The Blues Aesthetic in Toni Morrison's the Bluest Eye

By Moses, Cat | African American Review, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

The Blues Aesthetic in Toni Morrison's the Bluest Eye


Moses, Cat, African American Review


The blues aesthetic is an ethos of blues people that manifests itself in everything done, not just in the music. (ya Salaam 2)

Readers of Toni Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, are often so overwhelmed by the narrative's emotional content--the child Pecola's incestuous rape, ensuing pregnancy, and subsequent abandonment by her community and descent into madness--that they miss the music in this lyrically "songified" narrative. [1] Morrison has stated that her narrative "effort is to be like something that has probably only been fully expressed perhaps in music... " ("Interview" 408). The Bluest Eye is the genesis of her effort "to do what the music did for blacks, what we used to be able to do with each other in private and in that civilization that existed underneath the white civilization" (Morrison, "Language" 371). The catharsis and the transmission of cultural knowledge and values that have always been central to the blues form the thematic and rhetorical underpinnings of The Bluest Eye. The narrative's structure follows a pattern common to traditional blues lyrics: a movement from an initial emphasis on loss to a conclud ing suggestion of resolution of grief through motion. In between its initial statement of loss and its final emphasis on movin' on, The Bluest Eye contains an abundance of cultural wisdom. The blues lyrics that punctuate the narrative at critical points suggest a system of folk knowledge and values that is crucial to a young black woman's survival in the 1930s and '40s and which supports Claudia's cathartic role as storyteller. The lyrics also illustrate the folk knowledge and values that are not transmitted to Pecola--information without which she cannot survive as a whole and healthy human being.

In traditional blues songs, the singer is the subject, the I who tells her (or his) own story. In The Bluest Eye, however, Claudia tells Pecola's story. Except for a few fragmented lines of dialogue, Pecola remains silent within Claudia's narrative. Much of the critical discourse on the novel has focused on the relationship between voice and empowerment, and on the problematics of a narrative that silences its dispossessed protagonist while seeking to empower the dispossessed and to critique power relations. This essay addresses the apparent contradiction between The Bluest Eye's silenced protagonist and its traditionally African American equation of voice with empowerment by situating Claudia's narrative voice within African American oral traditions and a blues aesthetic. I posit Claudia as the narrative's blues subject, its bluest "I" and representative blues figure, and Pecola as the abject tabula rasa on which the community's blues are inscribed. I assert that, rather than singing Pecola's blues, Claudia "sings" the community's blues. Claudia bears witness, through the oral tradition of testifying, to the community's lack of self-love and its transference of this lack onto the abject body of Pecola.

In the first section below, I address the initial reference to a specific blues song in the novel by discussing the lyrics and structure of "The St. Louis Blues" as representative of traditional blues. I then lay the foundation for a discussion of The Bluest Eye as a blues narrative. In the ensuing section, I build upon this foundation to discern a female blues subjectivity in The Bluest Eye, a subjectivity constructed through African American oral traditions and embodied in the three whores' speech, song, and laughter, and in Claudia's narrative voice. Finally, I position Claudia's subjectivity within a blues aesthetic and her voice within the oral tradition of testifying.

The earliest reference to a specific blues in The Bluest Eye follows the scene in which Mrs. MacTeer harangues the girls after Pecola consumes what Mrs. MacTeer deems more than her share of the milk in the refrigerator, and it precedes the narrative of Pecola's first menstruation. This reference to the blues, then, forms a bridge between childhood (the milk consumption represents Pecola's effort to consume--and become--Shirley Temple) and womanhood. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Blues Aesthetic in Toni Morrison's the Bluest Eye
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.