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Themes

In The Bluest Eye, characters associate beauty with whiteness. The novel constantly refers to white American icons of beauty and innocence such as Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, and Shirley Temple. African-American girls during this time period (the 1940s) were encouraged to aspire to be white; all of the female African-American characters in the novel have grown up in a society that does not find them beautiful or even worthy of being looked at. Pecola is constantly identified by her ugliness, and she fixates on what society deems to be a symbol of beauty and purity – blue eyes. Pecola's belief that blue eyes will make her beautiful shows two specific effects of racism on young African-American girls: low self-esteem and envy of whiteness.

Questions About Appearances

  1. How does Pecola perceive beauty? How do Frieda and Claudia perceive it?
  2. How does the novel suggest that people learn to distinguish what is beautiful from what is not? What role do magazines and television play in notions of beauty?
  3. How are beauty and race linked in the novel? Which characters are described as beautiful, and why? Which are described as ugly, and why?
  4. Do the three prostitutes in the novel (China, Poland, and Marie) have a different understanding of beauty than Pecola?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

While Pecola and Claudia both associate beauty with whiteness, Claudia views this association ironically and Pecola believes in it wholeheartedly.

Miss Marie and Claudia offer alternative concepts of beauty in the novel.

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