Shivani Jha

Assistant Professor

Bharati college

Abstract: In their study Lennie Barblett and Carmen Melaney highlight the importance of social and emotional competence as abilities that help an individual to integrate thinking, feeling and behaving to achieve interpersonal goals and social outcomes and also ones that effectively regulate emotions to help an individual accomplish his/her goal. In this essay I am going to emphasize upon the necessity of this competency by pointing the outcomes in its absence as evident in Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye.

What made Cholly Breedlove rape his own daughter? What made Pauline Breedlove so antagonistic towards her own family and so kind to the white family where she worked? And why did Pecola want a pair of blue eyes, to ameliorate her condition in life- because she thought if it could earn love for the black cat with the blue eyes so it would do for her? Or was it because of the Mary Jane candies with the picture of Mary Jane with smiling white face, blonde hair and blue eyes that made her feel were the necessary requirements for being loved? Toni Morrison says, “I do not want to bow out with easy answers to complex questions.

It’s the complexity of how people behave under duress that is of interest to me” (Mc Kay 420). In a country where the blacks had been brought as slaves acceptance sans prejudice would be a time taking process so would be the consciousness to forge a new identity- of the Afro- American.

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Till then the blacks would be caught in the terrible web of poverty and struggle ill -equipped to deal with the capitalistic society of which they formed the lowest rung.

Key words: Black, beauty, love, socio-emotional competence, loneliness

The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), U.S delineates social-emotional development as a child’s capacity for self-confidence, trust, and empathy as well as the capacity to develop competencies in language usage and cognitive curiosity. The NCSL stresses on the importance of strong social-emotional development as a predictor of future academic, social, and emotional success’s dependent on three main factors –

(a) biology

(b) relationships

(c) and environment.

Biology “involves the temperament of a young child and other genetic influences. Relationships formed with primary caregivers, family members, and others are the vehicle that drives social-emotional development. Environmental toxins, abuse, poverty, and community violence are all environmental factors that effect social-emotional development.” (Waltz

It is on the premise of socio emotional competence as mentioned above that this essay analyses the predicament of the Breedlove family, as fractured entities in The Bluest Eye (1970), a novel by the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes winning, Afro- American author- Toni Morrison.

In the fall of 1941 Pecola was having her father’s baby. Something was terribly wrong somewhere. The natural law was violated and so was the sanctity of a little girl who goes insane. Pecola’s madness can be considered to be just a temporary end in the story of the Afro American struggle against subjugation, exploitation and discrimination. The Bluest Eye is a tale that moves around the Breedlove family in Lorain, Ohio, U.S .

The Negroes were brought to Africa as slaves in the seventeenth century and were forcibly integrated in the economy of the American Southern states. An obvious outcome of this displacement and long years of subjugation was the slow eroding of culture in a far away land giving into a new identity of Afro-Americans, “His lifestyle, his patterns of living, be they simple or complex, reflect the American culture.” (Ferguson 8). Distant from home subjugated by the Southern states and emancipated by the Northern even the Negro leaders instead of wishing to draw upon the black culture sought to learn the ways of the new civilization they had become a part of. They did not wish to emphasize the race but to forget it. This was seen over and over again in dress, manners and oratory, on points of order confirmed in their belief that this was the way in which white man conducted the serious business of politics (Brock 1973: 378). Others followed them.

It is in the background of this displacement and discrimination that The Bluest Eye needs to be interpreted. The central character in the novel, eleven- year old is Pecola Breedlove who temporarily is a foster child in the MacTeer family when her house is burned down by her unstable, alcoholic, and sexually abusive father. Pecola is a quiet child who has witnessed terrible poverty and constantly fighting parents who resort to both verbal and physical violence. The black family finds itself at odds with the society it is placed in. The new environment of the industrial North, Texas, is unfriendly and Pauline finds herself alienated. It is a situation made worse by her physical deformity. It is from home that a child draws the necessary psychological support to survive. Pauline wanted to be loving but was unable to do so and it is the family as a whole which has to bear the brunt of her frustration, the violence of both physical and verbal abuse. Pauline admits of her failure to express her love for the family when she says, “I loved them all, I guess, but maybe it was having no money, or maybe it was Cholly, but they surely worried the life out of me. Sometimes I’d catch myself hollering at them and beating them, and I’s feel sorry for them, But I couldn’t seem to stop” (96).

It is the shy Pecola who is the worst sufferer has to endure the consequences of not only her mother’s lack of adjustment in the new industrial society they have relocated to but that of her father also. She has to bear the burden of their humiliations, exploitation, rejection and despair.

On considering the prevalent mores of beauty it becomes clear that they tilted towards the whites and totally side lined the blacks. Continually reminded of her ugliness by various members of the community ranging from neighbours to school bullies it does not thus, come as a surprise then when Pecola desires a pair of blue eyes in order to be loved and pampered as she like the others of her times are enamoured by the image Shirley Temple the blonde haired, blue eyed girl, an image loved and admired by all. Pecola covets blue eyes – a standard of beauty, furthered by the white, blue-eyed dolls of children. Taking into consideration, the smallest and the most elemental figure in the constitution on a society I am with Ngugi Wa Thiong’o when he maintains that for a child it is easier to associate with the language of his daily life, also as a carrier of culture language functions as an image forming agent in the mind of the child, because such an image influences the self-conception of people about themselves and their society which may not be close to the truth for it is based on texts written by a people who see them as the other, the definition that they come across of themselves is a definition that is given to them, handed down through the dominant literature and culture which is only a partial view of the complete situation, a half truth; a truth which conditions thinking instilling in him a feeling of alienation and inferiority contrary to the feeling of pride in one’s individuality and culture.

