The Bluest Eye (Vintage International)

The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison Please note: I listened to the audiobook narrated by the author, not Ruby Dee.

This is a book about a child who wants to be beautiful, and that means to have blue eyes. She is black.

If you choose to read this book you should be aware that although the writing is exceptional, it is rarely cheerful:

The first twigs are thin, green and supple. They bend in a complete circle but will not break. Their delicate showy hopefulness shooting from forsythia and lilac bushes meant only a change in whipping style. They beat us differently in the spring. Instead of the dull pain of a winter strap there were these new green switches that lost their sting long after the whipping was over. There was a nervous meanness in these long twigs that made us long for the steady stroke of the strap or the firm but honest slap of a hairbrush. Even now for me spring is shot through with the remembered ache of switchings and forsythia holds no cheer. Sunk in the grass of an empty lot on a spring Saturday I split the stems of milkweed and thought about ants and peach pits and death and where the world went when I closed my eyes. (Chapter entitled Spring)

Don’t look for hope or cheer or ever a glimpse of sunshine. Isn’t usually spring coupled with thoughts of birth and life? Here death is pondered. Here the lovely flowering branches of forsythia in spring are used as a means of inflicting physical child abuse.

After listening to page after page depicting human depravity I sought to find one passage that imparted hope, compassion, the nice things that life affords human beings. Isn’t a book imbalanced if only the negative is shown? In this entire book I found two passages. Only two, and I am not so sure one of them can qualify, it being the physical euphoria implicit in satisfying sex. The other was the wonder of enjoying a hunk of watermelon on a hot summer day. The blue sky, the sweetness of the juice, the feel of such a moment is beautifully written. Yes, this author can write, I just wish she could occasionally use her talen to point out the nice things life affords us. Life consists of both the horrible and the wonderful, for all of us, even those who are the worst off. The picture Morrison draws for us is imbalanced.

The author is extremely articulate:

She succumbed to her earlier dreams. Along with the idea of romantic love she was introduced to another physical beauty probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity and ended in dissolution. In equating physical beauty with virtue, she stripped her mind, bound it and collected self-contempt by the heap. She forgot lust and simple caring-for. She regarded love as possessive mating and romance as the goal of the spirit. It would be for her a well-spring from which she would draw the most destructive emotions, deceiving the lover and seeking to imprison the beloved, curtailing freedom in every way.

Although the writing is articulate, I object to the way the analytical, “civilized” language is used to debase all aspects of the characters and their lives. The dialogs are simple, but they are interspersed with passages as that above. In the audiobook, the very slow narration by the author accentuates the importance of each word. Clearly she wants us to reflect on the imparted message. To understand this text, the narration must be slow. You need this time to absorb the significance of each phrase.

So what is the message of this book? It is the value and the importance of self-esteem and that friends and family must actively strengthen, encourage and support a child’s intrinsic worth. Self-esteem, of course at a balanced level, is a healthy trait. Those who lack a feisty character, those who are at a disadvantage given their youth, gender and race, those who have no support from friends or parents , those who are constantly criticized, never praised, never shown that they are wonderful just in themselves, can neither be loved or love others. They are doomed. They will go under. Yes, I agree, but I would have preferred that the author used her remarkable talent and writing ability to show both the horribleness and wonder of life and people. The lines read as poetry, but so very depressing. Human beings use each other; we are depraved and filthy, rarely do we act compassionately. Is that how we always are? I cannot believe that. I will not be reading another book by this author. Even the message is obvious.