The Bluest Eye

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Blue Eyes Symbol Analysis

Blue Eyes Symbol Icon
To the characters of The Bluest Eye, Blue eyes stand as the definitive symbol of whiteness and beauty. Characters who possess whiteness and beauty are privileged, empowered, and secure. This fact leads to Pecola's desires for blue eyes, as she believes blue eyes would change the way others see her, allowing her to transcend her horrible situation at home and in the community. Likewise, she thinks that blue eyes would give her the ability to perceive what she sees in a different way. Through the course of the novel, however, the symbolic nature of blue eyes changes. Pecola's attainment of blue eyes comes at the expense of her sanity, and only causes the community to "see" her in a more damaging way. In this sense, the "bluest" eye could also take on the association of blue with sadness and symbolize Pecola's sadness, defining her as the saddest character in the novel, or in a larger sense, the sad realities of racial self-hatred stemming from obsession with white beauty.

Blue Eyes Quotes in The Bluest Eye

The The Bluest Eye quotes below all refer to the symbol of Blue Eyes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Bluest Eye published in 2007.
Chapter 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Pecola Breedlove
Related Symbols: Blue Eyes
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

With her parents fighting, Pecola has wished for God to make her disappear, and she imagines her body evaporating limb by limb; however, she is not able to make her eyes disappear, even in her head. The narrator then describes Pecola's wish for "different... beautiful" eyes. In the racist society in which she lives, this means blue eyes—the ultimate signifier of whiteness. Here Morrison contrasts Pecola's innocent childish daydream about having blue eyes with the dark reality of Pecola's life. At only eleven, Pecola has to deal with poverty, a violent home life, and a highly racist culture that deems her ugly for being a poor, dark-skinned black girl. She is thus robbed of any sense of a carefree, playful childhood, and internalizes the conflict around her into a deep sense of self-hatred. 

Note the fact that Pecola wishes for white-looking eyes, as opposed to other white features such as straight hair or pale skin. This choice is significant, as it reflects the idea that surface-level beauty has a meaningful impact not only on how we are perceived by others but on how we experience life ourselves. Pecola believes that "if those eyes of hers were different... she herself would be different." The novel reinforces this point by showing that white people––as well as black people who successfully associate themselves with whiteness––are not only considered more beautiful but lead more fortunate, privileged lives. Thus although Pecola's wish is distinctly childlike, we cannot dismiss it as naïve or mistaken.

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He does not see her, because there is nothing to see. How can a fifty-two-year-old white immigrant storekeeper with the taste of potatoes and beer in his mouth, his mind honed on the Virgin Mary, his sensibilities blunted by a permanent awareness of loss, see a little black girl?

Related Characters: Pecola Breedlove
Related Symbols: Blue Eyes
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

Pecola has gone to the store owned by Mr. Yacabowski to buy candy, but when she presents her three pennies Mr. Yacabowski appears to look straight through her. The narrator describes the barriers of gender, age, and especially race that prevent Mr. Yacabowski seeing Pecola––barriers that make her invisible to him in the same way that her family occupies an invisible, ghost-like position within the neighborhood. Again, this passage highlights the importance of eyes, and maintains the close association between the themes of vision and visibility and race. Morrison shows that there is no such thing as objective vision, but rather that the biases produced by racism can make a young black girl like Pecola invisible, turning her into "nothing." 

To eat the candy is somehow to eat the eyes, eat Mary Jane. Love Mary Jane. Be Mary Jane.

Related Characters: Pecola Breedlove
Related Symbols: Blue Eyes
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Having bought the Mary Janes (a kind of candy) at the candy store, Pecola looks at the wrappers, which feature a smiling white girl with blond hair and blue eyes. As she eats the candy, Pecola associates this consumption with her desire to "be Mary Jane"––to have the white features that are associated with beauty. This passage shows that the link between whiteness and beauty in American culture is so pervasive that it even extends to food. Pecola cannot eat candy without being reminded that she is not white and that she is therefore not considered beautiful in the society in which she lives. 

The trance-like repetition in the phrases: "Eat Mary Jane. Love Mary Jane. Be Mary Jane" conveys a sense of indoctrination. Pecola is constantly bombarded with the demand to aspire to white girlhood, a message that is transmitted through advertising, popular culture, and social interactions. Her own repetition of these commands gives the impression of mental instability, foreshadowing the fact that her desire for blue eyes (like those Mary Jane has) will eventually drive her insane. 

Chapter 10 Quotes

I thought of the baby that everybody wanted dead, and saw it very clearly. It was in a dark, wet place, its head covered with great O's of wool, the black face holding, like nickels, two clean black eyes…no synthetic yellow bangs suspended over marble-blue eyes, no pinched nose and bowline mouth. More strongly than my fondness for Pecola, I felt a need for someone to want the black baby to live—just to counteract the universal love of baby dolls, Shirley Temples, and Maureen Peals.

Related Characters: Claudia MacTeer (speaker), Pecola Breedlove, Maureen Peal
Related Symbols: Blue Eyes
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

Claudia and Frieda have heard rumors that Pecola is pregnant with her father's baby, and they are the only ones in the neighborhood who sympathize with Pecola. In contrast to the rest of the community, Claudia hopes the baby lives, and muses that if the baby was wanted, this would be a counteracting force to the glorification of whiteness that pervades American society. She imagines a vision of the baby, using positive terms to describe its blackness ("clean black eyes"), and framing white features as ugly ("synthetic yellow bangs... pinched nose"). This echoes Claudia's earlier feelings of resentment toward the white baby dolls, suggesting that this resentment is born out of a noble and necessary desire to reverse the automatic association of whiteness and beauty.

The fact that Claudia and Frieda are alone in wanting the baby to live, however, does not bode well; this suggests that the adults in their community have accepted blackness as ugly, an acceptance that makes them unable to sympathize with Pecola (despite the fact that she is clearly a victim who has done nothing wrong). In this sense, the novel is not very optimistic––after all, Pecola's baby does not survive, Pecola goes insane, and there seems to be a sense of inevitability to Claudia and Freida losing their innocence and self-love. 

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Blue Eyes Symbol Timeline in The Bluest Eye

The timeline below shows where the symbol Blue Eyes appears in The Bluest Eye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
...face disappear, but her tightly closed eyes remain. The narrator explains that Pecola believes possessing blue eyes would make her beautiful, and things would change at home and school. She has prayed... (full context)
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
...because it has a reality and a presence. But when she thinks about Mr. Yacobowski's blue eyes again, the shame returns and stays until she remembers the Mary Janes. Each piece of... (full context)
Chapter 9
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
...asks Pecola what he can do for her, she asks if he can give her blue eyes . He tells Pecola that she must make an offering to nature. He goes into... (full context)
Chapter 11
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...imaginary friend berates Pecola for compulsively looking into the mirror. Pecola believes she has received blue eyes , and cannot keep herself from looking at them. Pecola accuses her imaginary friend and... (full context)
Beauty vs. Ugliness Theme Icon
Women and Femininity Theme Icon
Race and Racism Theme Icon
Home and Family Theme Icon
Sex and Sexuality Theme Icon
...to pry about the rape, but Pecola changes the subject, focusing once again on her blue eyes . She reveals that she is still insecure about her eyes, that maybe they aren't... (full context)