Quest For Personal Identity In Toni Morrisons The

Bluest EyePost World War I, many new opportunities were given to the growing and
expanding group of African Americans living in the North. Almost 500,00
African Americans moved to the northern states between 1910 and 1920. This
was the beginning of a continuing migration northward. More than 1,500,000
blacks went north in the 1930’s and 2,500,00 in the 1940’s. Life in the
North was very hard for African Americans. Race riots, limited housing
resulting in slum housing, and restricted job opportunities were only a few
of the many hardships that the African American people had to face at this
time. Families often had to separate, social agencies were overcrowded with
people that all needed help, crime rates increased and many other resulting
problems ensued. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison takes place during this
time period. A main theme in this novel is the “quest for individual
identity and the influences of the family and community in that quest”
(Trescott). This theme is present throughout the novel and evident in many
of the characters. Pecola Breedlove, Cholly Breedlove, and Pauline
Breedlove and are all embodiments of this quest for identity, as well as
symbols of the quest of many of the Black northern newcomers of that time.


The Breedlove family is a group of people under the same roof, a family by
name only. Cholly (the father) is a constantly drunk and abusive man. His
abusive manner is apparent towards his wife Pauline physically and towards
his daughter Pecola sexually. Pauline is a “mammy” to a white family and
continues to favor them over her biological family. Pecola is a little black
girl with low self esteem. The world has led her to believe that she is ugly
and that the epitome of “beautiful” requires blue eyes. Therefore every
night she prays that she will wake up with blue eyes.


Brought up as a poor unwanted girl, Pecola Breedlove desires the acceptance
and love of society. The image of “Shirley Temple beauty” surrounds her. In
her mind, if she was to be beautiful, people would finally love and accept
her. The idea that blue eyes are a necessity for beauty has been imprinted on
Pecola her whole life. “If I looked different, beautiful, maybe Cholly
would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they would say, ‘Why look
at pretty eyed Pecola. We mustn’t do bad things in front of those pretty
blue eyes'” (Morrison 46). Many people have helped imprint this ideal of
beauty on her. Mr. Yacowbski as a symbol for the rest of society’s norm,
treats her as if she were invisible. “He does not see her, because for him
there is nothing to see. How can a fifty-two-year-old white immigrant
storekeeper… see a little black girl?” (Morrison 48). Her classmates also
have an effect on her. They seem to think that because she is not beautiful,
she is not worth anything except as the focal point of their mockery. “Black
e mo. Black e mo. Yadaddsleepsnekked. Black e mo black e mo ya dadd sleeps
nekked. Black e mo…” (Morrison 65). Shouted by her classmates on such a
regular basis, this scorn seemed not to penetrate anymore. As if it were not
bad enough being ridiculed by children her own age, adults also had to mock
her. Geraldine, a colored woman, who refused to tolerate “niggers”, happened
to walk in while Pecola was in her house. “‘Get out,’ she said her voice
quiet. ‘You nasty little black bitch. Get out of my house'” (Morrison 92). By
having an adult point out to her that she really was a “nasty” little girl,
it seems all the more true. Pecola was never able to get away from this kind
of ridicule.
At home she was put through the same thing, if not worse because her family
members were the ones who were supposed to love her. Her mother was not able
conceal her obvious affection towards a white girl over her. One day as
Pecola was visiting her mother at the home where she is working, Pecola
accidentally knocked over a blueberry pie. Obviously burned by the hot
pastry, her mother completely ignored Pecola’s feelings of pain and instead
tended to the comforting of her white “daughter”. “‘Crazy foo…my floor,
mess …look what you…get on out…crazy…crazy…my floor , my floor….’
Her words were hotter and darker than the smoking berries. The little white
girl in pink started to cry. Mrs. Breedlove turned to her. ‘Hush, baby, hush.


Don’t cry no more'” (Morrison 109). Her mother viewed Pecola as an obstacle
that had the potential to get in the way of her white charge’s happiness and
consequently her happiness. Her mother refused to show any love to Pecola
because it might interfere with more important things. For a little girl, the
love of her mother is the most important love she can receive. Without that,
how can she think that she is worth anything at all?
Finally the rape by her father is the last evidence Pecola needs to believe
completely that she is an ugly unlovable girl. While in most cases a father
figure is one who little girls look to for guidance and approval, Cholly is
the exact opposite. He hurts Pecola in a physical way that in one attempt
measures up to the years of hurtful mockery. He took away from her the one
thing that was utterly and completely hers. After the rape, Pecola was never
even remotely the same:
She was so sad to see. Grown people looked away; children, those who were not
frightened by her, laughed outright. The damage done was total. She spent
her days, walking up and down her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so
distant only she could hear. Elbows bent, hands on shoulders, she flailed
her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly. Beating
the air, a winged but grounded bird intent on the blue void it could not
reach-could not even see- but which filled the valleys of the mind.


