The Bluest Eyes: Effects of Racism on Sexual Lives of Characters in the Bluest Eye
Margorie Clemente November 8th, 2012 English 2705 Topic #3 Effects of Racism on Sexual Lives of Characters in The Bluest Eye In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, we are introduced to the adverse circumstances that surround the characters involving sex. We are asked to recognize that the major male characters—Cholly Breedlove, Mr. Henry, and Soaphead Church—are all attracted to young girls and the majority of these young girls are all victims in a short scholarly essay “The Bluest Eye Theme of Sex”. Cholly rapes his daughter Pecola, Mr.
Henry fondles Claudia’s sister Frieda, and Soaphead acts on his eroticized thoughts towards children, especially little girls. This connection helps illuminate one of the more subtle facets in this novel: racism—particularly “white ways” and early experiences with sex are what deeply influence the sexual practices of the characters in the novel and eventually destroy their family units and lives. One of the first examples of “white ways” we are introduced to in The Bluest Eye is a scene where a neighbor of Claudia and Frieda tells them that they cannot walk into the Greek hotel lobby.
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This is Claudia’s reaction: “We stare at her, wanting her bread, but more than that wanting to poke the arrogance out of her eyes and smash the pride of ownership that curls her chewing mouth. When she comes out of the car we will beat her up, make red marks on her white skin, and she will cry and ask us do we want her to pull her pants down. We will say no. We don’t know what we should feel or do if she does, but whenever she asks us, we know she is offering us something precious and that our own pride must be asserted by refusing to accept” (9).
Claudia is aware of her neighbor’s pompous attitude and is enraged, inclined to hurt her the moment she steps out from the safety of her car. She is also cognizant of the fact that her neighbor’s attitude and associates it with the whiteness of her skin, considering that Claudia wishes to make visible red marks on it, as if to ruin her complexion. She also mentions that, in desperation, the woman will cry out and ask if the girls want her to pull down her pants. It is frightening that Claudia, at such a tender age, would understand the concept of sexual abuse.
She isn’t sure what to feel if the woman does ask them this but she feels inclined to turn the offer down in order to impose their pride. Claudia does understand that sexually threatening someone is to be in a position of power; she knows that something “precious” is being offered to her—something intimate and private—if the woman ever does pull her pants down. While the woman’s dignity and pride has been stripped from her, Claudia feels that their pride has been increased. Like most victims in the novel, sexual abuse is used in order to give the abuser a sense of empowerment.
Little does the white race know (especially white men) that they have so precariously tossed around the notion of sexual abuse as a tool of humiliation and as a threat. While on the subject of humiliation, another vivid example that “white ways” have threatened the well being of black people in this novel is through sexual repression. The “white ways” included inflicting their repressions on blacks in order to rid of their imperfections. In order to caste blacks as inferior, they utilized tactics such as making blacks feel ashamed of their sexuality—blacks were animalistic in their ways and chastised for expressing their desires.
Because whites often repressed their own sexual desires, they returned in vicious, twisted manners. One example from the text is when Pecola gets her first period and realizes that she can now bear children. Then the little girl Rosemary, their neighbor next door, notices the girls “playing nasty” and shouts it out to Claudia’s mother. Pecola only happened to have her period and in the midst of attempting to bury her bloody pants, Claudia’s mother storms out, whipping the three of them (27-31).
These young black girls are made to feel ashamed of their changing bodies and sexuality because of the white race and to be secretive of the functions in their reproductive organs. This also resembles the notion of becoming “ruined” when a girl is no longer a virgin implying that sex is a shameful act. Due to whites imposing their frustrations and expressing their extreme hatred unto blacks, they are hindering children’s abilities to grow into healthy adults with fairly normal sex lives. Moreover, this same kind of repression creates a foil between M’Dear’s character and Soaphead’s.
M’Dear serves as a doctor in the novel who is completely comfortable with people’s bodies—not squeamish, afraid, or anxious of the human body, while Soaphead is thoroughly repulsed by making contact with others. Not only does he try to repress the African-American blood in his ancestors, but he also goes as far as attempting to scrub away almost all contact with other humans. Ironically, he only associates himself with little girls because they are pure and innocent—describing the taste of their bodies and justifying his lewd behavior. “The buds.
The buds on some of these saplings…. Daring me to touch. Commanding me to touch. Not a bit shy, as you’d suppose. They stuck out at me, oh yes, at me…. I couldn’t, as you must recall, keep my hands, my mouth off of them. Salt-sweet. Like not quite ripe strawberries covered with the light salt sweat of running days and hopping, skipping, jumping hours…. Do you know that when I touched their sturdy little tits and bit them—just a little—I felt I was being friendly? …. Playful, I felt, and friendly. Not like the newspapers said. Not like the people whispered” (179-181).
