Friday, August 30, 2019

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The long-term low-grade guilt that I'd been carrying around for years ... for not ever having read works by Toni Morrison came to a head recently upon learning of her passing. So I picked up The Bluest Eye in order to finally break that guilt. I imagined and hoped that from the first to the final page, I'd develop an intense love affair with this book. I wanted to. That is what I wanted. That is what I deserved.

And though there were certain passages that struck me throughout, I didn't find myself in love with the book for most of the pages. I wanted it to open up for me but it wasn't opening up. I wanted to adore and defend Pecola Breedlove because I knew she was the one I was supposed to stick up for. But for most of the book I found myself stuck ... wondering WHY.

And then I got to the last several pages. The last three to be exact. Where not the WHY of Pecola but the HOW of Pecola opened up. And with that opening, I started understanding what happens to those like me who want Pecola to do that thing for us.

"We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty ... for we were not strong, only aggressive, we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life."

The tragedy of Pecola is multi-faceted. Her "enemies" (both imagined and real) don't pack up nicely. And for all the questions of HOW the story assuages, many more questions of WHY linger. Like why does the soil not support all seeds? Like why do we need to feel beautiful, even if we are other important things like smart, talented, and compassionate? Like why do conventional standards of beauty make some and ruin others?

For all these and other questions that Morrison has stirred within me, I am grateful. And more so that I stuck with it until the very end when not just the book opened up, but also my quest to live without the fear of asking myself questions about how and why I pursue and measure beauty.

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