In The Bluest Eye
In The Bluest Eye, beauty lies deeper than just the skin. Toni Morrison’s novel tells the tale of a young African-American girl’s drive to become perfect, to be beautiful during an era when standards of beauty were set by white America. Pecola Breedlove descends into madness because she yearns for something she cannot have: the blue eyes of a white girl. Indeed, she “epitomizes the American obsession with whiteness”. Morrison’s book describes the painful efforts of one African-American family struggling to live up to the cultural standards of beauty that have been imposed upon them, overcoming both racial prejudice and their own ugliness.
In the very opening scene of the novel, the contrasts between the black MacTeer girls and the white Rosemary Villanucci are explicit. Rosemary comes from an Italian immigrant family, and both the MacTeers and the Villanuccis are on the same economic level, yet the simple fact of Rosemary’s white skin gives her beauty and not the MacTeer sisters. Claudia stares at this girl casually eating bread and butter, sitting in the car her father owns, and only feels jealousy. Rosemary has been given the keys to success; she can look down upon Pecola because her father owns both a car and a store. She has a casual nature to her, unconsciously eating with arrogance. “When she comes out of the car,” the narrator, Claudia, relates, “we will beat her up, make red marks on her white skin”. Rosemary will never be spat upon for being white, and never raped by her father. Violence, it seems, is the only way these girls can bring beauty to their own (ugly) level. The only thing that these girls can do is to mark her perfect white skin.
Even as children, this unattainable standard of beauty is ever present. In 1941, Shirley Temple was the child star of the day; he image was everywhere. Little girls across America wanted to be her. Frieda and Pecola have already bought into the Shirley Temple beauty myth:
Frieda brought (Pecola) four graham crackers on a saucer and some milk in a blue-and-white Shirley Temple cup. She was a long time with the milk, and gazed fondly at the silhouette of Shirley Temple’s dimpled face. Frieda and she had a loving conversation about how cute Shirley Temple was. I couldn’t join then in their adoration because I hated Shirley. Not because she was cut, but because she danced with Bojangles, who was my friend, my uncle, my daddy, and chuckling it with me. Instead he was enjoying, sharing, giving a lovely dance thing with one of those little white girls whose socks never slid down under their heels.