“In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate”

A Memoir By Toni Morrison

Photo by Shalom Mwenesi on Unsplash

“In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” — Toni Morrison

This book by Toni Morrison, who is a famous Afro-American writer, has won awards like Pulitzer and Nobel prize. Her work is praised for addressing racism in the US. The author wrote this book in the intention to let the world know, how hurtful racism is! She wrote this book reminiscing her experiences — stating how this mindless act of commenting on the skin color and the race can lead to reduced self-esteem and confidence in a person. She has highlighted the deep feels of the colored skin people and its oppression.

The book — The Bluest Eyes, has a dark keynote with varied themes covering war, torture, incest, child abuse, racism, sexism, misogyny, self-destruction, failed pursuits, roots of the impact of how, family and the stable life impact a kid and their making while showing a comparison with a kid from abused, broken family. This book exposes the dark history of hidden establishments of racist ideologies.

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The story in the novel is based in Lorain, Ohio, tells about the life of a young African-American girl named Pecola at the time followed by the Great Depression, post-1941. The story unwraps the inferiority complex in Pecola due to her dark skin, regarded consistently as “ugly, which makes her desire for blue eyes which is associated with white skin and beauty. The book is a third person narrative, with different views and perspectives of the other character Claudia, daughter of Pecolas foster parents, at various stage of life. Cholly, the Pecola’s biological father, had an incest relationship with her, who had confusing motivates of love and hate, abandoning his little girl after making her pregnant. Pecola is left abused, hurt, broken, vulnerable and feels like a scapegoat to others who inflict great damage upon her to make themselves feel happier and better.

The book has a narrative style, where the hardships brought by the great depression is discussed, making it a unique historic fictional writing. Toni Morrison defies the American ideology by shedding light on the Afro Americans lives at that time. She draws the veil from the hidden tales and experiences of perpetual racism of the colored in the US, which is denied often. The narrative has a strong female voice, which makes its way into the category of feminist writing. The language in the debut novel by Morrison is straightforward and simple, with in-depth hardships, taking the reader by the hand into gruesome lives.

Since its publication in 1970, the book frequently was in eyes of public and critics engaging in controversy and critical analysis on this Bildungsroman novel. The book was banned from the English literature classes in 1999 after receiving complaints from parents about the contents of the book as violent and sexually explicit. The upheaval could be because many people could not accept the reality of being a part of the racist culture and world we live in, where dark skin, black hair, brown eyes are not considered worth. This book leaves us reminiscing the ways racism dwells in the minds of people and its underlying impact leading to the failure of our society as a whole. Morrison was eventually recognized for her contribution to the English literature after 20 years, by receiving a Nobel prize is 1993.

Some quotes from the book:

  • “It never occurred to either of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding. We had dropped our seeds in our own little plot of black dirt just as Pecola’s father had dropped his seeds in his own plot of black dirt. Our innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust or despair.”
  • “Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe. There is no gift for the beloved. The lover alone possesses his gift of love. The loved one is shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover’s inward eye.”
  • “The birdlike gestures are worn away to a mere picking and plucking her way between the tire rims and the sunflowers, between Coke bottles and milkweed, among all the waste and beauty of the world — which is what she herself was. All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us.”

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Shweta Shenoy

Shweta Shenoy

Exploring my world one day at a time with joy & passion — via words, books, paints & travel. Making sense of what life means to me on this journey