[By Goyland Williams]
The same year The Bluest Eye (1970) was published, the Black Power Movement and other black struggles for liberation of the 1960s had influenced black literature significantly. Central to those movements’ message was the emphasis of loving and valuing blackness. Because of this, Toni Morrison describes in a interview why The Bluest Eye having “a little hurt black girl at the center of this story” instead of the stereotypical strong black woman is substantial, and even, groundbreaking in a landscape known for its essentialist representations.
During the 1970s, where literary and artistic representations of black life were often told and played out from a black male point of view, Pecola’s voice is a sobering reminder that life—even at its most innocent stage—can be cruel and mean. Morrison’s unique placement of Pecola at the center of the novel, serves as a method of (re)shaping and (re)telling the black narrative from the most marginalized and isolated location—a black girl’s perspective that does not know and has not been told that HER black is beautiful.
Similar to Alice Walker’s protagonist Celie in The Color Purple, Pecola is described as ugly and seemingly unworthy of being loved and of loving herself. Knowing that “love is never any better than the lover” has serious implications for this novel. What makes Pecola the most vulnerable and marginalized character is not merely her status as physically unattractive, but the fact that she is a black girl whose self-identity often depends on those messages of love and beauty conferred by others. In this vein, Morrison’s protagonist challenges and expands our representations of African American life through a character that cannot legitimately defend her -self against a hostile culture-both black and white.
The Bluest Eye joins literary legacy of works of fiction that were to come in which black girls are central characters. Had Morrison painted a different picture featuring a mature black woman, the dialogue centered on the novel may have sounded differently.