Review of “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s, The Bluest Eye opens with a small narrative from the children’s book, Dick and Jane. The story as we know it makes us assume that Dick and Jane are happy, but Morrison highlights the unhappiness in this “perfect” family.  While we all make up this idea in our minds that their world is better, we learn that Dick and Jane are in fact, unhappy.  We preconceive the notion that the family that lives in the green and white house are perfect, but Jane is isolated from her family.  The story proclaims that the mother is very nice, but when asked to play with Jane, she laughs.  When the father is asked to play with Jane, he smiles.  The dog runs away from Jane.  In an attempt to analyze the situation, Jane is actually in the backwoods.

The story telling throughout the book evokes the story of Dick and Jane and how life is supposed to be.  The family remains on the surface, always smiling and always happy.  As a child reading the story, one may not question the isolation of Jane.  To Pecola however, the story telling evokes a sense of escapism.  The fact that Morrison distorts the story with run on sentences and no punctuation, we can assume that ultimately the life of Jane was distorted as well and not as perfect as we think.

Jane’s relationship with her family foreshadows the lack of communication and isolation within the characters in the novel.  In the beginning, Claudia states the lack of communication when she says, “Adults do not talk to us…” ( Morrison, 10) “No one speaks to me or asks how I feel.” (Morrison, 11)

Claudia sometimes tells the story from a child’s perspective and other times from the perspective of an adult.  Pecola is a mysterious character, while we are introduced to her through other characters and the points of view of other characters, never fully knowing how Pecola felt.  We do know however that Pecola faced abuse.  She was forced further into this fantasy world, which was her only escape against her existence, the things she was forced to see and the way people viewed her.  She truly believed that if she was granted blue eyes that would change things.  The blue eyes were supposed to symbolize beauty and happiness.  It is very common to see white people with blue eyes, providing us with the ideal that white is beautiful and black is not.  The characters in the book suffer from racial beauty, insecurity, self hatred and belief in their own ugliness.  Pecola is constantly reminded of her ugliness through her family, when the boys make fun of her and light-skinned Maureen, who temporarily befriends her.  Maureen is associated with beauty because she is light-skinned.  In an attempt to degrade Pecola, Maureen says “I an cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly e mos. I am cute!” (Morrison, 73)  We assume that being cute is defined as being white or close to white.  In this situation, what society says is beautiful is being replicated.  Even though Maureen is black, she is thought to be better because of her skin tone, thus oppressing her own race.  This can also be closely associated with the binary of being on top; in order for someone to be on top, someone has to be on the bottom.

While beauty is a very prominent theme in the book, we also learn how some of the other characters struggle with beauty.  Cholly was ugly because of his behavior.  Mrs. Breedlove handled her ugliness for the articulation of character while Sammy used his as a weapon to cause others pain and Pecola hid behind hers.  The conviction of being ugly was self inflicted.  The difference between Pecola and Claudia’s family is internalization.  While the Breedlove family internalizes their ugliness, Claudia’s family does not fall subjective to society’s standards.

When Pecola moves back with her family after first staying with Claudia’s family because her father burned down the house, we see that Pecola lives quite a difficult life. Her parents have a love-hate relationship and her mother, Pauline is most happy when she is at work, cleaning the home of a white woman.  She grows to love the home and despises her own.  She referred to the members of the family as being “affectionate, appreciative and generous” (Morrison, 127)  The way she cared for the little Fisher girl differed from the lack of affection and tenderness that she provided her own daughter with.  This private world put meaning to her life, and she was ashamed of what she had to go home to.

Even though I did not mention  all the events that took place in the novel, the main theme of beauty was addressed.  This novel provides many ways in which the black community internalizes beauty in a white society.  Many characters in the story share the conviction of being ugly but Claudia remains carefree and she imagines Pecola’s child to be beautiful in its blackness.

 

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Review of “The Last Taboo”

Even though Anita Hill had not been the only black person to testify against Clarence Thomas, the temperament of the situation forces a mandate on gender.  The fact that she reported a sexual discourse was the biggest issue, considering the fact that sex was noted as being the last taboo.  This had also brought forth the notion of what was appropriate for both sexes at that particular period of time.  Also, in discussing the sexual harassment, she put a halt on the rise of power of Clarence Thomas, and that was at the time, unacceptable for the behavior of a woman.

