The Bluest Eye


by Toni Morrison
Quest For Personal Identity 
Post World War I, many new opportunities were given to the
growing and expanding group of African Americans living in
the North. Almost 500,00 African Americans moved to the
northern states between 1910 and 1920. This was the
beginning of a continuing migration northward. More than
1,500,000 blacks went north in the 1930's and 2,500,00 in
the 1940's. Life in the North was very hard for African
Americans. Race riots, limited housing resulting in slum
housing, and restricted job opportunities were only a few
of the many hardships that the African American people had
to face at this time. Families often had to separate,
social agencies were overcrowded with people that all
needed help, crime rates increased and many other problems

" The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison takes place during this
time period. A main theme in this novel is the "quest for
individual identity and the influences of the family and
community in that quest" (Trescott). This theme is present
throughout the novel and evident in many of the characters.
Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove, and Pauline Breedlove
are all embodiments of this quest for identity, as well as
symbols of the quest of many of the Black northern
newcomers of that time. 

The Breedlove family is a group of people under the same
roof, a family by name only. Cholly (the father) is
constantly drunk and an abusive man. His abusive manner is
apparent towards his wife Pauline physically and towards
his daughter Pecola sexually. Pauline is a "mammy" to a
white family and continues to favor them over her
biological family. Pecola is a little black girl with low
self esteem. The world has led her to believe that she is
ugly and that the epitome of "beautiful" requires blue
eyes. Therefore every night she prays that she will wake up
with blue eyes. Brought up as a poor unwanted girl, Pecola
Breedlove desires the acceptance and love of society. The
image of "Shirley Temple beauty" surrounds her. In her
mind, if she was to be beautiful, people would finally love
and accept her. 

The idea that blue eyes are a necessity for beauty has been
imprinted on Pecola her whole life. "If [I] looked
different, beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and
Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they would say, `Why look at
pretty eyed Pecola. We mustn't do bad things in front of
those pretty [blue] eyes'" (Morrison 46). Many people have
helped imprint this ideal of beauty on her. Mr. Yacowbski
as a symbol for the rest of society's norm, treats her as
if she were invisible. "He does not see her, because for
him there is nothing to see. How can a fifty-two-year-old
white immigrant storekeeper... see a little black girl?"
(Morrison 48). Her classmates also have an effect on her.
They seem to think that because she is not beautiful, she
is not worth anything except as the focal point of their
mockery. "Black e mo. Black e mo. Ya dadd sleeps nekked.
Black e mo black e mo ya dadd sleeps nekked. Black e mo..."
(Morrison 65). Shouted by her classmates on such a regular
basis, this scorn seemed not to penetrate anymore. 

As if it were not bad enough being ridiculed by children
her own age, adults also had to mock her. Geraldine, a
colored woman, who refused to tolerate "niggers", happened
to walk in while Pecola was in her house. "`Get out,' she
said her voice quiet. `You nasty little black bitch. Get
out of my house'" (Morrison 92). By having an adult point
out to her that she really was a "nasty" little girl, it
seems all the more true. Pecola was never able to get away
from this kind of ridicule. At home she was put through the
same thing, if not worse because her family members were
the ones who were supposed to love her. Her mother was not
able conceal her obvious affection towards a white girl
over her. One day as Pecola was visiting her mother at the
home where she is working, Pecola accidentally knocked over
a blueberry pie. Obviously burned by the hot pastry, her
mother completely ignored Pecola's feelings of pain and
instead tended to the comforting of her white "daughter".
"`Crazy floor, mess ...look what you...get on floor , my floor....' Her words
were hotter and darker than the smoking berries. The little
[white] girl in pink started to cry. Mrs. Breedlove turned
to her. `Hush, baby, hush. Don't cry no more'" (Morrison
109). Her mother viewed Pecola as an obstacle that had the
potential to get in the way of her white charge's happiness
and consequently her happiness. Her mother refused to show
any love to Pecola because it might interfere with more
important things. 

