Pecola Breedlove: A Critical Appraisal
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As an acclaimed American author of fiction and the recipient of the 1993 Nobel Prize for literature, Tony Morrison’s novels are radically powerful, exploring the realms of racism and ‘womanism’. Being one of the momentous works of American fiction, The Bluest Eye (1970) centralizes a young Afro- American girl named Pecola Breedlov. The portrayal of the tragic circumstance of Pecola makes this one of the tear- jerking novels of the 20th century.
Pecola Breedlove, though she is the protagonist, remains passive and mysterious in the course of The Bluest Eye. She is an eleven year old black girl; she believes that she is ugly and having blue eyes would make her attractive. “Long hours she sat looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike” (Morrison 45). With a stoical and sensitive disposition, she terribly suffers the abuse of her mother, father, teachers and classmates. Loneliness is her companion; imagination and troubles are her assets. At the very opening, she is haunted by two desires: firstly, she wants to make other people love her by having “the bluest eye”; secondly, she wants to disappear, when her parents engage in brutal fights. Neither wish gets fulfilled; she finds solace in seclusion and in her own fantasy world of nightmarish memories. At the fag-end of the novel, she delusively believes that her wish has been granted, but only at the cost of her sanity. As a tragic heroine witnessing the slow destruction of her own hope, she captures the sympathy of every mind.
As a black American girl, Pecola is doubly oppressed: first, by the white society and second, by the patriarchy. Her attitude and mindset are really constructs of a white, male- dominated society. She has internalized the white beauty standards and has “taken all the smoothly cultivated ignorance and their exquisitely learned self-hatred” (65). She believes that she is ugly, for, she craves for blue eyes, thereby deforming her own life as a black girl. She links beauty with being loved and is of the view that if she has blue eyes, “she herself would be different” (46) and the cruelty in her life will be replaced by warmth and reverence.
Each night Pecola prayed for blue eyes. In her eleven years, no one had ever noticed Pecola. But with blue eyes, she thought, everything would be different. She would be so pretty that her parents would stop fighting. Her father would stop drinking. Her brother would stop running away. If only she could be beautiful. If only people would look at her. (Back Cover)
This desperate longing leads, in the end, to madness which emphasizes that realization of the wish for white beauty may be even more terrible than the wish impulse itself. Precisely, she experiences direct oppression from the American society for being white, but more routinely she is subject to an internalized set of values that creates its own cycle of marginalization within families and the neighborhood.
Pecola is continuously faced with the values set on her society by American culture. She cannot even enjoy a piece of candy without feeling that she is different and lacking in some way in terms of beauty. When she goes to eat her Mary Jane candy, she is fascinated by the little girl of Mary Jane on the wrap, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl. These cultural pressures of what defines beauty make Pecola aware of just how much she strays from that defined beauty. This eventually results in her desire for blue eyes, thereby leading her into madness.
Pecola is, in fact, a representation of the black community’s self-hatred and belief in its own ugliness. All members of community, especially her father, mother, and Geraldine are repulsive towards her, which is clearly a reflection of their own self- hatred and sense of inferiority. Pecola is a scapegoat for the entire community. Her ugliness has made them feel good-looking, her distress has made them feel comparatively fortunate, and her silence has given them the chance for speaking. On seeing Pecola’s pain and guilt, the narrator says: “Her simplicity decorated us; her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health” (205). Pecola’s is a death-in- life condition because she is not allowed any release from her world; she merely goes to “the edge of town, where you can see her even now.” Her rootless wandering along the edge of the town reminds the society of the ugliness and hatred that they have tried to repress. She becomes a reminder of human brutality, a symbol of human affliction and a witness of “the total absence of human recognition” (48).
Pecola, since her birth, has been subjected to violent rejection and abuse, even from her close relatives. Pecola wants to receive love from somebody, but her parents and the other members of her community are incapable of loving her because they have been broken and spoiled in their own lives. She is forced to witness her parents’ violent fights, she is mocked or ignored by her classmates, she is tormented by her juniors, and she is used by Soaphead Church. Furthermore, she is terribly raped by her father, Cholly Breedlove and becomes a victim of incest relationship. “Pecola’s father had dropped his seeds in his own plot of black dirt… it was because Pecola was having her father’s baby that the marigolds did not grow” (5). After her own father rapes her and she bears the child, the society again targets her and put all the blames on her. The society hasn’t considered her as a child with innocence and purity, but makes her childhood a ‘girlish’ one; she is always gazed at as a sex object.
Pecola Breedlove is indeed a victim of her environment – racism and patriarchy. Through the character of Pecola, Toni Morrison clearly overhauls how a black woman, especially a girl gets trapped in the clutches of the community’s internalized racism and how her ideology becomes the ideology of the dominant white people and patriarchal society. Like the marigolds portrayed in the novel, she never gets a chance to nurture because she belongs to a society, which is a hub of racism. Precisely, her feminine nature is not the villain; but her nurture.
Morrison, Tony. The Bluest Eye. New York: Rinehart and Winston, 1970.