The Bluest Eye
by Toni Morrison
Tools of Characterization
We get to know each of the characters in The Bluest Eye in part through their actions. Claudia displays her empathy and loyalty by trying to punch Maureen Peal in the face for teasing Pecola. Frieda displays the same qualities, defending Pecola by hitting Woodrow Cain with her schoolbooks. Miss Marie expresses her disdain for societal expectations of female purity when she laughs and curses loudly. Cholly displays his disgust and disrespect for women and family life when he hits his wife, attempts to burn down his family home, and rapes his daughter. We see Pauline's frustration with her home life when she stops cleaning her own house entirely in order to focus all of her energies on keeping the Fisher home perfect.
The families and childhoods of many characters in The Bluest Eye illuminate aspects of their personalities. Cholly was abandoned at four days old and never knew his father, leaving him unable to properly nurture a family or be a good father himself. Similarly, Pecola's rough family life leaves her without the self-esteem to question America's norms of beauty, so she succumbs to them instead. Soaphead Church's strict, abusive father contributed to his obsession with cleanliness and order.
There are plenty of strange and ironic names in this novel. The last name of the central family, "Breedlove," is meant to be ironic, since there appears to be little love among the family members, and when Pecola is forced to have her father's child, it dies. Claudia and Frieda's last name, "MacTeer," might highlight their compassionate nature, being an aural play on sympathetic tears. They are some of the only characters who feel truly sorry about Pecola's fate.
Sex and Love
The ways characters approach sex and love in the novel, and the kind of desire they have, reveals key aspects of their character. Soaphead's love of little girls is inseparable from his obsession with cleanliness and racial purity. Cholly's rape of Pecola is bound up with his own self-loathing, internalized racism, and disdain for women and family life. Pauline spends far more time thinking and dreaming about love and sex than she does practicing it, revealing her tendency to lose herself in fantasy and daydreams.
Speech and Dialogue
In the Afterword, Morrison says that she wanted to create "race-specific but race-free prose." To achieve this specificity, Morrison uses a lot of African-American vernacular in the novel. Mrs. MacTeer's musical nature is revealed in the way she speaks (for example when she lilts, in a sing-song voice, that she doesn't have "a thin di-i-me to my name"). Pauline and Cholly Breedlove speak to each other in curses and insults, like "You say one more word, and I'll split you open!" On a lighter note, Miss Marie's proclivity for food gets expressed in her nicknames for Pecola, such as "dumplin'" and "puddin'."