In Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, characters learn how to perform social roles though film. Pauline goes to the movies in search of a more glamorous identity. Instead, the unattainable beauty she sees onscreen reaffirms her low place in society. Laura Mulvey’s article, Visual and Other Pleasures, explains film’s ability to indoctrinate patriarchal social order. This ability is certainly applicable to Morrison’s novel. Film reinforces the Breedloves’ place in society, teaches Claudia to love Shirley Temple and constructs women as sexual objects for pleasure. Mulvey’s article also examines the powerful, active male gaze. In The Bluest Eye the female gaze is constructed as dirty, unnatural and wrong. Women and children in this novel are relegated to the role of passive sexual objects. Little girls are subjected to the gaze of Cholly and Soaphead Church. Mulvey defines this type of gaze as fetishistic scopophilia. In both Mulvey’s article and Morrison’s novel film is used as an instructional tool to create identity and reinforce social and gender roles.
Film’s power to enforce social order is revealed in Pauline’s trips to the movies. She is drawn to the physical beauty and therefore taught to value beauty above anything else in society. Pauline receives an “education” from the movies. “It was really a simple pleasure, but she learned all there was to love and all there was to hate” (Morrison 122). Pauline learns how to order her world though film. She is taught to love beauty and hate ugliness. Film, however, also teaches her to hate herself because of her ugliness. At first Pauline identifies with the beautiful white women she sees in the movies. ...
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...so presents the idea of scopophilia and active male gaze. Morrison further examines these ideas by constructing an active female gaze. When Pecola and Claudia experience this type of gaze they do not feel powerful, but sinful. Morrison also depicts women in the role of passive sexual objects. These women are forced to submit to the male gaze and are powerless to control it. In The Bluest Eye Morrison examines Mulvey’s assertions about the role of cinema, the active male gaze and the passive female. She proves cinema’s ability to assign social scripts and the total domination of the active male gaze over little girls.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York, New York: Penguin Group, 1994.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema.” Visual and Other Pleasures. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1989. 14-26.
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