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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Bluest Eye

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When teaching Toni Morrison, the eye isn't going to be the only thing that's blue. Your entire spirit might be blue as your class reads this difficult book. Shmoop is here to help.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity examining classic Hollywood images alongside their effects in The Bluest Eye.
  • a lesson asking students to think critically about classic children's books and their effects.
  • essay questions exploring the novel's use of POV and narrative style.

We've turned our Shmoopiest Eye on The Bluest Eye.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: This assignment asks students to consider The Bluest Eye alongside Hollywood film images, in order to understand how the novel shows the ways children internalize such images. Students view and discuss a clip of a Shirley Temple film in relation to the novel, and then research and write an essay about contemporary film images. Teachers should plan on one class for film clip and discussion, with a second class period for student presentations.

Step 1: Teachers begin by calling students' attention to the numerous references to movies and actresses in the novel. See our list of allusions here.

Step 2: Teachers show a clip from Bright Eyes, the 1934 film starring Shirley Temple. Both Temple and her co-star (and tormentor) Jane Withers are mentioned in Morrison's novel, and this film appeared a few years before the events depicted in the novel.

Step 3: Teachers lead a discussion about the film clip in relation to the novel. Some questions to consider include:

  1. How do movies like Bright Eyes figure into The Bluest Eye?
  2. What kind of images and models do such films provide for the girls in the novel? How do Claudia, Frieda, Pecola, and Maureen respond to such images?
  3. Does beauty or, say, cuteness figure into the appeal of a movie like this? What does the novel have to say about beauty, ugliness, and how girls respond to images and cultural standards of beauty?
  4. Does The Bluest Eye suggest a different model or kind of beauty? Which characters are portrayed as truly beautiful? Beautiful how?
  5. How does the childhood world depicted in Bright Eyes compare to the one in The Bluest Eye? Are there similar themes and issues raised? Different ones? What kind of view about the world does each take?
  6. What kind of images of beauty does Hollywood offer today? Is there a modern Shirley Temple? Can you see young people today having a similarly damaging reaction to Hollywood images? What kind of effects can contemporary images of beauty in our culture have on audiences? How have standards of beauty changed, if they have?

Step 4: Teachers assign a take-home research project. Students should research and select Hollywood images from recent films, magazines, websites, etc., and write a paper about what kind of images of beauty they portray. The essays should argue how such images affect the characters in the novel, and suggest whether today's culture offers similarly problematic standards of beauty as those portrayed in The Bluest Eye. Students should cite examples from the novel to make their case.

Step 5: Students present photos or film clips from their research to the class, along with their conclusions about what kind of images and models are being conveyed in them – and how they compare to issues raised in Morrison's novel.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading Standards 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 3.2, 3.5, 3.8, 3.12; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 2.2, 2.3; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.4, 1.7, 1.8, 2.2, 2.4; 11th & 12th grade Reading Standards 2.4, 2.5, 3.2, 3.5, 3.8; Writing 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.6 ; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.3, 1.8, 1.10, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4.)

Instructions for Your Students

Always hovering in the background of The Bluest Eye is Hollywood. The book mentions a number of famous actresses, who Claudia loathes but whose blue eyes Pecola covets. This activity asks you to think about how the novel shows the impact of pop culture images of beauty by watching a short film clip from the 1930s, and then looking at movie stars of today.

Step 1: Take note of the numerous references to movies and actresses in the novel. See a list of allusions here.

Step 2: Watch this clip from Bright Eyes, the 1934 film starring Shirley Temple. Both Temple and her co-star (and tormentor) Jane Withers are mentioned in Morrison's novel, and this film appeared a few years before the events depicted in the novel.

Step 3: With your teacher and classmates, discuss the film clip in relation to the novel. Some questions to consider include:

  1. How do movies like Bright Eyes figure into The Bluest Eye?
  2. What kind of images and models do such films provide for the girls in the novel? How do Claudia, Frieda, Pecola, and Maureen respond to such images?
  3. Does beauty or, say, cuteness figure into the appeal of a movie like this? What does the novel have to say about beauty, ugliness, and how girls respond to images and cultural standards of beauty?
  4. Does The Bluest Eye suggest a different model or kind of beauty? Which characters are portrayed as truly beautiful? Beautiful how?
  5. How does the childhood world depicted in Bright Eyes compare to the one in The Bluest Eye? Are there similar themes and issues raised? Different ones? What kind of view about the world does each take?
  6. What kind of images of beauty does Hollywood offer today? Is there a modern Shirley Temple? Can you see young people today having a similarly damaging reaction to Hollywood images? What kind of effects can contemporary images of beauty in our culture have on audiences? How have standards of beauty changed, if they have?

Step 4: For homework, research and select some Hollywood images from recent films, magazines, websites, etc., and write a paper about what kind of images of beauty they portray. Your essays should argue how such images affect the characters in the novel, and suggest whether today's culture offers similarly problematic standards of beauty as those portrayed in The Bluest Eye. Be sure to cite examples from the novel to make your case.

Step 5: Prepare a presentation of photos or film clips from your research. In class, present you pictures and/or film clips along with your conclusions about what kind of images and models are being conveyed in them, and how they compare to issues raised in Morrison's novel.

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Common Core Standards  

The following standards are covered in this course:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.6
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.9
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.2
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.4
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5

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