Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye

The Bluest Eye is a powerful book. It's a beautiful book, in the way that Picasso's La Guernica is a beautiful painting. It doesn't have a happy ending; it has a real ending.

The story proper begins like this: Quiet as it's kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola was having her father's baby that the marigolds did not grow. It only gets worse from there.

I think the reason Toni Morrison has been so successful, the reason she earned her Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes, is because her writing somehow manages to combine polar opposites without collapsing into itself. She writes about the worst of us, the vilest acts, the evilest desires, the proverbial underbelly of humanity, but she does it with so much beauty and eloquence that we don't realize what we've swallowed until it's down. It's crême brulée and Drano. It's road kill martinis. It's the Mona Lisa painted in poop.

I know that there's a CliffsNotes for this book, but I certainly hope no one tries to teach this in high school. Not because of the language, or because of the descriptions of sex, or for anything like that. I just don't think that someone in high school would know how to react to it. Frankly, and I know this sounds strange, I don't think a virgin should read this novel. Unless you understand what sex can do to you, how it can change you, you can't really understand some of the reactions. You can't really understand what the worst parts of this story are, or understand why they're so horrible.

This is a book for adults. This is a book for a parent, or a parent-to-be. Especially if you have a daughter.

There is an interesting typographical tool in The Bluest Eye. To be honest, I didn't even notice it until I was halfway through the book: some of the text is fully justified, but some of it is left justified with a ragged right. I haven't taken the time to go back and study it closer, but I imagine that the more descriptive text is justified, while the narrative text if ragged right. If you pick up The Bluest Eye, keep an eye out for the typography. Also notice when Morrison switches between first and third person, another useful device to focus the storyline.

And if you get a copy that includes an afterword that Toni Morrison wrote in 1993, read the afterword first.