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Essay on Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye - Female Childhood Icons

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Female Childhood Icons in Morrison's The Bluest Eye  


In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison weaves stories of violation and hardship to examine the ugliness that racism produces. In this novel, the childhood icons of white culture are negative representations instrumental in engendering internalized racism. For the black child in a racist, white culture, these icons are never innocent. Embodying the ideals of white beauty, they expose the basis for Claudia's bewilderment at why she is not attractive and Pecola's desperate desire for beauty. They nourish neither innocent desire, nor the need for acceptance, but denigrate the very idea of blackness. The worship of ideal white beauty, by adults as well as by children, coalesces into a communal neglect of self esteem, foregrounding ugliness as a key element of internalized racism.

How the children respond to these cultural representations of beauty is contrasted through the characters of Claudia and Pecola. Claudia rejects the childhood icons of white culture: Shirley Temple and the blond, blue-eyed dolls she received as presents. Pecola embraces them to the point of madness. Unloved and unwanted, she believes that her ugliness can only be erased by the virtual embodiment of white beauty, beauty symbolized for her by blue eyes. The widely different views held by Claudia and Pecola are important in understanding the survival of one and the demise of the other. This paper explores the experiences and responses of Claudia and Pecola, as African-American girls, in their relationship to the white cultural icons of female childhood.

As a child star, Shirley Temple embodied cultural ideals of innocence and instinctual understanding believed inherent in idealized childhood. A tale...


... middle of paper ...


...The white, female icons are representative of the cultural ideologies invested in racism, and representative as well of the lack of innocence in things that appear innocent to whites in white culture.

The student may wish to begin the paper with the quote below:

"Had any adult with the power to fulfill my desires taken me seriously and asked me what I wanted, they would have known that I did not want to have anything to own, or to possess any object. I wanted rather to feel something on Christmas day. The real question would have been, 'Dear Claudia, what experience would you like on Christmas?' I could have spoken up, 'I want to sit on the low stool in Big Mama's kitchen with my lap full of lilacs and listen to Big Papa play his violin for me alone.'"

Works Cited:

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. Afterward by Toni Morrison. New York: Penguin, 1994.


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