In short, after the rape, Pecola went insane. Pecola’s search for identity
was defined by her everlasting desire to be loved. Her purpose in life was to
be beautiful and as a result of that to be loved. Her family and community
made it impossible for her to ever be sanely content.
Cholly Breedlove the father and eventually rapist of Pecola, is a bastard.


He was born to an unwed mother; his father ran away the day of his birth and
his mother abandoned him three days later. This horrible beginning reflects
his everyday views and actions. His mother attempted to leave him alone in
the world. His father figure was an empty void in his life. After his legal
guardian, his aunt, dies, Cholly decided that as an inner mission he needs to
find his father to find himself. To understand exactly who he is he needs to
look into his past. A long search ends in an extremely disappointing –
crushing- experience. As Cholly tries to explain his identity to his father,
he becomes flustered, “The man’s eyes frightened him. ‘I just thought… I
mean my name is Cholly.'” His father’s face changes as he begins to
understand. He shouts at Cholly, “Tell that bitch she got her money. Now, get
the fuck outta my face!'” (Morrison 156). This extremely embarrassing
encounter with his father scars him for life. His only image of a father
figure is one who brings pain. Cholly’s sexual history starts off painfully
as well. His first attempt at sex was scorned, mocked and watched by two
white police officers. “The men had shone a flashlight right on his behind .


He had stopped, terrified. They chuckled. The beam of the flashlight did not
move. ‘Go on,’ they said. ‘Go on and finish. And, nigger, make it good.’ The
flashlight did not move” (Morrison 42). These first two episodes left a huge
impact on him that eventually caused him to do something that would not have
happened had he had proper guidance in those areas. Cholly’s family (or lack
thereof) and his community as a boy ultimately influenced the way he was as a
man. Their effects on him molded his personality and as a result influenced
his identity.
Another cause of his eventual downfall was the way the community perceived
him. They treated him disrespectfully, talked about him behind his back, and
made a mockery of his name. After Cholly attempts to burn his own house down,
he earns a reputation as being a scoundrel. Who, “having put his family
outdoors, had catapulted himself beyond the reaches of human consideration.


He had joined the animals; was indeed, an old dog, a snake, a ratty nigger”
(Morrison 18). As long as society had an idea of who this man was and what
he stood for, it was impossible for Cholly to rise above them. While it is
hard to make a good first impression, it is near impossible to change that
impression. With that in mind he could go nowhere but down.
Cholly’s ultimate downfall, occur simultaneously with the rape of Pecola:
The tenderness welled up in him, as he sank to his knees, his eyes on the
foot of his daughter. Crawling on all fours toward her, he raised his hand
and caught the foot in an upward stroke…His mouth trembled at the firm
sweetness of her flesh. He closed his eyes, letting his fingers dig into her
waist. The rigidness of her shocked body, the silence of her stunned throat,
was better than Pauline’s easy laughter had been. The confused mixture of his
memories of Pauline and the doing of a wild and forbidden thing excited him,
and a bolt of desire ran down his genitals, giving it length, and softening
the lips of his anus. He wanted to fuck-tenderly. But the tenderness would
not hold. The tightness of her vagina was more than he could bear. His soul
seemed to slip down to his guts and fly out to her, and the gigantic thrust
he made into her then provoked the only sound she made-a hollow suck of air
in the back of her throat. Like the rapid loss of air from a circus balloon.


With this final act, Cholly lost all humanity conceivable. His search for
himself ended in destruction.


Pauline Breedlove, wife of Cholly, mother of Pecola, is a servant in a
white household. The times she was there working for this family without any
reminder of her own failures were the only times that she felt truly happy .


