Originally posted March 20, 2018
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
They say that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. If the beholder is born into a world that has forcibly narrowed the definition of beauty down to a handful of irrefutable criteria, what then? Like all trends, the definition of beauty is set by societal powers that be. The rest of the population mindlessly follows the trend. These are the beholders. Few dare to make an open challenge.
In a moment of surprised admiration, the beholder forgets that handful of criteria and basks in a beauty never noticed. Just a moment passes, one fleeting moment of adoration warms the eyes, the cheeks, the heart, before the beholder realizes her sin against the norm. Shame is a sickening flood. Paranoia, self-loathing, bitterness grays the landscape and the beholder is repulsed. Shame and self-loathing turn to anger. The beheld must be punished.
In a moment of low-feelings, lack of accomplishment, and run of the mill worthlessness and dismay, a beholder has turned away from her own mirror chanting a silent mantra: Please don’t let anyone else notice. Please don’t let anyone notice. Please … The mantra screeches to a halt when someone else enters line of sight and the mouth of the beholder pulls tightly into an expression of mean relief, a mean laugh escapes loud enough for the beheld to notice. Oh, that one’s ugly. YOU’RE SO UGLY. I’m not nearly as ugly, thank god! No one will notice me now!
And what of the beheld, who had no hope, no choice, no noticeable voice. No hope of persuading others of her intelligence and self-worth, of her importance to even the tiniest sliver of the world? No choice in what features result from a random mishmash of DNA, no voice to speak the question of why people must hate that which is not fashionable in the moment, or the century. Hate can kill souls, murder bodies that don’t align with trending color, or tone, or shape. Who made hate fashionably acceptable? Why?
Toni Morrison believes that we all want to know why, but why can be too insurmountable, so here’s how. Here’s how a year of seasons and a small town of small-minded people honed down to baseness and despair all conspired to kill the soul of a child. To break the mind. To make suffer the ugly.
Perhaps, if we see how easily innocence can be murdered by mindlessness, we may recognize our own part in it and stop. Stop. Stop.
Set apart from the unflinching look at race, poverty, and the shame that gets ingrained in the genetics of those on the wrong side of either, the intensely rich language of The Bluest Eye is groundbreaking. The poetics of it, breathtaking. Without that choice and precise execution of gorgeous language skills, this story could not be consumed. We wouldn’t bear it.
It’s a brutal world poor Pecola suffers through. It’s a brutal world for all little girls, all little black girls whose parents don’t possess the personal tools, the personal pockets of hope to share with their little girls, that might reassure them. Here’s how to defend yourself, how to save your beautiful self.
Pecola’s story begins eight decades ago, The Bluest Eye was published nearly five decades ago. Has much changed in this world far out past olden timelines? Not a lot. Will reading Morrison’s first novel change the world? It just might change yours. Brace yourself.