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The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison)

April 1, 2010

I can’t remember the last time I read this novel, but I know it was nearly a decade ago. It’s funny, but I remembered where the title came from (an African American girl who wished for blue eyes) but not the rest of the plot. I found myself very interested in the way Morrison employed the sort of revised Dick-and-Jane narrative throughout the novel. The first two pages of the novel are a brief Dick-and-Jane story that is repeated three times — the first in its normal format, the second without punctuation, and the third without punctuation or spaces between words. This reading, I realized that when she opens certain chapters with sections from these first two pages, the snatches of Dick-and-Jane narrative she opens the chapters with actually bring something to bear on the plot events of those chapters. In other words, she takes this seemingly-innocent child’s story and brings it to bear on the rest of the novel. When she uses an excerpt from it to start a chapter, it highlights one aspect of that chapter and brings the reader’s attention into focus around that aspect of the chapter. For example, she includes the following snippet at the beginning of a chapter in which we meet a woman whose relationship with her cat is more important to her and more intimate than her relationship with her husband and that with her son:

SEETHECATITGOESMEOWMEOWCOM
EANDPLAYCOMEPLAYWITHJANETHE
KITTENWILLNOTPLAYPLAYPLAYPLA (81)

Interestingly, she often uses these passages ironically. For instance, the chapter where we learn that (plot spoilers ahead!!) Pecola’s mother doesn’t really like her children, and that she prefers the little white girl whose family she works for, we get an excerpt that reads:

SEETHEMOTHERMOTHERISVERYNICEMO
THERWILLYOUPLAYWITHJANEMOTH
ERLAUGHSLAUGHMOTHERLAUGHLA (110)

By situating this passage at the beginning of the chapter, Morrison foregrounds the mother-daughter relationship that will become so crucial in this chapter. The fact that Pecola’s mother doesn’t like her children and resents Pecola for her ugliness from the day she is born becomes extremely ironic in light of this passage that includes a laughing and playful mother. The irony is stronger and harder to deal with in the chapter about Pecola’s father, Cholly. The opening excerpt (132) includes a big, strong, smiling father. This portrait of familial happiness is grossly distorted as the chapter leads up to Cholly’s rape(s) of his own daughter. The way Morrison writes the passages so that they’re bleeding together also lends a certain creepiness to them. The repeated lines, such as “laugh, Mother, laugh” turn into zombie-like commands that make the passages erie instead of cheerful. This mood permeates the entire novel, and really makes the reader see just how wrong things have gone in Pecola’s life. The twisting of the Dick-and-Jane narrative underlines the twisting of “normal” family roles (parents as loving protectors of their children) so that the world these children live in becomes distorted — a minefield of dangers where dangers should not exist.

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