There is a small margin between love and hatred. Self-hatred is a problem with most people that may be caused by lack of love. It underlies many patterns in life and depends on the relationships in someone’s life and the kind of life they lead. Appearance is one thing that can make a person hate him or herself, especially if everyone around them seems to notice (Taylor 13). For a long time, blue eyes have been an idolized kind of beauty for blacks and whites, but little Pecola, who has nothing alike, seeks her own kind of beauty. Attaining beauty as described by her culture makes it almost impossible for her; she has to find the white beauty. Toni Morrison portrays the effects that race and color can have on a culture and the extent to which the African American society is willing to go to fit the whites’ beauty brackets. The characters in Bluest Eye loathe their skins as they desire to be beauties in the context of the white world. They are ashamed of their African American culture, which they feel does not fit their idea of beauty. The self loathing feelings and hatred for oneself are passed on from one generation to the other, parents to children, which forms a vicious cycle of hatred and negativity.
Morrison says that the ugly black girl was seeking and asking for beauty. The girl wanted to rise from the dark pit that her blackness had thrown her into and view the world with the beauty of blue eyes (Morrison 174). Pecola Breedlove shows her desperation to leave the blackness pit through her strong desire for white beauty. The white and black society has compelled her to believe she is ugly with her dark skin and African American features that are authentic. Pecola is ensured of being a victim of classical racism, which is a perception that portrays being black as physical ugliness and a root of a deeper and inner depravity (Taylor 16). This perception gives the permission for back people to be mistreated because their skin color indicates a dark past and uncivilized ways of their life. Pecola is not the epitome of the white beauty standards because her skin is dark and her eyes not blue, which are the trademark for beauty. This implies that she has to be termed as ugly and bad things are destined to happen to her because of her blackness.
Elaine Showalter discusses the female tradition, saying that a minority group undergoes various phases in their lives. The first phase is the extension period of imitating the prevailing modes of prevalent traditions and internalizing the standards of arts in this tradition as well as its views and opinions on social responsibilities and roles (Cormier-Hamilton 114). The dominant society in this context is white, and Pecola portrays the desire to imitate them. Her desperation for this kind of beauty is so strong that she eats candies called Mary Jane with a fantasy that they would make her white. She imagines that she will get a “smiling white face, blonde hair in gentle disarray, blue eyes looking at her out of clean comfort.” She believes that “to eat the candy is somehow to eat the eyes, eat Mary Jane, love Mary Jane, be Mary Jane” (Morrison 50).
The only character that does not like the white beauty is Claudia Macteer as she is neither impressed nor interested in it and fails to understand why her body is not considered beautiful like those of the children in the white society. At the beginning of the story, readers see Pecola and Frieda discussing their fondness and love for Shirley Temple. Claudia dislikes Shirley Temple and shows a disdainful feeling towards her. She says, “I couldn’t join them in their adoration because I hated Shirley. Not because she was cute but because she danced with Bojangles, who was my friend, my uncle, my daddy, and who ought to have been soft-shoeing it and chuckling with me” (Morrison 19). Bojangles is an African American man, and Claudia finds it difficult to comprehend why he could not dance or play with African American girls. The writer shows the extent to which the white culture has affected the blacks; even their own men fraternize with white women and girls. There is no way then that black girls would find themselves pretty and cute if their men preferred whites to them. Claudia’s dislike for white girls is further shown on Christmas when she receives a white doll as a present. She says, “I had only one desire, to dismember it. To see of what it was made, to discover the dearness, to find the beauty, the desirability that had escaped me, but apparently only me. All the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured” (Morrison 20). After dismembering the doll to fulfill her curiosity, Claudia was scorned by her family members telling her that she had torn up a beautiful one. This shows that the adults too associated beauty with the whites. This was passed on to the children, making the cycle of colorism a repetitive one.
