A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Wrapping up The Bluest Eye

So, now that we’ve all presumably read it (again), what are your thoughts? 

There are a few things that stuck out at me when I read it this time.

First is the visceral presentation of internalized racism. Prior to reading it, I’d been totally oblivious to the effect that beauty norms in the United States have on people who aren’t white. It simply never occurred to me, even though I’ve been on the receiving end of some impressively ignorant commentary upon the more “exotic” aspects of my appearance (I’m bi-racial, but mostly look white). The theme of ugliness is really critical in The Bluest Eye; much of Pecola’s trauma and the MacTeer sisters’ rage centers around the notion that blackness makes them ugly and less desirable.The image of Pecola drinking gallons of milk out of a Shirley Temple cup is especially powerful, as is her mother’s obsession with movies and white actors and actresses), both of which symbolize the extent to which notions of white beauty are ingrained upon everyone’s collective subconscious. 

I was also struck by Morrison’s critique of second wave feminism’ handling of domestic politics. The Bluest Eye was published in 1970, as the second wave of feminism was picking up speed. I can’t help but read much of the narrative as a critique of the second-wave ideal of the woman as someone who casts off the shackles of domestic labor in order to have a career, as epitomized by Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique, which was published in 1963. While it was doubtless an incredibly important work of feminist literature, it largely overlooked the fact that poor women, especially women of color, had always worked outside the home, often in the domestic sphere of white families, and that this work took a toll on their own families. Perhaps they would have preferred to devote time to their own families, rather than the career of caring for white ones? Morrison’s critique rings true even today, as many women, particularly poor women and women are color, are funneled into so-called “pink collar” caregiver professions. 

What do y’all think? 

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4 responses to “Wrapping up The Bluest Eye

  1. onereadleaf September 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Well, I wrote a post about it, so that says some of the things that I wanted to say.

    What you call the “domestic politics” aspect of the book was really striking, although when I read it, it didn’t seem as if the problem was, exactly, that Mrs. Breedlove would have preferred to spend the time on her own family; rather, she was attracted to this privileged world and was semi-adopted into it as a second-class citizen. This encouraged her to accept it as superior to the world of her own family, and she ended up developing a disturbingly aspirational attitude toward it and a certain disgust for her own family. So the problem wasn’t so much that it took her out of her house (I’m not sure she wanted to be there, really), as that putting her in such a situation lead to her adopting a set of values that told her that she and her family were lesser and the white family was perfect. So–it works in very much the same way as the beauty stuff that you discussed in the earlier part of your post.

  2. mdbrady September 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    I agree with onereadleaf that the problem was that Mrs. Breedlove turned her back on her family, liking the white family/home/little girl more than her own. I wish everyone who thinks it is wonderful for black domestic workers to assimilate into their employers’ family would read this book and see the problems that could cause. For me the book is about the need for love and community, and for blacks to look after their own rather than be seduced by white aspirations.

    I believe this book is about and for the black community, not aimed at the mistakes that white feminists were making. Morrison never showed any interest in white feminists, and the book is too early to be part of that debate.

  3. amymckie September 5, 2012 at 2:30 am

    Thank you so much for hosting this book! I’m so glad I finally got a chance to read Morrison and I look forward to so much more. The topic of internalized racism was the one that really hit home most powerfully for me I think. Although I’d read much about it before, and discussed it with others, she just writes it so fantastically.

    My review is here: http://amckiereads.com/2012/08/31/review-the-bluest-eye-by-toni-morrison/

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