Toni Morrison was the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1993. In 1970 she published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, which was inspired by an anecdote she had experienced as a child. She met a girl of her own age who aspired to have blue eyes like those of the young actress Shirley Temple. The phantasmatic ideal is evidently rooted in the racist heritage of a segregated country that values the white model to the detriment of the descendants of former slaves. Children, as first unconscious victims of racial distinctions, internalise the discourses that surround them and contribute to repeating a systemic logic that goes beyond them. A good part of the novel is structured around childhood rivalries, where little Pecola is denigrated for her colour, her ignorance, her poverty. Toni Morrison, as if to reinforce the logic of her novel, denounces in many interviews the narrative schema internalised by black children, that of the master, a white man, who is above all a man.
In The Bluest Eye, the narrative is more complex, undoubtedly guided more by the work of the unconscious. It is split, multiplied, the voices clash. The truth takes on diverse, and sometimes unexpected, facets. On the one hand, the author frames the novel with an extract from a school textbook which seems to insidiously inscribe the myth of a white nuclear family to whom everything smiles. Repeated at numerous points in the text, the quoted, recreated, hijacked textbook reveals its nature as a holophrase or slogan capable of permeating minds and colonising thoughts. However, the novel is not all graspable through this reading grid which, today, paves the way for a certain woke discourse that seeks to blame all humiliations on said « patriarchy ». The Bluest Eye is certainly a first novel, but it is no less an artistic elaboration that welcomes a new knowledge. Indeed, the novel is constantly splitting into two. Pecola’s voice is matched by the voices of Frieda and Claudia, who are astonished by her whims. The chronological narrative is responded to by flashbacks pertaining to the past lived by Pecola’s parents.
Pecola’s drama is reflected in this question : « How do you do that ? I mean, how do you get somebody to love you ? » Where Frieda and Claudia feel supported by a consistent parental discourse and a father figure who distances them from the real, Pecola cannot rely on any « point from which » she can experience herself as loveable. The book therefore lucidly demonstrates the path a child can take when the father cannot hold his place to protect her, since he will go so far as to rape her. Of course, the social and racial context is implicated in the various forms of contingencies that determine this man. The fact remains that, in the face of certain forms of violence, it is only through a knowing how to do with the symbolic that the traps of the imaginary can be avoided. Is it not therefore a question of relying on the singular inventions of the fathers one by one to grasp what constitutes the virtue of the so-called civilised bond, as the unbeknownst part of the work invites us to do ?
 Morrison T., The Bluest Eye, London, Vintage, 2019, p. 30.
Translation : Florencia F.C. Shanahan
Proofreading : Sébastien Dauguet
Picture : ©Valérie Locatelli