172 pages of literary gold, including a foreword and an afterword, and the Dick and Jane primer pages.
When Toni Morrison started writing this story (1962) it was during a time when the black girl had no beauty aesthetic to model after. There was only the image of whiteness and white beauty, that of Shirley Temple in particular in this novel, with her golden locks and blue eyes and a world seemingly eating from the palm of her hands due to these physical traits. At least, that is what it seemed like to Pecola, the starring character in The Bluest Eye (1970).
The Bluest Eye, a tale of black identity, colourism, dominant standards of beauty, internalised racism, sexuality, (incestuous, psychological) rape, etc. It is set in a communal town where the people are troubled. Troubled not just by domestic issues but by their oppressive upbringings, troubled by the lurking shadows of colonisation and the loss or lack of an established identity. There is adolescence. There is the adult world and the world of the child, and that of the child leaning on the demarcation between the two, looking in on its neighboured world. A community of friendship, sisterhood, motherhood, parenthood and the married complexities of these relationships.
Morrison presents a set of experiences, many experiences, devastating experiences. There is no one narrator, protagonist or antagonist (not according to how I read it). I'd say the antagonism are the issues this community deals with: the social, political and economical ills. The detail employed to narrate some of these experiences are nothing less than abject; however, the novel would be less effective if these were written differently.
The characters often experiences bouts of rejection, ridicule, terror, hatred (from the outside and from within), resentment, nervousness, belonging and unbelonging, lots of hopelessness and helplessness, sacrifice with little reward, little redemption, and no happy ending.
But more than the story and the undertones of racial, social, identity and whatnot politics, is Morrison's writing.
(Also, the Dick and Jane technique is genius. Her use of punctuation and grammatical faults in the first few paragraphs sets the mood and idea for what is to follow. This challenges the idea of the "perfection" of the predominantly white nuclear family. The same with the beginning 'Autumn' narration — it reveals to the reader everything they need to know, which is in contradiction to the old keep-the-reader-guessing approach, she goes against the grain in so many ways. Just as I revere her in so many ways.)
Her sentences read like lines of poetry. There's mastery in her lyricism. I don't recall the source of the interview, but she mentions how she detests being called a "poetic writer;" the reasons for this owes to a linear focus to her work that ignores her full scope of writerly talent.
I've mentioned many characteristics to be found laced in novel, but I failed to mention love. There is love. Latent, but it is. It's woven in the parts of the stories shared that seem to be most empty of it. Note closely Morrison's strategic use of the seasons as themes, rather than chapters, and the seeds planted, and at which intervals, they are most revealing.
Quoting one of my favourite lines from the novel:
"Love is never any better than the lover."
Soon after I had finished the read, Sept' of last year, I happened to stumble upon Malcolm X's May, 1962 address to a congregation of black folk about their internalised hatred of the black image. And so, I decided to add it to this post (see my blog for video.
Also, If you haven't yet, I would like to take this opportunity to offer my recommendation that you read Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks (1952). Toni Morrison makes no explicit reference to Fanon's work, in the novel or elsewhere that I'm aware of (if she does, please do refer me), anyway, if you've read his psychoanalytical and theoretical explanations of the Black person's experience and psyche in a White world, you can easily relate Morrison's fictional depictions to be founded in hard-truths. Black Skin, White Masks was a life-changer for me. It not only told me but it showed me how lost I was in my perceptions and my experience of seemingly post- so-many-issues-to-list. It mapped out for me how latent my oppression was and how dangerously it lingered in my every day and threatened to cripple me, possibly until death, if I had not opened my eyes and ears to it soon. (This book deserves a post of its own. What has taken me so long to write one? I've lent it out so many times, I hardly know where to start looking for it.)