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acclaim for
Toni Morrison
“[Toni Morrison] may be the last classic American writer,
squarely in the tradition of Poe, Melville, Twain and Faulkner.”
“In the first ranks of our living novelists.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Toni Morrison is not just an important contemporary novelist
but a major figure in our national literature.”
—The New York Review of Books
“She is the best writer in America.”
—John Leonard, National Public Radio
“[Toni Morrison] has moved from strength to strength until
she has reached the distinction of being beyond comparison.”
—Entertainment Weekly
“Morrison is one of the most exciting living American writers.”
—The Kansas City Star
The Bluest Eye
“Toni Morrison has made herself into the D. H. Lawrence of
the black psyche, transforming individuals into forces, idiosyncrasy into inevitability.”
—New York
“Morrison is perhaps the finest novelist of our time.” —Vogue
“Toni Morrison is one of the finest writers in America today.”
—Louisville Courier-Journal
Toni Morrison
The Bluest Eye
Toni Morrison is the Robert F. Goheen Professor of Humanities, Emeritus at Princeton University. She has received the
National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In
1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She lives
in Rockland County, New York, and Princeton, New Jersey.
also by toni morrison
Tar Baby
Song of Solomon
The Dancing Mind
Playing in the Dark:
Whiteness and the Literary Imagination
a novel
Toni Morrison
v i n ta g e i n t e r nat i o na l
Vintage Books
A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York
F I R S T V I N TA G E I N T E R N AT I O N A L E D I T I O N , M AY 2 0 0 7
Copyright © 1970, copyright renewed 1998 by Toni Morrison
Foreword © 1993, 2007 by Toni Morrison
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random
House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in
the United States by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc, in 1970, and
subsequently published in slightly different form in hardcover
by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., in 1993.
Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon
are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Portions of the foreword were previously published as the
afterword to the 1993 Knopf edition.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows:
Morrison, Toni.
The bluest eye / by Toni Morrison. —1st ed.
p. cm.
1. Afro-Americans—Ohio—Fiction. 2. Girls—Ohio—Fiction. I. Title
PS3563.08749855 1993
eISBN: 978- 0-307-38658-8
w w w. v i n t a g e b o o k s . c o m
To the two who gave me life
and the one who made me free
There can’t be anyone, I am sure, who doesn’t know what it
feels like to be disliked, even rejected, momentarily or for sustained periods of time. Perhaps the feeling is merely indifference, mild annoyance, but it may also be hurt. It may even be
that some of us know what it is like to be actually hated—
hated for things we have no control over and cannot change.
When this happens, it is some consolation to know that the
dislike or hatred is unjustified—that you don’t deserve it. And
if you have the emotional strength and/or support from family
and friends, the damage is reduced or erased. We think of it as
the stress (minor or disabling) that is part of life as a human.
When I began writing The Bluest Eye, I was interested
in something else. Not resistance to the contempt of others, ways to deflect it, but the far more tragic and disabling
consequences of accepting rejection as legitimate, as selfevident. I knew that some victims of powerful self-loathing
turn out to be dangerous, violent, reproducing the enemy
who has humiliated them over and over. Others surrender
their identity; melt into a structure that delivers the strong
persona they lack. Most others, however, grow beyond it.
But there are some who collapse, silently, anonymously, with
no voice to express or acknowledge it. They are invisible. The
death of self-esteem can occur quickly, easily in children,
before their ego has “legs,” so to speak. Couple the vulnerability of youth with indifferent parents, dismissive adults, and
a world, which, in its language, laws, and images, re-enforces
despair, and the journey to destruction is sealed.
The project, then, for this, my first book, was to enter the
life of the one least likely to withstand such damaging forces
because of youth, gender, and race. Begun as a bleak narrative of psychological murder, the main character could not
stand alone since her passivity made her a narrative void. So
I invented friends, classmates, who understood, even sympathized, with her plight, but had the benefit of supportive parents and a feistiness all their own. Yet they were helpless as
well. They could not save their friend from the world. She
The origin of the novel lay in a conversation I had with a
childhood friend. We had just started elementary school. She
said she wanted blue eyes. I looked around to picture her
with them and was violently repelled by what I imagined she
would look like if she had her wish. The sorrow in her voice
seemed to call for sympathy, and I faked it for her, but,
astonished by the desecration she proposed, I “got mad” at
her instead.