Sexuality was something that was considered to be taboo in the black community.  It was just one of those things that you were not supposed to talk about.  It was a painful topic to discuss, mostly for religious reasons.  It was more than just the silence that made it taboo.  It was the negative connotation that it had on black women.  Black women were noted as being sexual human beings, while white women were said to have no sexual desires whatsoever.  In the view of certain ideologies, black women were considered deviant, impure and immoral.

There was this obscene notion that black men raped because black women were “morally obtuse”, “openly licentious”, and “immoral”.

Black women were viewed as the dualistic opposition to their upper class, pure, moral white sisters.  It was the white woman’s qualities that were profoundly absent from black women that made white women irresistible.

The status of black women continued to denigrate.  A South African woman, Sara Bartmann had an extraordinary big butt, which drew much attention to society.  She was displayed for five years all the way up until her death. After her death an autopsy was performed and her organs were studied and then compared with that of an orangutan.  This was a way of dehumanizing black women, getting in to the notion that black women were untamed and uncivilized.  Bartmann became the social image of how to view black women at that time.   By nineteenth century sexual difference had become a basis of the ideology around race.

In the late nineteenth century, the binaries came into play as far as how women were viewed.  Good women, most likely white women, were said to have no sexual desires or erotic feelings.  Those who had inappropriate urges wee recommended to consult a physician.  Economically lower class women fell into the “bad” column, those associated with the inappropriate behaviors.  In discussing prostitution, women were said to be more drawn to casual sex than men, and using Bartmann as an icon for African women at that time, it was a representation of female eroticism and immorality.

Disease was said to come from women and their irrevocable thirst for sexual desire.  Syphilis was notes as “sexual sin”.  It was seen as a disease that would affect groups that were classifies as licentious and deviant.

In terms of sexuality, I no longer feel as though sex is taboo.  In some ways the black community silences sexuality, but it is more so silenced within the church.  I think that sex is actually exploited and is viewed from a more prevailing aspect.  The media portrays sex as being something positive, common and accepted amongst society, whereas it used to be something forbidden.  Sex sales, so it is in fact ubiquitous. Sex is portrayed everywhere.  Even though people may not recognize the sexual aspect in certain things, it is there.  Baby dolls are created now with private parts that used to be nonexistent.  So in a way, sex is being promoted because clearly babies do not come from a stork.  Children are being exposed to sex at a very young age and even parents feel obligated to educate their children on sex earlier.  Parents always question when is too soon, but what was necessarily too soon decades ago has shifted.  Because everyone is doing it, sex has to be addressed.  We can no longer restrict it because more and more people will be uneducated.

In terms of religious purposes however, one is to abstain from sex until marriage.  Fornication has a negative connotation in the church community, but is condoned in society and more so the black community.  White women are still considered to be pure.  In an instance where a white woman is sexually active with a black male, it had to be rape.  When a black woman is sexually active, it is not stated, because it is considered the norm.  Only when something depicts the norm is it looked down upon.

I think the church had a more impact on the community decades ago than it does now.  Marriage now is not as common as it was year ago, so people are more liable to have sex out of marriage.  There are few people getting married and more and more people getting divorced and having sex.  So because everyone is having sex, it is more condoned and accepted.

 

 

 

 

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Review of “The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought

In studying the consciousness of the oppressed groups, black women challenge two approaches:

  1. This approach claims that “subordinate groups identify with the powerful and have no valid independent interpretation of their own oppression.” (Collins, 338)
  2. This approach assumes that “the oppressed are less human than their rulers and, therefore are less capable of articulating their own standpoint.” (Collins, 339)

What does this mean?  The oppressed have an inaccurate consciousness of their own inferiority.  They understand the worthiness of the powerful but are not mentally capable or equipped to understand their own oppression.  They cannot proclaim their position.  They are unable to fully articulate their oppression but they understand how they are defined by society and they accept it for what it is.

According to Patricia Hill Collins, this approach however, is not applicable to the African American woman even though she is amongst an oppressed group.  Collins provides us with assimilating views as to how women have a “self-defined standpoint on their own oppression.”  Number one, African American women are provided with a distinctive set of experiences allowing them a different view of reality that is otherwise not offered to other groups.  Second, these experiences that she talks about stimulate a distinctive black feminist consciousness concerning the material reality.

Black feminist thought corroborates the notion that black women can think independently and provide a different view of their standpoint than the one that is established and defined to us by society.   If this consciousness is constantly articulated, then black women will begin to think in an innovative way allowing themselves to be more powerful than ever before and live up to their full potential, while before, the mindset of oppression that was so deeply rooted in their minds before was a deterrent.

