Comparative Racism Between the Bluest Eye and the Native Son

Introduction:

 Definition of Racism:

 Racism involves the belief in racial differences, which acts as a justification for non-equal treatment of members of that race. The term is commonly used negatively and is usually associated with race-based prejudice. Violence, dislike, discrimination, or oppression; the term can also have varying and contested definitions. Racialism is a related term, sometimes intended to avoid these negative meanings. As a word, racism is an “-ism”, a belief that can be described by a word ending in the suffix -ism, pertaining to race.

Racism is usually defined as views, practices and actions reflecting the belief that humanity is divided into distinct biological groups called races and that members of a certain race share certain attributes which make that group as a whole less desirable, more desirable, inferior or superior.

The exact definition of racism is controversial both because there is little scholarly agreement about the meaning of the concept “race”, and because there is also little agreement about what does and doesn’t constitute discrimination. Critics argue that the term is applied differentially, with a focus on such prejudices by whites and defining mere observations of racial differences as racism.

Racism and racial discrimination are often used to describe discrimination on an ethnic or cultural basis, independent of whether these differences are described as racial. According to the United Nations convention, there is no distinction between the terms racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination, and superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous, and that there is no justification for racial discrimination, in theory or in practice, anywhere.

  About the novel of The Bluest Eye 

                Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, examines the tragic effects of imposing white, middle-class American ideals of beauty on the developing female identity of a young African American girl during the early 1940s. Inspired by a conversation Morrison once had with an elementary school classmate who wished for blue eyes, the novel poignantly shows the psychological devastation of a young black girl, Pecola Breedlove, who searches for love and acceptance in a world that denies and devalues people of her own race. As her mental state slowly unravels, Pecola hopelessly longs to possess the conventional American standards of feminine beauty—namely, white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes—as presented to her by the popular icons and traditions of white culture. Written as a fragmented narrative from multiple perspectives and with significant typographical deviations, The Bluest Eye juxtaposes passages from the Dick-and-Jane grammar school primer with memories and stories of Pecola’s life alternately told in retrospect by one of Pecola’s now-grown childhood friends and by an omniscient narrator. Published in the midst of the Black Arts movement that flourished during the late 1960s and early 1970s, The Bluest Eye has attracted considerable attention from literary critics—though not to the same degree as Morrison’s later works. With its sensitive portrait of African American female identity and its astute critique of the internalized racism bred by American cultural definitions of beauty, The Bluest Eye has been widely seen as a literary watershed, inspiring a proliferation of literature written by African American women about their identity and experience as women of color.

  About the novel of Native Son

           Native Son (1940) is a novel by American author Richard Wright. The novel tells the story of 20-year-old Bigger Thomas, an African American living in utter poverty. Bigger lived in Chicago’s South Side ghetto in the 1930s. Bigger was always getting into trouble as a youth, but upon receiving a job at the home of the Daltons, a rich, white family, he experienced a realization of his identity. He thinks he accidentally killed a white woman, runs from the police, rapes and kills his girlfriend and is then caught and tried. “I didn’t want to kill,” Bigger shouts. “But what I killed for, I am! It must’ve been pretty deep in me to make me kill.”(Native son, p.112)

          Wright gets inside the head of “brute Negro” Bigger, revealing his feelings, thoughts and point of view as he commits crimes and is confronted with racism, violence and debasement. The novel’s treatment of Bigger and his motivations conforms to the conventions of literary naturalism.

         While not apologizing for Bigger’s crimes, Wright is sympathetic to the systemic inevitability behind them. The novel is a powerful statement about racial inequality and social injustices so deep that it becomes nearly impossible to determine where societal expectations/conditioning end and free will begins. As Bigger’s lawyer points out, there is no escape from this destiny for his client or any other black American, since they are the necessary product of the society that formed them and told them since birth who exactly they were supposed to be. “No American Negro exists,” James Baldwin once wrote, “who does not have his private Bigger Thomas living in his skull.”(Native son, p.150) Frantz Fanon discusses this feeling in his 1952 essay L’Experience Vecue du Noir, or “The Fact of Blackness”. “In the end,” writes Fanon, “Bigger Thomas acts. To put an end to his tension, he acts, he responds to the world’s anticipation.”(Native son, p.215)

Racism in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye      

Toni Morrison’s novel about an African American family in Ohio during the 1930s and 1940s, The Bluest Eye and Louise Erdrich;s novel about the Anishinabe tribe in the 1920s in North Dakota, Tracks are, in part, about seeing.  Novels examine the effects of a kind of seeing that is refracted through the lens of racism by subjects of racism themselves. Morrison’s Pecola Breedlove is crazy from their dealings with racism and they suffer from an internalized racism that is upheld and maintained by social and cultural structures within which they live. Pecola become the embodiment of world sickness, of social pathologies as they become increasingly alienated from their bodies.
Pecola, driven to want blue eyes by her observations that is those with blue who receive and thus “deserve” love, eventually loses her mind after she experiences repeated violence at home, at school, and on the street.  These violences are all rooted in racism.  Pecola begins to believe the lie of racism: that to be black is to be “ugly,” undeserving, and unloved.
Pecola experience a self-hatred that is the result of internalized racism.  For Pecola, it manifests itself as the loss of her mind.Through them, Morrison critiques the insidious and ultimately annihilating aspects of the North American worship of white skin and blue eyes that, of course has its basis in racism.
This character is not the last word in either novel, however.  Characters in the stories represent resistance to that same internalized racism.  For example, Claudia McTeer, when given white babydolls for Christmas, wants to dismember them.  In wanting to dismantle them rather than herself (as Pecola wished to do), Claudia becomes a figure of resistance within this novel.           It is important that we look not only for the effects of racism, but also on the ways that those effects are resisted as well.  Sometimes resistance is hard to see; other times it is obvious.  What is sure is that although the effects of racism are horrible and crippling, the power of survival in oppressed communities has maintained traditions and continuity throughout a history that has been committed to their erasure.

