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Reading, The Bluest Eye: Some Last Thoughts

February 2, 2009
Focusing on Pecola alone, The Bluest Eye can be labeled a feminist lesson, I suppose. Not that Pecola herself does anything feminist. She most certainly does not triumph, nor does she ever display a smidgen of empowerment. No, instead Pecola is an object lesson. If anyone doubts what physical characteristics signify the lowest rung on the hierarchy, one just has to look to the Pecolas of the world. Nevertheless, I guess you can say it is a feminist novel, since the protagonist is a girl and not a boy like more widely read novels such as David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickeleby, and Oliver Twist. What is most telling when comparing Pecola’s fate with any of the previously mentioned males is, she does not have a happy ending. No one takes her under their wing and prepares her for the world. Actually, to survive the world, she has to go insane in order to deal with the realities of the world.

Assuming that The Bluest Eye is not necessarily a feminist novel, I have to wonder exactly what it is. It most certainly is an anti-racism novel, more specifically an anti-internalized racism novel. If you do not walk away from The Bluest Eye questioning how much of society’s ugliness is projected onto the lowest rung of the hierarchy, you missed an enriching opportunity.

In my opinion, Morrison is most sympathetic toward the men, especially Cholly. Yes, yes, I read the introduction that suggests that one must take refuge in the how since the why cannot be explained. “There is really nothing more to say —except why. However, since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.” Well, I’m not satisfied with the why or the how.

There are no good men in Morrison’s, The Bluest Eye. Mr. Henry molests little girls. Soaphead Church molests little girls. Cholly Bleedlove rapes a little girl (his daughter), is a murderer, alcoholic, and an over all low life deadbeat. His father is an abusive gambler who abandons his mother (More than likely after having the sex that led to Cholly’s conception). Even, Blue who initially cares for Cholly succumbs to alcoholism and a life centered on hurrying death. Other than Mr. MacTeer, whose character is not explored, all the men are horrible.

One can infer that Morrison is saying since Cholly lives in a white supremacist world where white men are held in higher esteem than black men, and since white men can terrorize black men, then it exonerates Cholly (and by extension, the collective black man) when he in turn mistreats/abuses black girls and women. The white men terrorize Cholly, so Cholly gets to terrorize black women/girls as a relief valve, a pressure release. For example, when Cholly and Darlene, both teenagers are having sex in the pine woods, two white men come upon them. The two men, armed with guns, a spirit lamp and a flashlight demand that Cholly get on with having sex with Darlene. Cholly does not protest or fight. Of course probably it would have been fruitless, not to mention dangerous. However, instead of hating the white men, for no explainable reason Cholly turns his hatred toward Darlene. “Cholly, moving faster, looked at Darlene. He hated her. He almost wished he could do it—hard, long, and painfully, he hated her so much. […] Cholly raised himself and in silence buttoned his trousers. Darlene did not move. Cholly wanted to strangle her, but instead he touched her leg with his foot. ‘We got to get, girl. Come on!’”

The next day when Cholly remembers the incident and has had time to reflect, instead of transferring his hatred to the white men from Darlene, he “cultivate[s] his hatred of Darlene.” Morrison goes on to justify his hatred for Darlene by claiming he is not mature enough at the time to hate the white men:

Never did he once consider directing his hatred toward the hunters. Such an emotion would have destroyed him. They were big, white, armed men. He was small, black, helpless. His subconscious knew what his conscious mind did not guess—that hating them would have consumed him, burned him up like a piece of soft coal, leaving only flakes of ash and a question mark of smoke. He was, in time, to discover that hatred of white men—but not now. Not in impotence but later, when the hatred could find sweet expression. For now, he hated the one who had created the situation, the one who bore witness to his failure, his impotence. The one whom he had not been able to protect, to spare, to cover from the round moon glow of the flashlight.

Blah blah blah. The poor thing could not reconcile his patriarchal duty of protecting a girl from the terrorists, so he is forced to hate her. He hates her because she, she alone was “the one who had created the situation.” As if Darlene was out in the pine woods seducing poor Cholly and Cholly had no agency to say no (to Darlene, not to the white men with guns) and, as if Darlene will not suffer from the incident as well.

