The Bluest Eye

by: Toni Morrison

Autumn: Chapter 1

Summary Autumn: Chapter 1

Claudia’s hatred of white dolls extends to white girls, and Morrison uses this process as a starting point to study the complex love-hate relationship between blacks and whites. What horrifies Claudia most about her own treatment of white girls is the disinterested nature of her hatred. Claudia hates them for their whiteness, not for more defensible personal reasons. Ultimately, her shame of her own hatred hides itself in pretended love. By describing the sequence of hating whiteness but then coming to embrace it, Claudia diagnoses the black community’s worship of white images (as well as cleanliness and denial of the body’s desires) as a complicated kind of self-hatred. It is not simply that black people learn to believe that whiteness is beautiful because they are surrounded by white America’s advertisements and movies; Claudia suggests that black children start with a healthy hatred of the claims to white superiority but that their guilt at their own anger then transforms hatred into a false love to compensate for that hatred.

Unlike Claudia, Pecola does not undergo a process of first rejecting then accepting America’s white beauty standards. Pecola adores Shirley Temple and loves playing with dolls. Her excessive and expensive milk-drinking from the Shirley Temple is part of her desire to internalize the values of white culture—a symbolic moment that foreshadows her desire to possess blue eyes. While these desires illustrate that Pecola mentally and emotionally remains a child, her menstruation shows that she is experiencing a physical coming-of-age. Claudia and Frieda envy Pecola’s menstruation, but implicit in this scene is the threat that Pecola can now become pregnant, an adult reality that turns out to be quite troubling.

The pressures that Claudia faces as a girl becoming a woman are perhaps subtler than the pressures of race, but in some ways, more prevalent. There are continual references to the fate of women done wrong by men: Della Jones is thought to be senile in part because her husband left her; Pecola is homeless because her father has beaten his wife and burned down their home; Mrs. MacTeer sings blues songs about men leaving their women; and the onset of Pecola’s first period is cause for fear, confusion, and accusations of “nastiness” before becoming cause for muted celebration. The chapter ends with speculation about the connection between men, love, and babies. For Claudia, issues of racism, poverty, and standards of beauty are intimately connected to her inevitable entrance into womanhood. The same is true for Pecola, though her eventual initiation into the world of men, love, and babies is much too soon and much too violent.