The Bluest Eye Symbolism Essay Outline

Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements / paper topics on “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “The Bluest Eye” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for “The Bluest Eye” offer a summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Roles of Fantasies in The Bluest Eye

The backdrop of The Bluest Eye is, on a macro level, the Great Depression, and on a micro level, a Midwestern neighborhood that is rather non-descript. Clearly, the desire to escape poverty and the limiting circumstances of their social conditions is a common feeling among the characters in the novel. Several characters in Toni Morrison's novel, “The Bluest Eye” construct and perpetuate fantasies or beliefs about transcending their circumstances. For Pecola, a belief that if she had blue eyes she would have an ideal life guides her; for Pecola’s mother, movies provide that same hope and escape. Compare and contrast the roles that these fantasies play for both mother and daughter in “The Bluest Eye”. You may also wish to argue whether these fantasies are adaptive or whether they are unhealthy. Should you choose to do this, substantiate your argument with carefully selected quotes from the novel.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Self-Denial and Self-Hatred in “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison

Many critics observe that Pecola’s wish for blue eyes is a form of self-denial and self-hatred. This claim seems to be substantiated by Pecola’s fate and the condition in which the reader encounters her at the novel’s conclusion. Consider whether you agree with this claim. If you do agree with this claim, write a persuasive essay on “The Bluest Eye” in which you state what you believe the author wished to convey to her reader by exploring the dynamics of self-denial and self-hatred. If you do not agree with the claim, write an argumentative essay on “The Bluest Eye” in which you explain Pecola’s fate relative to the self-denial/self-hatred claim.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Claudia McTeer as Pecola’s Foil in “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison

Pecola is a character whose circumstances and fate are disturbing and even depressing to the reader. Yet Pecola’s character is contrasted by the character of Claudia McTeer, who serves as an alternative model of development for young black women. Write an explanatory essay in which you identify the significance of Claudia’s role in the text. Explain how Claudia serves as Pecola’s foil, and determine what her fate, relative to that of Pecola, signifies in the final analysis of “The Bluest Eye”. You may also wish to discuss how the novel would be different had Claudia’s character not been included.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4 The Failures of Adults in “The Bluest Eye”

The Bluest Eye privileges the child characters with narrative authority. In addition to the influence of the children’s perspective on the reader’s interpretation of the adults’ roles in the novel, the reader also makes inferences and conclusions about the adults based on their actions. Consider the various failures of the adult characters in this novel: moral failures, the failure to parent well, and the failure to negotiate life successfully, to name just a few. You may choose to analyze only one character and his or her failures, or write a comparative analysis of several characters, but in any case, build an essay in which you posit reasons for the failures of adults to protect children and to offer hope to the next generation.

Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: Defining Beauty

In one way or another, almost all of the characters are preoccupied with defining what beauty is. Not all of the characters are aware that this is their preoccupation, however. Examine one or more passages in which a character or the narrator addresses the notion of beauty directly, and determine what the “take-away" message about beauty might be. Consider whether there are competing or complementary notions of beauty that Morrison offers. Pay close attention to the matter of how the characters come to their understanding of beauty. Finally, address whether notions of beauty evolve, either positively or negatively, as a result of the experiences that the characters have over the course of the novel.

* For themes and possible thesis statements that intersect with ideas from the same author, check the PaperStarter entries for other works by Toni Morrison, including “Sula” and “Beloved” *


This list of important quotations from “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Bluest Eye” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes from “The Bluest Eye” contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the novel they are referring to.

“We stare at her, … wanting to poke the arrogance out of her eyes and smash the pride of ownership that curls her chewing mouth. When she comes out of the car we will beat her up, make red marks on her white skin, and she will cry…. " (9)

“Adults do not talk to us—they give us directions. They issue orders without providing information. When we trip and fall down they glance at us; if we cut or bruise ourselves they ask us are we crazy. When we catch colds, they shake their heads in disgust at our lack of consideration." (11)

“The big, the special, the loving gift was always a big, blue-eyed Baby Doll….[A]ll the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured." (19-20).

“Had any adult with the power to fulfill my desires taken me seriously and asked me what I wanted, they would have known that I did not want to have anything to own, or to possess any object. I wanted rather to feel something…." (21-22)

“I destroyed white baby dolls….The truly horrifying thing was the transference of the same impulses to little white girls." (22)

“[S]he went to the movies…. There in the dark her memory was refreshed and she succumbed to her earlier dreams." (122)

“Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another—physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion." (122)

“She was never able, after her education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign it some category in the scale of absolute beauty…." (122)

“‘The onliest time I be happy seem like when I was in the picture show. Every time I got, I went….Them pictures gave me a lot of pleasure, but it made coming home hard…." (123)

“It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights—if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different." (38)

