- Beauty

The Concept of Beauty in Morrison's The Bluest Eye


The title of the novel The Bluest Eye itself gives us some interesting insights about the standards of beauty. Toni Morrison exhibits in this novel the illusory nature of the social construction of beauty. It is partly created by the imaginary world of movie stars and advertising bill boards. The superlative degree of ‘blue’ is used in the title to show how intensely blacks adore the white beauty and blue eyes. When at the end of the novel Pecola has gone mad, we find her obsessed with having the bluest eyes of anyone living. It is also noteworthy that the title has ‘eye’ in the singular form by disembodying the eye. Morrison subverts the idea of beauty or standard of beauty. She tears the idealized part away from the whole. Thus, she creates a beauty icon that is not even human. This non-human aspect of the ideal eye is reinforced by Pecola’s new blue eyes at the novel’s end.

The central figure of this very novel, Pecola Breedlove, is fascinated from her early years by the bluest eye which symbolizes beauty for her and the action of this novel resolves mainly around her fascination. The prelude frames the story to let the readers know the beginning as well as the end of her life.

Through The Bluest Eye, the novelist examines the effect of the media on popular thinking. Using the white middle to upper-class society as a backdrop for the black community of Loraine, Ohio, Morrison asserts that the concept of beauty is affected by mainstream culture. To show the acceptance of African Americans towards the “white beauty” the writer uses popular figures from the 1940’s. This is first seen when Mr. Henry arrives at the MacTeer’s house, greeting Claudia and Frieda with: “Hello there. You must be Greta Garbo, and you must be Ginger Rogers” [16]. Rogers, a dancer, and Garbo, a mysterious movie star, were both white, leading the reader to assume that white women were used to describe pretty girls of any race. Pecola Breedlove, who comes to live at the MacTeer household as well, stares at the picture of Shirley Temple etched on one of their glasses, and, in the process, drains the home of milk. “‘Three quarts of milk. That’s what was in that icebox yesterday…. Now they’re ain’t none.’… We knew she was fond of the Shirley Temple cup and took every opportunity to drink milk out of it just to handle and see sweet Shirley’s face.” [23]. When Pecola buys three Mary Jane candies from Mr. Yacobowski, she notices the wrappers, the picture of the smiling, blonde, blue-eyed, white girl: “To eat the candy is to somehow eat the eyes, eat Mary Jane. Love Mary Jane. Be Mary Jane.” This important line in the book is directly preceded by a realization from Pecola that her blackness makes her unimportant. “Dandelions… She thinks, ‘They are ugly. They are weeds.'” [50].This picture shows the ultimate reality of the existing society.

Beside the central figure almost all the characters within the novel attempt to conform to a standard of beauty in some way. This standard of beauty is established by the society in which they live, and then supported by members of the community. Beauty is also linked with respect and happiness. Both people who reach the standard of beauty, and those who try, are never really satisfied with who they are. This never-ending race to become beautiful has devastating effects on their relationship and their own self-esteem. Geraldine, a respected woman living in the community, does conform to the standard of beauty, and she feels that anyone else is greatly inferior. So as to retain the beauty, Geraldine loses her culture and her individuality. Pecola Breedlove, a young girl, also feels that she must be aesthetically beautiful. She, on the other hand, believes that beauty is the only way for her and her family to be happy. When Pecola finally thinks that she has this beauty, she becomes temporarily happy, but is not really satisfied with what she has. Eventually, Pecola becomes obsessed with being more and more beautiful, a state that she can never truly reach because she is black. The fact that a rigid standard of beauty is established, and all of the members of the community are pressured to conform to it, causes overwhelming effects on those who fit it, and those who merely try and      it can, as seemed, be the only way to get relieved, no matter if a sort of victimization happens in this regard.