It was there and only there that she finally felt as if she were part of
something successful. In Pauline’s search for her identity and ultimately
her happiness, she learned exactly what she would have to sacrifice so that
she could be content, as well as the difference between herself and the rest
of society. The movie theater helped her realize the stark difference between
her and other women. “Along with the idea of romantic love, she was
introduced to another-physical beauty. She was never able, after her
education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign it some category in
the scale of absolute beauty…” (Morrison 122). As Pauline learned what
physical beauty was, she also learned for what it stood. In that time
physical beauty was the ideal of Shirly Temple beauty, the equation of blond
hair and blue eyes to beauty. It signified equality, happiness, worthiness,
and overall comfort. If you were a white woman with those qualities living in
northern America you were content, it was that simple. As Pauline learned
these guidelines, she gave birth to Pecola and got a job as a black “mammy”
to a white family. She quickly learned that when she was in the company of
her white family, who were equal, happy, and worthy in the eyes of society,
it rubbed off on her and she felt as if she was part of all these positive
virtues. On the other hand, the more time she spent with her own black
family, the more time she realized how ugly, poor, and unworthy they were.


It was as if “the master had said, ‘you are ugly people.’ They had looked
about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact,
support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every
glance” (Morrison 39). In coming upon this realization, Pauline has a
decision to make. She could have stuck with her biological family, continued
to be unsatisfied but be accepted as an equal, or she could completely give
up on her own family and devote all her time, energy, and love on her white
charges. To Pauline this decision is obvious and she makes it hastily.


Without a second thought she mentally leaves her family in place for her
“Perfect Life”. However she fails to realize that by committing herself to a
servant’s life that’s all she will ever amount to be – a black servant in a
white world.
Have all of the characters found their identity? Pecola Breedlove yearned
for blue eyes. At the end of the book she believes that she has those blue
eyes. She believes that people treat her funny because they are jealous of
her blue eyes and she has learned to happily accept that. Pecola yearned for
the acceptance and love of society seen through her eyes. No matter if that
acceptance and love were really there, she thought it was and therefore was
able to survive. “I Soaphead Church, I have caused a miracle. I gave her
the eyes. I gave her the blue, blue, two blue eyes… No one else will see
her blue eyes. But she will. And she will live happily ever after” (Morrison
182). Pecola found herself only by going insane. Although Pecola is not
accepted by society for reasons she does not understand, she puts her
exclusion from society into terms she can comprehend. Society influences her
identity. They mold her into what she becomes by not giving her the guidance
and approval she needs. In the same way, Cholly found himself separated from
the community. After the realization of the perception the community has of
him, he is demoralized and does an act of inhumanity. He could not live with
the realization of the monster he had become and he disappeared. As a man he
did not know who he was. In a sense he needed an act that would completely
set him apart from the rest of the rational world for him to find himself. He
sanely found himself as Pecola insanely found herself. They finished with
varying results. While Pecola was separate but content, Cholly was separate
and unsatisfied. Pauline, on the other hand, chose an identity she could be
content with. She had an option to become two very different people and she
chose the one that seemed right for her. Her distorted view of reality made
it seem that the choice she made was accepted in society, and would allow her
to increase her status in society. However, her overseer saw it and
described it in actuality. “We could never find anyone like Polly. She will
not leave the kitchen until everything is in order. Really, she is the ideal
servant” (Morrison 128). This twist of perspective shows how Pauline is
really accredited. Are they satisfied with what they have found? It seems
that the only truly satisfied person is Pauline. Pecola is not content, she
will not ever be. Her father took away that option. Cholly is not satisfied.


He can not handle the naked truth that he is a beast, and therefore retreats
from society. Pauline, though looked down upon by society was somehow
satisfied with her identity. Her twisted view of reality made her believe
that she was accepted as an equal in society. The Breedlove family are
representatives of the black rising community in the north. Pecola a
“dismissed, trivialized, misread” ( Morrison 216) child, was representative
of the younger Black population. While her ending does not conform to
societies norm her story does. Cholly was a misunderstood Blackmale adult. He
was a part of the generation that started the Black community in the north.


For Cholly, the responsibilities of that were too great and he therefore
needed to withdraw from society. Pauline was representative of the part of
the Black — that tried too hard to conform to the White culture. She found
what she was looking for and was able to convince herself that she was happy,
but she did not really have a place where she truly fit in. The Breedlove
family is a black family living in the 1940s. They have to deal with the
same problems, situations, and dilemmas as do the rest of the rising Black
community in the north. The Bluest Eye tells their story and offers their
experiences.

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