The Bluest Eye
The Bluest Eye,published in 1970, is the first novel written by Toni Morrison, winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature. It is the story of eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove--a black girl in an America whose love for its blond, blue-eyed children can devastate all others--who prays for her eyes to turn blue: so that she will be beautiful, so that people will look at her, so that her world will be different. This is the story of the nightmare at the heart of her yearning and the tragedy of its fulfillment.
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The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison references a popular reading primer called Dick and Jane that was in wide use from the 1930's to the 1970's. Dick and Jane were stereotypical, middle-class white kids who lived a fairly picturesque, worry free life. Consider how the text here deteriorates from properly punctuated sentences to run on sentences to what is finally a jumble of letters without spacing. Why might Morrison have started with the novel with this section? (This annotation contains an image)
What can you infer about the narrator from this page?
How would you describe Claudia's relationship with her mother? Which details in this chapter support your analysis?
Alaga syrup is a cane sugar, corn syrup that was popular in the South. In the highlighted section, Claudia equates love to this syrup in a simile that leaves the reader with the sense that love is oozing and sticking everywhere. (This annotation contains an image)
The conversation between Mama and her friends is written in dialect. This is a stylistic choice. Consider how Morrison uses language throughout the novel to convey a sense of place and to help develop the novel's themes. Watch the video below to learn more about how writers develop theme. (This annotation contains a video)
The highlighted paragraph is full of figurative language and sound devices. Which of the following can you identify in the selection?
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Shirley Temple are pictured below. Shirley Temple was a child actress who was very popular during the Depression. Her on screen dancing with "Bojangles" was one of the first interracial duos. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following statements best reveals the source of Claudia's hatred for Shirley Temple?
Watch the following video and consider Claudia's reaction to the dolls as compared to Freida's and Pecola's. Why are the findings in this study significant? (This annotation contains a video)
Why does Claudia reject and even dismember the baby dolls that she receives as gifts? How does her musing over the extension of this act to real white girls reveal her feelings? Explain Claudia's point of view using the text to support your analysis.
Based on what you've read so far, what does Claudia seem to value?
Notice Morrison's use of alliteration here (alliteration is the repetition of the same sounds at the beginning of words). What is the effect of the alliteration in this scene?
Which attitude that has been expressed explains why Claudia and Frieda have not told Mama what is happening to Pecola?
Notice how Claudia situates herself in relation to Frieda and Pecola. She is the younger sister, the less worldly. What characters from other books you've read remind you of Claudia? What is the advantage in telling this story from her point of view rather than from Frieda's? Pecola's? Mama's?
Who is the protagonist of this novel?
The narrator here is no longer Claudia. Morrison has chosen a third person omniscient narrator to relate the details of the Breedlove's life in Ohio. As you read, consider the effect of this choice on your understanding of the novel.
How does the setting impact the mood of this short chapter?
A coal stove is much like a wood burning stove and used to be a common way to heat a home. How does Morrison's personification of the coal stove contribute to the mood of this chapter? Does it hint at anything that might be soon to come? (This annotation contains an image)
Explain how the the themes of representations of beauty and imposed identity are explored so far in this chapter. How and why has "ugliness" been thrust upon the Breedloves and how does it change them?
The simile in the highlighted sentence brings the mood and atmosphere of this scene to life. A dirge, mentioned here, is song expressing sorrow or grief. A dirge might be present at a funeral. Toni Morrison uses figurative language frequently in this novel to enhance its depth. How does comparing the "unquarreled evening" to the "first note in a dirge" create a sense of anticipation or foreboding?
What is the meaning of the word tacitly as it is used in this sentence?
Watch the video below on symbolism. Why is it significant that the only part of her body that Pecola can not make "disappear" are her eyes? (This annotation contains a video)
What do eyes symbolize in this part of the novel? Use evidence from the text to support your analysis.
