The Bluest Eye

5 min readFeb 22, 2024


Photo by Benjamín Gremler on Unsplash

If you would like another reading experience similar to Toni Morrison’s first published work, The Bluest Eye, you might consider picking up the following books:

The great scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois, once wrote about the Problem of race in America, and what he called “Double Consciousness,” a sensitivity that every African American possesses in order to survive. Ailey Pearl Garfield has understood Du Bois’s words all too well. Since childhood, Ailey is reared in the north in the City but spends summers in the small Georgia town of Chicasetta, where her mother’s family has lived since their ancestors arrived from Africa in bondage. From an early age, Ailey fights a battle for belonging that’s made all the more difficult by a hovering trauma. To come to terms with her own identity, Ailey embarks on a journey through her family’s past, uncovering the shocking tales of generations of ancestors in the deep South. In doing so Ailey must learn to embrace her full heritage, a legacy of oppression and resistance, bondage and independence, cruelty and resilience.

KB’s father dies of an overdose and the debts incurred from his addiction causes the loss of the family home in Detroit. Soon after, KB and her teenage sister, Nia, are sent by their overwhelmed mother to live with their estranged grandfather in Lansing, Michigan. Over the course of a single sweltering summer, KB attempts to navigate a world that has turned upside down. Her grandfather is grumpy and silent. The white kids who live across the street are friendly, but only sometimes. And they’re all keeping secrets. As KB vacillates between resentment, abandonment, and loneliness, she is forced to carve out a different identity for herself and find her own voice.

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch’s father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn’t show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn’t much to save. Lately, Esch can’t keep down what food she gets; she’s fourteen and pregnant. As the twelve days that make up the novel’s framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family–motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce–pulls itself up to face another day.

Growing up in a rapidly changing Harlem, eight-year-old Malaya hates when her mother drags her to Weight Watchers meetings; she’d rather paint alone in her bedroom or enjoy forbidden street foods with her father. For Malaya, the pressures of her predominantly white Upper East Side prep school are relentless, as are the expectations passed down from her painfully proper mother and sharp-tongued grandmother. As she comes of age in the 1990s, she finds solace in the music of Biggie Smalls and Aaliyah, but her weight continues to climb―until a family tragedy forces her to face the source of her hunger, ultimately shattering her inherited stigmas surrounding women’s bodies, and embracing her own desire.

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

In this near-future Southern city plagued by police violence where racial tensions have only grown deeper, more and more residents are turning to this experimental medical procedure. Like any father, the narrator just wants the best for his son Nigel, a biracial boy whose black birthmark is growing larger by the day. The darker Nigel becomes, the more frightened his father feels. Having watched the world take away his own father, he is determined to stop history from repeating itself, but how far will he go to protect his son? And will he destroy his family in the process?

It was difficult to decide what to say about Toni Morrison’s modern classic “The Bluest Eye” since so much scholarly ink has been spilled about this title by more erudite writers than us. However, given the searing depiction of how oppressive and Eurocentric beauty standards affect the characters in the novel, we thought that we would delve into that topic. Pecola and Claudia as well as other characters in the story are unable to escape the cultural miasma that tells them that the natural traits of their bodies are undesirable and lacking. They are forced to grapple with the fallout of this and it profoundly affects how they see the world and themselves as well as the effect of being seen by others in that world.

“Beauty,” as a concept, has been somewhat subjective throughout the years; from the Greek philosophers to American dolls, and even today’s billion dollar cosmetics industry, beauty standards have been racialized for a long time. Dove has recently launched their Dove Self-Esteem Project and is trying to reach young girls to promote body positivity and confidence for all body shapes. While it’s easy to roll our eyes at corporate attempts to cash in on our societal self-esteem struggles with campaigns letting us know that they are different and they care, the fact that it is a viable marketing campaign in the first place speaks to the enduring problem that is the effect of oppressive and racist beauty standards on people to this day. Published in 1970, “The Bluest Eye” vividly describes a problem that is certainly not new and the existence of marketing campaigns such as the Dove Self-Esteem Project as well as the mental health effects of poor self esteem as well as appearance based discrimination attest to the unfortunate persistence of this phenomenon.

The novel touches on the traditional standards of beauty in the United States: blue eyes and light skin, and that having both could possibly change the outcome of one’s life. However, while Pecola internalizes self-hatred, Claudia rejects the idea that her Blackness reduces her self-worth and beauty. Through the reaction of both girls, we see opposite effects and conformity of social hierarchy, in which women of color are at the bottom. Unfortunately, Pecola’s mother continues to perpetuate this as she cares for the white family she works for instead of her own, resulting in Pecola’s rape. It is ultimately the continued need to assimilate and want for blue eyes and what they symbolize that drives Pecola mad.

This blog is created by Hannah, Ella and Maria in conjunction with the These Books Made Me podcast, a Prince George’s County Memorial Library System production. Check out the corresponding episode on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you normally listen to podcasts.