Similarly, the society within The Bluest Eye, just as our society, establishes a standard of beauty that its members must conform to. Since the whites are still the dominant force in the community, beauty is considered being as close to white as possible. Black people and black culture is looked down upon as being dirty and inappropriate. Beauty, in essence, is having blond hair, blue eyes, and a clean family. The roles of each member of the family are fixed, and each person fulfills them with good cheer. This standard of beauty is then applied to everyone as a kind of scale of quality. A person who matches this standard is “good” and is respected for being so. A person who does not match the standard, or does not choose to conform to it, is looked down upon. Not only are all people measured by this standard, people are aware of it at an early age. The “Dick and Jane” books read by children in school, clearly define beauty. More importantly, these books show that happiness can only be attained through beauty, and that an ugly person can never really be happy or good; rather they have to suffer a lot even in silence to some extent.

Again, Pecola Breedlove, as represented in the novel, is the vivid example of the damage brought on by submitting herself completely to a standard of beauty. Pecola gradually becomes more and more fixated on reaching the standard of beauty, and she is never satisfied. Pecola feels that beauty is the only way to solve all of her problems. She feels that if she becomes beautiful, her parents will no longer fight, her family will not be poor, and her father will no longer be a rapist. Pecola reached this mindset through minor and extreme events in her life. One of the subtler of these events is her purchase of a Mary Jane candy bar. When Pecola approaches the shopkeeper to buy some candy, the man does not even bother to look at her. To him, she is so sub-human that he does not feel that she deserves to be acknowledged with a glance. Although this does not seem important to the man behind the counter, Pecola picks up one and understands all of his movements and thoughts. She knows that he does not even recognize her as a human being worth looking at, because she is ugly. This reinforces her attitude that beauty is the only way to gain any respect from others. Pecola’s meeting with Geraldine is also an example of the basis for her attitudes. When Pecola is seduced into Junior’s house and he kills his cat, Pecola is thrown out by Geraldine, Junior’s mother. Geraldine thinks that Pecola killed that cat because Pecola does not fit the standard of beauty. Geraldine does not even bother to ask Pecola what happened, she simply assumes that Pecola is bad, and throws her out. This also reinforces Pecola’s view that physical beauty is a means of being respected and treated well. These seemingly minor occurrences had a great effect on Pecola’s mindset.

At the other end of the spectrum is the treatment that she receives from her father. He treats her as if she were a toy that he can use as he pleases. Cholly, Pecola’s father, rapes her without any real concern for her feelings. He does not care what happens to her or how she responds; he is simply looking to fulfil his own desires. He has so little disregard for Pecola’s feelings that he rapes her on multiple occasions. Pecola thinks that her father does not care about her because she is not beautiful. She becomes convinced that beauty would make people respect her.

Most important is the fact that Pecola is not content even when she thinks that she has become beautiful. She becomes obsessed with being the most beautiful person in the world. Pecola does not realize that beauty is not the answer to her problems, even when she achieves it. When, after thinking that she has blue eyes, no real changes occur in her life. She starts wishing for bluer eyes; even the bluest, the most beautiful. Through the treatment that she has experienced, Pecola is now trapped in a race to become more and more beautiful, even though this does not really make her happier in the long run and therefore the idea is proven as nothing but fake.

To represent the idea of so-called beauty, Morrison’s novel reveals the connections between beauty and racism. Beauty has been hailed as life-affirming, inherently good, and even, as Keats’ poetic idea, truth itself. In The Bluest Eye, Morrison presents an entirely different notion of beauty. Her argument can be summarized as such: Beauty is an idea, not an aspect of reality. Because this idea favours some people and not others, beauty creates separateness, relies on separateness, values separateness, and because of this, creates a binary that overrides the complexities of humanity. Thus the contradiction of the societal words and reality is depicted here clearly.

Furthermore, although irreparable damage is done by beauty, even to those it supposedly favours, because it is an idea, it is difficult for people to become angry at it, and instead this anger is misdirected towards the innocent. When beauty is viewed alongside the ideas of blackness and romantic love, we begin to understand a collective theme in Morrison’s novel: a message ultimately humanitarian, staunchly against the ideas and convictions which dehumanize us.

As a novelist, Morrison, of course, creates and supports her arguments through stories. One day, Pecola and her friends, all black, encounter a white girl, Maureen Peal, who after a tiff with the girls, insists: “I am cute! And you are ugly! Black and ugly black e mos. I am cute” (73). From this scene, two ideas are presented: the idea of blackness and the idea of beauty. Already, Morrison is telling us that these ideas are not self-evident. A scene is required. The girls are struck by Maureen’s insistence of superiority.

