The first novel published by Toni Morrison, this tale of children dealing with racism, incest and violence is one that has become noted as one of the top 10 most frequently challenged books.
The Bluest Eye focused on three little girls – sisters Claudia and Frieda MacTeer, and Pecola Breedlove, a foster child who comes to live with them in 1941 small town Ohio.
Pecola’s father Cholly is a violent man, who burned down their home which caused Pecola to be moved into foster care. Perola is a quiet girl who wishes she was a white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes.
Through a series of flashbacks, the story reveals the lives of the girls parents, dealing with pre and post WWII racism and the difficulty of being a small group of African-Americans in a conservative White environment of small town Ohio.
Pecola believes she is ugly because she is not like the majority and keeps herself hidden, except from Claudia and Frieda. The story shifts to the girls as young adults, with Pecola’s mother now working as a servant, and the two are trying to survive, but both become victims of Cholly’s violence, with Pecola raped by her father and becoming pregnant.
Published in 1970 by Holt Rinehart Winston, the book was Morrison’s response to seeing so many Black male authors write books about revolutionary and powerful themes, and wanting to remember the reality of racism, when so many thought being dark skin and dark eyes meant you weren’t beautiful.
Morrison’s focus on the beauty myth is what should be considered controversial, that skin colour still does govern many stereotypes, especially within the Black community.
With the harsh themes of racism, rape, incest, sexual violence and hatred in the book, Morrison’s novel has been routinely challenged by school boards and organizations for whether it should be banned since publication.
In 2014, the book is still in the top 10 frequently challenged book of the 21st century, as determined by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.