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The Bluest Eye. By Toni Morrison. Written in:  New York: 1962–1965 First published in 1970. Setting:.

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The bluest eye

The Bluest Eye

By Toni Morrison

Written in:

 New York: 1962–1965

First published in 1970


Set in 1941 in Lorain, Ohio, Toni Morrison's novel centers on a particularly difficult year in the life of eleven year old Pecola Breedlove.  Pecola comes from a poor and poorly adjusted black family. 

Pecola feels ugly and unaccepted by the world around her, and longs for blue eyes—Shirley Temple eyes—which she believes will make her beautiful, happy and finally accepted.


In the Afterword to The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison writes that the novel came out of a childhood conversation she could never forget.

She remembers a young black girl she knew who wanted blue eyes, and how, like Claudia MacTeer in the novel, this confession made her really angry.

Surrounded by the Black Is Beautiful movement of late 1960s African-American culture, Morrison decided to write a novel about how internalized racism affects young black girls in a range of ways – some petty and minute, some tragic and overwhelming.

Historical context
Historical Context:

Yet Pecola's story encompasses much more: 

  • the effects of poverty felt by so many families, especially poor black families during the Depression

  • the effects of racism and segregation

  • distortion of self-image encouraged by media depictions of beauty and happiness

  • the struggles of rural families who moved north to find work in industrial areas.

Themes whiteness as the standard of beauty
Themes:Whiteness as the Standard of Beauty

The Bluest Eye provides an extended depiction of the ways in which internalized white beauty standards deform the lives of black girls and women.

Consider the effects this has on the characters in novel, and the overall societal result of such a standard.

Critical reception
Critical Reception:

Due to its unflinching portrayal of incest, prostitution, domestic violence, child molestation, and racism, there have been numerous attempts to ban the book from libraries and schools across the United States, some of them successful.

Themes seeing vs being seen
Themes:Seeing vs. Being Seen

Pecola’s desire for blue eyes, while highly unrealistic, is based on one correct insight into her world: she believes that the cruelty she witnesses and experiences is connected to how she is seen. If she had beautiful blue eyes, Pecola imagines, people would not want to do ugly things in front of her or to her.

What do black women in the novel ultimately have to sacrifice in order to see themselves as beautiful?

The power of stories
The Power of Stories

The Bluest Eye is not one story, but multiple, sometimes contradictory, interlocking stories. Characters tell stories to make sense of their lives, and these stories have tremendous power for both good and evil.

Consider each character’s motives for telling their individual stories, what it reveals about them and what they get out of telling the story.

Themes sexual initiation and abuse
Themes: Sexual Initiation and Abuse

To a large degree, The Bluest Eye is about both the pleasures and the perils of sexual initiation. In the novel, parents carry much of the blame for their children’s often traumatic sexual coming-of-age. The prevalence of sexual violence in the novel suggests that racism is not the only thing that distorts black girlhoods.

Consider the connection between racism and sexism in the novel as well as the role that parents play in perpetuating

views about race and gender.

Themes satisfying appetites vs suppressing them
Themes:Satisfying Appetites vs. Suppressing Them

A number of characters in The Bluest Eye define their lives through a denial of their bodily needs. In contrast, when characters experience happiness, it is generally in viscerally physical terms.Consider what the novel suggests about human desire: How does one achieve true happiness and redemption?

Motifs the dick and jane narrative
Motifs: The Dick-and-Jane Narrative

The novel opens with a distorted narrative from a Dick-and-Jane reading primer. The chapter headings throughout the novel are excerpted from this primer. What is the significance of this reference? What inferences are embedded in the alteration of the primer? What is the inherent irony of this motif?

Motifs the seasons and nature
Motifs: The Seasons and Nature

The novel is divided into the four seasons.As you read each section, consider both societal associations and your individual associations with each season.Does the plot match societal expectations for each season?Do Pecola’s associations match your own? Why or why not?

Motifs whiteness and color
Motifs:Whiteness and Color

Consider the duality of what whiteness represents in the novel. What do various colors represent? Are these soft or vibrant colors? What do these symbolic motifs suggest about race and happiness?

Motifs eyes and vision
Motifs: Eyes and Vision

Eyes and vision (or lack thereof), both externally and internally, literally and metaphorically, are another important, recurring motif in this novel. What messages are conveyed to the characters, and in turn to the reader, by this motif?

Motifs dirtiness and cleanliness
Motifs: Dirtiness and Cleanliness

  • What are the cultural implications of each?

  • What is judged as dirty or clean?

  • What are the characters’ relationships with cleanliness and dirtiness?

  • What does this reveal about them, what they value and what they are seeking?


These symbols are embedded with layers of meaning, some which contain an intentional duality. Consider their developing meanings as we progress throughout the text.

  • The House

  • The Bluest Eye(s)

  • Marigolds