Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Bluest Eye - Happy Anniversary

Claudia from The Bottom of Heaven asked if I wanted to participate in Blogger's roundtable for Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, to celebrate its 40 anniversary. There was only one answer I could give YES*. First Happy Anniversary to the Bluest Eye. And thank you Claudia for asking me to participate.

The first time I read The Bluest Eye I was 13 or 14 yrs old. I feel very lucky to have discovered Morrison so early. I missed Mildred Taylor, the same thing could've easily happened with Morrison. The Bluest Eye wasn't school reading, though I do recall my 9th grade English teacher, giving me a list of authors right before the beginning of summer. I am pretty sure Morrison's name was on the list. At the time I was reading a lot of genre fiction books by Stephen King or Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I was just discovering Black authors. Sure I read James Baldwin, Richard Wright even Donald Goines, but it was the ladies who had me.

Of course alot of The Bluest Eye, was over my head the first time I read it. Though that didn't matter since Morrison's characters and language felt familiar.

Forty years later I will always be thankful for Morrison's first novel. The Bluest Eye opened literary doors for many Black female authors.

Without it I may never of had the chance to read Tina McElroy Ansa, Toni Cade Bambara, Gaylor Naylor, Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker and all the other Black female authors whose stories speak to me like genre fiction never will.
There were a few topics, we could've tackled for this roundtable. I choose - Humanizing Cholly Breedlove: Vilified? Redeemed? How did you respond to this character or how might we read him today?

The first time through Cholly Breedlove was evil. Any man who would hit his wife, set his house of fire and rape is daughter couldn't be anything but evil. Years later when I reread The Bluest Eye, I payed closer attention and noticed there was more to Cholly. I felt compassion towards him.

This was the first time I had to reevaluate my perception towards a particular character after rereading a novel. So I decided to take an even closer look at Cholly.

Cholly Breedlove is Pecola's father. Pecola is the little girl who dreams and wishes for blue eyes. With blue eyes Pecola believes she will be beautiful and loved. Breedlove's are poor and ugly. One is bad but both is unforgivable.

Before Cholly becomes half of a marriage that thrives on conflict, he is a man with potential. Cholly almost lost his chance at being anything. When he was four years old his mother placed him on a junk railroad. He was saved by his great aunt Jimmy.

Cholly's aunt raised him until he was 14yrs old. When she's dies, Cholly ran away to find his father. His aunt took care of him but there was no love. Cholly's went searching for a male roll model and someone to love him.
Many young men and women would've been disillusioned to the idea of love if they hadn't already experienced it by the time they were teenagers. But Cholly still believed in love and wasn't afraid seek it out. Since he wanted it so badly, I believe Cholly could've easily returned love properly if he knew how.

There isn't much interaction between Cholly and Pecola until the very end, since he doesn't know how to be a father. Though when one looks closely, its easy to see, if given the chance Cholly would've tried to learn how.

"One winter Pauline discovered she was pregnant. When she told Cholly, he surprised her by being pleased. He began to drink less and come home more often. They eased back into a relationship more like the early days of their marriage." (p121)

The first time I read the scene where Cholly raped Pecola, it was an act of violence with no redemption. The next time my heart went out for Cholly as well. He is a Black man who must admit he failed to protect his daughter from a world that more than willingly to destroy her.

"Her back hunched that way, her head to one side as though crouching from a permanent and unrelieved blow. Why did she have to look so whipped? She was a child - unburdened- why wasn't she happy? The clear statement of her misery was an accusation. He wanted to break her neck - but tenderly. Guilt and impotence rose in a bilious duet. (p161)

It must have been hard for Cholly to face his family knowing (or feeling as if) he failed them, especially Pecola. Daughters are supposed to be protected. Cholly wondered what he could give his daughter, this makes me believe, if Cholly had anything to give he would.

What could he do for her ever? What give her? What could a burned out Black man say to the hunched back of his eleven year old daughter? If he looked into her face, he would see those haunted, loving eyes. The hauntedness would irriate him the love would move him to fury. How dare she love him? Hadn't she any sense at all? What was he supposed to do about that? Return it? How? What could his colloused hands produce to make her smile? What of his knowledge of the world and of life could be useful to her? What could his heavy arms and befuddled brain accomplish that would earn him his own respect, that would in return allow him to accept her love?

Cholly was as much a victim as Pecola. Everytime I read The Bluest Eye, I see Cholly clearer. There's little boy who almost never was, the boy who went unloved, the young man who had his first sexual experience ruined by two White men, the young man who was dismissed by the father he never knew, and a man who never learned how to love.

*This is also up at The Color Online blog


Anonymous said...

I haven't read Bluest Eye, yet! I thought I would get it done for this roundtable, but just haven't had time. I find it interesting that in re-reading, you find compassion for Cholly rather than more reason to despise him. Did your sympathy increase for other characters as well?

Doret said...

Edi - A little but I think thats because Cholly was the one character, Morrison created that readers would sympathy for the most on a closer look.

Though my feelings toward some of the other characters did change as well.

I am beginning to think Maureen Peal the young black girl who was considered beautiful thanks to her light skin, could have been nice.