The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison's first novel, published in 1970. It tells the tragic story of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl growing up in Morrison's hometown of Lorain, Ohio, after the Great Depression. Due to its unflinching portrayal of incest, prostitution, domestic violence, child molestation, and racism, there have been numerous attempts to ban the book from libraries and schools across the United States. Decades after it's publication, it's still a hot topic.
In the Afterword to The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison writes that the novel came out of a childhood conversation she could never forget. She remembers a young black girl she knew who wanted blue eyes, and how, like Claudia MacTeer in the novel, this confession made her really angry. Surrounded by the Black Is Beautiful movement of late 1960s African-American culture, Morrison decided to write a novel about how internalized racism affects young black girls in a range of ways – some petty and minute, some tragic and overwhelming.
As we write this guide to one of the most famous depictions of incest and beauty myths in American literature, these themes are taking center stage once again in popular culture. Lee Daniels's 2009 film Precious (based on Sapphire's 1996 novel Push), has gotten people thinking about poverty, race, beauty, and incest in new and still-relevant ways.
How cool would it be to read both books – or to read The Bluest Eye and watch Precious – and be able to say something brilliant like, "Following in the footsteps of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, Sapphire's work explores the devastating effects of sexual violence on modern African-American women."
Well, maybe you wouldn't put it quite like that, but hopefully, after reading The Bluest Eye, you can see how Toni Morrison helped create a space where black women writers could talk about the horrible effects that racism, poverty, and substance abuse can have not only on the adults who experience them but on their children as well.
The Bluest Eye forces us as readers to confront our own ideas of what counts as beautiful. When we read the novel, do we identify with Pecola's desire to conform to the standards that contemporary celebrity culture tells us are beautiful?
Do we secretly or not-so-secretly want to change our bodies and our facial features to look more attractive? Or do we, like Claudia, recoil from this idea and identify with the underdogs, oddballs, and people who look unique?
Do we try to change ourselves in order to fit what other people find beautiful, like Pauline? Or, do we scoff at beauty rules and laugh it up, like Miss Marie? The novel offers several different ways of interacting with beauty norms, and it's endlessly interesting to see where we find ourselves within these schemes.
Morrison's Nobel Prize
You can find out more about Toni Morrison (and check out her Nobel hardware) here.
Morrison & Opera
An article about Toni Morrison's recent foray into opera.
The Toni Morrison Society
A scholarly fan club.
This is an interesting interview with Morrison about her family, how she views the reception of her work, and her thoughts about some of her books.
This is exactly what it sounds like – a cool description of a day in the life of Toni Morrison.
Populated by Ghosts
Toni Morrison being interviewed on NPR in 2004.
Her Own Voice
Toni Morrison reading from some of her books.
The Bluest Eye Audiobook
Purchase and download the Audiobook from Random House Audio
An Interview with Morrison in 2008
In case you thought that Toni Morrison's work is dated, check out what she's had to say recently.
Morrison Takes on Barack Obama
Toni Morrison throws her weight behind Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. Check out what she has to say here.
Time Magazine Photo of Morrison
This picture of Morrison is from a Time article called "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman."
Princeton University Photo
This photograph is from the Princeton University announcement of Morrison as graduation speaker in 2005.