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Numer: 26489
Dział: Języki obce

Search for identity in Toni Morrison's novels: The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon

Search for identity is one of the most important pursuits in human life: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon.

Toni Morrison’s novels treat of black protagonists trying to find their place in the society and to accept social roles. However, before this happens a person

has to come to terms with his/her own identity which is done in a number of ways and is frequently accompanied by a lot of hardships he/she has to come through.
Pecola Breedlove, the main protagonist of The Bluest Eye does not perceive herself as a unique human who deserves a respect and belongs to black community. A standard

of beauty for her is a white blue-eyed child actress – Shirley Temple whom Pecola treats as an ideal and strongly believes that all her misfortunes derive from the

fact that she does not look like her idol:

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.

Throughout the novel all positive traits and values are attributed to whiteness whilst blackness is identified as inferior and devoid of any worth. Therefore

primarily this minority complex produces hatred towards white community. But as such strong feelings cannot find outlet and people feel that they cannot compete with

the whites, this hatred transforms into love and reverence. Pecola and her mother Pauline Breedlove are the best examples of such an attitude. They both perceive

themselves as ugly because they are not white. Daughter and her mother treat white community as the ideal and their own appearance and household as minor ones. Pecola

claims people ignore her and her father abuses her because she is ugly. Mrs Breeedlove does not take proper care of her children and house as they are not worth of it.

On the other hand she is obsessed with cleaning white employer’s house while her own dwelling is in a shambles. Blue eyes for Pecola and cleanliness for her mother are

symbolic in the novel. The first could not have blue eyes so was perceived as ugly, the later could not have perfect and clean house, which in both cases results in

suffering. The torment gives meaning to their life, this way they can create their own identities – even though they are destructive.

Pecola’s self formation is a complex process in which she has to struggle with the obstacles unassisted by her family or even being a victim of ill family

relationships. The Breedloves are contrasted with Mac Teers as far as parental roles are employed in both families. Pecola’s parents are aggressive both towards

themselves and towards their children. This abuse has its origin in their past. Mrs Breedlove always longed for a romantic relationship and Mr Breedlove was himself

sexually abused in his youth and now takes revenge on his wife and children, particularly on Pecola. The Breedloves’ marital relationships are based on constant

fighting by means of which Mrs Breedlove supports her identity of a martyr and Mr Breedlove is able to give vent to his sexual aggression and frustration. Pecola is

not only the eye-witness of domestic tragedy but also a victim of it. She becomes pregnant consequent on sexual harassment she experienced from her father. Not only

Pecola’s parents avoid protecting her from vicious world but they also become oppressors themselves. On the contrary, Mac Teers, though harsh, love and protect their

daughters. Like the Breedloves they also live in reduced circumstances but are able to support one another and to form a unity. Frieda Mac Teers is also sexually

abused but her parents unlike the Breedloves try to protect her. The contrast between the two families lies in the fact that Mac Teers are not passive recipients of

what their fate brings them whilst the Breedloves are victims of social circumstances. Pecola perceives her ugliness as something inherent in her person, in being

black. Claudia also suffers from racism but tries to fight with social rules and conventions and even destroys a blue-eyed doll that she receives, therefore acting as

Pecola’s foil. Even the surname Breedlove is symbolic and ominous. ‘Love’ is what the family lacks and is unable to produce as ‘breed’ implies. Ironically ‘breed’ may

foreshadow the rape – the act of ultimate aggression of a father towards his daughter.

Pecola is treated inhumanly by her family, the result of which being her mad personality manifesting itself in inferiority complex and obsessions. She

exemplifies black community’s minority and therefore becomes a scapegoat of community’s self-hatred. Her ugliness and suffering makes them feel beautiful and lucky in

comparison to her. Mistreated and abused both by other children and adults she develops a schizophrenic personality. Eventually wandering the streets in madness she

becomes a remainder of their cruelty as well as of their own fates.

Milkman or Macon Dead III – the main protagonist of Song of Solomon also feels alienated from his community but this is not because he is estranged from it and

put to the edge of social issues like Pecola is. Quite the opposite, he lives a comparatively sheltered life both in material and psychological aspect. He alienates

himself from his society and becomes an egotistical person, devoid of any sympathy or compassion towards the others. Everything revolves around him as his mother –

Ruth, his cousin – Hagar and his aunt – Pilate all bestow their love on him which he does not reciprocate.

