Sideby side with the invisibility of blacks in the framework of a white-centeredcountry, the strongly fixed value system has another great impact in TheBluest Eye. Of course, the value system is also white-centered, butMorrison deals with this issue using not the whole country but inside the blackcommunity as the background. It is natural because the trigger for writing thisstory was her experience in her elementary school days, when she was astonishedby her friend’s implicit desire caused by the white-centered value system eventhough the friend herself was also black. She seems to have no intention tojust blame white people as the accused, and she rather leads her reader todetect the responsibility of her fellow community members.
She had the mainnarrator of the story, Claudia, say, “it was the fault of the earth, the land,of our town.”(p.206) The country America has a hierarchy, and Morrison tells usthe black community is also a hierarchical society. So this chapter focuses onhow the white-centered value system erodes the black community, and how eachcharacter reacts to it under the categories of mulattos and blacks.
1. Blackcharacters: Theappearance of the McTeer’s house is old, cold, and green. In order to heattheir stove, they often go to the railroad tracks and pick up pieces of coal.There are cracks in the windows of their house which they stuff with rags. Eventhough Claudia is only 8-years-old, she knows that they belong to a minority inboth caste and class, and experience a “peripheral existence” (p.17) and shehas already learned how to deal with the situation. In these ways, the McTeerfamily’s social class or economic background is not so very different from theBreedlove family. Then what is the difference between the McTeer family and theBreedlove family?Claudiaand Frieda Mcteer have impulsive natures, they assert their beliefs rather thanfawning upon others’ fixed ideas.
Claudia felt discomfort when she was given ablue-eyed Baby Doll because if she tried to take the role as a mother of thedoll, it was so hard, sharp, and cold to hug or sleep with. However, she knewthat all the other people believed that the doll was exactly what she wanted.So she was bewildered, frustrated, and tried to “examine it to see what it wasthat all the world say was lovable.” (p.21) Shebroke the doll apart to discover why everyone says, “pretty” to the doll orwhite girls but not to her.
When Claudiaand Frieda see that Pecola is bullied by nasty boys, they fight against theboys without fear in a hand-to-hand battle, and then when they see Maureenharass Pecola, they join forces against her. Even though they are astonished byMaureen’s devastating confidence in her own predominance, their self-esteemdoes not waver. They believe in their value standards, and their own worth, sothey try to analyze and fight against the absurd value standards of beauty andjustice.
They do not like Saturdays because they feel miserable when they haveto take a bath. They were still in love with themselves at that time. “We feltcomfortable in our skins, admired our dirt, and could not understand this unworthiness.Jealousy we understood and thought natural — a desire to have what somebodyelse had; but envy was a strange, new feeling for us.” (p.
74). This metaphor,that they “admired their dirt,” is in perfect opposition to the cleannessfetishism of Geraldine and Soaphead Church (both of them are mulattos).Theappearance of the Breedloves’ house, which was an abandoned store, produced anirritating and melancholic atmosphere, out of harmony with the neighborhood.Their poverty was unremarkable among other black families, but their uglinesswas extreme. “It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had giveneach one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it withoutquestion,” (p.
39) “Dealing with it each according to his way. Mrs. Breedlovehandled hers as an actor does a prop: for support of a role she frequentlyimagined was hers — martyrdom. Sammy used his as a weapon to cause otherspain. Pecola hid behind hers.” (p.
39)Mrs.Breedlove (Pauline) is a representative of ordinary black woman of those days,but in comparison with Mrs. McTeer, sheis the type who does not have a positive image of her own original identity,and also failed to identify herself with sophisticated black people, or realwhite people. This is symbolized by her handicapped foot, chipped teeth, andthe ill-suited urban-like make up and clothing, and, moreover, the reality thatshe herself is not really interested in urban fashions. She just wants to feela sense of belonging to somewhere. She avoids facing reality in a constructivemanner, but sustains herself by a warped satisfaction of worth as a person. Shepresumes she is not worthless but she is under an ordeal, and must withstandthe misfortune to reflect her devotion for God. However, her faith is warped soshe often needs to create artificial ordeals.
