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Pecola Breedlove In The Bluest Eye English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1983 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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What could he do for her ─ever. What give her. What say to her. What could a burned-out black man say to the hunched back of his eleven-year-old daughter. If he looked into her face, he would see those haunted loving eyes. …How dare she love him? Hadn't she any sense at all? What was he supposed to do about that? Return it? How? What could his calloused hands produce to make her smile? (Morrison 127)

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In the above excerpt it seems nothing unusual that a father is musing on how best he could make his daughter feel loved, but what is most unusual is the outcome it yielded. In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye it is this point in the novel that the protagonist Pecola Breedlove is raped by her father Cholly, a most unexpected thing to do and the events in her life take the worst turn. Considering this to be an incident where there is a reversal of action, this paper would focus on Pecola and the discovery or recognition that comes post the reversal as in Aristotle's Poetics. According to Aristotle's definition of tragedy and the tragic elements, the devices required to make an effective (complex) plot structure are 'peripeteia' and 'anagnorisis', translated as "reversal and recognition". F. L. Lucas paraphrases Aristotle's illustration in the like manner: "A peripeteia occurs when a course of action intended to produce result x, produces the reverse of x. Thus the messenger from Corinth tries to cheer Oedipus and dispel his fear of marrying his mother; but by revealing who Oedipus really is, he produces exactly the opposite result." (111)

The 'peripeteia' that Aristotle talks of brings about the 'anagnorisis', "the realization of the truth, the opening of the eyes, the sudden lightning-flash in the darkness…the flash may come after the catastrophe, serving only to reveal it and complete it, as when Oedipus discovers his guilt." (Lucas 114) Another translation of Aristotle's work reads it as: "a change from ignorance [agnoia] to knowledge [gnosin]." (Aristotle 54) Electra's recognition of Orestes or Oedipus' recognition that he himself is his father's murderer is suggestive of the fact that this recognition revolves round the politics of identity which would include the struggle for recognition. In lieu of this, the paper takes into consideration Pecola's predicament as an eleven year old black girl whose sole wish is to have blue eyes and thereby her negotiation with the identification process.

Pecola prayed "each night, without fail" (Morrison 35) for blue eyes. Morrison has stated that the reason for Pecola's desire for getting blue eyes must be at least partially traced to the failures of Pecola's own community: "she wanted to have blue eyes and she wanted to be Shirley Temple … because of the society in which she lived and, very importantly, because of the black people who helped her want to be that...."(Morrison 32) Pecola symbolically occupies the 'interstitial space' that in other words:

has no specified place, and she floats on the peripheries of the community she longs to enter like a wraith looking for its missing body. She is constantly outdoors, never able to integrate herself into the community, always left on the peripheries, literally moving from house to house searching for a fixed place of comfort and security. Pecola has become homeless because her drunken father has destroyed their home, ―...and everybody, as a result, was outdoors. (Morrison 12)

Morrison in the Foreword writes that she is specifically interested in "the far more tragic and disabling consequences of accepting rejection as legitimate, as self-evident" (Morrison І)

It is necessary to point out here that in Aristotle's illustrations of 'anagnorisis' as in Electra's recognition of Orestes, it is by means of footprints and a lock of hair which suggest that external features are necessary for identification, so are her eyes necessary for Pecola. But for Pecola blue eyes is something she does not possess, the symbol of the culmination of beauty as per the hegemonic culture and thus feels deprived and her existence splintered. The eyes symbolize her wholeness which is an impossibility just as the eyes themselves are and her inability to locate or position herself vis-à-vis the normative discourse. Hence her mark of identification is not with a feature that is present but with the absent blue eyes. Barbara Christian points out that: "The beauty searched for in the book is not just the possession of blue eyes, but the harmony that they symbolize." (24) But this harmony is what eludes her.

