Quest for Personal Identity The main theme in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is the pursuit of individual identity and the influences of the family and community in that quest. The Breedlove family has moved to urban Lorain Ohio. This displacement along with poor working conditions and poverty leads to a destructive search for personal identity. The internalization of white standards into a black community plays an important role in the characters quest for individual identity (Fick Gold 56). Pauline is a “mammy” to a white family and continues to favor them over her biological family. Pecola is a little black girl with low self-esteem whom has let others force her to believe that she is ugly. Pecola and Pauline Breedlove illustrate the possible consequences of depending on external conditions in search of self-image. Attempting to satisfy expectations that differ so radically from reality showing how Pecola and Pauline lead to their own self-destruction. Pecola and Pauline Breedlove satisfy this quest for personal identity throughout the novel with the effects of family and community evident throughout. Brought up as a poor unwanted girl Pecola Breedlove desires the acceptanceand love of society. The image of “Shirley Temple beauty” surrounds her. In her mind if she was to be beautiful people would finally love and accept her. The idea that blue eyes are a necessity for beauty has been imprinted on Pecola throughout her life. “If [I] looked different beautiful maybe Cholly would be different and Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they would say `Why look at pretty eyed Pecola. We mustn’t do bad things in front of those pretty [blue] eyes’” (Morrison 46). Many people have helped imprint this ideal ofbeauty on her. Mr. Yacowbski as a symbol for the rest of society’s norm treats her as if she were invisible. Her classmates also have an effect on her. They seem to think that because she is not beautiful she is not worth anything except as the focal point of their mockery. “Black e mo. Black e mo. Yadaddsleepsnekked. Black e mo…” (Morrison 65). Shouted by her classmates on such a regular basis this scorn seemed not to penetrate anymore. As if it were not bad enough being ridiculed by children her own age adults also had to mock her. Geraldine a colored woman who refused to tolerate “niggers” happened to walk in while Pecola was in her house. “`Get out ’ she said her voice quiet. `You nasty little black bitch. Get out of my house’” (Morrison 92). By having an adult point out to her that she really was a “nasty” little girl it seems all the more true. Pecola was never able to get away from this kind of ridicule. At home she was put through the same thing if not worse because her familymembers were the ones who were supposed to love her. Her mother was not able conceal her obvious affection towards a white girl over her. One day as Pecola was visiting her mother at the home where she is working Pecola accidentally knocked over a blueberry pie. Obviously burned by the hot pastry her mother completely ignored Pecola’s feelings of pain and instead tended to the comforting of her white “daughter”. “`Crazy foo…my floor mess …look what you…crazy…my floor ‘ The little [white] girl in pink started to cry. Mrs. Breedlove turned to her. `Hush baby hush. Don’t cry no more’” (Morrison109). Her mother viewed Pecola as an obstacle that had the potential to get in the way of her white charge’s happiness and consequently her happiness. Her mother refused to show any love to Pecola because it might interfere with more important things. For a little girl the love of her mother is the most important love she can receive. Without that how can she think that she is worth anything at all? Finally the rape by her father is the last evidence Pecola needs to believecompletely that she is an ugly unlovable girl. While in most cases a father figure is one who little girls look to for guidance and approval Cholly is the exact opposite. He hurts Pecola in a physical way that in one attempt measures up to the years of hurtful mockery. He took away from her the one thing that was utterly and completely hers. After the rape Pecola was never even remotely the same.She was so sad to see. She spenther days walking up and down her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant only she could hear. In short after the rape Pecola went insane. Pecola’s search for identitywas defined by her everlasting desire to be loved. Her purpose in life was to be beautiful and as a result of that to be loved. Her family and community made it impossible for her to ever be sanely content. Pauline Breedlove wife of Cholly mother of Pecola is a servant in a white household. The times she was there working for this family without any reminder of her own failures were the only times that she felt truly happy. It was there and only there that she finally felt as if she were part of something successful. In Pauline’s search for her identity and ultimately her happiness she learned exactly what she would have to sacrifice so that she could be content as