Until that moment I had seen the pretty, the lovely, the
nice, the ugly, and although I had certainly used the word
“beautiful,” I had never experienced its shock—the force of
which was equaled by the knowledge that no one recognized
it, not even, or especially, the one who possessed it.
It must have been more than the face I was examining:
the silence of the street in the early afternoon, the light, the
atmo-sphere of confession. In any case it was the first time I
knew beautiful. Had imagined it for myself. Beauty was not
simply something to behold; it was something one could do.
The Bluest Eye was my effort to say something about
that; to say something about why she had not, or possibly
ever would have, the experience of what she possessed and
also why she prayed for so radical an alteration. Implicit in
her desire was racial self-loathing. And twenty years later, I
was still wondering about how one learns that. Who told
her? Who made her feel that it was better to be a freak than
what she was? Who had looked at her and found her so
wanting, so small a weight on the beauty scale? The novel
pecks away at the gaze that condemned her.
The reclamation of racial beauty in the sixties stirred
these thoughts, made me think about the necessity for the
claim. Why, although reviled by others, could this beauty
not be taken for granted within the community? Why did it
need wide public articulation to exist? These are not clever
questions. But in 1962 when I began this story, and in 1965
when it began to be a book, the answers were not as obvious
to me as they quickly became and are now. The assertion of
racial beauty was not a reaction to the self-mocking, humorous critique of cultural/racial foibles common in all groups,
but against the damaging internalization of assumptions
of immutable inferiority originating in an outside gaze. I
focused, therefore, on how something as grotesque as the
demonization of an entire race could take root inside the
most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member: a female. In trying to dramatize the devastation
that even casual racial contempt can cause, I chose a unique
situation, not a representative one. The extremity of Pecola’s
case stemmed largely from a crippled and crippling family—
unlike the average black family and unlike the narrator’s.
But singular as Pecola’s life was, I believed some aspects of
her woundability were lodged in all young girls. In exploring
the social and domestic aggression that could cause a child
to literally fall apart, I mounted a series of rejections, some
routine, some exceptional, some monstrous, all the while
trying hard to avoid complicity in the demonization process
Pecola was subjected to. That is, I did not want to dehumanize the characters who trashed Pecola and contributed to her
One problem was centering the weight of the novel’s
inquiry on so delicate and vulnerable a character could smash
her and lead readers into the comfort of pitying her rather
than into an interrogation of themselves for the smashing.
My solution—break the narrative into parts that had to be
reassembled by the reader—seemed to me a good idea, the
execution of which does not satisfy me now. Besides, it didn’t
work: many readers remain touched but not moved.
The other problem, of course, was language. Holding the
despising glance while sabotaging it was difficult. The novel
tried to hit the raw nerve of racial self-contempt, expose it,
then soothe it not with narcotics but with language that
replicated the agency I discovered in my first experience of
beauty. Because that moment was so racially infused (my
revulsion at what my school friend wanted: very blue eyes in
a very black skin; the harm she was doing to my concept of
the beautiful), the struggle was for writing that was indisputably black. I don’t yet know quite what that is, but neither that nor the attempts to disqualify an effort to find out
keeps me from trying to pursue it.
My choices of language (speakerly, aural, colloquial), my
reliance for full comprehension on codes embedded in black
culture, my effort to effect immediate coconspiracy and intimacy (without any distancing, explanatory fabric), as well as
my attempt to shape a silence while breaking it are attempts
to transfigure the complexity and wealth of Black American
culture into a language worthy of the culture.
Thinking back now on the problems expressive language
presented to me, I am amazed by their currency, their tenacity. Hearing “civilized” languages debase humans, watching
cultural exorcisms debase literature, seeing oneself preserved
in the amber of disqualifying metaphors—I can say that my
narrative project is as difficult today as it was then.
The Bluest Eye
This book has been optimized for viewing at a monitor
setting of 1024 × 768 pixels.
Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is
very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick, and
Jane live in the green-and-white house. They are very
happy. See Jane. She has a red dress. She wants to play. Who
will play with Jane? See the cat. It goes meow-meow. Come
and play. Come play with Jane. The kitten will not play. See
Mother. Mother is very nice. Mother, will you play with
Jane? Mother laughs. Laugh, Mother, laugh. See Father. He
is big and strong. Father, will you play with Jane? Father is
smiling. Smile, Father, smile. See the dog. Bowwow goes
the dog. Do you want to play with Jane? See the dog run.
Run, dog, run. Look, look. Here comes a friend. The
friend will play with Jane. They will play a good game.
Play, Jane, play.
The Bluest Eye
Here is the house it is green and white it has a red door it
is very pretty here is the family mother father dick and
jane live in the green-and-white house they are very happy
see jane she has a red dress she wants to play who will play
with jane see the cat it goes meow-meow come and play
come play with jane the kitten will not play see mother
mother is very nice mother will you play with jane mother
laughs laugh mother laugh see father he is big and strong
father will you play with jane father is smiling smile father
smile see the dog bowwow goes the dog do you want to
play do you want to play with jane see the dog run run
dog run look look here comes a friend the friend will play
with jane they will play a good game play jane play
Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of
1941. We thought, at the time, that it was because Pecola
was having her father’s baby that the marigolds did not
grow. A little examination and much less melancholy would
have proved to us that our seeds were not the only ones that
did not sprout; nobody’s did. Not even the gardens fronting
the lake showed marigolds that year. But so deeply concerned were we with the health and safe delivery of Pecola’s
baby we could think of nothing but our own magic: if we
planted the seeds, and said the right words over them, they
would blossom, and everything would be all right.
It was a long time before my sister and I admitted to
ourselves that no green was going to spring from our seeds.
Once we knew, our guilt was relieved only by fights and
mutual accusations about who was to blame. For years I
thought my sister was right: it was my fault. I had planted
them too far down in the earth. It never occurred to either
of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding. We
The Bluest Eye
had dropped our seeds in our own little plot of black dirt
just as Pecola’s father had dropped his seeds in his own plot
of black dirt. Our innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust or despair. What is clear now is that of
all of that hope, fear, lust, love, and grief, nothing remains
but Pecola and the unyielding earth. Cholly Breedlove is
dead; our innocence too. The seeds shriveled and died; her
baby too.
There is really nothing more to say—except why. But
since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.
Nuns go by as quiet as lust, and drunken men and sober
eyes sing in the lobby of the Greek hotel. Rosemary
Villanucci, our next-door friend who lives above her
father’s café, sits in a 1939 Buick eating bread and butter.
She rolls down the window to tell my sister Frieda and
me that we can’t come in. We stare at her, wanting her
bread, but more than that wanting to poke the arrogance
out of her eyes and smash the pride of ownership that
curls her chewing mouth. When she comes out of the car
we will beat her up, make red marks on her white skin,
and she will cry and ask us do we want her to pull her
pants down. We will say no. We don’t know what we
should feel or do if she does, but whenever she asks us,
we know she is offering us something precious and that
our own pride must be asserted by refusing to accept.
School has started, and Frieda and I get new brown
stockings and cod-liver oil. Grown-ups talk in tired, edgy
voices about Zick’s Coal Company and take us along in
The Bluest Eye
the evening to the railroad tracks where we fill burlap
sacks with the tiny pieces of coal lying about. Later we
walk home, glancing back to see the great carloads of
slag being dumped, red hot and smoking, into the ravine
that skirts the steel mill. The dying fire lights the sky with
a dull orange glow. Frieda and I lag behind, staring at the
patch of color surrounded by black. It is impossible not
to feel a shiver when our feet leave the gravel path and
sink into the dead grass in the field.