What does it mean that Mr. Yacobowski may not be able to see Pecola? Read the poem below. How is the narrator in the poem like Pecola? What is being said about perspective and vision? ........................................................................ "Blind" by Langston Hughes ................................................................................ I am blind./ I cannot see./ Color is no bar to me./ I know neither Black nor white./ I walk in night./ Yet it seems I see mankind/ More tortured than the blind./ Can it be that those who know/ Sight are often doomed to woe?/ Or is it that, seeing,/ They never see/ With the infinite eyes/ Of one like me?/
In the interchange between Pecola and Mr. Yacobowski, what is the effect of the third person omniscient narrator.
The images of these three women are very static. Poland is forever ironing and singing, China is forever curling her hair, and Marie never gets ready at all. Think about the choice to provide the reader with these static images. Where would these images exist?
The highlighted section includes ______________.
Visit the link below to read about the "Lady in Red." What does Marie's story have in common with Anna Sage's? Why might Marie have inserted herself into this famous story? (This annotation contains a link)
What is the tone of the passages describing the whores' feelings toward their profession?
Consider how Morrison portrays the prostitutes in this chapter. How does her portrayal conflict or coincide with the typical vision of a prostitute? Why might Morrison have included this perspective in the novel? (This annotation contains an image)
Section One Quiz
Which of the following quotes best reveals what effect winter has on the MacTeer family?
A dog tooth is a pointed tooth that has been pushed outward by teeth growing behind it. It is "fang-like" because it protrudes a little. Despite her imperfections, Maureen is considered perfect. Why?
What occupies the "flaming pit" of the metaphor in the highlighted paragraph?
Watch the trailer for the film Imitation of Life. This version of the film came out in 1959, but the original film that Maureen references debuted in 1934. The character that Maureen compares Pecola to is actually named Peola. In the 1959 version, Peola's name has been changed to Sarah Jane. Watch closely the scenes of the "mulatto girl" Sarah Jane. (This annotation contains a video)
After watching the trailer for Imitation of Life, why does it seem significant that Maureen compares Pecola to Sarah Jane? Explain the parallels you see between the two characters.
Betty Grable (This annotation contains an image)
Hedy Lamarr (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following themes does the girls' conversation about movie stars highlight?
What is significant about Claudia's reply to Maureen: "Black? Who you calling black?"
Watch the video below to learn more about figurative language then re-read the highlighted paragraph. What is Morrison using figurative language to express? How does this impact your understanding of the characters or themes? Keep an eye out for figurative language as you read. (This annotation contains a video)
What can you infer about Mr. Henry from the girls' observations?
The Maginot Line was a line of fortification built by the French after WWI and leading up to WWII. The line existed as a mechanism of defense and ran along France's border with Germany. The image below shows what one of the bunkers would have looked like along the defense line. Why do you suppose this name has been given to this character? (This annotation contains an image)
What does the girls' justification for not telling Mama about Mr. Henry's guests reveal about their point of view? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
Consider the vivid characterization of "these girls." What kind of girls do you think they are? How do they compare so far to the other kinds of girls in the novel?
What does it mean that the world these women make will be inviolable?
The Bluest Eye has been the subject of much controversy because of its content. Visit the website below. What do you think causes people to want to exclude difficult, explicit or challenging content? (This annotation contains a link)
What is it that causes Junior to become a bully?
Consider Morrison's choice to show Pecola's awe and fascination with Junior's home. Why does this seem important? Does this help develop your understanding of a theme?
A girdle, like the one pictured here, is an undergarment worn by women. A girdle would likely not have been available to someone living in poverty who already struggled to make ends meet. The inclusion of this comment suggests both that Pecola is intolerably poor and that she is not refined or chaste. (This annotation contains an image)
What is is that drives Geraldine to respond with such hatred? Consider the tirade of thoughts she has while processing what has happened as well as her own upbringing. Be sure to include textual evidence to support your response.
The highlighted sentence includes _______.
What is your reaction to Claudia's response when she learns Mr. Henry has molested Frieda? Consider Claudia's position as the younger sister who feels she is often missing out on important events. Based on what you have read so far, how can you account for her interest in what has happened?
By ruined, Miss Dunion and Mama were referring to Frieda's virginity. Claudia and Frieda clearly do not understand this.
