when Blacks moved in large numbers from the pre-industrial South to a consumer-based America in the North, where many eked out a marginal existence much like that of the Breedloves. In the words of Fick "the crude white masters of the South are replaced by invisible systems of mastery dedicated to maximizing profit through a process equally dehumanizing" (19). Morrison's depiction of their lives exposes a grim existence for many who believed they were transitioning to a better life.
Another aspect of racism that Morrison explores is the portrayal of ideal family life that the Dick and Jane primers provide. Debra Werrlein argues that schools teach more than math, science, and literacy (56). She posits that schools also serve to reproduce existing class structures, as well as reinforce dominant ideologies and bolster the political power of the state in capitalism. Werrlein makes the point that the Dick and Jane primers serve to posit the literary "masterplot" in The Bluest Eye, but that as textbooks in America's public schools, Morrison suggests that they posit a national masterplot as well, one that defines Americanness within the parameters of innocent white middle-class childhood. Once again, Morrison shows us that Black Americans cannot participate in this iconic existence.
Morrison's version of a 1940s childhood offers a starkly different reality than the sanitized version served up in the world of Dick and Jane. Through the use of an innovative…[continue]
"Racist Beauty Ideals Standards And Internalized Racial Self-Hatred In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye" (2011, April 19) Retrieved October 20, 2016, from http://www.paperdue.com/essay/racist-beauty-ideals-standards-and-internalized-119750
"Racist Beauty Ideals Standards And Internalized Racial Self-Hatred In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye" 19 April 2011. Web.20 October. 2016. <http://www.paperdue.com/essay/racist-beauty-ideals-standards-and-internalized-119750>
"Racist Beauty Ideals Standards And Internalized Racial Self-Hatred In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye", 19 April 2011, Accessed.20 October. 2016, http://www.paperdue.com/essay/racist-beauty-ideals-standards-and-internalized-119750