As a consequence of it, blacks condemn themselves as its exact opposite by accepting the ideal of white beauty.  Since the myth of white beauty is exclusive from the outset and denies the value of black beauty, blacks thus lock themselves into a self-destructive cycle in which their only victory lies in their ability to simulate whiteness (Halprin 87).  Pecola’s family, the ultimate victims of this harmful cycle, has abandoned their search for beauty, preferring to accept their ugliness in an act of hopeless fatalism:

You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source.  Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance.  (Morrison 39).

Prohibited once text, however, The Bluest Eye provides an extended depiction of the ways in which internalized white beauty standards deform the lives of black girls and women. Implicit messages that whiteness is superior are everywhere, including the white baby doll given to Claudia, the idealization of Shirley Temple, the consensus that light-skinned Maureen is cuter than the other black girls, the idealization of white beauty in the movies, and Pauline Breedlove’s preference for the little white girl she works for over her daughter. Adult women, having learned to hate the blackness of their own bodies, take this hatred out on their children—Mrs. Breedlove shares the conviction that Pecola is ugly, and lighter-skinned Geraldine curses Pecola’s blackness. Claudia remains free from this worship of whiteness, imagining Pecola’s unborn baby as beautiful in its blackness. But it is hinted that once Claudia reaches adolescence, she too will learn to hate herself, as if racial self-loathing were a necessary part of maturation which seems to be the social yardstick to justify oneself.

To conclude, it is evidently incontestable that the person who suffers most from white beauty standards is, of course, Pecola. She connects beauty with being loved and believes that if she possesses blue eyes, the cruelty in her life will be replaced by affection and respect. This hopeless desire leads ultimately to madness, suggesting that the fulfilment of the wish for white beauty may be even more tragic than the wish impulse itself and thus the readers get a total idea of contemporary concept of beauty represented through the whole novel which exists through the ages, even though in a different way.


Bartky, Sandra Lee. “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernisation of Patriarchal Power.” Irene Diamond and Lee Quinby. Eds. Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance. Boston: Northeastern University Press, p. 61-85.

Bouson, J. Brooks. Quiet as It’s Kept: Shame, Trauma, and Race in the Novels of  Toni Morrison. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

Cheng, Anne Anlin. “Wounded Beauty: An Exploratory Essay on Race, eminism, and the Aesthetic Question.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature. Vol. 19, No. 2, 2000. p. 191-217.

Dubey, Madhu. Black Women Novelists and the National Aesthetic.Bloomington andIndianapolis:IndianaUniversity Press, 1994.

Furman, Jan. “Black Girlhood and Black Womanhood: The Bluest Eye and Sula.

Toni Morrison’s Fiction. Columbia & South Carolina:University ofSouth Carolina Press, 1996. p. 12-33.

Gibson, Donald B. “Text and Countertext in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.”   LIT: Literature, Interpretation, Theory. Vol. 1, No. 1-2, 1989. p. 19-32.

Grewal, Gurleen. Circles of Sorrow, Lines of Struggle: The Novels of Toni Morrison.Boston:LousianaStateUniversity Press, 1998.

Matus, Jill. “Shame and Anger in The Bluest Eye.Toni Morrison.Manchester:ManchesterUniversity Press, 1998. p. 37-54.

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye.USA, Vintage, 1999.

Munafo, Giavanna. “‘No Sign of Life’ – Marble-Blue Eyes and Lakefront Houses in the Bluest Eye.” LIT: Literature, Interpretation, Theory. Vol. 6, No. 1-2, 1995. p. 1-19.

Ogunyemi, Chikwenye. “Order and Disorder in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest  Eye.Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction. Vol. 19, 1977. p. 112-120.

Taylor, Paul C. “Malcolm’s Conk and Danto’s Colours; or Four Logical Petitions Concerning Race, Beauty, and Aesthetics”, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 57, No. 1, 1999. p. 16-20.

Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth.London: Chatto and Windus, 1990.


Source by Md. Miraz Hossain

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *