Toni Morrison: The Bluest Eye
4.) Compare Pecola??™s character to Claudia??™s. Which of these two characters is better able to reject white, middle-class America??™s definition of beauty Support your answer with examples from the text.
The novel The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison portrays the tragedy that results when blacks succumb to the standards exposed to them by the white society who belittles them. In this case, it is the idea of whiteness as the standard of beauty. She shows this through two little black girls in the 1940s, Pecola Breedlove and Claudia MacTeer, who both live in the same society. What makes them different from each other is the way they feel and respond to the black community who loathes itself for its blackness and therefore, ugliness.
Pecola, the protagonist, is brought up in a family of abuse and violence. Her father, Cholly, is an alcoholic father, and her mother, Pauline, is also convinced white beauty brings happiness. Having witnessed countless vicious fights of her parents, Pecola wants to disappear. Outside her family life, she experiences humiliation which is one of the major causes of her emotional paralysis. Pecola lived life with teachers who ???never tried to glance at her??? (p.34), and classmates who intimidate her. Furthermore, Pecola is demonized by the grocery seller, Mr. Yacobowski when she buys Mary Jane candy. The white, blued-eyed man furthermore confirms her ugliness when he looks right through her described as ???the glazed separateness???, (p.36) and reluctantly touches her palm for the pennies. Consequently, this systematic and continuous way of demonizing and hatred of white people towards her black skin amplifies the contempt she has for herself. For this reason, she finds the only way to receive love and approval from others is to be white and beautiful. Pecola undertakes a blind pursuit of beauty as she takes every chance to drink milk out of her Shirley Temple cup thinking milk will make her whiter, and to be closer to Shirley Temple, closer to her whiteness, and blue eyes, closer to her beauty. This emphasizes to how much the society??™s pressure and Pecola??™s self-hatred has caused her to lose the sense of her own self, and only see the iconology presented by white culture and media.
Claudia, on the other hand, is able to reject and all the more despises the American ideal beauty of blonde hair, and blue eyes. Unlike Pecola, Claudia is raised in a family whose lovingness and support does not allow Claudia to internalize the repugnance towards blacks. When given a white baby doll for Christmas, instead of admiring and appreciating it like most other black girls would, Claudia detested it. She could not understand why others have always loved blue-eyed, blonde white dolls because of their beauty. She could not find the ???beauty??? in these dolls. Claudia dismembered the dolls trying to find the source of beauty, but could only find a mere ???metal roundness???: ???I could not love it. But I could examine it to see what it was that all the world said was lovable.??? Her hatred for white baby dolls led to the same feelings for little white girls. We can see this through her opinion of Maureen Peal, a light brown-skinned black girl new at school who received admiration from everyone around her. Claudia refuses to be submissive to everyone else??™s fascination for Maureen, and even has thoughts of ???plotting accidental slammings of locker doors on her hand??? (p.49), or ???visualizing her fall off a cliff.??? (p.49) Her unyielding characteristic to believing that all white people are beautiful is the main factor that distinguishes her from Pecola.
Pecola??™s acquiesce to the world??™s judgment about the ideal beauty, the fact that she responds in silence to all the repugnance and rejections directed towards her, is another distinguishing factor from her and Claudia. When Mr. Yacobowski gazes at her with blankness tinged with distaste, and unwillingly touches her hand, Pecola immediately relate this to her hideousness, and interpret it to be her own fault: ???the distaste must be for her, her blackness.??? (p. 37) Outside the shop, she does not feel anger for how she is treated, but feels ???inexplicable shame ebb???. (p. 37) Pecola is not capable of feeling anger, only humiliation. However, when anger does stir in her after tripping over the sidewalk, Pecola perceives it as ???A reality and presence. An awareness of worth.??? (p. 37-38) Yet, shame, an adverse emotion, finds itself back inside her head leaving her merely disgraced. Shame for her looks, her black skin. Pecola, unable to fight back the injustice, repeatedly withholds her pain throughout the book. When teased by some boys at school, Pecola only ???edged around the circle crying??¦covered her eyes with her hands.??? (p. 50) She does not have the courage to even talk back, because she has already established self-blame for the mistreating on her ugliness. Pecola is even treated with contempt by the people of her own race, for instance Geraldine. Geraldine is a black woman who believes she is more beautiful than the others of her own people because she is lighter skinned. She strives to be as superior as the White middle-class and to distinguish herself from the blacks. When Geraldine finds Pecola in her house, she calls Pecola a ???nasty little black bitch.??? (p.72) Pecola??™s only reaction was obedience as she backed out of the room in silence, but still however, describing Geraldine as ???the pretty milk-brown lady in the pretty gold-and-green house??¦??? (p.72) This shows how despite being treated with aversion, and repugnance by a person of her own kind, Pecola is incapable of feeling outrage, and the courage to fight back. Her emotions have already been cloaked with guilt and hatred towards herself.
In contrast, Claudia does not internalize others??™ discrimination, but instead keeps it external. This way she does not feel the enclosed pain Pecola suffers, and is able to reject the bigotry expressed by others. Claudia does not suppress any sadness, and exposes her feelings through anger. As Maureen humiliated Pecola about having seen her dad naked, Pecola was powerless to defend herself and ???tucked in head in ??“ a funny, sad, helpless movement.??? (pg. 56) On the other hand, Claudia is not the least afraid to retaliate for the insults directed towards Pecola:
???You stop talking about her daddy,???
???What do I care about her old black daddy??? asked Maureen.
???Black Who you calling black???
???You think you so cute!???
Claudia stands up for Pecola even though Maureen was not devaluating her in the first place. Because Claudia could not tolerate the discriminating comments aimed at Pecola, she fought back throwing a notebook at Maureen, and calling her ???six-finger-dog-tooth-meringue-pie??? (p.57) It is clear of how different Pecola and Claudia responds to the society??™s injustice. Claudia looks at Pecola and wants to ???open her up, crisp her edges, ram a stick down that hunched and curving spine, force her to stand erect and spit the misery out on the streets.??? (p.57) Claudia??™s sense of anger and not shame protects her from self-loathing which eventually drives Pecola into insanity.
Morrison analyzes the process of passiveness and resistance. The distinction between Claudia and Pecola is not of their looks, but of their inner convictions. Pecola never challenged the society??™s belief of whiteness as beauty. The result of the repeated times of being rejected, and condemned is the subservient behavior to the devaluation of others. Oppositely, Claudia questions the society??™s belief in a white standard of beauty instead of complying others??™ judgment. She has not learned the self-abasement, and the desire to be predominant as the whites which plagues the mind of not only Pecola, but also Pauline, Maureen, and Geraldine.