Banned Books: The Bluest Eye

by Josh Hanagarne on September 29, 2010

the bluest eye by Toni MorrisonI read Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye in no fewer than three English classes. The second time I saw it on my syllabus I shivered. I could still feel the memory of reading it the first time. The third time I saw it on my syllabus, I wasn’t ready then either. It is one of those books that is important without being enjoyable for me. But it becomes doubly important to talk about any book that is frequently challenged, and this book is always offending someone, somewhere.

It is a book of truly devastating content. When Toni Morrison sets out to indict something, she does it big. Want to know how she feels about racism or child abuse? Open to any page of The Bluest Eye and get ready. But Morrison does it in a way that reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut, although he certainly couched things in, overall, more light-hearted packages.

Morrison never steps out and says, in her fiction, This is wrong. That is unjust. That is perverse. She is able to create characters and stories that say it all much more effectively than just making the statement ever could. Kurt was similar for me. He would present a story that many times only led to one possible conclusion on the reader’s part. He never had to do the soapbox speeches in his novels, although he didn’t shy away from speaking his mind, that’s for sure.

The Bluest Eye is about a young black girl named Pecola.

Book Summary

Pecola lives in a small town in Ohio. Her parents are abusive with one another, in words and more. She is constantly told that she is ugly, so she believes she is ugly. The title of the book comes from Pecola’s longing to have pretty blue eyes, just like the eyes of the lovely white doll that appears in the story. The doll receives many more compliments than Pecola does.

Pecola is impregnated by her father, and things get worse from there. She is held captive by her circumstances, her parents, the town that turns against her, and her own perceptions of the novel’s themes: ideas about beauty, love, family, and community. Ideas that she is locked into.

Nothing goes well for her, to put it lightly, and the ending is wrenching.

Banned books

The Bluest Eye contains extremely graphic scenes of emotional and physical devastation. Does it deserve to be banned for any reason whatsoever? NO. But this is one where I do understand why it is challenged. I would not want my son to pick it up and read it before he had the tools to deal with and understand the material.

This is not a book subject to lame challenges like people howling about bad behavior in Where The Wild Things Are. This is a novel with themes that are beyond serious, and it deserves study and a commensurate level of engagement. I have yet to talk to anyone who says they read it with enjoyment.

I’ve read it three times and now I’m done. Again, important, but too painful for me to think about again. And that is something I admire about Toni Morrison. She spends time in very dark places to write her books. It is impossible to read them without confronting painful and atrocious realities.

Who has read it? What are your thoughts?

Josh

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Shane Hudson September 29, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I have not read this one, and to me honest if it makes you shake seeing the title I am not sure if I want to! Haha, it actually seems extremely emotive and well written just from reading your review of it. I think I shall have to add it to my reading list!

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ami September 30, 2010 at 8:31 am

Dangit Josh, now I have equally strong urges to read and not to read. I’m toast.

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Laura October 11, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I love Toni Morrison’s books. But I definitely have to be in the right frame of mind to read them.

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Burg October 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I have to do a mock trial for my senior english class, and i am prosecuteing. Any reasons why this book is being chalenged becides the obvious sexual content and racial themes would help and i would greatly appriciate it. Btw this is high school not collage.

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Josh Hanagarne October 18, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Language, abuse of children, violence.

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Burg October 20, 2010 at 10:00 am

Thankyou any tips for the upcomming trial will be apritiated also, my partners arnt too reliable.

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Josh Hanagarne October 20, 2010 at 10:08 am

Burg, I’m not in your class. I don’t know anything about the trial or the assignment. Whip those partners into shape!

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jelynn March 25, 2011 at 12:55 pm

i just read toni morrisons book the bluest eye im only 16years old and i think i understand the reason why many adults(only) really want this book to be banned. Toni Morrison does a fantastic job at revealing the truth about racism and child abuse throughout her book The Bluest Eye. youd have to be smart enough to realize that before she brings up the fioive sex scenes in the book there are racial issues that certain characters are talking about. this book is no where near as bad a an urban fiction book such as Zane…but its funny a parent would let their childread something as dirty as Zane before they let them read something as true as The Bluest Eye

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Josh Hanagarne March 25, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Thank you Jelynn. Did you read it for school or just because? If you ever wanted to write a review of the book here for me I’d be happy to have it.

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jelynn April 5, 2011 at 12:13 pm

we read it for school and sure id love to write a review for you

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Christopher November 14, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I’ve read The Bluest Eye for both pleasure and school assignment. People say the book should be banned due to graphic words, the sex scenes put into the human head, racial boundaries, and child abuse. The mental stimulates, emotions, and physical turmoil is what some people fear, while other fear the truth and do not want it told. If this book is banned then it would be taking away knowledge from the future generations , and they will grow up even more ignorant to real life issues.

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Josh Hanagarne November 14, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Thanks for the comment Christopher.

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