Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. 1970. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.
Paperback | $14.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0307278449 | 206 pages | African-American literature/Historical Fiction
I would like to preface this review with a brief summary of my prior experience with Toni Morrison. I was first introduced to her work upon beginning my major-focused coursework for my Bachelor of Arts in English in Spring 2012 when the professor, a well-intentioned woman, assigned Beloved. That book so traumatized me, and along with a few other books assigned while in the program, like The Things They Carried, soured me toward what the average literature professor thought of as “quality” literature and moved me further toward embracing genre fiction. And based on a quick perusal of the syllabi for this coming fall semester, Morrison is not only a continued staple of the curriculum, but Beloved itself remains that same professor’s book of choice for teaching her work.
Thus, I decided that, even if Morrison was a key figure in the history of African American fiction, that she just wasn’t for me, like many influential classic writers before her. But in the wake of her death, African American historical romance author and literature professor Piper Huguley presented a more approachable alternative, called “the hierarchy,” that allows the reader ” to get the best understanding of the richness of her prose.” Wanting to give Morrison another chance, I snapped up a copy of The Bluest Eye.
And while it’s still much more stylistic than I prefer, and there are some sudden narrator changes that I didn’t even notices until I was looking at some analyses and plot summaries online, I found that the broad themes it deals with made it worth the read for me. I think the central theme of race connected with beauty is especially profound, especially given how it continues to dominate pop culture, even if we try to deny that it’s there. It also blatantly confronts the issue concerning the racial divide in America, something that is as bad an issue now as it was then, even if people like to chock it up to “race-baiting.”
If I have one complaint, it’s that the book doesn’t shy away from the graphic sexual violence, and the graphic content is something that also turned me off Beloved. But reading it with greater respect for it in context of the African American experience shows me how necessary it is. However, I know is something that could be a trigger for some people, so keep that in mind.
That being said, I find myself unsure of who to recommend this to, given the bleakness of it. I suppose if you’ve felt even the smallest urge to give Morrison her fair chance, follow Piper Huguley’s advice and start here.