The Bluest Eye uses multiple narrators, including Claudia as a child, Claudia as an adult, and an omniscient narrator. Which narrative point of view do you think is most central to the novel and why?
A case can be made for the centrality of any of the three narrators listed above. The perspective of the adult Claudia frames the novel—the second section of the prologue and the novel’s last chapter are told from her point of view. These opening and closing sections say the most about what Pecola’s story means, and our efforts to make sense of the story therefore depend upon and parallel the adult Claudia’s efforts. But Claudia’s childlike perspective is also crucial. She is similar to Pecola in age and social status, and therefore possesses special insight into the nature and meaning of Pecola’s suffering. At the same time, she is comparatively more confident and secure than Pecola, so she can articulate things that Pecola cannot. The omniscient narrator is also central to the telling of the story, because she provides information about Cholly’s and Pauline’s pasts, which make them more sympathetic and give the novel its broader scope. Without the character backgrounds provided by this omniscient perspective, Pecola’s tragedy might be too senseless for the novel to hold together.
Who do you think is the most sympathetic character in the novel and why?
Morrison designs The Bluest Eye to make us sympathize with even the most violent and hurtful characters, which means that this question has many possible answers. Pecola is the most obvious candidate for our sympathy, because she undergoes a shocking amount of abuse. She is forced to witness her parents’ violent fights, she is mocked or ignored by her classmates, she is tormented by Junior, she is raped by her father, and she is used by Soaphead Church. But to some degree, Pecola remains a shadowy, mysterious character—we are not given as much insight into how she thinks and feels as we are into other characters, who may therefore receive the greater share of our sympathy. Both of Pecola’s parents are sympathetic because the narrator goes to great lengths to explain how they have become the kind of people they are. Pauline’s story is partially narrated by Pauline herself, which makes her more sympathetic because we are given a vivid glimpse into the pleasure and suffering of her life. Although Cholly does not narrate any part of his story, he endures so much hardship—starting from the moment he is born and discarded by the train tracks—that we cannot help but feel sympathy for him. Claudia is yet another candidate for the most sympathetic character, simply because we experience so much of the story from her point of view and she is the one who helps us makes sense of it all.
The Bluest Eye is a novel about racism, and yet there are relatively few instances of the direct oppression of black people by white people in the book. Explain how racism functions in the story.
Unlike To Kill a Mockingbird, in which an African-American is persecuted by whites simply on the basis of skin color, The Bluest Eye presents a more complicated portrayal of racism. The characters do experience direct oppression, but more routinely they are subject to an internalized set of values that creates its own cycle of victimization within families and the neighborhood. The black community in the novel has accepted white standards of beauty, judging Maureen’s light skin to be attractive and Pecola’s dark skin to be ugly. Claudia can sense the destructiveness of this idea and rebels against it when she destroys her white doll and imagines Pecola’s unborn baby as beautiful. Racism also affects the characters of the novel in other indirect ways. The general sense of precariousness of the black community during the Great Depression, in comparison with the relative affluence of the whites in the novel, reminds us of the link between race and class. More directly, the sexual violation of Pecola is connected to the sexual violation of Cholly by whites who view his loss of virginity as entertainment.
1. How does nature function in the novel? Do you consider it a benevolent presence against which the events of the novel are contrasted, or a potentially malevolent force? Is Morrison’s use of natural imagery hopeful or ironic?
2. Which is a greater threat to the children in The Bluest Eye: racism or sexism?
3. At the end of the novel, Claudia questions her own right or ability to tell the truth about Pecola’s experience. How seriously are we to take her questioning? Is she a reliable narrator?
4. To what extent is Cholly to blame for his violence against his family? Which other people or circumstances may also be to blame? What is the novel’s position on blame?
5. The novel includes a number of secondary story lines, such as Geraldine’s and Soaphead Church’s histories, with the main story line of the Breedlove family. Select one of these secondary stories and explain how it relates to or comments upon the main story line.