For a little girl, the love of her mother is the most
important love she can receive. Without that, how can she
think that she is worth anything at all? Finally the rape
by her father is the last evidence Pecola needs to believe
completely that she is an ugly unlovable girl. While in
most cases a father figure is one to whom little girls look
for guidance and approval, Cholly is the exact opposite. He
hurts Pecola in a physical way that in one attempt measures
up to the years of hurtful mockery. He took away from her
the one thing that was utterly and completely hers. After
the rape, Pecola was never even remotely the same: She was
so sad to see. Grown people looked away; children, those
who were not frightened by her, laughed outright. The
damage done was total. She spent her days, walking up and
down her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant
only she could hear. Elbows bent, hands on shoulders, she
flailed her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely
futile effort to fly. Beating the air, a winged but
grounded bird intent on the blue void it could not
reach-could not even see- but which filled the valleys of
the mind. In short, after the rape, Pecola went insane. 

Pecola's search for identity was defined by her everlasting
desire to be loved. Her purpose in life was to be beautiful
and as a result of that to be loved. Her family and
community made it impossible for her to ever be sanely

Cholly Breedlove the father and eventually rapist of
Pecola, is a bastard. He was born to an unwed mother; his
father ran away the day of his birth and his mother
abandoned him three days later. This horrible beginning
reflects his everyday views and actions. His mother
attempted to leave him alone in the world. His father
figure was an empty void in his life. After his legal
guardian, his aunt, dies, Cholly decided that as an inner
mission he needs to find his father to find himself. To
understand exactly who he is he needs to look into his
past. A long search ends in an extremely disappointing -
crushing- experience. As Cholly tries to explain his
identity to his father, he becomes flustered, "The man's
eyes frightened him. `I just thought... I mean my name is
Cholly.'" His father's face changes as he begins to
understand. He shouts at Cholly, "Tell that bitch she got
her money. Now, get the fuck outta my face!'" (Morrison
156). This extremely embarrassing encounter with his father
scars him for life. His only image of a father figure is
one who brings pain. Cholly's sexual history starts off
painfully as well. His first attempt at sex was scorned,
mocked and watched by two white police officers. "The men
had shone a flashlight right on his behind . He had
stopped, terrified. They chuckled. The beam of the
flashlight did not move. `Go on,' they said. `Go on and
finish. And, nigger, make it good.' The flashlight did not
move" (Morrison 42). These first two episodes left a huge
impact on him that eventually caused him to do something
that would not have happened had he had proper guidance in
those areas. Cholly's family (or lack thereof) and his
community as a boy ultimately influenced the way he was as
a man. Their effects on him molded his personality and as a
result influenced his identity. Another cause of his
eventual downfall was the way the community perceived him.
They treated him disrespectfully, talked about him behind
his back, and made a mockery of his name. 

After Cholly attempts to burn his own house down, he earns
a reputation of being a scoundrel, who, "having put his
family outdoors, had catapulted himself beyond the reaches
of human consideration. He had joined the animals; was
indeed, an old dog, a snake, a ratty nigger" (Morrison 18).
As long as society had an idea of who this man was and what
he stood for, it was impossible for Cholly to rise above
them. While it is hard to make a good first impression, it
is near impossible to change that impression. With that in
mind he could go nowhere but down. 

 Cholly's ultimate downfall, occur simultaneously with the
rape of Pecola: " The tenderness welled up in him, as he
sank to his knees, his eyes on the foot of his daughter.
Crawling on all fours toward her, he raised his hand and
caught the foot in an upward stroke...His mouth trembled at
the firm sweetness of her flesh. He closed his eyes,
letting his fingers dig into her waist. The rigidness of
her shocked body, the silence of her stunned throat, was
better than Pauline's easy laughter had been. The confused
mixture of his memories of Pauline and the doing of a wild
and forbidden thing excited him, and a bolt of desire ran
down his genitals, giving it length, and softening the lips
of his anus. He wanted to fuck-tenderly. But the tenderness
would not hold. The tightness of her vagina was more than
he could bear. His soul seemed to slip down to his guts and
fly out to her, and the gigantic thrust he made into her
then provoked the only sound she made, a hollow suck of air
in the back of her throat, like the rapid loss of air from
a circus balloon". With this final act, Cholly lost all
humanity conceivable. His search for himself ended in

