Saturday, 22 August 2009

Terrible Beauty

Finished The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison this morning.

In her afterword, Morrison tells the reader that, like the character of Pecola, this novel was dismissed, ignored and unloved - until its rediscovery. How shameful that a book of this significance and importance in the American literary landscape was passed over for so long.

This book, for me, was all about the concept of beauty and the modern obsession with it - and what the idea of beauty is to one person as opposed to another.

Pecola believes herself to be ugly - she has never been told otherwise. She is neglected, or rather, treated as if she doesn't exist by her family, neighbors, schoolmates, etc. Her belief that she could be beautiful if only she had blue eyes, just like the little girl whose family her mother works for, is both profound and tragic in its simplicity.

The novel is told from the perspective of several characters - Pecola (in the third person), Pecola's schoolmate Claudia, Pauline and Cholly (Pecola's parents), and Whitcomb - a disturbed elderly healer who "gives" Pecola her blue eyes. Each character struggles with the concept of his/her identity in the smalltown terrain of 1940s Ohio. The reader learns of Pecola's tragedy - and possibly how it could have been avoided, if only Pecola had been valued, cherished and loved.

In these characters' eyes, beauty IS only skin deep - and therein lies the real sadness of this novel.

Up next: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

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