Racial Tension in Toni Morrison’s the Bluest Eye

Although, in today’s society, there is more racial diversity in television and media, there is still the ideal of the blonde haired, blue eyed beauty. Stars like Cameron Diaz and Kate Hudson are definitely looked up to as role models for girls of any age and race. There are even child stars like Dakota Fanning that act as role models to young girls. This was not so different in the past when stars like Shirley Temple and Jane Withers influenced the lives of young girls.

In The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison, the two girls, Frieda and Pecola, idolize Shirley Temple. Pecola, in particular is fascinated with the picture of the blonde haired, blue eyed girl. While Pecola is staying with Claudia and Frieda, she finds that they have a cup with a picture of Shirley Temple on it. She is so amazed with this cup that she uses it again and again until she has drunk three quarts of milk, which infuriates Claudia and Frieda’s mother. She not only likes Shirley Temple, but there is another instance of her fascination with blue eyes. It is when she has three pennies to get some candy at the candy store. At the candy store, Pecola buys some Mary Janes from a white man with blue eyes that works there. Pecola can’t seem to get the nerve to talk to him. Because of his blue eyes, she feels that she is somehow inferior and even though he is mean to her and makes her feel shameful, she still can’t seem to feel any anger towards him because of his blue eyes. The Mary Janes each have a wrapper with a picture of little Mary Jane. Mary Jane is the picture of the ideal little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. Pecola feels that as she is eating the candy, she is also somehow eating those blue eyes. The way that these African American girls look up to the white stars shows the attitude of people at the time. Light skin, blue eyes are attributes that people seem to treasure.

Maureen Peal is an example of this. Maureen is not full white and she doesn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, but she has light skin and long brown hair. Everyone seems to love Maureen, not only because of her looks, but also because of her fancy clothes and money. Teachers treat Maureen differently than the other African American girls; they are nice and smile at her. The boys don’t bother her, and even white girls don’t hate her. The other African American girls are fascinated with her. Claudia and Frieda are obviously jealous. They look for flaws that would make her seem more on their level, but can’t seem to find any. Because of her light skin, Maureen is seen as something of a celebrity at the school. This ideal shows how white girls were treasured more than African Americans.

Another example of this is with Pecola’s mother, Mrs. Breedlove or “Polly.” Claudia and Frieda walk to the place where Mrs. Breedlove works to visit Pecola, who is picking up some laundry. They are in the kitchen when they see a berry cobbler pie. Pecola stretches out her hand in order to see if the pan is still hot when a little white girl walks in. Startled, Pecola knocks the dish over and Mrs. Breedlove comes in. She smacks Pecola, who falls to the floor and orders the three girls to leave. Mrs. Breedlove then proceeds to comfort the little white girl, calling her baby, and essentially treating her better than she treats her own daughter. Mrs. Breedlove’s preference for the little white girl she works for is not only because of her job. Mrs. Breedlove actually feels that she is better for being loved by a white girl and she chooses this girl over her own daughter. The way that Mrs. Breedlove acted towards her daughter and the white girl shows that African Americans at this time felt that they would somehow look better, to themselves and to others, if they were somehow involved with white people of if they looked whiter.

Claudia, however, doesn’t seem to understand why little white girls with blonde hair and blue eyes are treasured so. She can’t seem to love Shirley Temple as the other little girls do. She hates her next door neighbor, Rosemary. Rosemary is infuriating because she flaunts her wealth. Claudia is often so infuriated with Rosemary that she abuses her and beats her. Along with Rosemary, Maureen Pale is hated by Claudia. Claudia hates the way that Maureen is treated preferentially by the other children and teachers. She doesn’t understand why little white girls are so adored by everyone. When Claudia receives dolls as presents, she doesn’t know why everyone prizes them so much. She takes them apart in order to find the secret that makes everyone adore them. She “[breaks] off the tiny fingers, [bends] the flat feet, [loosens] the hair, [twists] the head around….” She “[removes] the cold and stupid eyeball… [takes] off the head, [shake] out the sawdust, [cracks] the back against the brass bed rail,” and she still can’t seem to find the source that causes others to love it so. Claudia is baffled as to why everyone seems to love the little blue eyed, blonde haired white girl and not her.

In the time of the book, during the 1940s, there was a lot of racial tension. Whites looked down on the African Americans. This must have been the reason that blonde hair and blue eyes were so treasured during that time. Being white was associated with power and love and happiness, therefore, African Americans strove to associate themselves with whites, as their servants among other things. Even being on the outskirts of the family – not really a part of it was better than not being among whites at all as is seen with Mrs. Breedlove. Little girls were in love with the idea of Shirley Temple with her blonde hair and blue eyes. Dolls with blonde hair and blue eyes were given to little African American girls. These dolls were treasured so much that when Claudia dismembers hers, their outrage was so strong that “tears threatened to erase the aloofness of their authority, and the emotion of years of unfulfilled longing preened in their voices.”

Although the image of blonde hair and blue eyes is still prevalent in today’s society, it is not the only image out there. There are all different races of role models out there – Asian actresses, African American athletes, Spanish actors among many others. We have come a long way since the 1940s and today African American’s have a reason to be proud. They have grown to fill many of the important spots that help to run our country and are now role models to many of the youth in the country. The ideals of many have changed to include those of all races and cultures and we should be proud to have come such a long way.

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