Unapologetic and Afrocentric: The Bluest Eye

Toni Morrison claims the center of the world

This is a follow-up post to the original one I wrote on The Bluest Eye by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison. I concluded that post discussing the benefits of second and multiple readings of texts in order to fully and more completely grasp their messages.

In re-reading The Bluest Eye, I have one main observation: this novel clearly reveals one goal Morrison sought throughout her career… the desire to remain unapologetic with regard to Black American culture.

The Bluest Eye | Penguin Random House
Am I over-reaching to connect this unapologetic thrust to Afrocentrism?

Morrison took inspiration from Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) for this direction in her work. She explains in this Associated Press article:

“The writers who affected me the most were novelists who were writing in Africa: Chinua Achebe, ‘Things Fall Apart,’ was a major education for me,” Morrison, who had studied William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf as a graduate student, told the AP in 1998.

“They took their black world for granted. No black writer (in America) had done that except for Jean Toomer with ‘Cane.’ Everybody else had some confrontation with white people, which was not to say that Africans didn’t, but there was linguistically an assumption. The language was the language of the center of the world, which was them.

“So that made it possible for me to write ‘The Bluest Eye’ and not explain anything. That was wholly new! It was like a step into an absolutely brand new world. It was liberating in a way nothing had been before!”

Toni Morrison as quoted in “World Mourns the Death of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison” by Hillel Italie, Associated Press, August 6, 2019
Things Fall Apart | AbeBooks.com

Following Achebe’s lead, Morrison tells the story of Pecola Breedlove in a plain-and-simple way. There is an absence of justification, explanation, and background. In other words, she feels no need to defend or rebuke her characters’ actions or speech. She feels no need to couch the narrative in context.

Morrison tells us what Cholly did. She tells us how Pecola survived. Period.

She never writes, for example, “…and it helps to know that Cholly was like this because…” or “but Pecola had cause to feel this way because…”.

What does this absence of justification accomplish? A centering of the experiences of the lives within the novel.

They are no longer the “other.” Like the inhabitants of Wakanda, they are the center of the world.

Yes, there is so much more to understand and learn from The Bluest Eye. However, this unapologetic nod to Afrocentrism — as told through Morrison’s first novel of the story of a black girl named Pecola Breedlove — is what I recognize first and foremost in The Bluest Eye.

Thanks for reading! Have you read The Bluest Eye? Feel free to share your number one takeaway by leaving a comment below.

One more thing: Join my mailing list by entering your email address below. In return, I’ll send you a link to a Treasured Object poem guidelines sheet that you can use to introduce this creative poem activity to your students.

Success! You're on the list.

Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

Leave a Reply