Influence of Afro-American Folklore on Toni:
There is a great influence of Afro-American Folklore on Toni. The Afro-American Folklore is the basis for Morrison’s fiction, as for most Black American Literature. Themes like the quest for identity, freedom, the nature of evil and the powerful verses of the powerless became themes of Afro-American literature. This folklore encapsulates the history of Black and White interaction in the United States and also epitomizes the sentiments expressed in the Protest Literature. In her novels, she goes much deeper into the very roots of racism, sexism, and classism and exposes the ideological basis of these pernicious social evils.
Introduction to ‘The Bluest Eye’:
The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel, a book heralded for its richness of language and boldness of vision. Set in the author’s girlhood hometown of Lorain Ohio, it tells the story of black eleven year old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola praised for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and beloved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. The main theme in this is the ‘quest for individual identity and the influence of the family and society in that quest.’ This theme is present throughout the novel and evident in many of the characters. Thus, Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove, and Pauline Breedlove and all are embodiments of this quest for identity, as well as symbols of the quest of many of the Black Northern newcomers of that time. In order to understand the above stated theme of the novel the condition of Blacks in America has to be taken into consideration.
Pecola’s Quest for Her Own Identity:
The Breedlove family is a group of people under the same roof, a family by name only. Cholly the head person of the family is always drunk and an abusive man. His abusive is apparent towards his wife and daughter. He abuses his wife Pauline physically and his daughter Pecola sexually. Pauline works as a “mammy” in a white family and prefers to favor them over her biological family. Pecola is a little black girl with low self-esteem. The world had forced her to believe that she is ugly and she must have blue eyes, if she wants to look beautiful. Therefore, every night she prays before sleeping that she will wake up with blue eyes. She was brought up as a poor unwanted girl in the society. But Pecola always desired the acceptance and love of society. The image of ‘Shirely Temple Beauty’ surrounds her. The idea that she must have blue eyes, if she wants to look beautiful has been imprinted on Pecola her whole life.
Pecola always thinks, “if I looked different, beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they would say, “Why look at pretty eyed Pecola. We must not do bad things in front of those pretty blue eyes”. Thus, she was mad after blue eyes. Many factors have helped imprint this ideal of beauty on her. She was always treated badly by many people in her surroundings. Mr. Yacowbski avoids seeing her and treats her as if she were invisible. “He does not see her, because for him there is nothing to see”. Her classmates also have an effect on her. They seem to think that because she is not beautiful, there is nothing worthy in her, she is useless. In this way, she becomes the focal point of their mockery. They used to shout at her saying “Black e mo, black e mo”. Not only children, but adults also had to mock at her. Geraldine, a white woman always refused to tolerate “niggers”. Once, seeing Pecola in her house Geraldine started shouting at her, “You nastily little black bitch. Get out of my house”. Thus, Pecola was never able to get away from this kind of ridicule. At home also she had to face the same thing. One day Pecola was visiting her mother at the home where she is working. Accidently there she knocked over a blueberry pie and burned by the hot pastry. But Pecola’s mother completely ignored her feelings of pain and instead continued the comforting of her white “daughter”. For a little girl, the love of her mother is the most important love she can receive. But this hunger of love was never fulfilled by her mother. Finally, the rape by her father is the last evidence Pecola needs to believe completely that she is an ugly unlovable girl.
Generally, a father figure is one who little girls look to for guidance and approval, but Cholly, Pecola’s father is the exact opposite. Cholly hurts Pecola badly instead of loving her and takes away from her the one thing that was completely hers. After the rape, Pecola was so sad to see, and she went insane. Pecola’s quest for identity was defined by her everlasting desire to be loved. Her purpose in life was to be beautiful and to be loved, but her family and the community made it impossible for her. Thus, Pecola failed to set up her own identity in the society.
Cholly Breedlove’s Quest for Identity:
Cholly Breedlove, the father of Pecola also lacked his individual identity and self-esteem. He was born to an unwed mother. His father ran away the day of his birth. This horrible beginning of his life reflects in his everyday actions and in his views. His mother also left him alone in the world. Another major cause of Cholly’s downfall was the way the community treated him. They never respected him, and talked about him behind his back. In this way, the community made a mockery of his name. However, Cholly’s ultimate downfall occurs simultaneously with the rape of Pecola. Thus, with that act, Cholly lost all humanity conceivable and his search for himself ended in destruction.
Pauline Breedlove’s Quest for Identity:
Pauline Breedlove, the mother of Pecola is another example of the embodiment of ‘the quest for identity’. She feels truly happy when she works for the white family. It is there and there only that she feels as if she is a part of something valuable. In her search for her identity and happiness, she learned the difference between herself and the rest of the society. At the same time, the movie theatre helped her realize the clear difference between her and other women. Then Pauline learned about the physical beauty and also learned for what it stood. In those days, physical beauty was the ideal of Shirely Temple beauty, the equation of blond hair and blue eyes to beauty. The Shirely Temple beauty signified happiness, equality, worthiness, and overall comfort. As Pauline learned these qualities, she got a job as a black “mammy” in a white family. Then she felt as if she was a part of all these qualities, when she was in the company of her white family. On the contrary, the more she lived with her own black family, the more she realized how ugly, poor and unworthy they were. After that, Pauline mentally left her family in place of her “perfect life”. However, she fails to realize that by committing herself to a servant’s life, she will remain only a black servant in a white world.
Have all of the characters found their identity? Pecola Breedlove yearned for blue eyes; and also yearned for the acceptance and love of society seen through her eyes. But she is not accepted by society; rather the society influences her identity. They mold her into what she becomes by not giving her the guidance and approval she needs. Similarly, Cholly found himself separated from the community. He is demoralized and does an act of inhumanity, when he realizes the perception the community has of him. Thus, Pecola and Cholly finished with different results. Pecola was separated but, content, and Cholly was separated but unsatisfied.
Pauline on the other hand, chose an identity she could be content with; so she was somehow satisfied with her identity. Her twisted view of reality made her believe that she was accepted as an equal in society. Thus, the Breedlove family is representative of the Black rising community in the North. They have to deal with the same problems of identity, situations, and dilemmas as do the rest of the rising black community in the North.