The Bluest Lie

 Tony Morrison’s controversial novel “The Bluest Eye” evokes many different feelings in its readers. There have been numerous attempts to ban the book due to its subject matter dealing with rape, child molestation, western beauty ideals, Colorism, class, and racism. One thing is certain; “The Bluest Eye” is one of the most important works of American fiction and undoubtedly should be incorporated on any student’s reading list. 

Written in the 1970’s, “The Bluest Eye” is set in the racially mixed, working class neighborhood of Lorain, Ohio between 1939-1940 and tells the tragic, third person, omniscient account of the novel’s protagonist, 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Following a series of calamitous events (which include abuse at the hands of her alcoholic father, Cholly and distant mother, Pauline, who finds solace in being a domestic for a rich, White family), Pecola is taken in by the MacTeer family. Feeling unloved, unwanted, and constantly told how ugly she is because of her dark skin, Pecola begins to equate White skin and blue eyes with happiness; believing if she possessed those two physical traits, her life would be a lot easier. The novel’s narration is told from the perspective of Claudia MacTeer (one of the daughters of the MacTeer family. 

After its initial publishing, “The Bluest Eye” was met with moderate success at best. In a republication of the book, Toni Morrison wrote in an Afterword: 

With very few exceptions, the initial publication of ‘The Bluest Eye’ was like Pecola’s life: dismissed, trivialized, misread. And it has taken twenty-five years to gain for her the respectful publication this edition is. 

So it was with disappointment and dismay that I read about Brookfield, CT’s knee-jerk reaction to the book after its addition to Brookfield High School’s curriculum. Apparently, a week after National Banned Book week, residents began pressuring the Board of Education to ban the book and remove it from the curriculum, after it was assigned to juniors enrolled in an honors level English course. In perhaps the most shameful part of the town outcry, many of the residents haven’t even read the book in its entirety… basing the unwarranted criticism on a CliffNotes version of the novel and excerpt sheets highlighting the sexual abuse. One poorly misguided resident and Republican candidate for the Board of Education went on to spew…

“This is pornography, pure and simple. I don’t know why this book is in the high school.” 

When a book by a highly regarded, Nobel & Pulitzer prize winning author; detailing the effects of sexual abuse, race, and class inequality is trivialized and regarded as porn, it basically illustrates what’s wrong with a certain pocket of our society when it attempts to project and push its overly-conservative propaganda on the masses. While it may seem like it’s par for the course, for residents of an insular town like Brookfield to react negatively to such an honest and important piece of literature, it should not let them off the hook for acting ignorant. Particularly since most of the book’s detractors haven’t even read it and so can’t fully grasp or even fathom its message. And while students were offered the option of another book in the midst of the furor, to even attempt begrudge them a stark look at perspectives and lives beyond their own isn’t offering a well-rounded educational experience. Morrison’s contribution to literature has helped create a canon of work that hardly ever includes women (especially women of color), Black or other minority writers. 

Dealing with heavy literary material that involves child sexual abuse within the context of race and class disparities, can be overwhelming for some; but to deny students the tools they need to be equipped with, to help challenge a system that can often be exclusionary if you aren’t wealthy, White, or the right shade of Black is … well… backward; especially in this day and age. Rather than encouraging young adults to wallow in blissful ignorance in an attempt to perpetuate antiquated and disproportionate ideals, the town of Brookfield and its school board should be encouraging critical thinking and having a genuinely open dialogue about “The Bluest Eye”… They’d need to actually read the book first, though. 

(2008 Clip of stage adaptation of The Bluest Eye, performed at the Hartford Stage Co.)