Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye

When Toni Morrison passed away last year, I asked professor of English literature and author Piper Huguley for advice on which of Morrison’s novels to read. Piper not only offered a recommendation, she advised me on the order I should read these celebrated novels.

 

The Bluest Eye is one of those novels that makes you weep with the injustices inflicted on Black people and the tragic effect of race prejudice on Black children. In a review earlier this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the novel’s publication, The New Yorker has this to say:

Pecola feels, or the world has made her feel, that if she had blue eyes she would, at last, be free—free from her unforgivable blackness, from what her community labelled ugliness long before she could look in a mirror and determine for herself who and what she was. Not that she ever looks in a mirror. She knows what she’d find there: judgment of her blackness, her femaleness, the deforming language that has distorted the reflection of her face.

I highlighted many sentences and paragraphs of The Bluest Eye.

Early in the novel, we are told that: “Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs–all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasures.”

Pecola, who is fostered at the MacTeer home, enjoys milk from a Shirley Temple cup. “It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights–if these eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different … Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes.”

Intent on buying candies at the store, Pecola encounters Mr. Yacobowski, a fifty-two-year-old white immigrant storekeeper. “He does not see her, because for him there is another to see.” “She looks up at him and sees the vacuum where curiosity ought to lodge. And something more. The total absence of human recognition–the glazed separateness. … Yet this vacuum is not new to her. It has an edge; somewhere in the bottom lid is the distaste. She has seen it lurking in the eyes of all white people. So. The distaste must be for her, her blackness.”

A group of boys surrounded Pecola, taunting and threatening. “It was their contempt for their own blackness that gave the first insult its teeth. They seemed to have taken all of their smoothly cultivated ignorance, their exquisitely learned self-hatred, their elaborately designed hopelessness and sucked it all up into a fiery cone of scorn that had burned for ages in the hollows of their minds–cooled–and spilled over lips of outrage, consuming whatever was in its path. They danced a macabre ballet around the victim, whom, for they own sake, they were prepared to sacrifice to the flaming pit.”

It’s a powerful, must-read novel.

I’ll leave you with a few Toni Morrison quotes:

From her Nobel Lecture.

Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.

From an interview in Oprah Magazine:

I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.’

From her novel Song of Solomon:

“If you wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.

Also from her 1993 Nobel lecture:

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.

Next up, according to Piper’s list, is Sula, a rich and moving novel that traces the lives of two black heroines from their close-knit childhood in a small Ohio town, through their sharply divergent paths of womanhood, to their ultimate confrontation and reconciliation.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

6 More Tips on Writing Historical Fiction

Tuesday’s post highlighted 8 tips based on guest posts during the past twelve months. Today, I offer six more.

Blythe Gifford author of The Witch Finder starts every one of her novels with a map. In Creating a Sense of Place Blythe says:

Setting can, literally, symbolize your character’s situation and your character’s reaction to setting propels your story.

 

In History as a Mirror of our Present, Alice Poon, author of The Green Phoenix, writes that:

the modern world is still governed by forces as ancient as the hills: power vs. weakness, love vs. hatred, truth vs. lies, life vs. death. Thus, the stories of our past, be it recent or distant, tend to closely mirror our present-day situation.

 

In The People of our Past, George Dovel, author of The Geometry of Vengeance writes:

Not only has the path from then to now been continuous, but the way we define ourselves is largely in reaction to the generations that came before us. We may have rejected many of their beliefs and behaviors, but we reject in opposition to them and in so doing are defined in large measure by them. We are not painting on a blank canvas. As Booker winner Barry Unsworth put it, the past “belongs to us because it made us what we are.”

 

In Truth in Historical Story Telling, Tara Cowan reminds us that:

We’re missing a great opportunity if we gloss over moral dilemmas because we’re afraid to tell it like it was.  What better opportunity to show that women are equal than to tell the truth of what happens when they are not treated equally under the law?  What better way to highlight the injustice of what the enslaved faced than to be honest about how people felt about them? … We wrestle with the moral questions of our day, and so should our characters.

 

Harald Johnson explains how he researched Neanderthal times for his latest novel:

there are entire fields of scientific investigation—anthropology, paleoanthropology, archeology, evolutionary genetics—devoted to my subject. So that’s where I went. To read the research studies, papers, and articles that these scientists have presented since the first Neanderthal fossil was discovered in the Neander Valley in Germany in 1856.

