Morrison's the Bluest Eye

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This article was downloaded by: [University of Liverpool]On: 08 October 2014, At: 21:10Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UKThe ExplicatorPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:'s the Bluest EyeJames Mayo aa University of West FloridaPublished online: 30 Mar 2010.To cite this article: James Mayo (2002) Morrison's the Bluest Eye, The Explicator,60:4, 231-234To link to this article: SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all theinformation (the Content) contained in the publications on our platform.However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness,or suitability for any purpose of the Content. 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Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at by [University of Liverpool] at 21:10 08 October 2014 the death of Ikemefuna is the kind of action for which the goddess wipes out whole families, Obierika foreshadows both Nwoyes conversion to Chris- tianity and Okonkwos death at the end of the novel. Okonkwo was driven to hate everything his father loved. His fathers flex- ibility, compassion, and understanding embodied the female characteristics of the society. Therefore, Okonkwo had an aversion to the Earth. In fact, Achebe describes Okonkwo as a man whose heels hardly touched the ground and who seemed to walk on springs (4). Ultimately, Okonkwos refusal of the female aspects of the society leads to his demise. When the Christians come, Nwoye is deeply captivated by their poetry. A hymn about brothers who sat in fear and darkness seems to answer his ques- tions regarding the seeming meaninglessness of Ikemefunas death. As a result, Nwoye leaves his father to join the Christians and further repudiates his clan by accepting the name Isaac. In one of the few instances in which Okonkwo ponders life, he is horrified to contemplate the gravity of Nwoyes decision. Ancestralism is very significant in Umuofia, where the dead are believed to play an active role among the living, but only through continued worship and sacrifice of ones children. Okonkwo considers his own destruction: Suppose when he died all his male children decided to follow Nwoyes steps and aban- don their ancestors? (153). He shudders at the prospect of his annihilation. In Umuofia children are revered, elders respected, and ones eternity is dependent upon offspring following the traditions of the clan. Okonkwos fear, his hamartia, brought him to kill Ikemefuna. In doing so, Okonkwo helped turn his son Nwoye away from the traditions of the clan and toward Christianity. By sacrificing Ikemefuna, Okonkwo participated in his own destruction. -JACK M. BECKHAM, California State University, Bakersfield WORK CITED Achebe. Chinua. Things Fall Aparr. New York: Anchor Books, 1994. Morrisons THE BLUEST EYE Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye presents readers with a variety of thematic concerns, including dealing with or repressing guilt, shame, and violence; coming to terms with societys image of ideal beauty (both feminine and mas- culine); racial self-loathing; and, in a narrative sense, dealing with memories 231 Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 21:10 08 October 2014 of the past that correspond to those themes. Claudia, the novels narrator, reflects on one summer of her childhood, relating to readers her sense of shame and guilt over the incestuous rape of 1 1-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Although most criticism of the novel focuses on Pecolas life, as filtered through Claudias memory-narrative, Morrison gives readers a subtle clue that Claudia herself is a victim of rape and has repressed the memory. Readers should thus consider Claudias sense of guilt over the death of Pecolas child in a different light. After her rape, Pecola eventually makes her way to Soaphead Church, a West Indian mystic/prophet. Angry at God for ignoring the wishes of this small, pitifully unattractive child (173), anger that he directly expresses in a letter to God, Soaphead Church grants Pecolas wish, giving her the blue eyes she longs for, even though [nlo one else will see her blue eyes (182). Soaphead Church is a self-admitted child molester, a man abandoned by his wife years before his arrival in Lorain and his encounter with Pecola. Mom- son describes Church as a man who [a]ll his life had a fondness for things (165). At some point, perhaps after his wife deserts him, Churchs attentions [. . .] gradually settled on those humans whose bodies were least offensive- children (166), specifically the bodies of little girls, whom he finds usu- ally manageable and frequently seductive (166). The hints that Morrison gives readers that Claudia may in fact be one of the little girls that Church finds attractive appear in Churchs letter to God and in the beginning of the following chapter (the first chapter of the Summer section). Church writes in his letter to God, I couldnt [. . .I keep my hands, my mouth, off them. Salt-sweet. Like not quite ripe strawberries covered with the light salt sweat of running days and hopping, skipping, jumping hours (179). In the following chapter, as the narrative voice again becomes Clau- dias, the sexual symbol of the strawberries is revisited. The chapter begins with Claudias reminiscing about summer, and she relates that she only has to break into the tightness of a strawberry (187) to see summer. Morrison then mixes the symbol to further suggest that Claudia, like many other young girls in Lorain, was a victim of Soaphead Churchs pedophilia, as Claudia links strawberries and summer to dust and lowering skies (187). Claudia explains that, for her, summer is a season of storms. The parched days and sticky nights are undistinguished in my mind, but the storms, the violent sud- den storms, both frightened and quenched me (1 87). The language here is clear: strawberry, tightness, and quenched offer sexual imagery, where- as violent, sudden, storms, and