well as the difference between herself and the rest of society. The movie theater helped her realize the stark difference between her and other women. “Along with the idea of romantic love she was introduced to another-physical beauty. She was never able after her education in the movies to look at a face and not assign it some category in the scale of absolute beauty…” (Morrison 122). As Pauline learned what physical beauty was she also learned for what it stood. In that time physical beauty was the ideal of Shirly Temple beauty the equation of blond hair and blue eyes to beauty. It signified equality happiness worthiness and overall comfort. If you were a white woman with those qualities living in northern America you were content it was that simple. As Pauline learned these guidelines she gave birth to Pecola and got a job as a black “mammy” to a white family. She quickly learned that when she was in the company of her white family who were equal happy and worthy in the eyes of society it rubbed off on her and she felt as if she was part of all these positive virtues. On the other hand the more time she spent with her own black family the more time she realized how ugly poor and unworthy they were. It was as if “the master had said `you are ugly people.’ They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw in fact support for it leaning at them from every billboard every movie every glance” (Morrison 39). In coming upon this realization Pauline has a decision to make. She could have stuck with her biological family continued to be unsatisfied but be accepted as an equal or she could completely give up on her own family and devote all her time energy and love on her white charges. To Pauline this decision is obvious and she makes it hastily. Without a second thought she mentally leaves her family in place for her “Perfect Life”. However she fails to realize that by committing herself to a
servant’s life that’s all she will ever amount to be – a black servant in a white world. Pecola and Pauline Breedlove depend on external conditions in their pursuit of individual identity. They obtain a self-image that is false to reality destroying their essential nature. Pecola and Pauline fail to realize their gifts in order to live up to the white communities expectations causing their self-destruction. One of The Bluest Eye s principal themes that black women s absorption of white standards of beauty perpetuates a destructive value system (Earle 27). Pecola Breedlove yearnedfor blue eyes. At the end of the book she believes that she has those blue eyes. She believes that people treat her funny because they are jealous of her blue eyes and she has learned to happily accept that. Pecola yearned for the acceptance and love of society seen through her eyes. No matter if that acceptance and love were really there she thought it was and therefore was able to survive. “I [Soaphead Church] I have caused a miracle. I gave her the eyes. I gave her the blue blue two blue eyes… No one else will see her blue eyes. But she will. And she will live happily ever after” (Morrison 182). Pecola found herself only by going insane. Although Pecola is not accepted by society for reasons she does not understand she puts her exclusion from society into terms she can comprehend. Society influences her identity. They mold her into what she becomes by not giving her the guidance and approval she needs. Pauline on the other hand chose an identity she could be content with. She had an option to become two very different people and shechose the one that seemed right for her. Her distorted view of reality made it seem that the choice she made was accepted in society and would allow her to increase her status in society. However her overseer saw it and described it in actuality. “We could never find anyone like Polly. She will not leave the kitchen until everything is in order. Really she is the ideal servant” (Morrison 128). This twist of perspective shows how Pauline isreally accredited. Are they satisfied with what they have found? It seems that the only truly satisfied person is Pauline. Pecola is not content she will not ever be. Her father took away that option. Pauline though looked down upon by society was somehow satisfied with her identity. Her twisted view of reality made her believe that she was accepted as an equal in society. Pecola a “dismissed trivialized misread” (Morrison 216) child was representative of the younger Black population. While her ending does not conform to societies norm her story does. Pauline was representative in finding her identity by trying too hard to conform to the White culture. She found what she was looking for and was able to convince herself that she was happy but she did not really have a place where she truly fit in. Both Pecola and Pauline Breedlove have to deal with the same problems situations and dilemmas as do others in search of their identity.The Bluest Eye tells their story and offers Pecola s and Pauline s experiences and shows how their family and community impact the outcomes of their pursuit of individual identity.