Novella a Day in May 2019 #31

The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison (1970) 164 pages

Trigger warning: this post mentions rape and child abuse

The final post of NADIM 2019! It been a close call at times as to whether I’d manage it but here’s the last novella I’m looking at: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison’s first novel.

This incredibly powerful novella has been banned in several states schools and the opening sentence tells you why:

“Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Percola was having her father’s baby that the marigolds did not grow.”

Through the character of the abused child Percola Breedlove, Morrison interrogates the pervasive, destructive force of racism; what it does to individuals and what it does to communities. It is insidious, yet also visible and commonplace.

“Adults, older girls, shops, magazines, newspapers, window signs – all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink skinned doll was what every girl child treasured. ‘Here,’ they said, ‘this is beautiful, and if you are on this day ‘worthy’ you may have it.’”

Percola’s parents abuse one another physically, her mother is distant and her father an alcoholic. Yet Morrison at no point demonises them, even when Cholly Breedlove rapes his daughter. There are flashbacks to show how the adults arrived at the terrible place they are now in. Morrison demonstrates how, if a society tells you that you are worthless, a lesser human and without any value, it is extremely difficult not to internalise that judgement on yourself.

“The Breedloves did not live in a storefront because they were having temporary difficulty adjusting to cutbacks at the plant. They lived there because they were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly.”

Told mainly from the point of view of Claudia, a friend of Percola’s, the child’s view stops the violence and degradation being too relentless, but also shows how the youngest and most vulnerable members of society take in what they witness with devastating effect.

Even when not being directly abused, Percola experiences the daily wounds of racism, chipping away at her self-worth, such as the reaction from the shop owner when she goes to buy sweets:

“She looks up at him and sees the vacuum where curiosity ought to lodge. And something more. A total absence of human recognition – the glazed separateness.”

This means Percola passionately believes that if she could possess an outward marker of white ‘beauty’, things would improve for her.

“Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. Fervently, for a year she prayed. Although somewhat discouraged, she was not without hope. To have something as wonderful as that happen would take a long, long time.”

The Bluest Eye is brilliantly written and highly readable; Morrison never loses sight of the story or the characters under the weight of the immense, important themes she is exploring. It is an incredibly tough read that does not pull its punches, but neither is it voyeuristic or melodramatic. It shows how racism degrades us all and the vital need to strive for something better.

 “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 disillusion.”

Here’s Toni Morrison talking about The Bluest Eye and what led her to write it:

36 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May 2019 #31

  1. It’s been an education! Thank you for all your hard work, I can’t believe you’ve managed such a challenging challenge. I’ve got some great novellas to read and new authors to explore.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The perfect way to end a brilliant month – congratulations on a fabulous challenge. Will you do it again next year, do you think? Might you welcome joiners-in to accompany you? (Asking for a friend…. 😂)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I haven’t been commenting, but have very much enjoyed your novella posts through May. I noted down a few ones to look into including The Ice Palace and Crispin’s Fen mysteries.

    Oh, and the eyes of Pinocchio are still following me around… that post should have come with a warning 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve done it again! And, again, I wasn’t able to keep up entirely, but I have added quite a number of novellas to my list.
    I need to read this one sometime, for sure.
    Now you deserve a rest. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A fine choice to finish on! I’m slowly working my way through Toni Morrison’s books so will get to this at some point. I hadn’t actually reaslised it was novella length – hurrah!

    Well done – yet again you have tempted me several times over the month. It’s just as well I’m so famous for my iron willlpower… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is one I’ve read three times, over the years. And one would think that impossible, given how hard some parts of it are, but the writing is so beautiful and Pecola is simply unforgettable. It was the third reread which launched me on a read-through of Morrison’s books to date (I’m on Mercy now). All amazing. And I especially loved some of the ones which the critics are less fond of – she’s one of my MustReadEverything authors and I’ve not yet been disappointed.

    Have you done this novella event in other months of May then? I’m very interested. There are others who read them in November, but that month doesn’t work for me very easily as I tend to be reading more new books then and May would be just perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can really see how this would lend itself to re-reads, it’s so beautifully written and so powerful. I definitely plan to read more Morrison now, I’ve only read this and Beloved.

      I did NADIM last year and this year. I never thought of trying to persuade others to join as it seemed like such a big ask! But of course anyone’s welcome, it would be great to have the company and spread even more novella love 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can see what you mean. But perhaps there are others who are trying to make a point of working them into a reading routine and craving this kind of event, which can can be that extra “push”, that one sometimes needs, to get books off the “someday” list and onto the “now” list. The last time I went to the northern branch library, I was literally browsing shelf by shelf, specifically searching for novellas, and was soon overwhelmed by the number of amazing options there were. So I just left them ALL there because I wasn’t sure how to narrow the (suddenly monstrous numbers of!) possibilities. (But of course I didn’t leave empty-handed, there were plenty of other, longer temptations there too.) There is plenty of scope for participation, even if not everyone (not MOST people? *laughs*) would want to commit to one/day.

        Liked by 1 person

        • PS Also, I know I’ve already mentioned the backlisted podcast, but they, too, recently read Morrison (Beloved, I believe – but I am a couple of episodes behind – so I haven’t listened to that one yet), so if you haven’t yet given them a try, you’ve that little gem in store for you too. 🙂


        • I completely know what you mean! Novels that have been languishing in my TBR forever suddenly see the light of day because they fit with a reading event. It’s a lovely push to have 🙂

          Great to hear your library has such a good selection of novellas – I wish mine were so well stocked, although I’m going to hunt a bit further in the shelves next time I’m there…

          Liked by 1 person

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