What is the reason the girls want to get whiskey?
Which of the following statements best highlights the contrast between this area and the part of the city where the girls live?
Despite the fact that slavery has been abolished at the time that this story takes place, black and white people clearly do not have the same rights, even in Ohio, this more northern state. As you read, consider how black people are still relegated to living a second class lifestyle.
Black house maids frequently took care of the houses and the children of white mistresses and masters. How does the scene in the drawing below compare to the scene in which Pecola (Mrs. Breedlove's own daughter) accidentally tips the cobbler, sending "Polly" into a rage? Who does Mrs. Breedlove seem to care more about? Why do you think that is the case? (This annotation contains an image)
Visit the link below to read a poem by James Weldon Johnson entitled "The Black Mammy."Consider the scene you have just read in The Bluest Eye. How does the poem elaborate on the central idea of this scene? http://allpoetry.com/poem/8526265-The-Black-Mammy-by-James-Weldon-Johnson
This is a reference to what is known as The Great Migration. Beginning in 1915, African Americans began to leave the highly-segregated South to make new lives in northern states. View the link below to read more about The Great Migration. (This annotation contains a link)
What does Pauline's interpretation of Ivy's song reveal about her?
Read the highlighted paragraph a second time. How does this section feel like the beginning of an unraveling for Pauline and Cholly? Why is is significant that Morrison writes: "But even before the brown speck, there must have been the conditions, the setting that would allow it to exist in the first place" ?
What apparent truth does Pauline's description of the family she worked for portray?
The italicized sections in this chapter are being told like memories or stories. In the midst of a chapter written from the third person, what is the effect of these first person excerpts? Keep this in mind as you continue reading.
Watch this clip of Rafael Casal from Def Jam Poetry. Be sure to turn on the captions and think about the highlighted section in the text as you listen. (This annotation contains a video)
How does the education Pauline receives in the movies compare with the education Rafael Casal raps about in the Def Jam Poetry session highlighted in the link below? (This is the same video from the annotation above). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8MVhIiy8UQ#t=30
The fact that Polly seems to feel the most powerful in her role as a servant is an example of ______________.
The narrator says that the driving factor in Pauline's parenting was the instilling of fear. Consider where else you see fear in the novel, as well as who uses it, and what effect it seems to have.
Section Two Quiz
Asafetida is an herb that has a strong and unique smell. (This annotation contains an image)
The sentence: "Ain't no Samson never come to no good end," is an example of ______________.
Pot liquor is the liquid left over from cooking greens (especially collards). Why do you think M'Dear suggests this as a cure? Do you think it will work? (This annotation contains an image)
What can you infer about the women Morrison describes in the highlighted paragraph?
Consider the importance of this explanation of Aunt Jimmy's death. Why is it significant that Morrison includes this folklore explanation?
Which piece of information highlights the importance of the funeral rituals?
What is the mood of the scene in which Cholly, Darlene, Jake and Suky run off from the house to play?
Muscadines are a type of dark purple grape that are abundant in the American South. This dark fruit is often used to make wine. What could these grapes symbolize? (This annotation contains an image)
Two momentous events have just taken place in Cholly's life. He has lost his caretaker and his virginity. How does his processing of all of this information surprise you? What do you think this may foretell for the future?
Explain what factors and emotions motivate Cholly to hate Darlene. Use evidence from the text to support your analysis.
What is the meaning of the word litany as it is used in this sentence?
How does the scene of men playing dice in the novel compare to the scene in this image? How does Morrison characterize this world that Cholly has found himself in? What role does money play in this world? (This annotation contains an image)
What does Morrison suggest has caused Cholly's freedom?
Think about this bit of information about Cholly. Morrison writes him as a complex character. How does her inclusion of details like this complicate your feelings about him?
Why did Morrison make the choice to tell the story of Cholly and his actions from the 3rd person? How would your reaction to this episode have been different if told as a memory, from Cholly's point of view?
A misanthrope is someone who does not like society or humankind. Despite the fact that this character is himself a person, he does not care for human interaction. In being described as a misanthrope, we learn an important thing about Soaphead.
