Doom in the Bluest Eye and the Voyage Out Doomed From the Beginning:
The Inevitability of Death in the Bluest Eye and the Voyage Out Commonality is a funny thing. Who would suppose that a young, white twenty-four-year-old, turn of the twenty-first century, English lady might have a great deal in common with a young, adolescent, black American girl? This is exactly the case, however, between Virginia Woolf's main character, Rachel in The Voyage Out, and Toni Morrison's Pecola, in her work, The Bluest Eye.
Despite their differences in time, location, culture, and circumstance, the characters in the two novels share a common fate based on a common cause. Both characters begin life in unfortunate circumstances that foreshadow the inevitable doom that results from their respective positions in life.
Morrison's The Bluest Eye, opens with the words, "Here is the house."
It starts out innocently enough -- yet, even before the reader finishes the second page, he or she will notice that "all is not well in that house."
Indeed, the very sound of those words; "Here is house..." clear, simple, oh so white in tone, soon begin to turn dark, muddled, and finally, quite mad.
So, too, is the life of Pecola destined to be. Short, painfully muddled in understanding, tragic, and violently disordered, Pecola is destined to die, if only in spirit and at the cost of sanity.
Yes, here is the house...Pecola's house is dark, dirty, and cold -- not really a house at all, but an abandoned storefront:
The large "store" area was partitioned into two rooms by beaverboard planks that did not reach to the ceiling. There was a living room, which the family called the front room, and the bedroom where all the living was done. In the front room were two sofas, an upright piano, and a tiny artificial Christmas tree which had been there, decorated and dust-laden, for two years (35).
This is the house, in fact, where Pecola learns her first lesson in worthlessness -- her mother, the hard and angry Pauline, withholds love and care of her children and household in favor of her rich white employers, her father, at his best, is drunk and abusive to his wife and children -- in short, Pecola's home life is a misery. It is the very fact that the home is such a misery that she learns her first lesson self loathing.
They lived there because they were poor and ugly...Their ugliness was unique. No one could have convinced them that they were not relentlessly and aggressively ugly...Mrs. Breedlove, Sammy Breedlove, and Pecola Breedlove -- wore their ugliness, put it on, so to speak, although it did not belong to them (38).
In short, Pecola begins her life surrounded by the idea that she, her family, and her home, are ugly. Yet, it is Pecola's outside world, and her interaction with that world as a child that continue to teach her, piece by piece, that her ugliness is due to one fact and one fact only, and that was her black color -- a color that denies her "the bluest eyes."
It is under the influence of this reality, and under this belief in her inherent "ugliness," "dirtiness," and "unloveability," that Pecola begins to experience defining events that irrevocably doom her progression into adulthood, or her "coming of age."
Society, too, has lessons to teach Pecola, lessons communicated in reading books with perfect white families, blue-eyed dolls and angelic Shirley Temple cups, and in the examples set by others around her. Society has lessons in store for her in the words of little green-eyed, white girls who scream, "I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos. I am cute" (72)!
A common theme in black literature and discourse involves a concept called "parallel discrimination," or the tendency of members of an oppressed group to, in turn, oppress each other. If anybody personifies this phenomenon in the novel, it is certainly Geraldine and Junior.
Clearly, the scene in which Pecola is terrorized by Junior and his mother's blue-eyed cat, is symbolic of the kind of violent retribution characteristic in parallel discrimination. For Pecola, it serves to drive home the lesson only that much deeper that she can not find a "place" of acceptance as a black girl, even among her own people.
Perhaps the most poignant lines in the novel are the ones that tempt the reader to hope that, perhaps it is possible for Pecola to "come of age" successfully, as her friend Claudia ultimately will. These lines, after the scene in which Pecola experiences her first menstruation, completely symbolize Pecola's pain. Here, Frieda answers Pecola's question about "how" she can have a baby by saying, "...somebody has to love you" (32).
Of course, the final straw in the inevitable destruction of Pecola is her rape by her father. In this event, the last shred of potential, and the last shred of innocent hope in the possibility of loving herself, or experiencing love from others, is finally ripped away. The reader is left with the horrible fulfillment of the symbolic "whores upstairs." We see that, indeed, Pecola has nowhere to "grow up to" but abuse and ruin. Now, finally destroyed, she loses all sense of reality -- the potential symbolized in her menstruation scene is dashed and we see that there is no hope for her "to be loved." Even in the most important father-child sense, the world of reality has nothing to offer her.
When one considers the protagonist in Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out, and her similar "education" in the hopelessness of her life, it is not surprising to note that Morrison included Woolf as one of the subjects of her master's thesis, and was, according to many critics, inspired by her work (Bloom 190).
Like Pecola, Rachel, or, perhaps, more likely, the reader, is educated bit by bit in the inevitable impossibility of a viable adult life for Rachel.
From the beginning of the reader's introduction to her as a character, it is quite apparent that she is "a little off" in relation to her fellow travelers. In fact, we see that Rachel is clearly quite different from the other women characters -- even when those characters are more than a bit unorthodox (as in the case of Evelyn).
Rachel's dysfunctional childhood (one that holds hints of sexual abuse), places her at an uncertain stance, and further serves to set her apart from the accepted and adjusted "others" on the voyage.
Like Pecola, Rachel has other parties around her that are interested in her, and want her to fit into the model they represent. Also, like Pecola in the menstruation scene, Rachel, goes through her own "education," an education begun by the start of false hopes from one Dalloway, and, some might argue, finished by the kiss of another:
She leant upon the rail of the ship, and gradually ceased to feel, for a chill of mind and body crept over her. Far out between the waves little black and white sea-birds were riding. Rising and falling with smooth and graceful movements in the hollows of the waves they seemed singularly detached and unconcerned (76).
The fact is, detached and unconcerned, seems to increasingly describe Rachel as the book progresses, almost as if her mind, "...in the state of an intelligent man's" (34), takes over, silently and almost against her will (for she does will to be "normal"). It is this detached state, her inability to attach herself even to her inner desire to remain apart from all that is expected of a woman from her class, which foreshadows her eventual death.
This detachment, this, according to Woolf, "ancient consciousness of woman...for so many ages dumb' brim with 'a demand for something' -- they scarcely know what -- for something that is perhaps incompatible with the facts of human existence" (Gordon 92), makes it wholly impossible for Rachel to survive:
Rachel Vinrace cannot take a novelistic place in English society: she cannot survive...there is no knowing what Rachel could be because she evolves in a way that is perhaps incompatible with human existence" (92).
This feeling that Rachel evolves in the novel in a way that ultimately must doom her existence, perhaps accounts for the reaction, or, more accurately, the lack of reaction her death evokes in her fellow travelers -- an Mark Hussey nicely summarizes in his work, Virginia Woolf, A to Z:
storm. Life at the hotel continues as before, though many have left and others plan to leave soon. Mr. Pepper and Mr. Elliot play chess, Mr. Elliot prevailing for once; Mrs. Paley plays solitaire; the moth whizzes from light to light. St. John's entrance causes a brief pause before the guests go back to their customary evening occupations. As the evening draws to a close and the guests go to bed, St. John dozes, seeing shapes pass by, their voices and faces indistinct, a pattern of shapes (332).