Morrison’s evaluative standards to interpret black life, Morrison

Morrison’s
father was a welder in a shipyard and her family was poor, especially during
the Great Depression. So the life of the Mcteer family in the novel is just
like her own childhood. As Michael Awkward linked the Mcteer family with Nikki
Giovanni’s poem, “Nikki Rosa” 16
as an example to express Claudia’s rejection of white evaluative standards to
interpret black life, Morrison herself recalls her childhood as a happy memory.
She recalls the scene of her parents on their way home, hand in hand after
their farm work, or her mother going to bed with her father following his
custom of taking a nap because he was doing three jobs during day and night. 17 And it is clear that she knows
what will happen if she does not have such family ties. So this chapter
analyzes how Morrison depicts the influence of the parental unit on each
character in the novel.

When
children get cold, Mrs. McTeer directs a volley of curses at them, or she
misinterpret her daughters’ attendance on Pecola when she had her first
menstruation as doing nasty things, and hit them with a stick. Mrs. McTeer is
far from the perfect or ideal mother. However, she lives honestly according to
her beliefs based on her own value standards, so that her children do not feel
uneasy concerning their lives or are distrustful. Even though they are
sometimes scolded due to false accusations, they maintained their innocence
because they trust in their mother’s love. Claudia recollects the days when,
“Love, thick and dark as Alaga syrup, eased up into that cracked window. I
could smell it – taste it – sweet, musty, with an edge of wintergreen in its base
– everywhere in that house. So when I think of autumn, I think of somebody with
hands who does not want me to die.” (p.12)

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As
a woman and as a mother, Mrs. Breedlove (Pauline) is depicted as a perfect
contrast to Mrs. Mcteer. The reason why she dwells upon her self-usefulness is
that she has been abandoned three times in her life. She has not been brought
up in circumstances like Geraldine (mulatto) who was always under parental
control. However she was brought up with a feeling of being branded as worthless
in her family. She was born as the ninth child among eleven children, and maybe
it was a natural consequence that she does not have the chance to gain the
attention of her family very much. When she seriously hurt her foot in an
accident in her infancy, she was not treated properly, so that her foot never
completely healed, and she can not work normally. It may be fortune in
misfortune that there was no one in her life who mocks her way of walking, but
everyone’s handling her with kid gloves makes her feel marginalized and
worthless. Since she does not want to think that the reason for her
worthlessness is her personality, she presumes that the real cause stems from
her injured foot. When she got married to Cholly and got pregnant, she regained
something of herself through her maternity and she believed she could have
something real to love and devote herself to. However, she fails in the end.

Morrison
also gives an example of the influence of parents on their children in mulatto
families. The reason for Soaphead Church’s being a “misanthrope” (p.164) and
having cleanliness fetishism stems from his father’s control. His father
rejected his innate nature. Since he has never been loved or accepted by his
father, this caused his split personality. He has no confidence in himself. At
the same time the fetishism indicates his denial of his own roots, so it
thrusts him into self- denial. As a consequence, even though he can get good
scores at school at first, he can not adjust to studying or to his job when it
comes to the point when he must really specialize. However, he once had the
chance to regain his humanity when he fell in love with an energetic lady,
Velma, who gave him the maternal love he needed. Meanwhile he was eager to be
rescued by her from his unnatural mental life. He was unable to discard his
fetishism enough for Velma to be able to accept him. He is bowed down by
loneliness and grief, but his father tries to build him up by forcing him to
get a much higher academic status while criticizing Velma’s genealogy. His
humanistic mental balance was complexly upset, and he completely lost the
energy to discover what to do by himself. At last, he is abandoned by his father
who was responsible for his indecisiveness and disabilities. The only thing
left for him to do was to just keep on living by playing whatever role other
people required of him.

