August 31, 2012
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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?
August 1, 2012
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I have a few entries lined up that I’ll be posting throughout the month (so be sure to check back!), but I thought I’d start the conversation about The Bluest Eye by asking about the reaction that you, personally, had to it and the feelings that it inspired in you.
I was in the final semester of my junior year of college the first time I read The Bluest Eye. I was taking a seminar class that focused on Morrison’s novels, which we worked through in chronological order. As The Bluest Eye is Morrison’s first novel, it was the first thing we read. While I was familiar with Morrison’s work, having read Beloved once in high school and twice in other college-level classes (suffice it to say that I’m never reading it again, even though I enjoyed it), I had never had the opportunity to fully explore her works. I loved the class so much that I wound up writing my undergraduate thesis on her works (which necessitated yet another re-reading of Beloved). While I ultimately didn’t include The Bluest Eye in my thesis, it was my second-favorite book we read that semester after Paradise.
I know that I am somewhat unusual in that I read The Bluest Eye after a lot of Morrison’s other works. According to many of my friends, both in the book blogging community and in real life, The Bluest Eye is often assigned to high-school age students (14-18, for those of you who aren’t in the US). Have you read it before reading it for this challenge? Did your reaction to it change over time? If you haven’t read it before, what is your initial reaction to it?