What is the tone with which Morrison writes about Soaphead's lineage? Consider the following quotes:"A Sir Whitcomb... had introduced the white strain into the family in the early 1800's. Being a gentleman... he had done the civilized thing for his mulatto bastard...""He bestowed his favors on a fifteen-year old girl of similar parentage."
Notice that Morrison here calls into question the effects of the white blood in Soaphead's lineage. How does she do this here?
Beatrice was one of the guides in Dante's The Divine Comedy. She is reported to also be a real woman who was Dante's "muse and inspiration." The real Beatrice is credited with starting Dante on his journey as a writer. The character Beatrice is also seen as taking others on a journey in The Divine Comedy. What role is Soaphead's (Elihue's) Beatrice likely to play? Keep this in mind as you read. (This annotation contains an image)
How does Soaphead see himself in relation to God?
Morrison has been quoted as saying that she needed someone like Soaphead to "accept the monstrous wish of Pecola as natural and agree to help her." Consider Soaphead's reaction to her request as well as his past. What might make him accept this as natural?
At the beginning of this section, there is an excerpt from the Dick and Jane Primer that reads: "SEETHEDOGBOWWOWGOESTHEDOG DOYOUWANTTOPLAYDOYOUWANT TOPLAYWITHJANESEETHEDOGRUNR"How does Pecola's experience with the Dog compare to this? Why does Morrison choose to begin the chapter this way?
Again, Morrison gives us the detestable actions of a man who exploits little girls. Unlike Cholly's story, this one is told from the 1st person in the form of a letter. Keep in mind Morrison's portrayal of both Cholly and Soaphead as you continue.
Compare and contrast Soaphead and Cholly. Who seems more pitiable? Why?
Scan back and think about the way Morrison begins each titled chapter of the book. Consider what seasons usually represent and the way they are introduced in each section. What might it mean here that summer is "a season of storms"?
Which of the following themes does this section develop? Consider how the girls learn about Pecola and what has happened to her?
In the novel's forward, Morrison writes: "The reclamation of racial beauty in the sixties stirred these thoughts, made me think about the necessity of the claim. Why, although reviled by others, could this beauty not be taken for granted within the community?... The assertion of racial beauty was not a reaction to the self-mocking, humorous critique of cultural/ racial foibles common in all groups, but against the damaging internalization of assumptions of immutable inferiority originating in an outside gaze. I focused, therefore, on how something as grotesque as the demonization of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member of society: a girl." Morrison was referring to Pecola here, but in light of the way the narrator, Claudia, categorizes the community's feelings about Pecola, what damaging effects could you say this "outward gaze" has had on everyone?
What do the seeds here represent?
Who is Pecola talking to here? Think about the opening section from the Dick and Jane Primer: LOOKLOOKHERECOMESAFRIEND THEFRIENDWILLPLAYWITHJANE..." Try to figure out who this italicized character is.
What can you infer about Pecola in this chapter so far?
This play on words highlights the fact that this "friend" who has apparently been here all along only came into play after Pecola's eyes were "changed." Pecola's eyes have not changed. What other important event might be the real change Pecola has experienced here?
What is Pecola looking for in the highlighted section?
Morrison has used a variety of view points in the novel so far. How does she use dialogue in this chapter to reveal information and provide the reader with yet another point of view?
Which of the following is an effect of the conversation here between Pecola and her friend?
Read the short poem in the link below. How can you connect this poem to the novel? To Pecola? (This annotation contains a link)
Think back to the poem you just read by Langston Hughes (or revisit the poem in the link below). Hughes gives several outcomes for the deferment of a dream. Which one do you think had come true for Pecola? What was her dream?http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175884
Keep in mind that this other voice, this italicized character talking to Pecola, is actually Pecola herself. In this interchange, it is revealed that maybe Pecola doesn't even understand why she wants her eyes to be the bluest. Consider what impact this has on your understanding of the theme of definitions of beauty.
In the end, what has Pecola become?
Section Three Quiz