A case in point is Morrison’s description of the Breedlove family, an Afro-American family in the USA:

“You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious, all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question. The master had said, “You are ugly people. They had looked about themselves and saw nothing to contradict the statement; saw, in fact, support for it leaning at them from every billboard, every movie, every glance. “Yes,”{sic} they had said. “You are right.”{sic) And they took the ugliness in their hands, threw it was a mantle over them, and went about the world with it. (The Bluest Eye 28)

This complex in Pauline which is non- existent till she is with her parents, comfortable in a society which does not give undue relevance to physical beauty. The life that she led among people her own kind did not make her feel unaccepted, she was content doing the daily household chores, but slowly she reached an age where her heart desired companionship and love, it was at this time that Cholly appeared in her life. They got married and decided to move to Ohio where there would be more job opportunities for Cholly. The change that came about was in terms of lifestyle and values. Pauline who was content looking after her little brother and sisters at home became lonely in the new place and Cholly became too busy to fill the void that loneliness had caused. A feeling of rejection appeared as Pauline felt out of place amongst the people around her. An unpretentious, simple black woman with ordinary features Pauline had no complex regarding her looks. This was the reason why she did not feel any need to straighten her hair or go to the beauty parlour for any other reason. But in the new set up great stress was laid on outer appearance, it was a society where being beautiful meant being less black, having straight hair, uniform teeth, slender body etc. Even the pronunciation differed. Pauline felt alienated. The strong network of relationships forming a bulwark against such crisis was missing in her life.

For Pauline things took a turn for the worst when her first tooth fell for she had already started making attempts to look outwardly pleasing and sometime later when the second tooth fell, she gave up on her attempts at outward beauty, felt defeated and her life was filled with bitterness. Thus, she directed all her frustration towards her family compromising on the role of the nurturer that comes with the responsibility of motherhood.

Morrison writes:

Pauline felt uncomfortable with the few black women she met. They were amused by her because she did not straighten her hair. When she tried to make up- her face as they did, it came off rather badly. Their goading glances and private snickers at her way of talking (saying chil’ren) and dressing developed in her a desire for new clothes. When Cholly began to quarrel about the money she wanted, she decided to go to work. Taking job as a day worker helped with the clothes, and even a few things for the apartment, but it did not help with Cholly. He was not pleased with her purchases and began to tell her so. Their marriage was shredded with quarrels…Money became the focus of all their discussions, hers for clothes, his for drink. The sad thing was that Pauline did not really care for clothes and makeup. She merely wanted other women to cast favorable glances her way. (The Bluest Eye, 92)

Pecola’s father, Cholly abandoned as a little baby by his young, unwedded mother, rescued and brought up by his aunt had on the whole what can be called a “fairly happy childhood”. However, in his life somewhere the absence of his parents lurked. After the death of his aunt, on the day of the funeral, Cholly was lured into going to the forest with a girl he liked where he was humiliated by two white men. However, he did not lay the blame of his humiliation on the two men but the girl who was with him. He started hating her. Later alone in the world he went looking for his father and on meeting him felt rejected.

On coming to terms with his life Cholly came across Pauline, liked her and married her. But when things did not turn out as convenient as he expected them to be Cholly along with Pauline shifted to the Northern part of Texas. Cholly whose childhood was deprived of a father figure found it difficult to behave as a responsible, caring father. As with Pauline he directed his frustrations to his family and ended up molesting his daughter.

Considering the failure of all the three characters in question- Pecola, Pauline and Cholly, it can be concluded that all these are skewed personalities for reasons that can be easily linked to their environment and financial disability, in turn emerging seriously as socio-emotional incompetent. The outcome of their fractured consciousness and impaired socio-emotional competence keeps them from assuming any responsible role either in the family or in society. Pecola, the child, is reduced to a vegetative state on account of her insanity, lulled into believing by the charlatan Soaphead Church that he had changed the color of her eyes.

Barblett and Maloney in their study “Complexities of Assessing Social and Emotional Competence and Wellbeing in Young Children” affirm that strong growth in social and emotional competence and wellbeing underlies all later growth and development including functioning as an important foundation for mental health throughout childhood and into later life. A careful scrutiny of these characters establishes the breakdown of the necessary social and emotional support which goes into the making of a fully developed personality. The Breedlove family members thus become fractured entities unable to realize their roles both as social and familial units.

Works Cited:

– Barblett Lennie and Maloney, Carmel, “Complexities of Assessing Social and Emotional Competence and Wellbeing in Young Children” Edith Cowan University,2010 accessed on 13/3/18.

-Brock, William R. Conflict and Transformation: The United States 1844- 1877, N.P., U.S.A: Penguin, 1973

–Ferguson, Ira Lunan. The Ferguson Essay : Lectures in Black Studies. New York: Theo Gaus Sons Inc,. 1972.

–McKay, Nellie. “An Interview with Toni Morrison”, Contemporary Literature Vol.XXIV, 1983.

–Morrison, Toni. (1979) The Bluest Eye. London: Picador in association with Chatto & Windus. 1994.

— Thiong’o, Ngugi. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. Harare: Zimbabwe Publishing House.Reprint, 2004.


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