Pecola's obsession with her eyes necessitates the presence of the leit motif of the mirror: "Long hours she sat looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of her ugliness." (Morrison 34) The mirror and her quest for her identity lead us inevitably to Lacanian analysis. In the mirror stage, which is a forbidden realm for real image, we come into an "image", which that world gives us, not a complete one, but fragmented, distorted image, which leads us to "misrecognition"(Bertons 161). Lacan believes "identity which we acquire from the other is a form of fantasy and misrecognition." (Bertons 162) So, we become ourselves by way of other's perspectives and other's view of who we are. Kim describes it this way: "Morrison explores the interplay of eyes as windows for gazes from the outside and for one's perception of the outside world" (113-14). Lacan believes that the crucial point at which the child gives up the mother as love object and attaches to the father marks his exit from what he terms 'the imaginary' and entrance into 'the symbolic order'. In Pecola's case, Cholly Breedlove, her father, is unsuccessful in taking up the symbolic function, because he is deprived of phallic power by white culture, the ruling other in youth, and psychologically castrated, and his absence as the father figure ensures that Pecola continues her maintenance in pre-Oedipal moment, which results in lack of voice and hence the silence. Since Cholly couldn't take up the symbolic function in Pecola's post-mirror subjectivity, as a psychic subject, Pecola ultimately remains in the imaginary. Her failed attempt at gaining a unity or identifying with her father, after he rapes and abandons her, creates a void in her life. Indeed, the void in Pecola's psychic life can never be fulfilled in the domain of the symbolic. So, what Pecola does is to take the imaginary for the real. She keeps looking at her "blue" eyes in the mirror, and worries that her eyes are not "the bluest". Pecola, as Claudia describes, looks like "a winged but grounded bird, intent on the blue void it could not reach" (Morrison 162). The moment of Cholly's raping and abandoning her is crucial as Morrison writes of it in the Afterword: "the silence at its center: the void that is Pecola's 'unbeing'." (Morrison 171) F. L. Lucas opines that: "the deepest tragedy" occurs "when their [the protagonist, here Pecola] destruction is the work of those that wish them well, or of their own unwitting hands." (112) Pecola's quest to establish the legitimacy of her identity is hindered by her father, resulting in her fragmentation, the metaphorical "splintered mirror", a term which Morrison herself uses.

Tragic recognition scenes are often moments of catastrophic loss as in Oedipus or that of Pecola. Contemporary theories and practices of recognition are grounded in more fundamental, "ontological" misrecognitions-that is, misrecognitions of the identity as well as of certain fundamental features of the social and political world and our place in it, says Stephen White.(10) Tragic 'anagnorisis' would then involve not only in getting one's identity right, in a change from ignorance to knowledge, but also involves acknowledging often under the weight of failure, the limits to the possibility of doing so. An "ontological" discovery that is made by Pecola is that the one and only identity that she could have was by regressing into her childhood fantasy. In this she also acknowledges her powerlessness to contest or rather wrench her identity from the stifling, strangulating grip of the hegemonic culture codes. Morrison in the Afterword writes: "She is not seen by herself until she hallucinates a self." (171)

A critic writes that: "Cholly's deranged act of love" was that "terrifying, brutal blow" which finally compelled her "into madness." (Cormier 120) It is only the imaginary self, to whom Pecola converses, who actually 'recognizes' her pair of blue eyes that the other's envy. Shoshana Felman suggests as she writes that: "Mental illness" is a "manifestation both of cultural impotence and political castration." This behaviour is itself "part of female conditioning, ideologically inherent in the behavioural pattern and in the dependent and helpless role assigned to the woman as such." (119) Pecola's ontologically threatening encounter excluded her from the community in beauty and harmony and condemned her to psychic disintegration.

Morrison tells the reader that "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" hence her fervent desire for those blue eyes. (46) But Pecola by her subversive desire was "both under and over (but really simply outside of) the sphere of culture's hegemony" as Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar would say (27) and it is the "sacrilegious fiendishness of what William Blake called the 'Female Will'" (28) that ushers in her un-being. The manner in which Oedipus determinedly searched for the murderer of the King that led to his un-being, Pecola too struggles to pursue her identity. But insanity is what awaits her as it does to all those "mysterious power[s]…who refuse to stay in her[their] textually ordained 'place'" (Gilbert 32)

For a postmodern self as Pecola the possibility of and the desire for a unitary self is absurd. The inconsistent, heterogeneous being that constitutes a subject Pecola is revealed in the end when she converses with her other:

Why didn't I know you before?

You didn't need me before.

Didn't need you?...

Just because I got blue eyes, bluer than theirs, they're prejudiced.

That's right.

They are bluer, aren't they?

Oh, yes. Much bluer…

What? What will we talk about?

Why, your eyes.

Oh, yes. My eyes. My blue eyes. Let me look again.

See how pretty they are.

Yes. They get prettier each time I look at them.

They are the prettiest I've ever seen. (154-59)

Cormier-Hamilton states, "For Pecola, beauty equals happiness, and it is difficult to fault a young girl for the misperception; certainly both white and black communities in her world seem to support the idea" (115). It is this 'misperception' that paradoxically leads her to her 'misrecognition'. The void that her father created in her could not have been fulfilled but by her un-being, hence this is an anagnorisis as anagnorisis undone or to use Darko Suvin's phrase 'cognitive estrangement'.(22)

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Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar write: "Either way, the images on the surface of the looking glass, into which the female artist peers in search of her self, warn her that she is or must be a 'Cypher', framed and framed up, indited and indicted." (36) It is this apparently calm surface of the normative that Pecola challenges and threatens from the margins to which she is relegated. Her discovery or recognition, 'anagnorisis' in Aristotelian terms is that her "psychological wholeness" (Cormier 111) is in her slivered state, hence a peculiar case of 'anagnorisis' undone.

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