The Bluest Eye teaches students the harsh truths of the racist 1940s society in America and how that environment, along with a person's dysfunctional family, can reinforce notions of self-hatred and distorted perceptions of reality. The book explores ideas of physical beauty as they relate to a person's ability to be loved, as well as the racism that pervades this post-Great Depression era. Given the explicit sexual and domestic violence in this coming-of-age story, it can be a challenging read for students. However, The Bluest Eye is, in many ways, a timeless piece that will always be able to contribute something to the conversation about race in America.

Students should be encouraged to discuss some of the complicated and controversial themes in the novel, either in a class conversation or as part of a writing assignment. For example, students could talk about how a person's preoccupation with physical beauty can be psychologically destructive, and how society plays a role (or doesn't play a role) in reinforcing those convictions. Moreover, does today's culture bolster those beliefs about the importance of beauty?

Content Warning

This book contains explicit depictions of racism and sexual/domestic violence.

Summary

Pecola Breedlove lives in a world where her black skin is considered ugly, and white skin is perceived to be beautiful. She is constantly reminded of her blackness, as others continuously tease and ridicule her for it. The Bluest Eye follows the story of Pecola and those around her as she navigates through a prejudiced 1940s world. She lives with beaten-down, psychologically unstable parents, and she does not have many others to look up to. Pecola is used, raped, and, at times, disregarded as a human being. Yet, through her story, she shows us the harsh realities of a racist world and the need to be freed from that world in any way possible.

Objectives for Teaching The Bluest Eye

  • Infer information about characters and plot points, even when they are not explicitly stated.
  • Follow the story accurately through the multiple perspectives offered in the text.
  • Identify advantages and disadvantages of multiple narration styles.
  • Recognize and discuss the importance of familial love to help minority children overcome social forces that promote racial self-loathing.
  • Identify key themes and literary techniques used in the text.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Allusion
  • Characterization
  • Flashback
  • Folklore
  • Historical Setting/Context
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Parallelism
  • Symbolism
  • Various Narration Styles

Themes and Motifs

  • Racial Identity — Pecola battles with her own racial identity as she dreams of being the white standard of "beauty": blonde hair and blue eyes. There is a constant struggle in the text over the relationship between race and beauty standards, even though these concepts should be unrelated.
  • The Power of Stories — Multiple narratives tell strong, weak, contrasting, and parallel stories through the eyes of many different tellers. Throughout the novel, stories have the ability to hurt those who tell them and those who hear them.
  • Repercussions of Abuse —  Pecola endures both physical and sexual abuse in the text, and many of these scenes are simply hurtful and humiliating. The novel demonstrates that abuse can have long-term, negative effects on a person's psyche and can lead to a great deal of self-hatred.

Related Works

Theme of Racial Identity

 

Theme of The Power of Stories

 

Theme of Repercussions of Abuse

Key Facts

  • Length: 224 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 920
  • Publication Date: 1970
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11 – 12

Awards

  • Nobel Prize in Literature (1993)

Your students will love:

  • Multiple narrative styles
  • Descriptive characterization

Students may have problems with:

  • Instances of sexual and physical abuse and racism
  • Understanding the prologue, which features an old grammar reader
  • The shifts in point of view

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