The Bluest Eye by Tony Morrison
Summary and Analysis of Prologue and Autumn
The Bluest Eye opens with two short untitled and unnumbered sections. The first section is a version of the classic Dick and Jane stories found in grade school reading primers. There is a pretty house, Mother, Father, Dick, Jane, a cat, a dog, and, at the end, a friend for Jane to play with. The same story appears three times in succession, repeated verbatim each time. The first time the text appears with full punctuation and normal spacing. The second time the same story appears without any punctuation or capitalization, but with a space between each of the words. The third time the text has no capitalization, no punctuation, and no spaces between the words. The second section is a short passage narrated by Claudia MacTeer. Claudia tells us that "quiet as it's kept," in the fall of 1941, when she was a young girl, no marigolds bloomed. She reveals that at the time she and her sister Frieda thought the marigolds did not bloom because Pecola was having her father's baby. The marigolds planted by Claudia and Frieda never grow, and for years Claudia thought that her sister was right in blaming her, because she was the one who planted the seeds too deep in the earth. But now, the narrator wonders if perhaps it was the earth itself that was barren. Claudia connects the earth to Pecola, saying that just as the MacTeer daughters put seeds into their plot of black dirt, Pecola's father dropped his seeds in his plot of black dirt. Now, with the flowers and the baby dead, only Pecola and the barren earth are left. The prelude closes by wondering about the source of Pecola's tragedy: "There is really nothing more to say‹except why. But since why is difficult to handled, one must take refuge in how." Analysis:
The passage from the Dick and Jane reader puts forward a representation of idealized white middle class life. Although the race of the Dick and Jane family is never specified in the text, the pictures in the readers have always depicted rosy-cheeked and smiling white people. The house is pretty, the mother is gracious, the father big, strong, and kind: the story stands in sharp contrast to Pecola's life. The idealized and white world of the Dick and Jane story could not be farther from the truth for Pecola. Morrison's repetition of the story, each repetition less readable than the previous one, can be read in different ways. The second and third version of the story take away the punctuation and then the spacing, turning the story into gibberish‹just as the story, in terms of Pecola's life, is so far removed from reality that it becomes nonsense. Morrison, in a sense, is speeding up the machinery of the Dick and Jane story to show how it does not work, how it degenerates into meaninglessness under any kind of scrutiny. But in the descent into senselessness, it also parallels Pecola's descent into madness. Each repetition, through its form, speeds up the pace at which it must be read. Readers tend to go through the final repetition in a barely comprehended rush. Pecola clings to the standards of the white world, all the way to the end, even as her sanity deteriorates. So these representations of idealized white life, even when they can no longer be read in a normal way, hammer the reader in the same way that they hammer Pecola. Her madness is not an escape from the idealized forms of white life; in her madness, she feels most fully the force of white constructions of beauty, even as the normal flow of human interaction and language cease to have meaning for her. Bits of this Dick and Jane story are used to name the sections of the novel about Pecola and her family; these are also the same sections not narrated by Claudia MacTeer. This makes the contrast between the idealized world of the Dick and Jane story and Pecola's life explicit and readily apparent. In the second section of the prelude, we hear Claudia's narrative voice for the first time. The...
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