The Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison
(Discussion questions provided by Litlovers.com and Oprah.com)
1. Morrison has written about a young black girl's obsession with a concept of beauty established by a white culture.
- How is the concept of "beauty" created—and how subjective is it?
- What are the parameters of beauty—for men and women, black and white. Do those parameters change across cultures or through history?
- How pervasive is the "culture of beauty" in modern society—and to what extent are all of us prisoners of "beauty"?
2. Pecola's connects the idea of beauty with being loved. To what extent are we all guilty of making that connection?
3. What is Claudia's role? You might also talk about the power of storytelling to create a distinct reality.
4. Discuss the role of racism in this work.
5. Talk about how Pecola and other African-American characters have internalized the white world—even starting with the Dick and Jane primer.
6. The novel opens with an excerpt from an old-fashioned reading primer. The lines begin to blur and run together-as they do at the beginning of select chapters. What social commentary is implicit in Morrison's superimposing these bland banalities describing a white family and its activities upon the tragic story of the destruction of a young black girl? How does Morrison's powerful language-both highly specific and lyrical-comment on the inadequacy of "correct" English and the way in which it masks and negates entire worlds of beauty and pain?
7. "Quiet as it's kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father's baby that the marigolds did not grow." With these lines Morrison's child narrator, Claudia MacTeer, invites the reader into a troubling community secret: the incestuous rape of her 11-year-old friend Pecola Breedlove. What are the advantages of telling Pecola's story from a child's point of view? Claudia would appear to connect the barrenness of the land to Pecola's tragedy. In what ways does Morrison show how Pecola's environment-and American society as a whole-are hostile to her very existence?
8. The title of the novel refers to Pecola Breedlove's intense desire for blue eyes. She believes herself ugly and unworthy of love and respect, but is convinced that her life would be magically transformed if she possessed blue eyes. How does racial self-loathing corrode the lives of Pecola and her parents, Cholly and Pauline Breedlove? How does racial self-hatred manifest itself in characters like Maureen Peal, Geraldine, and Soaphead Church?
9. At a certain point in the novel, Morrison, through her narrator, states that romantic love and physical beauty are "probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought." How do the lives of individual characters bear out that statement? To what degree are these two concepts generated from within or imposed on us by society? Where do the characters first encounter ideas of romantic love and beauty-ideas which will eventually torture and exclude them? What positive visions of beauty and love does the novel offer?
10. What role does social class play in the novel? Pecola first comes to stay with the MacTeers because her family has been put "outdoors" owing to her father's drunken violence and carelessness. The threat of "outdoors" focuses families like the MacTeers on upward mobility. "Being a minority in both caste and class we moved about anyway on the hem of life, struggling to consolidate our weaknesses and hang on, or to creep singly up into the folds of the garment." Is divisiveness one result of this upward striving Morrison describes? What are others?
11. The novel is set in a Midwestern industrial town, Lorain, Ohio, Morrison's own birthplace. Pauline and Cholly Breedlove are transplanted Southerners and several key scenes in the novel are set in the South. How does Morrison set up comparisons between a Northern black community and the Southern black way of life? What values have been lost in the migration north?
12. Consider Morrison's characterization of Cholly Breedlove. While she clearly condemns his actions, she resists dehumanizing him. If rape of one's daughter is an "unimaginable" crime, can one at least trace the events (and resulting emotions) that made it possible for Cholly to commit this brutal act? Is there a connection between the white hunters' "rape" of Cholly and the sexual aggression he eventually turned on his daughter?
13. The Bluest Eye was published in 1970. At the time Morrison was writing the novel, the racist society that condemned Pecola Breedlove was still very much in place and Morrison took great risks-both within the black community and American society as a whole—to tell this important story. While advances in civil rights and racial attitudes have been made in the intervening years, it is arguable that many of the core issues so vividly evoked in the novel remain. What evidence is there that racial self-hatred continues to ruin lives? What present-day cultural factors could contribute to tragedies like Pecola's?
Other Works by Toni Morrison
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