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Alice Walker in Lobodziec (35) defines colorism as treating people of the same race prejudicially or preferentially based on their skin color. For instance, this is clearly shown when black boys surround Pecola and shout “black e mo” (Morrison 65). The practice of colorism started long ago during the slavery times when dark skinned blacks were made to work in the fields while the light skinned ones, mostly the slave master children, worked in the house. According to Lobodziec, some people believe that having Caucasian features makes one have a higher level of intellectual and personal capacities (Lobodziec 35). The character of Maureen Peal in The Bluest Eye portrays this theory. The writer describes her as being a child of high yellow dream (Morrison 62). This means that the child’s skin color was light and she seemed affluent. Even teachers smiled in an encouraging way when they called on her. “Black boys didn’t trip her in the halls, white boys didn’t stone her, white girls did not suck their teeth when she was assigned to be their partners, black girls stepped aside when she wanted to use the sink in the girls’ toilet” (Lee). A prejudiced treatment was shown by white and black children and their teachers towards Maureen, which was solely based on her skin color. Maureen embraced the society of whites, and she prides herself on the added advantage of easily imitating the white girls. Her dress code is fashionable, just like that of the whites, and she even makes it known to the other children that she is cute. She makes Freida, Claudia, and Pecola hate themself by asserting that they are ugly and black. She does not relate to children of her age through the culture they share, but she rather embraces the white culture, fully making other girls continue loathing in self hatred and denial because of their dark-skinned appearance. Geraldine, who is also light-skinned, has embraced the culture of the whites and does not permit her child to play or associate with black children. She even forces him to imitate white children, causing him a lot of turmoil.
All these instances make Pecola believe that she and her family are ugly. Where they live (storefront) embodies the ugliness even further. The narrator tells the readers that one could not comprehend the source of this family’s ugliness. They had been convicted to this ugliness (Morrison 39). Pecola’s strong belief in her ugliness must have come from her environmental surrounding. For example, their home clearly shows how “identities are constructed according to place and residency and how certain possessions help maintain and define the meaning of being black” (McKittrick 134). The Breedloves were black and poor, and their belief in being ugly made them choose to stay at the storefront as their home. The home had only one room, which exposed the children to all acts of sex and violence. This inappropriateness in her family is a driving force for Pecola to want to be a white in her fantasies. Most of her time she spent in front of the mirror, trying to source her ugliness. She believes that if the eyes were different, then she would be beautiful and only good things would be done to her. This shows that the white society is termed as perfect in all aspects; being white makes one’s behavior perfect.
Pecola’s tragedy of self-hatred began even before she was born. Her mother was brainwashed by the movie industry of the whites while she was pregnant, so that when her child was born, Pauline perceives her as being ugly. Her perception of beauty had been changed by the movies. Pauline imitates the whites by styling her hair like she had seen in the movies, a habit she gave up as soon as her tooth came out during one of her theatre sprees. This made her realize that she could never be white and sank into a pit of self hatred, passing it on to Pecola (her child). Pauline does not help Pecola with her obsession because she is also suffering the same way. Pecola’s mother feels more comfortable at her place of work than at home. Here she finds cleanliness, beauty, praise, and order, since it is a white family (Morrison 127). Being a servant in this family does not make her feel any less worthy, as she feels satisfied being in the clean and beautiful house. She even enjoys being called Polly by her employers. Pauline shows love towards the white child and even combs her hair, something she could not do for her own daughter who had black tangled hair.
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In conclusion, The Bluest Eye highlights the manner in which most African-Americans possess self-contempt based on their skin color. They attempt to seek beauty that would match their white counterparts because of a continued feeling of inferiority. For instance, Pecola Breedlove exemplifies her desperation to leave her blackness and seek white beauty because of the false belief she had embraced tagging her as ugly. More so, the minority group mainly made up of blacks tries to imitate the dominant group, whites, to fit in the society appropriately and lead lives similar to those of the whites. Claudia Macteer is the only character who dislikes the white culture and wonders why most black people feel inferior to their white counterparts. This is exemplified in her deep hatred for Shirley Temple, who was white. It is also worth noting that the practice of colorism, or treating individuals of the same race prejudicially, started a long time ago as whites believed they had a better skin as compared to typical blacks. This is what makes Pecola feel that she and her family members are extremely ugly. Her mother is similarly brainwashed while working in a white family, as she feels more beautiful and clean while working for the family than when at home. Therefore, blacks in the book The Bluest Eye depict self-hatred because of their inferiority complex.