The same sympathetic rationalization unfolds throughout the scene in which Cholly rapes Pecola.

I have been hard press to make sense of what Morrison is saying in the afterword.

And, although I was pressing for a female expressiveness, it eluded me for the most part, and I had to content myself with female personae because I was not able to secure throughout the work the feminine subtext that is present in the opening sentence (the women gossiping, eager and aghast in “Quiet as it’s kept”). The shambles this struggle became is most evident in the section on Pauline Breedlove, where I resorted to two voices, hers and the urging narrator’s, both of which are extremely unsatisfactory to me. It is interesting to me now that where I thought I would have the most difficulty subverting the language to a feminine mode, I had the least: connecting Cholly’s “rape” by the whitemen to his own of his daughter. This most masculine act of aggression becomes feminized in my language, “passive,” and, I think, more accurately repellent when deprived of the male “glamour of shame” rape is (or once was) routinely given.

In a way, Cholly’s narrative overshadows Pecola’s story. It is almost like black girls and women are expected to wait their turn in the recovery process. The message is clear. The affects of racism have caused both black men and women great harm, but the black man must be fixed first, must recovery first. That makes the message too patriarchal for me, because once again women/girls come last.
3 Comments
  1. MargaretJamison permalink
    February 3, 2009 1:06 am

    Yeah, I took great issue with the way Morrison handled the overt sexism in the book. She provided at every turn an excuse for it. Even Soaphead Church was only the way he was – a pedophile – because of the inbreeding in his ancestor’s pursuit to whiten the line. There was so much potential in that book for feminism, and she squandered it discussing the black man’s plight, when even slavery never kept black men from raping black women. I don’t forgive black men their rape of black women, not even those rapes committed in slavery and not even those, like Cholly’s, committed in its aftermath.

    Margie

  2. The Fabulous Kitty Glendower permalink
    February 3, 2009 6:28 pm

    “He felt it important to do something to reinstate himself with Jake. So when he asked Cholly if he knew any girls, Cholly said, ‘Sure.’
    All the girls Cholly knew were at the banquet, and he pointed to a cluster of them standing, hanging, draping on the back porch. Darlene too. Cholly hoped Jake wouldn’t pick her.
    ‘Let’s get some and walk around,’ said Jake.
    […]
    Taking courage, Cholly turned to Darlene and said, ‘Come on ’long. We just going down to the gully.’”

    Yeah, Darlene created the entire situation.

    And I have a problem with believing that a fourteen year old black boy in 1915? (the teens for sure) is not clearly aware that his enemy is white men.

    Cholly wanted approval from Jake, that is what set it in motion. Jake wanted to act like a rooster in a hen house, and Cholly wanted to prove to be one as well. Yet, he hates Darlene. And Morrison wants the reader to sympathize with Cholly? It clearly displays a desire to keep men in a superior position than women, and women in not only an inferior position but also an active supporting men position.

  3. The Fabulous Kitty Glendower permalink
    February 3, 2009 6:28 pm

    “He felt it important to do something to reinstate himself with Jake. So when he asked Cholly if he knew any girls, Cholly said, ‘Sure.’
    All the girls Cholly knew were at the banquet, and he pointed to a cluster of them standing, hanging, draping on the back porch. Darlene too. Cholly hoped Jake wouldn’t pick her.
    ‘Let’s get some and walk around,’ said Jake.
    […]
    Taking courage, Cholly turned to Darlene and said, ‘Come on ’long. We just going down to the gully.’”

    Yeah, Darlene created the entire situation.

    And I have a problem with believing that a fourteen year old black boy in 1915? (the teens for sure) is not clearly aware that his enemy is white men.

    Cholly wanted approval from Jake, that is what set it in motion. Jake wanted to act like a rooster in a hen house, and Cholly wanted to prove to be one as well. Yet, he hates Darlene. And Morrison wants the reader to sympathize with Cholly? It clearly displays a desire to keep men in a superior position than women, and women in not only an inferior position but also an active supporting men position.

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