When she first met with herhusband, Cholly, he was the first person to accept her total personality, andeven he frankly treated her handicapped foot as something to be admired. Thosedays were the only time when she experienced real happiness, but after theymoved to an urban area, Cholly lost himself in the glitter of urban nights, andPauline was abandoned by him, and marginalized by the sophisticated blackpeople in the neighborhood. In order to earn their friendship, she franticallytries to behave similar to them regardless of her own tastes. When she gotpregnant, she regained something of herself through her maternity and shebelieved she could have something real to love and devote herself to. However,her baby looked just like herself, it was natural. There was a great differencefrom the world of Hollywood films which was the only consolation in her life.She transferred the despair to her ordeal. Mrs.
Breedlove often has severescuffles with her husband, Cholly, about domestic trivial things, and onlywhile fighting she felt her true self. While fighting she feels she is anupright Christian, in a sense, so she needs Cholly’s sins. “Holding Cholly as amodel of sin and failure, she bore him like a crown of thorns, and her childrenlike a cross.” (p.127) Going to the church, and showing herself off as muchmore religious and ethical than the other people who used to look down on her,she exhibited her status in the black community. Then she found her worth as aperson in a white family’s house as a housekeeper.
RegardingPecola, Morrison responded in an interview with Robert Stepto in 1976, that shewanted to have her as a “total and complete victim of whatever was around her.” 11 What did she mean by saying,”victim of whatever was around her?” Morrison’s insight is in completeagreement with the psychologist Frantz Fanon’s analysis: that his blackpatients’ cases involving extreme inferiority complexes towards whites is ingrainedin the society which needs an underdog to sustain its stability andsuperiority. 12 Morrison refers in a lecturethat sometimes people creates pariahs to establish their identity as members ofa community. 2. Mulattocharacters: MaureenPeal is a “high-yellow dream girl” (p.62) who transfers to the elementaryschool in Lorain, and is as rich as the richest white girls, swaddled incomfort and care. She becomes the star of the school, and teachers treat hercourteously, and boys never tease her, girls flatter her. One day Maureenhappens to protect Pecola from some naughty boys who are bullying her.
However,this is merely from her curiosity and caprice. Soon after she helped Pecola,she attacked Pecola just for kicks by saying the same thing as the nasty boys,”You saw your own daddy naked.”, and “I am cute! And you ugly! Black andugly black e mos. I am cute!” (p.73) As is often the case with othernovels or novelists, Morrison uses symbolism in selecting the names of thecharacters in The Bluest Eye. “Peal” means a sudden loud repeated soundof laughter or thunder.
Until meeting Maureen, Frieda and Claudia had noconcept that they are ugly or inferior to whites or mulattos or that it isshameful to see their father’s naked body. In this sense, Maureen’s entry intotheir life is like a peal of thunder, and her ridicule of them with the perfectassurance of being superior, though she is only an elementary school girl,causes great mortification to them. Besides the general description of themulattos’ beauty and sophisticated demeanor, Morrison’s original descriptionsof ordinary mulatto girls are seen in the text: “they don’t have home towns,just places where they were born. But these girls soak up the juice of theirhome towns, and it never leaves them.” (p.81) This description contrasts theunyielding earth under the black people. Nonetheless, Morrison does not seem tomean that mulattos are rooted 14in the real meaning.
Theygo to land-grant colleges, normal schools, and learn how to do with the whiteman’s work with refinement: home economics to prepare his food; teachereducation to instruct black children in obedience; music to soothe the wearymaster and entertain his blunted soul. Here they learn the careful developmentof thrift, patience, high morals, and good manners. In short, how to get rid ofthe funkiness.