Our house is old, cold, and green. At night a kerosene
lamp lights one large room. The others are braced in
darkness, peopled by roaches and mice. Adults do not
talk to us—they give us directions. They issue orders
without providing information. When we trip and fall
down they glance at us; if we cut or bruise ourselves, they
ask us are we crazy. When we catch colds, they shake
their heads in disgust at our lack of consideration. How,
they ask us, do you expect anybody to get anything done
if you all are sick? We cannot answer them. Our illness is
treated with contempt, foul Black Draught, and castor oil
that blunts our minds.
When, on a day after a trip to collect coal, I cough
once, loudly, through bronchial tubes already packed
tight with phlegm, my mother frowns. “Great Jesus. Get
on in that bed. How many times do I have to tell you to
wear something on your head? You must be the biggest
fool in this town. Frieda? Get some rags and stuff that
Frieda restuffs the window. I trudge off to bed, full of
guilt and self-pity. I lie down in my underwear, the metal
in my black garters hurts my legs, but I do not take them
off, for it is too cold to lie stockingless. It takes a long
time for my body to heat its place in the bed. Once I have
generated a silhouette of warmth, I dare not move, for
there is a cold place one-half inch in any direction. No
one speaks to me or asks how I feel. In an hour or two
my mother comes. Her hands are large and rough, and
when she rubs the Vicks salve on my chest, I am rigid
with pain. She takes two fingers’ full of it at a time, and
massages my chest until I am faint. Just when I think I
will tip over into a scream, she scoops out a little of the
salve on her forefinger and puts it in my mouth, telling
me to swallow. A hot flannel is wrapped about my neck
and chest. I am covered up with heavy quilts and ordered
to sweat, which I do—promptly.
Later I throw up, and my mother says, “What did you
puke on the bed clothes for? Don’t you have sense
enough to hold your head out the bed? Now, look what
you did. You think I got time for nothing but washing up
your puke?”
The puke swaddles down the pillow onto the sheet—
green-gray, with flecks of orange. It moves like the insides
of an uncooked egg. Stubbornly clinging to its own mass,
refusing to break up and be removed. How, I wonder, can
it be so neat and nasty at the same time?
My mother’s voice drones on. She is not talking to me.
She is talking to the puke, but she is calling it my name:
Claudia. She wipes it up as best she can and puts a
scratchy towel over the large wet place. I lie down again.
The rags have fallen from the window crack, and the air
is cold. I dare not call her back and am reluctant to leave
my warmth. My mother’s anger humiliates me; her words
chafe my cheeks, and I am crying. I do not know that she
is not angry at me, but at my sickness. I believe she
The Bluest Eye
despises my weakness for letting the sickness “take holt.”
By and by I will not get sick; I will refuse to. But for now
I am crying. I know I am making more snot, but I can’t
My sister comes in. Her eyes are full of sorrow. She
sings to me: “When the deep purple falls over sleepy
garden walls, someone thinks of me . . . .” I doze,
thinking of plums, walls, and “someone.”
But was it really like that? As painful as I remember?
Only mildly. Or rather, it was a productive and
fructifying pain. Love, thick and dark as Alaga syrup,
eased up into that cracked window. I could smell it—taste
it—sweet, musty, with an edge of wintergreen in its
base—everywhere in that house. It stuck, along with my
tongue, to the frosted windowpanes. It coated my chest,
along with the salve, and when the flannel came undone
in my sleep, the clear, sharp curves of air outlined its
presence on my throat. And in the night, when my
coughing was dry and tough, feet padded into the room,
hands repinned the flannel, readjusted the quilt, and
rested a moment on my forehead. So when I think of
autumn, I think of somebody with hands who does not
want me to die.
It was autumn too when Mr. Henry came. Our roomer.
Our roomer. The words ballooned from the lips and
hovered about our heads—silent, separate, and pleasantly
mysterious. My mother wa …
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