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Enlightened by Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye
Over the course of our study of the American novel, we have experienced a kaleidoscope of components that help define it. We traveled back in time to learn what kinds of novels were being written and how they were being written. We were introduced to the likes of Harold Frederic's Theron Ware, Henry James's Dr. Sloper and Catherine, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance. We saw, through these novels and characters, how literature of the past affects literature of today.
We also read novels from various regions of North America. We had a glimpse of northern writers and their culture such as Alice Munro, and her stories of Canada. We sampled Willa Cather who gave us a taste of the early southwest through Father's Latour and Vaillant.
We read about different religious ideals, from Theron's Methodism to Father Latour's Catholicism, to Hazel Mote's The Church of Christ without Christ, to Jonah's (futuristic) Bokononism; each religion, in its own way, reflecting a different aspect of American religious zeal. And we have heard from a number of southern writers like O'Connor, Faulkner, and Porter. We begin, through characters like Miranda and Anse, to glimpse a southern language and way of living.
It seems only fitting now, that we be introduced to another element of the American novel: ethnic culture. The addition of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye is the perfect choice. Through the voices of her black characters, she reveals a broad spectrum of black culture during the 1930's and 1940's.
We get a glimpse of the middle class through Claudia and her family, who maintain a sense of dignity and pride. In the first chapter, she tells us, "Being a minority in both caste and class, we moved about anyway on the hem of life, struggling to consolidate our weaknesses and hang on, or to creep singly up into the major folds of the garment" (17).
We encounter the desperately poor through the Breedlove family, Cholly, Pauline, and Pecola, each choosing a different means to escape the harsh reality of their lives. For example, Pecola dreams of having blue eyes, then she would be accepted, loved, respected, and beautiful.
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We are also introduced to the upwardly mobile black family of the 1940's through the women from the towns with names like Aiken, and Meridian, who "dust themselves with Cashmere Bouquet talc...and still call sex 'nookey', and have learned "how to get rid of the funkiness" (82, 83).
Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye drew me in to a radically different perspective of the world that I had not previously known, and I came away feeling humbly enlightened.
North America is composed of a vast group of ethnically diverse peoples, and African Americans are an integral part of our American heritage. It is important, then, if we are to get a full perspective of the American experience, that their voices be heard. It adds hue and texture to our understanding of the American novel.