I read “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison over the summer, when Black Lives Matter protests were at their height. In a surge of people educating, donating, listening and advocating, I was compelled to read books by Black women, specifically those that centered their experiences in the face of racism. This novel was everything and more I ever could have asked for, and should be required reading for every American.
The book takes place in Ohio in 1941 and follows Pecola, a young African American girl. Pecola is often
regarded as an “ugly” girl, and wishes to be beautiful. Her greatest desire, though, is to have big, blue eyes like the white girls she is surrounded by. Her story is told through both from her own perspective and that of those around her.
Pecola experiences much trauma throughout the book, which highlights the ways in which our society, both today and in the past, has failed Black and African-American women. By being both a woman and Black, Pecola is the victim of what is now known as misogynoir, a kind of prejudice specifically against Black women. Though some of what Pecola endures is indicative of the time period, misogynoir and the effects it has are still very present and overt in our modern world.
This book demonstrates the impact racism, both systemic and interpersonal, can have. Unlike a textbook
or a class discussion, “The Bluest Eye” gives readers an intimate look into how it feels to be a little girl in a world that does not want her. This painful account was impactful for me as I have never personally experienced racism. Entering into Pecola’s life and watching as these experiences shaped her self-image and her life as a whole gave me a richer understanding of the deep and damaging effects of racism.
Considering the intense subject matter, “The Bluest Eye” still manages to be a beautiful and somewhat easy read. For me, historical stories can often be challenging to follow with the old-timey language and unfamiliar settings. However, “The Bluest Eye” creates simple, detailed scenes with dialogue that is easy to understand, while still maintaining the historic dialect. Being able to focus on the story instead of foreign, confusing words allows the reader to fully feel the weight of the book.
Furthermore, Morrison tells the story with some of the most breathtaking prose I have ever read. Even in
the most mundane or grimmest moments of the story, Morrison manages to make the scene poetic. Though the book is Morrison’s first-ever novel, it establishes her as the literary legend we now know and love.
No matter what you are looking for, “The Bluest Eye” has something for you. It is a simple, beautiful,
educational story with compelling characters, shocking plot twists, heartbreak and celebration. This book is captivating and will forever hold a place on my list of favorites; I hope it does yours as well.
Note: This book includes regular and detailed description of both domestic abuse and sexual assault. Read cautiously.