Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

KEITH E. BYERMAN


Intense Behaviors: The Use of the Grotesque in
The Bluest Eye and Eva's Man

At the end of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, the little black girl Pecola, a victim of incest, is pictured talking to herself in a mirror about her imaginary blue eyes. At the end of Eva's Man, by Gayl Jones, Eva is describing, in increasingly incomprehensible terms, her poisoning and castrating of the man with whom she lived. Both of these female characters are the central figures of the novels under discussion, and each is, in literary terms, a grotesque. But such figures are not being used by Morrison and Jones just to shock or entertain; rather, they use these bizarre characterizations to examine the even greater grotesqueries of American society. Pecola epitomizes the American obsession with whiteness, while Eva, in a slightly different way, exemplifies the society's fixation on sexual dominance. The novels develop, then, a grotesque within a grotesque and serve to show the particular appropriateness of the grotesque in black literature that is also social criticism.

The grotesque as a literary convention has two aspects that can be found in the fiction under discussion. Flannery O'Connor has described one of these by saying of grotesque characters: "They seem to carry an invisible burden; their fanaticism is a reproach, not merely an eccentricity." Frederick J. Hoffman, in discussing the Gothic and grotesque in Southern writing, comments that "one thing is expectedly true: in a society where intensities of behavior are frequent, the 'gothic' is a kind of norm....

____________________
From CLA Journal 24, no. 4 ( June 1982). © 1982 College Language Association. Reprinted by permission of the College Language Association.

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