Society is vided by what is considered acceptable and what is not, adapting to these concepts. As seen in Toni Morning’s The Bluest Eye, every individual is somehow swayed by the norm, often through their attempts to join the majority. Because we view ourselves in relation to those around us, the influences of society are impossible to escape, especially when one is on the side less favored. The clear disparity between one group and another has been clearly demonstrated throughout history.
The Bluest Eye takes place in a period of great civil injustice and inequality for African Americans.
It becomes obvious which side of society line of acceptance this group falls under: African Americans are, as Claudia puts it, a “minority in both caste and class” (17) due to the color of their skin. This demonstrates society’s alienation of that which is unfamiliar, or does not meet its standards. More specifically within the novel, Pectoral and the Breadboxes exemplify this.
They are considered inferior on every level-?they are black, low-class, and lacking in confidence. Even among fellow African Americans, they are looked down upon.
These traits make it obvious that they are not what society would deem perfect or ideal. All of these factors combined make them vulnerable to society judgments; they are susceptible to the pressure to try to conform. They are aware of themselves in context of the society in which they live, and this only makes their differences all the more obvious. Furthermore, they accept the title society places upon them-?everyone else believes that they are ugly, so they must be ugly. The Breadboxes wear this label with a resigned sort of compliance, without trying to change or grow beyond it.
They remain static, detached from society in their “own cell of consciousness, each making his win patchwork quilt Of reality” (34). Even in alienation, the Breadboxes’ perception of themselves is still determined by the views of the rest of society. This, in turn, begs the question of whether or not we need external forces of the rest of society to define ourselves as human beings. While it clear that some sort of status quo is necessary to formulate the concept of normalcy, whether or not we need a status to identify ourselves as individuals is not quite as clear.
The concept of nature versus nurture is crucial to consider. Human beings are not formed exclusively by one force or another but rather y a unique combination oftener own innate characteristics and those to which they have been exposed. However, because it is impossible to live in a society and be completely immune to its influences, people are, at least to some degree, a product of their surroundings. One cannot go through life without picking up on how others perceive them; actually, if anything, these cues are perhaps the strongest indicators one has.
We view ourselves in relation to what we know, I. E. Other people. Therefore, it is a natural reaction to compare ourselves to others and use them as a basis for our definitions of ourselves. Because we see others more than we see ourselves, the external world becomes the norm, the standard on which we base our own judgments. These inclinations can be seen beginning in children, like Pectoral, Claudia and Fried. At such impressionable ages, they already recognize that society treats them differently than other little girls. When Pectoral buys candy from Mr..
Washbowl’s, she notices the “total absence of human recognition” (48) and the “distaste… Lurking in the eyes of all white people” (49). Similarly, Claudia and Fried question the traits that make Maureen Peal better than hem, ultimately concluding that they are “nicer, brighter, but still lesser” (74) than Maureen. Even as children, they understand that, for some reason, they are not as pretty or as good as “the Maureen Peals of the world” (74). None of them know exactly why this is, but they seem to accept it because that is what the world has taught them.
The words and actions of everyone else have shown them that they are outsiders and that they are not equal to others in the social hierarchy. Altogether, this combination of being accustomed to what one sees in others and rejecting the unfamiliar can lead to a sort of detachment from one’s own self. There is a tendency throughout mankind to treat one’s self more harshly than one would treat others-?as people we often treat ourselves in way we would never allow others to be treated.
In a similar vein, Pectoral bases her self worth upon beauty because she recognizes that it brings adoration and admiration, which she equates with the love and acceptance she has been denied. This breeds a sense of self-loathing and inadequacy, instilled in her from the start by the treatment she has received. Pectoral feels that if she can become beautiful like Shirley Temple or Maureen Peal, ultimately by acquiring the bluest eyes, she will be loved and accepted. A similar mindset of ostracism can be found in her entire family, who too are cast out by society.
Poly, a Southern black transplanted in the North, fits in with neither the whites, nor the other blacks. As a result, she suffers from feelings of displacement and exclusion. She seeks some sort validation or approval, trying to change herself because she “merely [wants] other women to cast favorable glances her way” (1 18). Coolly is in some way abandoned by all of the adult figures in his life-?his mother left him, his Aunt Jimmy died, ND his father wanted nothing to do with him-?leaving him bitter and lonely.
As a result of that, along with the traumatic experience of his first sexual encounter, Coolly is filled with misguided anger, unable to properly express his emotions. Both Poly and Coolly experience rejection, and so it is the only thing they know to pass on to their children. In accepting their exclusion, it is almost as if they are accepting that they are less than human. When one lives immersed in a society or culture, it is inevitable for the views of the people surrounding them to leech into one’s own.
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