Morrison's Bluest Eye Essay: Self Definition

2630 words - 11 pages

In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, published in 1970, the struggle begins in childhood. Two young black girls -- Claudia and Pecola -- illuminate the combined power of externally imposed gender and racial definitions where the black female must not only deal with the black male's female but must contend with the white male's and the white female's black female, a double gender and racial bind. All the male definitions that applied to the white male's female apply, in intensified form, to the black male's, white male's and white female's black female. In addition, where the white male and female are represented as beautiful, the black female is the inverse -- ugly.

Self-definition is crucial, not only to being, but to creating. As Gilbert and Gubar so astutely note in The Madwoman in the Attic, "For all literary artists, of course, self-definition necessarily precedes self-assertion: the creative 'I AM' cannot be uttered if the 'I' knows not what it is" (17). One way of describing this work of self-definition is as "learn[ing] to understand what around and about us and what within us must live, and what must die" (Estes, 33). But female definition has not been this sorting out process of self-definition. Instead, it has been a static male definition "by default" or "by intent." If the female is to create herself, she must begin with a process of self-definition whose first step is, of necessity, a negation of the hitherto established male definition of "female." Virginia Woolf calls this "killing The Angel in the House" (PFW 286). Before she can say "yes" by creating a positive form she must first say "no" to the false positive form created by a patriarchal society. Before she can reclaim herself from the negative space of the powerful unconscious, she must consciously reject everything she is not.

The life /death nature of this struggle to say no that precedes and paves the way for the struggle to say yes is the stuff of nineteenth and twentieth century feminist literature. But what happens when this complex issue of gender is further complicated by the superimposition of race, when a black female struggles with transforming the negative space of the female unconscious and the negative space of the black unconscious into a cohesive positive form that is the black female's self? In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, published in 1970, the struggle begins in childhood. Two young black girls -- Claudia and Pecola -- illuminate the combined power of externally imposed gender and racial definitions where the black female must not only deal with the black male's female but must contend with the white male's and the white female's black female, a double gender and racial bind. All the male definitions that applied to the white male's female apply, in intensified form, to the black male's, white male's and white female's black female. In addition, where the white male and female are represented as beautiful, the black female is the inverse --...

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