Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations)
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Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations
Blooms Modern Critical Interpretations
Toni MorrisonsTHE BLUEST EYE
Edited and with an introduction byHarold Bloom
Sterling Professor of the HumanitiesYale University
Editorial Consultant, Brian L. Johnson
Blooms Modern Critical Interpretations: Toni Morrisons The Bluest EyeUpdated EditionCopyright 2007 by Infobase Publishing
Introduction 2007 by Harold Bloom
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye / edited with an introduction by Harold Bloom. p. cm. (Blooms modern criticial views) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN-13: 978-0-7910-96154 (hardcover : alk. paper) 1. Toni Morrisons The Bluest EyeCriticism and interpretation. I. Bloom, Harold.PS3525.I5156Z5145 2007812.52dc22 2006102701
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Editors Note vii
Introduction 1Harold Bloom
Alcoholism and Family Abuse in Maggie and The Bluest Eye 3Rosalie Murphy Baum
Toni Morrison's "Allegory of the Cave": Movies, Consumption, and Platonic Realism in The Bluest Eye 19
Thomas H. Fick
Text and Countertext in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye 35
Donald B. Gibson
Transgression as Poesis in The Bluest Eye 53Shelley Wong
Will the Circle be Unbroken?: the Politics of Form in The Bluest Eye 67
Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye: An Inverted Walden? 87Sharon L. Gravett
The Bluest Eye: Notes on History, Community, and Black Female Subjectivity 97
The Fourth Face: The Image of God in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye 111
The Blues Aesthetic in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye 125
Texts, Primers, and Voices in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye 145
Carl D. Malmgren
Focusing on the Wrong Front: Historical Displacement, the Maginot Line, and The Bluest Eye 159
"A Productive and Fructifying Pain": Storytelling as Teaching in The Bluest Eye 179
Jeffrey M. Buchanan
Not So Fast Dick and Jane: Reimagining Childhood and Nation in The Bluest Eye 193
Deborah T. Werrlein
What The Bluest Eye Knows about Them: Culture, Race, Identity 209
My introduction praisesThe Bluest Eye, in agreementwithMichaelWood,butbycanonicalstandardsToniMorrisonassertsthatshenolongeraccepts.
Christopher Douglas shrewdly notes The Bluest Eyes reservationsaboutgroupidentity,suspicionswhichMorrisonabandonsfromBelovedonwards.
Debra T.Werrlein emphasizesMorrisons critique of our supposedAmerican ideologies of innocent childhood, after which Cat MosesinterpretsthebluesaestheticasdominatingThe Bluest Eye.
Textuality centersCarlD.Malmgrens text,whileAllenAlexanderdiscoversaspectsofanAfricanGodinMorrisonsnovelisticvision.
JaneKuenzlocatesMorrisonsdefenseofaspecificAfricanAmericanfemale subjectivity, after which ShelleyWong praises the novelist for aliberatingpedagogy.
Racism is remorselessly deconstructed byDonaldB.Gibson,whileRosalie Murphy Baum compares Stephen Cranes Maggie: A Girl of the Streets(1893)toThe Bluest Eye,sinceeachshowsthatalcoholismcanleadtofamilyabuse.
Allusions in The Bluest Eye to Eliots The Waste Land and PlatosAllegory of theCave usefully are expounded byThomasH. Fick,whileLindaDittmaradmits to some interestingambiguities inMorrisonsfirstnovel,butendsbyaffirmingthesupposedideologyofthebook.
ToniMorrison's T h e Blu e s T e y e
IThe Bluest Eye, Morrison's first novel, was published when she was
Morrison herself, in an Afterword of 1994, looked back across aquarter-century and emphasized her "reliance for full comprehension incodesembeddedinblackculture."Areaderwhoisnotblackorfemalemustdothebesthecan; likeMichaelWood,IhavefoundThe Bluest Eye tobecompletelylucidsinceIfirstreadit,backin1970.LikeSulaandThe Song of Solomonafterit,thebookseemstomesuccessfulinuniversalterms,evenifonesharesneitherMorrison'soriginsnorherideologies.Beloved,Morrison'smost famous romance narrative, seems to me problematic, though ithas reachedavastaudience.Agenerationor twowillhave topassbeforea balanced judgment could be rendered uponBeloved orMorrison's laternovels,Jazz,Paradise,andLove.ButherearlyphasehasmanyofthecanonicalqualificationsofthetraditionalWesternliterarykindthatshefiercelyrejectsasbeingirrelevanttoher.
H A Ro LD B LooM
WhatInever forgetaboutThe Bluest Eye is its terrifyingpenultimateparagraph,where thenarrator censuresherself andher friends for turningawayfromPecolabecausethechild'smadness,engenderedbythetraumaofbeingrapedbyherfather,Cholly,"boredusintheend":
Theunhappywisdomofthisishappilyfreeofanyculturalnarcissismwhatsoever.Class, race, evengenderdonotover-determine thisbleakness.Morrison'sheroicsurvivorsinBelovedareintendedtostandupbothinandagainst theirhistory.Perhapstheydo,but thetorments theyhaveenduredalsoaretendentiouslyelaborated,becausetheauthorhasanideologicaldesignuponus,herguiltyreaders,whiteandblack,maleandfemale.ThenarratorofThe Bluest Eyepersuadesme,wherethenarrationofBeloveddoesnot.InD.H.Lawrence'sterms,ItrustboththetaleandthetellerinThe Bluest Eye.InBeloved,Idonottrustthetale.
Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, 1986 Summer; 19 (): 91105.
R o S a l i e M u R p h y B a u M
Alcoholism and Family Abuse in Maggie and The Bluest eye
in 189, Stephen Cranes Maggie: A Girl of the Streets depicted a young white girl and her two brothers growing up in the Bowery, with a father and mother who engage in vicious physical fights. Seventy-seven years later, in 1970, Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye dramatized the plight of a black girl and her brother growing up in lorain, ohio, in an atmosphere of conjugal strife. in both works alcoholism plays an important role in the lives of the parents and thus of the children. But in both cases alcoholism is shown to be much more caused than causing.
The alcoholism occurs because of economic and cultural stress and the characters attempts to escape that stress, but even more because of the individual and family patterns which have emerged, not necessarily to deal with this stress. it is not alcoholism itself that causes the spouse abuse and child neglect and abusealthough it is clear that alcohol affects, and even facilitates, aggressive behavior in these areas and largely determines the reactions of society to the families. The turning to alcohol by one or more members of the family is simply one mode of expressionone way of escaping stress and pain, one way of fortifying ones self-esteem. Modes of expression which appear to be innocent, virtuous, or at least neutral are shown to contribute at least equally to the destructive and complex interaction of the families. Thus, alcoholism is not presented as the cause of the problems of these families, nor as the decisive
Rosalie Murphy Baum
factor in forming children who contain within themselves the very elements which will eventually destroy them. My purpose in the following essay is to demonstrate the extent to which such a view of alcoholism is consistent with the work of many social and behavic scientists.
on the societal and subcultural levels, as well as on the individual, small-group and situational levels, drinking behavior is influenced by cultural factors. on the societal level, for example, drinking in the united States occurs in a society which recognizes and accepts drinking for many purposes. american society is one of many in which, in edwin M. lemerts words, drinking is a culture pattern, symptom of psychic stress, a symbolic protest, or a form of collective behavior (p. 568).1 as a form of escapism (characteristic, according to Don Cahalen, ira h. Cisin and helen M. Crossley, of one-third of the men who drink and one-fourth of the women2), it can be both a symptom of stress and a symbolic protest; as means of compensating for loss of powerwithin the social structure or personal relationshipit can also be a symptom of stress and a symbolic protest.
in addition, drunken aggressiveness is a cultural defense mechanism which serves to alleviate stress and hostility in america, and it is a defense mechanism that largely frees the aggressive drinker from guilt. The reasoning is that since alcohol releases inhibitions, the drinker may commit acts normally unacceptable to self-esteem or reputation without feeling directly responsible for these actsas long as he can attribute their cause to alcohol. alcohol serves as an excuse which is used by both the drinker and other family members in order to maintain an image of normalcy and nondeviancy to both themselves and their society. Thus, an accepted social customdrinkingand an accepted, acknowledged resultaggressionallow the drinker to have the time out which Craig Macandrew and Robert edgerton identify as a learned behavior in which the drunkard finds himself, if not beyond good and evil, at least partially removed from the accountability nexus in which he normally operates.
according to Theodore D. Graves and Robert K. Merton, such drunken aggressiveness is likely to occur more frequently in subcultures in which individuals find that strongly established societal goals are unattainablea correlation which is hardly surprising, given the consequent stress and loss of self-esteem as well as the lack of a subculturally approved alternative defense mechanism. The tendency, too, according to David levinson, is for aggressive drinking behavior . . . to occur in the presence of people of lower status, perhaps as a reflection of status differentials or as a means of reinforcing those differentials.5 levinson also points out that drunken
5alcoholism and Family abuse in Maggie and The Bluest Eye
aggressiveness often involves a highly ritualized set of learned behaviors (p. 9). in fact, such ritualization can make drunken aggressiveness especially efficient as a cultural defense mechanism since it establishes rules which can control the aggression (p. 50).
on the individual, small-group and situational levels, drinking behavior is also influenced by cultural factors. The fact that aggressive behavior frequently occurs in the presence of people of lower status can of course contribute to an understanding of the large number of spouse-abuse situations which involve a high degree of alcohol abuse: forty to ninety-five percent of the cases studied by Roger langley and Richard C. levy, eighty-three percent by Gisela Spieker.6 Spieker explains that an attack on a family member while intoxicated provides a feeling of self-worth . . . frequently perceived as having power; it provides the grounds for refusing to accept responsibility for ones own violent behavior; and it occurs in a situation where ones behavior has the least chance for negative consequences, a safe zone (p. 1).one usually is not going to lose a job or even have the police called in if one reserves ones aggression for family members. Further, Murray a. Straus suggests that cultural norm...