frightened suggest the violence and trauma that a victim of pedophilia would experience. Morrison also gives readers a subtle clue as to how Claudia may have fall- en victim to Soaphead Church. Church, in his confessional, yet blasphemous, letter to God, describes his method of luring the girls into his lair: I gave 232 Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 21:10 08 October 2014 them mints, money, and theyd eat ice cream with their legs open while I played with them. It was like a party (181). Throughout the novel Claudia, Frieda, and Pecola, as would any child growing up poor, long for candy and ice cream. Mr. Henry, who boards with Claudias family, uses the promise of candy and ice cream as an enticement to keep the girls from telling their par- ents that he has brought the whores into the home while the family is away, thus establishing the relationship between material gifts and sex. Claudia also relates to readers that she and her sister sold seeds throughout the summer of Pecolas pregnancy, ignoring their mothers advice to go only to the homes of people they knew and going, instead, from door to door (1 88). Again, the sex- ual reference in the language (seeds) is clear, and Claudia and Frieda could have, like Pecola, found their way to the door of Soaphead Church. All of this may lead readers to question why, if she or her sister had indeed been raped by Soaphead Church, Claudia does not reveal that fact in the course of her narration. Two explanations are possible. Claudia, after describ- ing the relationship between strawberries and summer, goes on to say in the same paragraph that her memory is uncertain (187). Claudia remembers a story her mother told her of a tornado that struck Lorain in 1929. Over the years, Claudias and her mothers separate stories have blended, and she states, I mix up her summer with my own (187). Naturally, this could be offered as an explanation for Claudias failure to mention her own rape. Per- haps Claudia has chosen not to remember or accept her ordeal, as Pecola does after she receives blue eyes. As Pecola descends into insanity, she has com- pletely repressed the memory of her own rape, and Claudia could have done the same. Another possibility concerning the omission points to a theme of the novel that many critics have noted, the keeping of secrets. Pecola keeps the secret of her rape; Pecolas mother does not make public the fact that her daughter was raped by her own father; Pecolas mother also chooses not to make public the fact that her husband beats her. J. Brooks Bouson argues that Morrison protects readers from the traumatic, shame-laden subject matter of her novel by mak- ing them part of the conspiracy, by invoking the back fence world of illicit gossip (Bouson 26). Conspiracy implies that the characters, indeed the vic- tims, are committed to keeping the traumatic events of their lives secret, only revealing them in an intimate, trusting manner with the reader. The fact that they would want to keep such traumatic events secret only makes sense. The self-loathing they feel could be made worse if their secrets were revealed. Claudia expresses the feelings of guilt that she and her sister experience over the death of Pecolas child and Pecolas insanity. Claudia feels that the fact that the seeds they planted do not grow somehow implicates her in the death of the child. She and her sister, like the other members of the commu- nity, do not do enough to save Pecola, but perhaps Claudias feelings should 233 Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 21:10 08 October 2014 be viewed in a different light. It is possible that, as a victim of rape herself, Claudia shares in Pecolas trauma and shame in a more direct manner. -JAMES MAYO, University of West Florida WORKS CITED Bouson, J . Brooks. Quiet as Its Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of Toni Morrison. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Plume, 1994. Plaths LADY LAZARUS Sylvia Plath demonstrated a long-standing interest in the biblical story of Lazarus that peaked after her first attempt at suicide in 1953, when she felt she had been on the other side of life like Lazarus (qtd. in Sanazaro 55). A. Alvarez states that Plaths Lady Lazarus, first published in Arief (6-9). is autobiographical: The deaths of Lady Lazarus correspond to her [Plaths] own crises (64). This poem, like many others in Arief, features power not centered in a loving deity but in a subject[ion] to dominance by pure power (McClanahan 168). Unlike the biblical story of Lazarus, in which a loving deity uses power for good, Plaths Lady Lazarus reveals a struggle for power with a cruel deity that ends in annihilation. In the story of Lazarus of Bethany in the Gospel of John, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead so that the people standing [tlhere [. . .] may believe (John 11.42). This display of power does not merely advertise Gods power, but also benefits Lazarus and his onlookers. Those who witnessed the new life given to Lazarus believed in Jesus and were offered the promise of eternal life in heaven. In contrast, Lady Lazaruss raising by Herr Doktor produces a struggle for power between them that leads to her eventual destruction. Herr Doktor exploits his power and dominance over Lady Lazarus, and she must fight to control her life. As Theresa Collins points out, Lady Lazarus can be interpreted as a struggle for control [. . .] a dominion prevented by her torturer, Herr Doktor. Like Jesus, Herr Doktor displays his power in front of a crowd, but in con- trast, he desires admiration and personal gain from the peanut-crunching crowd (28). He does not offer new life to the crowd or Lady Lazarus, but works for his own benefit. She is unwrapped by the male enemy and his assistants to exhibit his power. By calling it a strip tease(29) Plath adds sexual flavour (Wagner 52) and magnifies the male dominance over Lady Lazarus. As she is 234 Downloaded by [University of Liverpool] at 21:10 08 October 2014