Through Piccolo’s journey for her own set of blue eyes, we learn about the main black characters and their quest for something more, and how they respond to the dominating white culture and society. Pauline Overlooked, who is Piccolo’s mother, learned about beauty and why she was not beautiful through movies and through her experiences as a black woman. She escaped to the movies as a young woman, watching the white feminine stars on the screen, where “[along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another – physical beauty.
Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought.
Both originated in envy, haired in insecurity, and ended in disillusion” (95). Because of her viewing white femininity as the thing to strive for, she tries to conform, as do the rest of the black women, to the white ideal, despite their blackness and it leads to an internalized self-hatred. Pauline begins to see herself through the eyes of her opposite, a white woman.
Pauline and other black women at the time, by trying to conform to white beauty has destructive qualities then on their communities, in the novel and during this time period.
One of the cornerstones of our modern society is the value of human beings along racial nines; the most prominent that people would see during that time period is that blackness is despised and so are the features that go along with it. There are black women in society at the time who had repressed their own heritage, their own race so they could fit in, like the character Geraldine. She had been well educated and adapted to the white society. She had tried to repress the black characteristics she had found in herself, that were not acceptable in white society.
She striver “to get rid of the funkiness” (64). Geraldine wanted to fit in so badly, she would not let her son play with black sys, and did not show him much attention, such as the way white women did not show their children much attention because they had the help for that. One of the most useful lessons she believes to teach her son is the difference between black people and colored people: “Colored people were neat and quiet; naggers were dirty and loud” (67).
She rejects all things that reminds her she is black, such as when she finds Pectoral in her house, who embodies all the negative aspects of being black: She looked at Pectoral. Saw the dirty torn dress, the plaits sticking out on her head, hair matted where the laity had come undone, the muddy shoes with the wad of gum peeping out from between the cheap soles, the soiled socks, one of which had been walked down into the heel on the shoe. She had seen this little girl all of her life.
Hanging out of windows over saloons in Mobile, crawling over the porches of shotgun houses on the edges of town, sitting in bus stations holding paper bags and crying to mothers who kept saying ‘Sheet up! ‘ (71, 72). Geraldine is used by Morrison to illustrate the people who in the time period help keep others of their race down in a way that they could not come back from without a major societal change. They were allowing the stereotype to be fueled because they comfortable where they were; much like the women’s rights movement, these black women who were comfortable where they were would not help the others.
Another character that rejects her black stereotype because she thinks she is better is than the other black girls is Maureen Peel. Maureen is a light skinned girl who thinks she is beautiful and Pectoral is ugly, which she speaks Very loudly during one scene. Morrison uses Maureen to set up the hierarchy of white beauty to black beauty and to ugliness in the relation to physical attributes. Unlike Pectoral, who is called ugly and made fun of, Maureen is treated well at school: She enchanted the entire school. When teachers called on her, they smiled encouragingly.
Black boys didn’t trip her in the halls; white boys didn’t stone her, white girls didn’t suck their teeth when she was assigned to be their work partners; black girls stepped aside when she wanted to use the sink in the girls’ toilets, and their eyes genuflected under sliding lids. (47, 48) Morrison demonstrates the difference between Maureen and Pectoral as a way to bring awareness how much others allowed Pectoral to believe that she deed her blue eyes, needed the beauty so she would be treated well and accepted.
By seeing how teachers, peers, and people in general treated a black girl with some white features, Pectoral begins to see what she is not and why she begins to hate herself. Her sadness is best seen by her father as she washes dishes in the kitchen, she was a “young, helpless, hopeless presence. Her back hunched that way; her head to one side as though crouching from a permanent and unrelieved blow. ” (161) Pectoral yearns for her blue eyes in the hope she will be loved.
Maureen is everything Pectoral is not and that fact that he is not beautiful enough to be loved leads to Piccolo’s downfall at the end of the novel, where she becomes mentally unstable as a young woman. However, not all the female characters were in awe of the Western view of beauty. The narrator, Claudia, embodies Morning’s warning of adopting these standards of beauty. Claudia at the beginning describes herself as indifferent to the white beauty and she wanted to know “What made people look at them and say, ‘Maw,’ but not for me? (22). She describes why she hates Maureen, not because she is beautiful, but because of what makes her dutiful “And all the time we knew that Maureen Peal was not worthy of such intense hatred. The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us” (58). This “thing” was the white standard of beauty that had been set by society, which the African American community internalized and sets the standard for that makes Maureen beautiful and Pectoral ugly.
Claudia felt comfort in her own skin and did not conform to the white vision of beauty that everyone else accepted. Claudia, as a child wonders why these people treated some as beautiful and others as not; Morning’s use of Claudia is to be the readers logic, the trader’s guide to see why this is wrong. As Claudia speaks of her own indifference towards white women, she brings up something that could be evidence to say she is not so indifferent: I destroyed white baby dolls. But the dismembering of dolls was not the true horror.
The truly horrifying thing was the transference of the same impulse to little white girls. The indifference with which could have axed them was only shaken by my desire to do so. To discover what eluded me: the Secret of the magic they weaved on others. (22). Though Claudia speaks of why she cannot figure out why people love white lolls and people like Shirley Temple, but only because she is taught it. She believed ‘the change was adjustment without improvement” (16) and the adjustment is the adjustment made by black people to want the white beauty they cannot have.
At the end of the novel, Claudia realizes that her world was a fantasy, created by black and white society: And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth. (163) The society they lived in created roles that black people accepted, where they followed rules.
They allowed for Pectoral to become the scapegoat for her ancestral pregnancy, because black society took up white ideals for beauty at the expense for others. Whiteness in The Bluest Eye was the symbol for beauty, innocence, purity, and goodness. The black women in the novel wanted to have beauty, innocence, purity, and goodness. They wanted to be accepted. Ultimately, it mess they wanted to be white. They wanted to be loved. Morrison combining whiteness and humans creates a racial tension seen in reality and in society. People are trying to reach, to achieve nearly impossible and plain impossible things. The beauty is not the point; it is there to symbolize how oppressed and molded black people were because of white society. In society we can challenge things such as racism or hate, but no matter when we do it, the challenge could come too late for others. Racism and the need for acceptance affects and dwells within every one of us, where we can all see in society, even decades after this novel was written, a Pectoral Overlooked, a Claudia, a Maureen Peel, or a Geraldine.
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