The Bluest Eye Book summary

Toni Morrison




"The Bluest Eye” is Toni Morrison’s debut novel, and it is a profound exploration of racism, beauty standards, and the human condition. Morrison was inspired to write "The Bluest Eye" by a childhood memory of an African American girl who wished for blue eyes. She remembers feeling a great sense of wrongness from the imagined vision, and it led her to examine the damaging impact of American society's beauty ideals on young African-American girls. She wanted to delve into the complexities of racial identity and self-worth, creating a narrative that exposed the harsh realities faced by those who internalize the notion that white features are superior.

Through its haunting portrayal of Pecola Breedlove's yearning for blue eyes and the deep-seated racial prejudices that shape her life, "The Bluest Eye" has become a seminal work in African-American literature. Morrison's candid examination of the impact of beauty standards on self-esteem as well as the tragic consequences of internalized racism continue to make the novel a relevant piece of art that forces readers to reflect on their perception of beauty as well as race.


Plot Summary

The Bluest Eye” paints a vivid portrait of life in a racially segregated America during the 1940s. The focus of the novel is the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young African-American girl growing up in a disturbed household, who yearns for blue eyes because she thinks that being beautiful will finally halt the misfortune that has always plagued her. In addition to being raised in a poor and dysfunctional household, Pecola faces relentless racism from the rest of society. She is forced to internalize society's beauty standards, and they lead her to see herself as unworthy and unlovable.

The novel opens with the narration of Claudia MacTeer, who looks back on her childhood in Lorain, Ohio, along with her older sister, Frieda. They live with their loving but imperfect parents who struggle to make ends meet. The MacTeer girls often interact with Pecola, who comes to live with them for a short while in the Autumn, after her father sets their house on fire in a drunken rage. The Breedloves are the epitome of a dysfunctional family, with Pauline Breedlove working as a servant and Cholly Breedlove struggling with alcoholism and being raised without ever having known his parents.

As the story unfolds, we learn more about Pecola's life and her longing for blue eyes. This desire is intensified by her interactions with the neighborhood girls, Maureen Peal and the light-skinned Geraldine, who are regarded as beautiful due to their closer proximity to white beauty standards. These encounters only deepen Pecola's feelings of inferiority, and she becomes fixated on obtaining blue eyes, seeing them as a way to transcend her societal status. Morrison weaves the narratives of different characters, including Pecola's parents, Pauline and Cholly Breedlove, who have painful pasts that contribute to their troubled family life. Cholly, in particular, has a traumatic childhood experience, and his emotional turmoil leads him to perpetrate a disturbing act of violence toward Pecola. Cholly had been abandoned in the trash by his mother, and he had been unable to learn anything other than his father’s name. Furthermore, Cholly was humiliated at gunpoint by white hunters who had found him making love to a girl in the fields. Morrison describes him as a free man because, after the death of his Aunt Jimmy, he never had to answer to anyone. Cholly returns home drunk one evening, and his daughter reminds him of his wife, he rapes her and leaves her lying unconscious in the kitchen. Eventually, Pecola becomes pregnant with his child, but the child does not survive. On the contrary, Claudia and Frieda grow increasingly aware of the racism and injustice surrounding them, but their resilience and strong family support help them navigate these challenges with their sense of self-worth intact. Claudia, in particular, questions the beauty standards imposed on them and refuses to internalize the notion that white features are superior.

The novel also introduces the character of Soaphead Church, a false prophet who preys on Pecola's vulnerability. He manipulates her into believing that he can grant her wish for blue eyes, but his deceptive intentions only deepen Pecola's pain and disillusionment. As the story reaches its climax, Pecola experiences a traumatic event that shatters her fragile sense of self. The novel concludes with a heart-wrenching moment, as Claudia and Frieda express their empathy for Pecola and her suffering, recognizing that society's distorted ideals of beauty have tragically affected her life.

  • Author(s)

    Toni Morrison
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Race, Beauty Standards