The Representation of Food in Toni Morrison

Topics: Food and drink, Nutrition, Pie Pages: 12 (4927 words) Published: December 27, 2011
The theme of food and the different representations that they carry are imbued into Toni Morrison's work. In an interview Morrison explains the constructions of blackness and white, and states, "there is a lot of juice to be extracted from plumy reminiscences of 'individual' and 'freedom' if the tree upon which such fruit hangs is a black population forced to polar opposites"(Parker 622). Her use of imagery surrounding the issues of black oppression with the use of food speaks to the greater connotation that food represents to the African American community. Audre Lorde remarks on the ubiquity of oppression when she stated that for African American women writers "oppression is as American as apple pie"(Parker). Toni Morrison's work explores American cultural and values using apple pie ideology to translates how these values are interpreted by the African American community. The sweet pies and sweet foods within the literature hold a special meaning. Sugar represents a indulgent appeal that offers limited satisfaction, empty calories and little sustenance. It is also a commodity that the African American community feels very connected, to given their history and labor with sugar in the fields of plantations when they were enslaved. Sugar also denotes privilege, cheap thrills and capitalism (Parker). Through the use of sugar, pies, drinks and natural fruit Morrison delves into the appetites of the characters and demonstrates how their relationship to food, drink and hunger are negotiated and how that translates into the interpretation of their personalities. In her essay entitled, "The Sweet Life in Toni Morrison's Fiction," Elizabeth House states that, Morrison uses food imagery to suggest conflicts between two sets of values. Applying this thesis to Morrison's representation of food in The Bluest Eye, the first set of ideologies, are those that subscribe to the competition driven by idyllic white values such as blue eyes, movie star appearances and ice cream. Pecola, PollyBreedlove and Maureen Peal seek after these values respectively. The opponents to these values are Claudia, and Frieda Mrs. Macteer. It follows a natural progression that the little girls emulate their mother's hunger ideologies. An example occurs when Pecola's attempt to satiate her hunger for a white existence comes into conflict with the reality is the incident in the candy store with Mr. Yacobowski. Their strife is deeper rooted than black vs. white, young vs. old; it speaks to the insatiable hunger within Pecola to become white. Pecola craves a piece of candy with an illustration of a white little girl. Pecola subconsciously assumes that if you ingest a piece of white iconography then naturally you would exude some of the same characteristics. Mr. Yacbowski's poor treatment of Pecola and his attempts to deny her the very thing she craves is a deeply imbedded cultural response to horde the secrets of a sought after ideal. Not only does he not want her to attain what she wants, his reluctance to give it to her demonstrates his belief that she is not entitled to the sweets, or "the sweet life" for that matter. His annoyance with her exceeds her presence as a consumer in his store; his aggravation with her existence and her need and desire to consume is another reminder of her existence at all (Parker 619). Morrison's coupling of the blow to Pecola's ego with the sweetness of the candy ultimately pairs rejection of the self with the rewards of food. Another instance of Pecola's need to ingest the very ideal she hopes to attain, is in her unquenchable thirst for milk while staying at the MacTeer's. It is unclear whether the white Shirley temple on the glass makes her thirstier for the milk, or the milk makes her thirstier for the glass, but her insistence on consuming the white ideal is evident. Mrs. MacTeer looks upon her thirst unfavorably. She rejects the competitive success that symbolizes a thirst; notably both Claudia and Frieda share an aversion to...
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