THE PLOT: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is about a young girl called Pecola whose life is full of trauma. She’s poor, her daddy is an alcoholic and her mother cares more about the white girl she’s paid to look after. But worst of all, Pecola is dark-skinned and, therefore, ugly. The story is narrated by another child, Claudia, who watches Pecola suffer through injustices but is powerless to help her. But Pecola has a dream. She wants blue eyes, no – scratch that, she wants the bluest eyes. And she will do anything to get them.
RATING: I mean, who am I to dare put a star rating on the work of Toni Morrison? But, if I have to fit the format of my blog, I’d give this book four-and-a-half-stars. Now, before you gasp that it’s not five stars, I haven’t given this book the highest rating possible because it didn’t bury itself in my heart as much as Beloved or Tar Baby. Don’t get me wrong, this is a painful story that had me in tears but the disjointed structure meant I didn’t feel the story in my bones as much as I could have. That being said, this is an important novel about the concept of beauty. It’s exquisitely written with complex characters that make you think. Morrison’s first novel is truly a masterpiece and I’d urge everyone to read it.
GOOD BITS: The writing is absolutely beautiful. Phrase’s leap of the page and the creative use of language is extremely clever. By using a mix of colloquial and vernacular styles, along with playing with how the dialogue is displayed, Morrison creates a natural voice that almost speaks aloud to you. I also like the use of an external narrator who is a similar age, race and sex to the main character. This allows the reader to highlight the differences between Pecola and Claudia, demonstrating how Pecola’s upbringing has created an inevitable cycle of poverty and self-loathing. Using another child as the narrator also allows space for some levity in an otherwise dark story.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: This book has a very disjointed structure. It’s split into different seasons, but also goes into both of Pecola’s parents’ backstories towards the end. In itself, I don’t think this is a problem. However, the lack of a regular rhythm to the backstory vs. forward narrative threw me off and prevented me from truly immersing myself in the story. Even though Pecola has to be a very passive character, I would’ve liked to see her in a continual, developing thread so I could feel her as deeply as possible (while also getting backstories at regular intervals).
OVERALL: This is not a comfortable book. It has distressing elements, including rape, incest and child molestation, and is extremely thought-provoking. But it is an important book, which has influenced a swathe of novels since its publication in 1970. Morrison’s name can only be mentioned in the same sentence as other greats like Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and James Baldwin. But she is the mother to all black female authors, so read this book if you want to a deeper understanding of the literary canon.