Pauline Breedlove, wife of Cholly, mother of Pecola, is a
servant in a white household. The times she was there
working for this family without any reminder of her own
failures were the only times that she felt truly happy . It
was there and only there that she finally felt as if she
were part of something successful. In Pauline's search for
her identity and ultimately her happiness, she learned
exactly what she would have to sacrifice so that she could
be content, as well as the difference between herself and
the rest of society. The movie theater helped her realize
the stark difference between her and other women. "Along
with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to
another-physical beauty. She was never able, after her
education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign
it some category in the scale of absolute beauty..."
(Morrison 122). As Pauline learned what physical beauty
was, she also learned for what it stood. In that time
physical beauty was the ideal of Shirly Temple beauty, the
equation of blond hair and blue eyes to beauty. It
signified equality, happiness, worthiness, and overall
comfort. If you were a white woman with those qualities
living in northern America you were content, it was that
simple. As Pauline learned these guidelines, she gave birth
to Pecola and got a job as a black "mammy" to a white
family. She quickly learned that when she was in the
company of her white family, who were equal, happy, and
worthy in the eyes of society, it rubbed off on her and she
felt as if she was part of all these positive virtues. On
the other hand, the more time she spent with her own black
family, the more time she realized how ugly, poor, and
unworthy they were. It was as if "the master had said, `you
are ugly people.' They had looked about themselves and saw
nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support
for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie,
every glance" (Morrison 39). In coming upon this
realization, Pauline has a decision to make. She could have
stuck with her biological family, continued to be
unsatisfied but be accepted as an equal, or she could
completely give up on her own family and devote all her
time, energy, and love on her white charges. To Pauline
this decision is obvious and she makes it hastily. Without
a second thought she mentally leaves her family in place
for her "Perfect Life". However she fails to realize that
by committing herself to a servant's life that's all she
will ever amount to be - a black servant in a white world. 

Have all of the characters found their identity? Pecola
Breedlove yearned for blue eyes. At the end of the book she
believes that she has those blue eyes. She believes that
people treat her funny because they are jealous of her blue
eyes and she has learned to happily accept that. Pecola
yearned for the acceptance and love of society seen through
her eyes. No matter if that acceptance and love were really
there, she thought it was and therefore was able to
survive. "I [Soaphead Church], I have caused a miracle. I
gave her the eyes. I gave her the blue, blue, two blue
eyes... No one else will see her blue eyes. But she will.
And she will live happily ever after" (Morrison 182).
Pecola found herself only by going insane. Although Pecola
is not accepted by society for reasons she does not
understand, she puts her exclusion from society into terms
she can comprehend. Society influences her identity. They
mold her into what she becomes by not giving her the
guidance and approval she needs. In the same way, Cholly
found himself separated from the community. After the
realization of the perception the community has of him, he
is demoralized and does an act of inhumanity. He could not
live with the realization of the monster he had become and
he disappeared. As a man he did not know who he was. In a
sense he needed an act that would completely set him apart
from the rest of the rational world for him to find
himself. He sanely found himself as Pecola insanely found
herself. They finished with varying results. While Pecola
was separate but content, Cholly was separate and
unsatisfied. Pauline, on the other hand, chose an identity
she could be content with. She had an option to become two
very different people and she chose the one that seemed
right for her. Her distorted view of reality made it seem
that the choice she made was accepted in society, and would
allow her to increase her status in society. However, her
overseer saw it and described it in actuality. "We could
never find anyone like Polly. She will not leave the
kitchen until everything is in order. Really, she is the
ideal servant" (Morrison 128). This twist of perspective
shows how Pauline is really accredited. It seems that the
only truly satisfied person is Pauline. Pecola is not
content, she will not ever be. Her father took away that
option. Cholly is not satisfied. He can not handle the
naked truth that he is a beast, and therefore retreats from
society. Pauline, though looked down upon by society, was
somehow satisfied with her identity. Her twisted view of
reality made her believe that she was accepted as an equal
in society. 

The Breedlove family are representatives of the black
rising community in the north. Pecola a "dismissed,
trivialized, misread" ( Morrison 216) child, was
representative of the younger Black population. While her
ending does not conform to societies norm her story does.
Cholly was a misunderstood Black male adult. He was a part
of the generation that started the Black community in the
north. For Cholly, the responsibilities of that were too
great and he therefore needed to withdraw from society.
Pauline was representative of the part of the Black ---
that tried too hard to conform to the White culture. She
found what she was looking for and was able to convince
herself that she was happy, but she did not really have a
place where she truly fit in. The Breedlove family is a
black family living in the 1940s. They have to deal with
the same problems, situations, and dilemmas as do the rest
of the rising Black community in the north. 
The Bluest Eye

tells their story and offers their experiences.   

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