This was the second book in the Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge. Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1993, is the author of this short but powerful novel. The reader knows from the beginning that this isn't going to be a "feel good" book. The story is told from different points of view and is divided into four sections -- Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Fall. We meet Pecola Breedlove in the opening pages of the novel where we find out that she is having her father's baby. The author tells us that the Breedloves are ugly people. When it comes to Cholly Breedlove, (Pecola's father) she is talking about his character as much as she is his physical appearance. Morrison uses the Dick and Jane stories from our childhood to exemplify the vast disparity between the idealic world of white middle class America and that of Pecola Breedlove. The book begins with descriptions of Dick and Jane and their families. At the beginning of each chapter, phrases from these books are continuously repeated as if they were a mantra being chanted over and over in Pecola's head.
Pecola longs to be beautiful. She longs to have that fairy tale existence that she sees in books. For her, the ultimate would be to have beautiful blue eyes. If she could only have that then people would look at her and notice her. She wouldn't be invisible to the world any longer. She goes so far as to visit a charlatan who claims he can make that happen. In the end, Pecola can no longer deal with the trauma she has endured in her few short years. She retreats within herself and believes that she does indeed have blue eyes. She walks the streets talking to her imaginary friend about how beautiful she is now that she has blue eyes.
The edition I read has an afterword by Morrison in which she describes the girl who inspired this story. She actually went to school with a little black girl who dreamed of having blue eyes. This horrified Morrison even at a young age. Later she would never forget the 'racial self-loathing' that she saw in that little girl. She wanted to discover how and why that happens to someone.
Interestingly, Morrison also explains what she sees as a failure in many ways to accomplish what she wanted to with this novel. It is after all her first published work. This book brings to light the horrific damage that we do to our children when we offer them unrealistic and unattainable ideas of beauty and worth.