Reference: Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Plume, 1994.
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The Bluest Eye is about the life of the Breedlove family who resides in Lorain, Ohio, in the late 1930s. This family consists of the mother Pauline, the father Cholly, the son Sammy, and the daughter Pecola. The novel’s focal point is the daughter, an eleven-year-old Black girl who is trying to conquer a bout with self-hatred. Everyday she encounters racism, not just from white people, but mostly from her own race. In their eyes she is much too dark, and the darkness of her skin somehow implies that she is inferior, and according to everyone else, her skin makes her even “uglier.” She feels she can overcome this battle of self-hatred by obtaining blue eyes, but not just any blue. She wants the bluest eye. Morrison is able to use her critical eye to reveal to the reader the evil that is caused by a society that is indoctrinated by the inherent goodness and beauty of whiteness and the ugliness of blackness. She uses many different writing tools to depict how “white” beliefs have dominated American and African American culture. The narrative structure of The Bluest Eye is important in revealing just how pervasive and destructive social racism is. Narration in novel comes from several sources. Much of the narration comes from Claudia MacTeer as a nine year old child, but Morrison also gives the reader the insight of Claudia reflecting on the story as an adult, some first person narration from Pecola’s mother, and narration by Morrison herself as an omniscient narrator.

Pecola’s experiences would have less meaning coming from Pecola herself because a total and complete victim would be an unreliable narrator, unwilling or unable to relate the actual circumstances of that year. Claudia, from her youthful innocence, is able to see and relate how the other characters, especially Pecola, idolize the “ideal” of beauty presented by white, blue-eyed movie stars like little Shirley Temple. In addition to narrative structure, the structure and composition of the novel itself help to illustrate how much and for how long white ideas of family and home have been forced into black culture. Instead of conventional chapters and sections, The Bluest Eye is broken up into seasons, fall, winter, spring, and summer. This type of organization suggests that the events described in The Bluest Eye have occurred before, and will occur again. This kind of cycle suggests that there is notion that there is no escape from the cycle of life that Breedloves and MacTeer live in. Further, dividing the book are small excerpts from the “Dick and Jane” primer that is the archetype of the white upper-middle class lifestyle. Each excerpt has, in some way, to do with the section that follows. So the section that describes Pecola’s mother is started with an excerpt describing Dick and Jane’s mother, and so on. The excerpts from “Dick and Jane” that head each “chapter” are typeset without any spaces or punctuation marks. The “Dick and Jane” snippets show just how prevalent and important the images of white perfection are in Pecola’s life; Morrison’s strange typography illustrates how irrelevant and inappropriate these images actually are. Names play an important part in The Bluest Eye because they are often symbolic of conditions in society or in the context of the story.

The name of the novel, “The Bluest Eye,” is meant to get the reader thinking about how much value is placed on blue-eyed little girls. Pecola and her family are representative of the larger African-American community, and their name, “Breedlove,” is ironic because they live in a society that does not “breed love.” In fact, it breeds hate; hate of blackness, and thus hatred of oneself. The MacTeer girls are flattered when Mr. Henry said “Hello there. You must be Greta Garbo, and you must be Ginger Rogers”, for the names ring of beauty that the girls feel they will never reach. Soaphead Church represents, as his name suggests, the role of the church in African-American life. “I, I have caused a miracle. I gave her the eyes. I gave her the blue, blue, two blue eyes,” Soaphead says. The implication is that the church’s promise that if you worship God and pray to Him that everything will be alright is no better than Soaphead’s promise to Pecola that she will have blue eyes. Morrison reveals the significance of Pecola’s name through the character of Maureen Peal. Maureen confuses Pecola’s name with the name of a character in the movie Imitation of Life. By this allusion, Morrison illustrates that Pecola’s life is an imitation of the real experiences of black women. Morrison also uses metaphors to describe the conditions under which African-Americans in general and Pecola in particular are forced to live. There are two major metaphors in The Bluest Eye, one of marigolds and one of dandelions. Claudia, looking back as an adult, says in the beginning of the novel, “there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941”. She and her sister plant marigold seeds with the belief that if the marigolds would grow and survive, so would Pecola’s baby. Morrison unpacks the metaphor throughout the book, and, through Claudia, finally explains it and broadens its scope to all African-Americans on the last page. “I even think now that the land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruits it will not bear . . .” The implication is that Pecola, like so many other African-Americans, never had a chance to grow and succeed because she lived in a society (“soil”) that was inherently racist, and would not nurture her. The other flower, the dandelion, is important as a metaphor because it represents Pecola’s image of herself. Pecola passes some dandelions going into Mr. Yacobowski’s store. “Why, she wonders, do people call them weeds? She thought they were pretty”. After Mr. Yacobowski humiliates her, she again passes the dandelions and thinks; “They are ugly. They are weeds”. She has transferred society’s dislike of her to the dandelions.

In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison tells the story of a little black girl who thinks that if she can live up to the image of the blue-eyed Shirley Temple and Dick and Jane that she will have the perfect life that they have. The importance of this book goes beyond its value as a work of literature. Morrison speaks to the masses, both white and black, showing how a racist social system wears down the minds and souls of people, how dominate images of white heroes and heroines with blue eyes and wonderful lives show young black children that to be white means to be successful and happy, and then they look around at their own lives of poverty and oppression and learn to hate their black heritage for keeping them from the Dick and Jane world. Morrison does not solve these problems, nor does she even try, but she does show a reflection of a world that cannot call itself right or moral.

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