Set in the early 1940s, The Bluest Eye is the story of three young black girls living in Lorain, Ohio: two sisters, Claudia and Frieda MacTeer, and a foster child taken in by their family, Pecola Breedlove. The first page tells us that bad things are in store for Pecola- she becomes pregnant with her father’s baby and that baby dies- and then Claudia narrates the fall, winter and spring that lead to those events. Interspersed in between Claudia’s chronological account of these three seasons are the 3rd person background stories for a number of the supporting cast, including Pecola’s parents, telling us how they came to be who they are and where they are.
I had tried and failed to read this novel before- the darkness of the subject matter kept me from wanting to pick it up. That darkness hasn’t changed but I am glad I read it. Morrison’s language is poetic and precise, packing a punch for how slim it is (200 generously spaced pages). It also has moments that lightened the darkness- my favourite was when Claudia, the younger sister is complaining about how she gets everything last and Frieda reminds her that she had scarlet fever first; Claudia’s retort is “But it didn’t last!”.
It has been interesting reading this novel at the same time as I’m reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and a year after Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. All three are about girls growing up in the US in the 1930s/40s, and they are different but the same. Comparing the hardships suffered by a poor white daughter of immigrants to a poor black daughter of sharecroppers/ former slaves highlights the parallels of growing up in poverty with the added lack of opportunities growing up black. Francie Nolan had an easier time than Pecola Breedlove.
My copy of this book has a bright purple cover, so it is my cbr12bingo Violet square