The dreadful funkiness of passion, the funkiness of nature, thefunkiness of the wide range of human emotions. Wherever it erupts, this Funk,they wipe it away; where it crusts, they dissolve it; wherever it drips,flowers, or clings, they find it and fight it until it dies. They fight thisbattle all the way to the grave. (p.83). Thistendency of cleanliness-fetishism means self-negation of their roots, and thistendency is similarly seen in Geraldine’s and Soaphead Church’s case, but iscompletely opposite to the self-love of the McTeer sisters who love their skinand dirt.
This identity as a mulatto apparently seems to sustain the mulattocharacter’s self-esteem, but unfortunately, it undermines their humanity at thesame time. This is clearly demonstrated in the parts about Geraldine andSoaphead Church.Geraldine’sfamily lives in a beautiful house with a well-kept garden and gracefulfurniture. Apparently, their domestic life is idealistic without a stain.However, Geraldine’s most outstanding characteristic is her emptiness. She hasbeen brought up with elaborate parental care. Maybe it was her parents’ love,but it resulted in bleaching out her black blood. She is a woman gifted withboth intelligence and beauty, but the only way for her to live is to be of useto a white man.
Her life is to serve her parents, then her husband, then herhusband’s son, Junior, and dedicate herself to making the next generation asclose to white society as possible. Her mission is to bleach their roots, andher son’s roots. Her marriage is aimed at making a whiter child so that eventhough she actually has a son, it has nothing to do with whether she loves herhusband and son or not. She does not have affection for her family or evenherself, and it is symbolized in her fetishism for cleanliness and hatred forany contact with human physiological functions. Since this mission is deeplyimprinted in her, all her physical and mental actions are automaticallydirected to executing her mission. So she does not have any personal wishes noreven any awareness of her lack of wishes. So her life is apparentlycomfortable, but vacant and filled with resignation in the deep meaning. Theirmarriage was aimed at inheriting the white lineage.
It is quite interesting andironical that this family is the only one whose family name is not referred toin this novel. Their family is materially abundant, but essentially sterile.The expression, “they don’t have home towns, just places where they were born,”(p.81) symbolizes Geraldine’s life itself.SoapheadChurch (Elihue Micah Whitcomb), though he is also a representative of themulatto category, he was brought up under a morbid parental control whichdiffers in meaning from Geraldine’s because he is a male. His family had anancestor who was from the English nobility.
Since then they have regarded theirmission to be one of maintaining that high class genealogy. They believed in”De Gabineau’s hypothesis that all civilizations derive from the white race,that none can exist without its help, and that a society is great and brilliantonly so far as it preserves the blood of the noble group that created it.”(p.168) So his parents raise him up strictly to be British-like in both thephysical and mental aspects, and eliminate any and every aspect which mightsuggest their roots going back to Africa. Especially, his father was adoctrinaire religious fanatic, and also the principal of a school famous forits severe corporal punishment. His mother died soon after his birth.
Hisgrades at school were high, but he did not understand in the real meaningexcept things which coincide with his own prejudices. While he bears a grudgeagainst his father who rules over him using severe corporal punishment andignoring his dignity, he grows up with a yearning for authority.Morrisonwrites in an essay, “I have been thinking about the validity or vulnerabilityof a certain set of assumptions conventionally accepted among literaryhistorians and critics and circulated as “knowledge.” 15 And her struggle to investigate the fixed ideaalways appears in her novels. In The Bluest Eye, all the characters arerepresentative in showing us various ways of how the fixed value systems erodethe black community, and its influence on each character to build or destroyone’s self concept. This issue has already been taken up by senior blackwriters, but their analysis for the unreasonable value system fades out at thepolitical level and man-centered society.
In the Invisible Man, Ellisondepicts the process in which the hero is under the control of his fellow men’s(communist group) sweet words sometimes, but is tossed back and forth in theriot and wanted as an accused by the group when the group’s policy changed.Morrison’s outstanding point is that she digs into the familial environment tolook into the problems of women and children. So the next chapter will focus onthe parental influences on children.