Quest For Personal Identity In Toni Morrison\'s The Bluest Eye

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 resulting
problems ensued. 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 and 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 a constantly drunk and 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. Yadaddsleepsnekked. 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\'"