 

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Review of “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” by Audre Lorde

We are conditioned to view the world in juxtaposition: dominant/subordinate, good/bad and superior/inferior.  We tend to view the world in terms of binaries or hierarchical terms.  Society defines dominance and superiority in terms of profit.  In order to be on top however, someone has to be beneath you, so those who are the oppressors focus on maintaining their position while simultaneously focus on sustaining the oppressed at a lower state.  Their success is predicated on the oppression of others.  The way we think is constructed by society and we understand the world through the lenses of mainstream society in terms of money being so easily connotated with power.  Those who are on top are considered the “unmarked”.  They are aware of the difference between them and those beneath them, but it becomes understood so it does not have to be stated.  It is considered universal and anything that is modifiable should be stated.  These differences that we have all been programmed to respond to has essentially created a level of separation and confusion.

Lorde says that racism and sexism is a “belief in the superiority of one race/ sex over al others.”  We have all been poisoned by society’s concepts and conditioned to think as they want us to think and it will be a lifetime pursuit to decolonize this mindset that has been instilled in us for so long. It is almost impossible not to recognize the difference when you know it is there.  Race only exists if we allow our consciousness and belief to come into a reality.  We can believe something into existence.

The mythical norm that Lorde discusses consists of the “unmarked” groups that I mentioned earlier.  It consists of white, thin, young, heterosexual, Christian, etc. The mythical norm is defined as the person at the center of society, those who are “regular”.  Anyone who stands outside of these restrictions are classified as someone “different”.  The white woman defines what a woman is in terms of her experience as a woman alone, ignoring the experiences of women of other races.  It becomes a silent agreement amongst white women as to what is right amongst society.

This generation suffers from “historical amnesia”; we have no recollection of our history.  We ignore the past, which is why we keep repeating the same mistakes.  Those who are oppressed remain oppressed and those who are the oppressors remain the oppressors merely because we just accept the past for what it is and keep moving.  Our ancestors did all the hard work, now all we have to do is worry about the present.  Wrong!  Ignoring the past only creates a parallel world between the past and the present.

“The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations that we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor that is planted deep within each of us.” (Lorde, 291)  We cannot fully change the situation unless we can completely decolonize the norm and the knowledge of mankind that is so deeply rooted in our minds since the day we were born.  In order to make this change, we have to raise our children with a different mindset.  Once you learn something, it stays with you forever.  You cannot just erase knowledge.  If I am told that I am black, it will be very hard to classify myself as anything else.  I can say that I am white, but I will know the truth, which will forever cloud my perception of the way I view the world.

 

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Review of “Lesbianism: An Act of Resistance” by Cheryl Clarke

This article written by Cheryl Clarke, is the first article I have read thus far speaking out against lesbianism.  As she is a very fervent speaker on the topic, her tone appears to be very angry and zealous.  Like many women, Clarke is facing a circumstance that somewhat repudiates her from the world; she is an AFRICAN AMERICAN, LESBIAN WOMAN.  She speaks of it as being an act of resistance in terms of living in a “male-supremacist, capitalist, misogynist, racist, homophobic, imperialist culture.” (Clarke 242)  Lesbians have been depicted as feminine evil.  One statement that stood out to me was Adrienne Rich’s sentiment towards lesbian women and how they “refused to comply with the behavior demanded of women”.  In that sense, lesbians appear to have been renegades since the beginning; long before activists of any kind began speaking out against a male dominated world.  This perspective alone makes one consider how strong these women have been.

On the basis of feminism, lesbianism shares similar ideologies.  They are both breaking both silence and secrecy in the world; challenging the roles of women and what is expected of them by society.  Prior to reading this, I never would have thought it to be a correlation.  Well, it is obvious that both belong to an oppressed group; African American lesbian, African American women…..women.

This article exposes sexual oppression, but also liberation of all people.  She speaks on behalf of the lesbian but also exposes racial oppression and male dominance.  There is a corrupted relationship between male and female that she discusses.  It was interesting how she talked about lesbians breaking all the rules; how it is already hard being an African American lesbian, but if you decide to love another woman that is not within your race, then this causes another problem.  The average lesbian is already living dangerously, but in this case, a little bit too dangerous.  Then she goes on to speak about how black lesbians must start to resist from the white man’s sexist laws…

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Review of An Argument For Black Women’s Liberation As A Revolutionary Force by Mary Ann Weathers

Speaking on women’s liberation, Mary Ann Weathers concentrates on reclaiming the African heritage and rightfully having a place in the world.  She willingly and enthusiastically supports the black liberation movement hoping that it will be positively receptive to all oppressed peoples.

