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Morrison's Bluest Eye Essay: Self-Definition

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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 t...


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...s vital and true.

 

List of Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1960.

Estes, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run With the Wolves. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Gubar, Susan. The Madwoman in the Attic.

New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984.

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

---, Playing in the Dark. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Portales, Marco. "Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye: Shirley Temple and Cholly." The Centennial Review Fall (1986): 496-506.

Rubenstein, Roberta. Boundaries of the Self. Chicago: University of Illinois, 1987.

Woolf, Virginia. "Professions for Women." Collected Essays. Vol.2. London: The Hogarth Press, 1966. 284-289.

 


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