Toni Morrison’s

“The Bluest Eye”

Bojangles and Shirley Temple


In social psychology, the theory of social identity argues that the feeling of belonging to group is directly involved in psychological well-being of members of a particular ethnic segment. So, the ethnic identification plays an important role not only in building the individual self-concept but, also, as a manner to achieve a collective affirmation.


It is, therefore, a scientific consensus the fact that the identification with an ethnic minority is a comprehensive source of personal self-esteem and psychological well-being, with positive reflections in the whole group. Thus, an effective method to dominate an entire group and submit them to an unequal social order should necessarily consider the denial of every individual involved, serving the family as a powerful diffuser and controller agent of such repressive ideals.


The parental approval, support and acceptance – as well as family harmony – are attributes for overall self-esteem, at least throughout adolescence. In more egalitarian societies, the family core of ethnic minorities is perfectly able to filter most of the racist and discriminatory messages originated from the community’s dominant portion, by providing positive feedback to their descendants. But this is not the case of the America described in “The Bluest Eye”.


In Toni Morrison’s novel, it is described a social situation so distorted by the myth of whiteness that it goes to the extreme of producing a “daughter” completely obsessed with the beauty of the blue-eyed Shirley Temple: Pecola lives, thus, the disgraces of her thoroughly self-contained and internalized reality, while readers are obliged to face not only the absurd of idolizing the blue eyes of a child, but also, the horror caused by such absurd, which leads to murders, incest, and schizophrenia.


Out of any social context, we could say that Pecola’s super-ego gradually shaped a distorted personality, allowing that an extreme sense of inferiority be irreparably developed, always from the identification with the most questionable values of her own family. But, considering the given social circumstances involved, the best analysis for Pecola is, paradoxically, more appropriately supported by the Bahktinian discursive statements than properly by the Freudian theory of the ideal-ego, crystallized in his studies of the personality.


For the Russian linguist, cultural domination is seen as a struggle between two competing speeches: a codification of reality, authoritarian, whose legitimacy is constantly affirmed, and, on the other hand – or in opposition –, an alternative representation, which challenges and threats to displace the first agent of interaction.


Whereas the image can also serve as a text, it is possible to have contained in it an own speech, possibly radiating ideology in the imagination of the interlocutor. And, in the novel, the authoritarian speech has a representative sign so heavily loaded of dominating symbolism that, for Pecola, it is virtually impossible to make her voice expressed, in the vain hope of forming an own opinion about herself and the world that surrounds her.


Instead, she will passively internalize these values through the uncontained desire of having blue eyes, which will not allow her to even consolidate her interior process of making distinctions between her own speeches and other people’s speeches, being such desire only a manner to strengthen the domination over her, obviously mediated by the circumstances that also victimize her family.


But the emphasis given by Toni Morrison is on the society, not the family unit. And, according to her, the self-image of Afro-Americans is destroyed from an early age, as a result of massive promotion on a beauty standard from a ruling class: long, stringy hair, preferably blond, keen nose, thin lips, and light eyes, preferably blue. And by analogy, if the physical characteristics of Caucasians are accepted as the standard of beauty, so the Africans have to be ugly. This is the kind of simplistic logic that the Breedloves ultimately assimilate and use by repetition – and with no possible critic – to convince themselves of their “ugliness”.


Pecola Breedlove internalizes the beauty standards of white people until the extreme of madness, and her fervent desire for blue eyes may actually be translated by her desire to escape poverty and the racist environment in which she lives. And, by considering the time gap between John Sweat Rock speech (stating, in 1858, that “Black is Beautiful”), the Civil Rights movements (in the early 1960s), the first publication of Bluest Eye (in 1970), and the controversy regarding the candidacy of Barack Obama (mostly during 2008), the necessity of affirming the citizenship of Afro-Americans was – and remains to be – a challenge for the American society. And all we have to do is to ask until when.








  • MORRISON, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York, NY: Washington Square Press. 1972.


  • BLOOM, Harold. Toni Morrison's the Bluest Eye. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.


  • VERKUYTEN, Maykel. Positive and Negative Self-Esteem among Ethnic Minority Early Adolescents: Social and Cultural Sources and Threats. In Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Volume: 32. Issue: 4. New Jersey, NJ: Plenum Publishing Corporation, 2003.


  • BUTLER-EVANS, Elliott. Race, Gender, and Desire: Narrative Strategies in the Fiction of Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1989.


  • MBALIA, Doreatha Drummond. Toni Morrison's Developing Class Consciousness. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 2004.