Study Guide

The Bluest Eye Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Toni Morrison

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Blue Eyes/Vision

Blue eyes seem to symbolize the cultural beauty and cachet attributed to whiteness in America. Different characters respond to blue eyes in different ways. Claudia, for example, resents the blue eyes of her white dolls, viewing their association with beauty ironically and with disdain. For Pecola, however, blue eyes are something to strive for. She believes that having blue eyes would change the way other people see her, giving her something white America values as beautiful. Even more interestingly, she believes she would see things differently through blue eyes, that they would somehow give her the relatively carefree life of a white, middle-class child.

In part because of her low self-esteem as a poor black child, Pecola does not believe in her own beauty or her own free will. She spends her life praying for a miracle because she cannot conceive of being able to change her life on her own.

We also like the idea that "blue" can refer to sadness. When Pecola believes she has acquired blue eyes at the end of the novel, we might understand her as actually having the saddest eyes of anyone in the novel.

Houses

Did you notice all of the discussion of houses in the novel? From the very first page, when we read the line, "Here is the house," the novel seems to want to get us thinking about where and how people live.

One way to think about houses is as a symbol of economic advancement. Owning a house says something about one's income and social class status. Claudia notes that property ownership is important for African Americans, especially coming out of the age of slavery. In the 19th century, black slaves were considered property, so the opportunity to own property – an opportunity some middle-class blacks were able to afford – made a very strong political and personal statement.

Houses can often symbolize an ideal of domestic harmony, which we see in the first part of the Prologue. The Dick-and-Jane house seems safe and comfortable and the family that lives inside perfect, normal, happy...and presumably white. But the houses of the working-class African-American characters in this novel are not comfortable.

Often, the way that houses are described matches the emotions of the people inside. The Breedloves' abandoned storefront is described as assaulting passersby with its melancholy appearance. And although the MacTeer house is "old, cold and green," Claudia goes to great lengths to tell the reader that the love of her family provided warmth. If only the Breedloves were so lucky!

Houses also have a particularly loaded association for women in the novel, since women who didn't work were responsible for tending to the home. Geraldine and Pauline both have strong domestic ties: Geraldine views her home as an extension of herself, and Pauline uses the Fisher's home to fantasize about being of a higher social class.

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