 

Melissa Addey, author of The Consort, provides an interesting perspective in Approaching Research as a Child:

This recent research teamwork has reminded me once again of the importance of approaching your historical research as a child, especially in the early stages. This means getting your hands dirty and staying focused on daily life.

 

And there you have it. A year of terrific guest posts and great insights on historical fiction.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Strong Women by Linda Sittig

Linda Harris Sittig has three novels in her Threads of Courage series – the latest, Counting Crows, released in October. Linda is passionate about strong women – check out her Stories of Strong Women site – the latest post is about women in WWII who used their knitting to send coded messages. Welcome to A Writer of History, Linda.

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I know the amazing stories of 90 women whose names you’ve never heard. And I know these stories because I’ve profiled each woman’s life on my monthly blog, Strong Women in History followed in over 64 countries.

Today, I’d like to share the common threads that tie Strong Women together.

How did I discover my first Strong Woman? I found her in a graveyard.

I was doing family genealogy and wanted to put flowers on my great-grandfather’s grave. I had grown up hearing my mother’s stories of how James Nolan had become very wealthy during the Civil War because of a unique cloth he produced for soldiers’ uniforms; and how his wife had inspired him.

My mother was most proud because none of his cloth was shoddy.

Let me explain.

Shoddy is a term from the Industrial Revolution in Britain when unscrupulous manufacturers took large pieces of previously processed wool and cut out the spoiled sections. Then they glued the good parts together, ran the cloth under large industrial irons, and when it came out on the other side, it looked like new fabric.

You can stretch shoddy, cut shoddy, and sew shoddy. What you can’t do is let it get wet.

The Philadelphia manufacturers sold the shoddy to the unsuspecting U.S. Federal Government because cloth for soldier’s uniforms was in high demand at the onset of the Civil War. Now, the first major battle of the Civil War was the Battle of Manassas (or called The Battle of Bull Run if you were a Union soldier. During the first year of the Civil War, the Union named the battles after local sources of water; the Confederates named the battle after nearby towns).

The North thought they would win, but they didn’t.

When the Yankee soldiers walked the 16 miles back to Washington DC, a tremendous rainstorm occurred. It rained for 6 hours, and the uniforms made with shoddy began to dissolve. A sleeve fell off here, a pant leg there.

But not from my great grandfather’s cloth.

In 1998 I arrived at New Cathedral Cemetery in Philadelphia and found our family mausoleum. The caretaker handed me the list of who was in each crypt, and I saw James Nolan’s name at the top. On his left was my great-grandmother Sarah Jane Brady and on his right was the name of a Mrs. James Nolan. I asked the caretaker who she was, but he had no idea.

Within a week, I began to search who she might be. Months later, I finally found the answer: she was Ellen Canavan, my great-grandfather’s first wife. No one in our family had ever heard of her.

Months of researching turned into years, and I discovered she had been a determined young Irish immigrant with no money, little education, and no connections.

But she had a passion– to become a businesswoman in the cut-throat textile empire of 1861 Philadelphia. She was proactive– she studied textile production on her own at the Mercantile Library archives. And she persevered, even in the face of overwhelming obstacles.

I admired her bravery and determination so much that I eventually wrote my first novel: Cut From Strong Cloth, telling her remarkable story.

Then I started my blog.

In the eight years that I have been blogging about Strong Women, I have found that they all share these common threads:

They have a passion, they are proactive, and they persevere.

And like Ellen Canavan, the women of my blog disappeared from history without the accolades they deserved, like Annie Charbonneau—so I told her story in my second novel, Last Curtain Call. And Maggie Canavan, my newest Strong Woman. Her legacy is in my most recent historical fiction, Counting Crows.

In Counting Crows, Maggie Canavan leaves her small town in western Maryland and journeys to Greenwich Village, NYC, with the hopes of studying art. Once there, she becomes quickly caught up in the bohemian lifestyle of the Village. Before long, her passion for sketching becomes entwined with the feminist movement. And all goes well until the 1918 Flu Pandemic hits the city and 33,000 die, altering Maggie’s life forever.

Passion, proactive, persevere. These are the threads of Strong Women. Strong Women are all around us, and each one deserves to have her story told.

Congratulations on your writing, Linda, and on discovering the unsung women of history.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.