Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Perversions amidst Oppression


Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, is a challenging work.  It is a complex novel with multiple themes each of which is interwoven with all others creating an intricate texture.

The title reveals the dominant theme: dissatisfaction with one’s self and longing for something that can make the self appear better.  Pecola longs for the bluest eyes.  She is a Black girl in America.  It is not only the complexion of her skin that bothers her but also the ugliness of her appearance.   It is a perceived ugliness, to some extent.  Everybody in her family thinks that he or she is ugly.  Every one of them “wore their ugliness, put it on, so to speak, although it did not belong to them,” says the narrator.

One’s environment – social, cultural and also the family – shapes one’s character as well as perceptions to a great extent.  Living with a man like Mr Cholly Breedlove, Pecola’s father, the family cannot but see themselves as ugly.  People like Mr Breedlove perverts everything that they touch. 

The novel is also the story of many other Blacks in America who have been perverted by the racist society to some extent or the other.  Geraldine’s and Mrs Breedlove’s obsession with cleanliness is an example of such perversion.  This obsession is a mere mask for their dislike of their own people and their ways of being.

Elihue Micah Whitcomb, aka Soaphead Church, is one of the most perverted characters though he is not an African American.  He is a West Indian.  He has converted religion into a convenient business.  Using that new religion of his, he claims to help people “Overcome Spells, Bad Luck, and Evil Influences,” though he is a “misanthrope.”  He helps Pecola materialise her longing for “the bluest eyes.”  What he does is the climax of all the perversions in the novel.  [Ironically, in the novel, the more religious a person, the less loving he/she is.]

All the perversions we see in the novel are products of an oppressive society.  For the coloured people, survival in the White Man’s world is a tremendous challenge.  Some like Pecola are broken by the oppressiveness.   Perversions help others to go on.  A few like the narrator and her sister make it – by learning to be themselves and to love...

Reading this novel is a difficult experience because of its narrative style and structure.  The experience can be a rewarding one provided one has the patience and will power to plough through.



PS.  I wouldn’t have read this novel had it not for been a student who thrust his personal copy into my hand with the request: “Please read it and tell me what it’s about; I can’t make head or tail of it.” 


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16 comments:

  1. Sounds interesting. Will read it as soon as I can grab a copy.

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    1. The novel can show you quite a different world, Maniparna: the dark world of the coloured people in America. The darkness is portrayed with a lot of sensitivity too. And it's a darkness born out of the oppressive environment...

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  2. "All the perversions we see in the novel are products of an oppressive society."

    It's very much the case in our society as well. Would like to read this book soon.

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    1. The society or the community plays a very important role in deciding people's attitudes and behaviour. You're right that our own society is not a healthy one in this regard.

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  3. Interesting.. I just read The Color Purple which is on similar lines.. you might want to give it a try.

    A full review at http://www.seetabodke.com/2013/10/book-review-color-purple.html

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  4. Toni Morrison is one of my favorite novelist. I love 'Beloved', she writes about the pain of women in her novels as she was the protagonist herself. First person narrations couldn't get any better. The novel 'The Bluest Eye' is totally heart wrenching and leaves you both numb and exhausted.

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    1. You know, Sahiba, you've consoled me quite a bit with your comment. And I'm thankful also for recommending more novels of Morrison. Honestly, I had given up Morrison after reading one of her novels long ago. Didnt fascincate me. The style is too complex. And I thought that the complexity was beyond me because I don't live in America and I'm not able to put myself in the shoes of the blacks in America. But thanks for being here and that too with a comment.

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  5. This sounds like an interesting read.

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  6. Perversion is a craving for the Forbidden alleys...And society has often oppressed and isolated things marking them as Forbidden...

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    1. You put it very well. I must add that perversion is also a way of surviving amid oppressive forces.

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  7. I am definitely going to read this one .. and tell you my take one it :D

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  8. I envy you for the kind of books you get to read. :(

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    1. Not all the present day students are addicted to the mobile and such gadgets, Pankti. Some do indulge in serious reading.

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