Seeds of Trauma: Images of Sexual Trauma in Toni Morrison's the Bluest Eye

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E. Frantz
Final Essay (Finalrst Draft)
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Seeds of Trauma: Images of Sexual Trauma in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye

Throughout her novels Toni Morrison conveys to her readers the idea of a community's responsibility to act out against violence, rape, sexual abuse, and racism. Her writing, at times, bears witness to a community's tragic abandoning of its youth, of identity, of history. Morrison explores tThe theme of sexual abuse, the implications of which often tragically affect children, most occurs throughoutextensively in Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye.s. Morrison's objective seems not so much to have readers choose sides with regard to characters, but rather to open her readers' minds enough to consider the implications of the abuse, real, alleged, imagined or otherwise. Morrison wants her readers involved, empathetic, and concerned not with the fictional aspects of plot or character detail, but with the reality of the situations she embellishes. Morrison comments on this tactic in a 1983 interview with Claudia Tate: […] I tell you at the beginning of The Bluest Eye on the very first page what happened, but now I want you to go with me and look at this, so when you get to the scene where the father rapes the daughter, which is as awful a thing, I suppose, as can be imagined, by the time you get there, it’s almost irrelevant because I want you to look at him and see his love for his daughter and his powerlessness to help her pain. By that time, his embrace, the rape, is all the gift he has left. (Tate 164). In The Bluest Eye, the most tragic of the real, alleged, or imagined instances of abuse occurs when Pecola is raped by her father. Morrison insists upon reader participation and calls upon her readers to witness the damage incurred when witness isn't borne, when children are not listened to, when history goes unchallenged and petrifies the goodness in people until the goodness can no longer be found.

At the very beginning of The Bluest Eye, the reader is let in on a secret: "Quiet as it's kept," Pecola Breedlove's father raped her. He impregnated her and left her. The narrator, Claudia MacTeer, cannot explain why; instead she bears witness to the history that leads up to Pecola's rape and shares her own experiences with childhood trauma, namely the molestation of her sister. In contrast, the community, equally exposed to Pecola's trauma, fails to recognize the damage and therefore fails Pecola. The community cannot listen to Pecola because it has ceased to listen to itself.

The first page of "Autumn" marks the first hint at childhood sexual trauma with the figure of a young white girl, Rosemary Villanucci. A common phenomenon among abused children is to imitate adult sexual practice. When Claudia suggests that Rosemary "will cry and ask us do we want her to pull her pants down" after she and Frieda beat Rosemary, Claudia and Frieda "don't know what we should feel or do if she does, but whenever she asks us, we know she is offering something precious and that our own pride must be asserted by refusing to accept" (Morrison 9). The "whenever she asks us" implies that this is not the first occurrence of Rosemary's offering her "something precious" to them. The MacTeer girls refuse because they still have a sense of unviolated self, a sense of pride. Rosemary offers to pull her pants down for them because they have momentarily, by beating her, become her abusers. She reacts as someone who knows what it means to be forced to give sexual favor to more powerful people in order to protect herself. Claudia and Frieda do not know, should not know, what Rosemary insinuates when she dares to expose herself to them. Rosemary, in contrast, knows what "nasty" is; she automatically thinks in terms of sexual taboos when she sees the MacTeer girls helping Pecola with her first menstrual cycle: "'Mrs. MacTeer! Mrs. MacTeer! [...] Frieda and Claudia are out here playing nasty! They're playing nasty Mrs....
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