Soaphead is hardly aware that he is possibly aiding these children into developing tortured, molested, bitter souls just like him. This quote resembles the stream of consciousness writing technique. Within Soaphead’s scatter-brained thoughts, he is reminds himself—more than attempting to convince anyone else or the Lord—that he is not the monster others claim he is. He also repeats to himself that he is merely being playful and friendly as he molests the young girls, again, tentatively trying to persuade himself and manipulate his emotions.
For instance, when someone feels horrible in the aftermath of a horrible lie to a loved one, in order to cope, they might find ways to convince themselves that the lie either wasn’t as grave, or that they weren’t actually telling a lie. An even more startling observation of Soaphead is the way he not only tries to rise above a group of people in terms of social class, but he tries to rise above everyone and everything as he takes on the role of God. “That’s why I changed the little black girl’s eyes for her, and I didn’t touch her, not a finger did I lay on her. But I gave her those blue eyes she wanted.
Not for pleasure, and not for money. I did what You did not, could not, would not do: I looked at that ugly little black girl, and I loved her. I played You” (181-182). Soaphead has completely lost his sense of self and now views himself as a figure that competes with God and has earned the right to take on the Lord’s responsibilities. Soaphead boldly states God’s mistakes and in a very cynical manner, says that he has done what God cannot and has not done. This includes his attempt to give Pecola blue eyes. Strangely, his method consists of poisoning, ruining the life of another in order to please someone else.
Being a faulty miracle-worker is Soaphead’s idea of distancing himself from the human race as a whole and becoming something of a celestial character—closer to God but also his enemy. The pressure of a white society solely causes Soaphead’s repression of his identity and sexual desires—the less “blackness” he reveals, the cleaner he feels; therefore, he “whitens” himself, represses his thoughts, his emotions, and even rejects his heritage. Cholly Breedlove is yet another victim of “white ways”, cruelty, abandonment, and sexual abuse.
Abandoned and mistreated by both parents, Cholly was brought into the world, unwanted and lost from birth. Parts of Cholly’s tribulations that affect him and his family’s lives later on are greatly associated with his earlier experiences with sex. Two armed white men discover Cholly and Darlene, a girl he was attracted to, having sex in the bushes. One of the men points his flashlight towards them, as if to make a spectacle of the act, while they jeer and force Cholly to finish. Humiliated and left with no choice, he pulls his pants down again and continues to have sex with Darlene.
The men stand there snickering and growling words of encouragement towards Cholly to keep going for their own sick amusement. This image of the glare from the man’s flashlight protruding in on their privacy represents a form of rape. Violated and having had his dignity stripped from him at such a tender age; the men’s taunts and sneers traumatize and haunt him for life. At one point Cholly feels great disgust and hatred towards Darlene in the act and in the aftermath. “Sullen, irritable, he cultivated his hatred of Darlene. Never did he once consider directing his hatred toward the hunters.
Such an emotion would have destroyed him. They were big, white, armed men. He was small, black, helpless…. He was, in time, to discover that hatred of white men—but not now. Not in impotence but later, when the hatred could find sweet expression” (151). Darlene becomes subject to his hatred because of Cholly’s immediate response to repress his anger. Rather than hating the white men, he shifts his anger towards the next vulnerable figure before him: Darlene. Despite that she had no contribution to their deliberate humiliation, Cholly cannot possibly confront the two white men or express his anger towards them.
Should he have challenged the white men or called them out on their wickedness, the consequences may have been dire and even deadly. This is how much of an influence the white race had on blacks. Toni Morrison’s “Afterword” of The Bluest Eye studiously mirrors the success of her novel to Pecola’s life: “The initial publication of The Bluest Eye was like Pecola’s life: dismissed, trivialized, misread. And it has taken twenty-five years to gain for her the respectful publication this edition is. Now that both Morrison and Pecola gained the recognition they deserve, scholars have spent years meticulously dissecting this remarkably written, lyrical novel. Several of the themes include whiteness equivalent to beauty, racism, love, family, and ultimately sex. Sex in this novel is one of the most universal and versatile themes; it is simultaneously awkward, violent, dishonorable, humiliating, and sometimes—but rarely—pleasurable. Works Cited Shmoop Editorial Team. “The Bluest Eye Theme of Sex” Shmoop. com. Shmoop University, Inc. , 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 10 Nov. 2012. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Penguin Press, 1970.