These oppressed people that she discusses include black men, sick children and ALL women.  Black women’s oppression is tripled by any of the oppressed races that include poor white women, Orientals, Indian, Mexican and Puerto Rican women, but they all face oppression on the common ground.  Be it that they all have this common factor, Weathers believes that these races can construct a stronger force that can be the start of a revolution.

She focuses a lot on male superiority and how women are portrayed in the eyes of men.  Women also tend to reduce their level of importance in exchange for recognition from their male counterparts acting as sex objects and holding an industrial position instead of being proactive in the workplace.  We spend so much time and put all of our energy in the liberation of our men that we lose focus on ourselves and out own liberation.

The opening statement in Weather’s article was that “nobody can fight your battles for you; you have to do it yourself.”  We are innately placed in a position by society and become subjective to that position, thus reinforcing our own oppression.  We cannot look to anyone else to save the day but ourselves.  The white man laughs at us because we are falling under his spell.  Weather’s makes a very true statement in the last paragraph of her article that many people are oblivious of.  The white man keeps us at one another’s throats with racism and distracts us with other issues so that we are clouded by the real issue.  The dominant force is getting stronger by the minute, becoming more influential than ever and we are subconsciously making them stronger with our foolish acts.  These dominant forces are getting stronger, wiser, more powerful and more wealthy than ever.  The middle class is slowly but surely receding from view and the gap is widening between the rich and the poor.  Before we know it, the white man is going to rule the world and we will be begging them for mercy.

The challenge is to interrupt their plan and to make a difference in the world and to end patriarchy, to end oppression; not only for the blacks under oppression but to end oppression as a whole.   If you want to make change, you have to be the change you want to see.  It starts with us.  We have to convince poor women that they are capable because who can benefit better than them? We must come together as a whole instead of being envious of one another and fighting one another over men only to entertain them.  I am all for Weather’s method of understanding and prosperity.

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Review of “The Struggle of Negro Women For Sex and Race Emancipation” by Elise Johnson McDougald

Elise Johnson McDougald distinguishes the many roles played by women and focuses on concerns of racial equality.

McDougald is not fully challenging the stereotypes generally associated with black women in society.  In fact, she is somewhat enforcing it, saying that society is right about black women, just not all black women.  McDougald’s claim for recognition relies on putting down some classes of black women and her moral obligation is to get recognition from white people.  She wants to gain allegiance from middle class white women but in this process she loses respect from the women within her own race.  She plays into dominant ideals and stereotypes in order to be recognized.

McDougald puts emphasis on the fact that all black women are differently endowed.  She realizes that black women are excluded as an entirety and instead of being associated with grace and loveliness; we are equated with the grotesque Aunt Jemimas.  She thinks that the low class black women act as an impediment for the entire black race and the few who have proven their preeminence are still associated with ignorance and the denotation of being a black woman.

She believes that black women should be separated into class on the basis of activity.  In society we are already separated into class, but McDougald believes that black women should generally be associated with their works and not labeled as how society depicts an African American woman.  It is said that black women have lower standards and do not practice morality.  In response to that, she says that critics who have acclaimed such theory have only had contact with “the lower grades of Negro women”. (McDougald 81)

She highlights the accomplishments of many African American women as if they have gone unnoticed.  She wants to gain recognition as a successful black woman.

(Possibly going off on a tangent) Personally, speaking on the basis of sexism and racism is a tactful subject.  It all goes back to when the European people classified race into existence because we did not look like them.  It was then that we developed race and became knowledgeable of the fact that we were “different”.  Then our entire lives, we spend our time trying to live up to the expectations of white people and to become “civilized” just as they are.  The Europeans decided that Cherokee Indians were similar to them in response to color and referred to them as “brown “ white people.  They said that the skin of the Indians was just burned by the sun rays, but they could be civilized to be like whites.  Who is to say what is civil and who gives them the power to take ownership for setting standards in society?  We, as black people were oppressed for so long and spend the duration of our lives fighting for things that should have always been rightfully ours.  McDougald focuses too much on gaining recognition from white people instead of just having that self-admiration and understanding of possibly never being fully accepted by the white race.  It is one thing to desire equality, but when on the basis of gaining equality requires putting down your own race, it is no longer equality of race nor mankind, but only gaining recognition based on performance.  I am not sure her intentions were fulfilled.

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