However, it has to be pointed out that Milkman’s ill relationships with other people originated from the generations of slavery which deprived him of his

identity as an African American. Milkman has to travel back into the past, to the places where the story of his family began in order to recover his lost identity.

Throughout the novel various characters search for their own ways of asserting individual independence. Characters feel alienated from other African American and are

ashamed of their past and culture which causes a desire to be someone else, to hide one’s feelings and emotions. The novel opens with Robert Smith jumping of the roof

of a hospital with an attempt to fly and thus flight is treated by the characters as a means of escape in search of the lost past and identity:

The fathers may soar
And the children may know their names.

Milkman learns at a very early age that humans cannot fly which makes him lose all interest in himself and the other people around him. He grows a selfish

young man due to the fact that he does not know his past and therefore he does not know who he really is. Both Milkman and his father Macon Jr treat other African

Americans of lower class as niggers. Milkman decides to travel to Shalimar, his ancestral home in Virginia to find out more about his family. Shalimar is the site of

Solomon’s, Milkman’s great-grandfather, flight to Africa. This journey heals Milkman’s wounds and helps him recover his true identity. He is like Odysseus looking for

the way home. However, this self- understanding is a gradual process as well as the real destination of his journey emerges gradually. First, he wants to quit, to fly

away from his parents’ protection. He sets out to find Pilate’s hidden treasure which would enable him to free himself from his father – Macon Jr and his money. At

this point his spiritual awakening begins. It starts with the feeling of guilt and shame after robbing Pilate which haunt him continually. When arrested by the police

he experiences something new for him – he is no longer a privileged but a normal poor member of African American community from which he has always been alienated.

When Circe tells Milkman his grandparents’ original names he finally recovers his lost identity. It is accompanied with a very symbolic event when his alleged friend

attacks him with a knife. This is like dying and resurrection and marks the advent of new person. From this time on he expresses true compassion towards other people,

the very feeling he was unable to exhibit even to those who truly loved him.

Milkman grows up amongst people who themselves struggle with forces of their inner self and therefore are full of conflicts. There is only one character in the

novel that is fully reconciled with her fate – Pilate. Throughout the narrative she plays the role of a moral guide, hence her name which bears strong resemblance to

pilot. Though poor she is liberated without leaving the ground and accepts her life, probably because she remembers the past. Unlike her name may suggest she is a

person totally devoted to others and has nothing in common with NT Pilate. She is alienated from her community but nevertheless does not stop loving everyone around

her and cherish the memory of the past and tradition.

Pilate’s sister-in-law and Milkman’s mother, Ruth Foster Dead is a classical example of a woman being a victim of sexist society. A subdued person, she tries

to assert her subtle independence when refuses to abort her child – Milkman. Outsider both in white and black community, she alienates herself from African Americans

as she aspires to white community from which she is rejected. There is a similarity between Ruth in Song of Solomon and Pauline and Geraldine in The Bluest Eye. All

of them do not pay respect to the traditions and culture of black community and treat it as minor in relation to white culture.
Pecola’s alienation and quest for identity is inspired by her false belief that if she had blue eyes she would be a different person and everyone would be kind towards

her. However, she, her mother, Geraldine and Ruth fail in their pursuits of finding the place and purpose in life. From this perspective Milkman’s story can be treated

as a great achievement, as a complete transformation of the self and therefore is an example of Bildungsroman- initiation into one’s selfhood and self-understanding.

While Pecola develops a schizophrenic personality and wanders the outskirts of the town aimlessly, Milkman finds his real name which enables him to be proud of his

ancestry and cultural heredity.

Works Cited
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Vintage, 1999.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Plume, 1987.
Furman, Jan, ed. Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Grewal, Gurleen Circles of Sorrow, Lines of Struggle: The Novels of Toni Morrison. Louisiana State U. Press, 1998.
Kuenz, Jane. “The Bluest Eye: Notes on History, Community, and Black Female Subjectivity.” African American Review. Vol. 27, issue: 3, 1993.

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