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.
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, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.