I
believe, Cholly will be the strongest example in showing the impact of parental
neglect. In The Bluest Eye, Morrison vividly depicts the antagonism
between blacks, whites and mulattos. However, we would do well not to
regard Cholly as a representative of the black man’s stereotype. The situation
of parents not knowing how to face child rearing perhaps stems not a little
from slavery. In the era of slavery, families are sold separately, or forced to
propagate themselves regardless of their will like domestic animals. For a long
time, black people had been deprived of the choice to live according to their
own free will or fully develop their family ties. They were often deprived of
the knowledge of where their parents or relatives were. Regarding this
background, Cholly can be seen as a representative of this genealogy. In this
novel, he seems to embody what it is like for a person to be abandoned by one’s
parents, and it is a universal issue rather than a difficulty found only among
black people. His father ran away from his mother before his birth, and he was
discarded on a rubbish heap within a few days of his birth by his mother.
Cholly is the only one in this novel who was really deserted at birth. However,
it is obvious and significant that his youth is depicted in a much more
humanistic light in comparison with Pauline, Pecola, Geraldine, and Soaphead
Church. It is because he was brought up with love and care by his great-aunt.
Even though he was not satisfied with her old appearance and unsophisticated
manners, he loved and thanked her. He was a loveable boy with healthy emotions
and consideration for others. The reason why he really loved his grand-aunt,
old Blue Jack, or temporarily his wife Pauline, his son Sammy, and his daughter
Pecola was that he was not raised like Geraldine who was forced to deny her
roots, or like Pauline who was always treated like an absentee, or like
Soaphead Church who was physically disciplined to be a member of the elite as a
descendant of nobility. He was raised with real love and care. However, his
great-aunt’s love was too different from both in aspects of age and sex to
serve as a father figure. So he does not know how to handle his wife or
children even though he loves them. His first experience in having his
personality attacked was when he was having his first sexual experience watched
by two white men pointing a gun at his back. To fight against white men who
have guns would mean instant death, so in order to protect his life and
self-esteem, he transferred his failure and impotence to hatred toward the
witness, his first girl friend. However, he does not lose his control
completely then, and he decides to visit his father who he believes will
understand his situation and feelings. The hope that his father will understand
him narrowly sustained his personality even though he knows that his father
left his mother before his birth. He is completely deprived of his self-control
when he is rebuffed by his father when he visits him, and the father ignored
him. And this leaves him “dangerously free.”(p.159) Just following his mood to
go, he kills people, behaves gently or violently to women, or sometimes allows
himself to be henpecked by them. He has nothing to love, to be proud of, or to
be afraid of, even the death of people around him or his own death is nothing
to him. If a person has something or someone to love, protect, or to be afraid
of, even though it may be a trifle, that person’s behavior has limits in some
ways, but Cholly has nothing at all. Morrison depicts this process carefully
and vividly in great detail and proves that Cholly was far from an unnatural
man. Cholly’s longing and respect for his father is obvious in such descriptions
as: “Cholly had always thought of his father was a giant of a man,” “he was
staring at a balding spot in his father’s head, which he suddenly wanted to
stroke.” “He couldn’t say, ‘I’m your boy.’ That sounded
disrespectful.”(pp.155-156) And that the fatal shock which destroys his
personality resulting from his rejection by his father is embodied by the
depiction of his incontinence. In The Bluest Eye all the main characters
except the McTeer family are suppressed or marginalized by their parents in
some ways, but Cholly is the only one who completely negated his existence. It
is very suggestive and ironic that his family name is Breedlove, even though he
does not know how to breed children or how to breed love. Occasionally he feels
love for his wife and children, but the feeling of love for someone or need to
protect someone reminds him of his first failure and impotence toward the white
centered society. He himself is aware of his responsibility for his daughter’s
miserable life, and that triggers his frustration against his powerlessness. It
is tragic that Pecola really wanted to be loved by her father however
outrageous a man he is.

Pecola
grows up always watching her parents’ all-out battles, and she was too young
and powerless to understand, or join in or stop them. Her parents are up to
their ears in troubles, and have no capacity to think about their children. So
she never had a full understanding of her value as their child or even its
existence. So when she sees the battles between her parents, while her brother,
Sammy eggs them on and joins in or sometimes just abandons them, Pecola is in a
dilemma of overwhelming desire that one would kill the other, or she herself
could die, and prays to God, “Please make me disappear.” (p.45) On the other hand,
her real wish is to get someone’s attention and be loved by someone. Contrary
to her wish, people paid attention to her only when they bully her, teasing her
about her appearance. So she assumes all her misery stems from her ugliness,
and triesto figure out the reason for her ugliness by looking into a mirror for
hours. Every night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. This attitude is in
perfect contrast to Claudia’s reaction to the blue-eyed Baby Doll. She was
always desperate to find out how she can be loved by someone, and does not have
any concept of her own opinions, her value standards, or her justice. So when
Claudia asks Pecola if she would like some crackers she answers, “I don’t care”
(p.19) and when Claudia asks Pecola where she wants to go or what she wants to
do, she answers, “I don’t care. Anything you want.” (p.26) However, when she
had her first menstruation she asks Claudia and Frieda, “Is it true that I can
have a baby now? How do you do that? I mean, how do you get somebody to love
you?” (p.32) This question is the fixed expression of Pecola, and she asks the
same question to the three prostitutes who live in her neighborhood, “How come
they all love you?” (p.53) Pecola drinks three quarts of milk just because she
wants to see Shirley Temple’s face on the cup wishing that she could be like
Shirley. Pecola goes to Yacobowski’s Fresh Veg. Meat and Sundries Store to buy
Mary Jane candies. For her, eating candies means eating blue eyes; through
eating Mary Jane, she loves Mary Jane, and is becoming Mary Jane. Another
meaning of Mary Jane is marijuana. Maybe this name symbolizes Pecola’s illusion
that she can only see while eating this candy.

It
is obvious that the origin of the tragedy in The Bluest Eye stems from
the white- centered system from the slavery period. However, the story does not
project an image that all backs are unhappy because of whites. The title, and
Pecola’s wish to have blue eyes, represents not only her yearning for beauty,
but her urgent prayer to be accepted and loved by someone. And this is the
unvoiced wish of all the characters in the novel. Almost all the characters
except the McTeer family members are neglected by their parents or are forced
to have feelings of self denial. And the parental unit affects the building up
of their self-concept in both good ways and bad ways. The Bluest Eye is
a novel which deals with racial issues and at the same time it is a tragedy
caused by the chain reactions of self-loathing stemming from parental
influences. This idea makes this novel not merely a black novel but a universal
novel. Then how do people sustain their self esteem while having feelings of
self-loathing stemming from parental influences? The next chapter focuses on
this. They expel their self-loathing out in the form of anger toward someone
who acts as a mirror to reflect their alter ego.