Racism in Richard Wright’s “Native Son”

In Native Son, Richard Wright uses a central character, Bigger, to express his opinions on racism in society. In order to truly portray the nature of black society through Bigger, Wright combines the personalities of several actual people that he has come in contact with. Each person possessed a different unique personality trait that Bigger would embody. Wright explains, in the section titled “How Bigger was Born,” which traits he included in Bigger’s complex personality. During the course of the novel, Bigger demonstrates each of the separate personality traits through an action or a thought. Although Bigger’s character exhibits varying personality traits, he displays a plausible quality in that his changes in feeling or situation can give rise to different emotions from bravery to brutality.
Wright establishes five influences that he combined to form Bigger. The first “Bigger” was a cruel boy who terrorized Wright as a child; he took toys from others and lived his life as a continuous challenge to all who opposed him. This Bigger is aptly portrayed in the scene in Doc’s poolroom when Bigger brutalizes Gus. Bigger, in fear of robbing Blum’s store, viciously bullies Gus and threatens him with a knife. “You want me to slice you?”(Native Son, p, 40) These two are prime examples of boys who feel a need to exercise authority in order to subdue their own fears of insignificance.
The second Bigger was oblivious to the rules that the white world had set down for him. He would not pay for the supplies he received on credit, yet he lived more luxuriously than the blacks in the slums. The boy’s reasoning is one of complaint: he claims that white folks had everything and that black folks had nothing. This corresponds to Bigger and his friends complaining about the privileges of which they were deprived, such as Bigger’s aspiration to fly that was immediately discarded due to the color of his skin. “They don’t let us do nothing…The white folks.” (Native Son, p,22)
The third and fourth Biggers were also oblivious to social rules that have been laid down. The third Bigger displays more ignorance and cruelty to authority: “You can’t make me do nothin’ but die!” (Native Son ,p, 312).

The Effect of Racism on the Oppressed

          Wright’s exploration of Bigger’s psychological corruption gives us a new perspective on the oppressive effect racism had on the black population in 1930s America. Bigger’s psychological damage results from the constant barrage of racist propaganda and racial oppression he faces while growing up. The movies he sees depict whites as wealthy sophisticates and blacks as jungle savages. He and his family live in cramped and squalid conditions, enduring socially enforced poverty and having little opportunity for education. Bigger’s resulting attitude toward whites is a volatile combination of powerful anger and powerful fear. He conceives of “whiteness” as an overpowering and hostile force that is set against him in life. Just as whites fail to conceive of Bigger as an individual, he does not really distinguish between individual whites—to him, they are all the same, frightening and untrustworthy. As a result of his hatred and fear, Bigger’s accidental killing of Mary Dalton does not fill him with guilt. Instead, he feels an odd jubilation because, for the first time, he has asserted his own individuality against the white forces that have conspired to destroy it.

 Throughout the novel, Wright illustrates the ways in which white racism forces blacks into a pressured—and therefore dangerous—state of mind. Blacks are beset with the hardship of economic oppression and forced to act subserviently before their oppressors, while the media consistently portrays them as animalistic brutes. Given such conditions, as Max argues, it becomes inevitable that blacks such as Bigger will react with violence and hatred. However, Wright emphasizes the vicious double-edged effect of racism: though Bigger’s violence stems from racial hatred, it only increases the racism in American society, as it confirms racist whites’ basic fears about blacks. In Wright’s portrayal, whites effectively transform blacks into their own negative stereotypes of “blackness.” Only when Bigger meets Max and begins to perceive whites as individuals does Wright offer any hope for a means of breaking this circle of racism. Only when sympathetic understanding exists between blacks and whites will they be able to perceive each other as individuals, not merely as stereotypes.

The Effect of Racism on the Oppressor

          The deleterious effect of racism extends to the white population, in that it prevents whites from realizing the true humanity inherent in groups that they oppress. Indeed, one of the great strengths of Native Son as a chronicle of the effects of oppression is Wright’s extraordinary ability to explore the psychology not only of the oppressed but of the oppressors as well. Wright illustrates that racism is destructive to both groups, though for very different reasons. Many whites in the novel, such as Britten and Peggy, fall victim to the obvious pitfall of racism among whites: the unthinking sense of superiority that deceives them into seeing blacks as less than human. Wright shows that this sense of superiority is a weakness, as Bigger is able to manipulate it in his cover-up of Mary’s murder. Bigger realizes that a man with Britten’s prejudices would never believe a black man could be capable of what Bigger has done. Indeed, for a time, Bigger manages to escape suspicion.

          Other white characters in the novel—particularly those with a self-consciously progressive attitude toward race relations—are affected by racism in subtler and more complex ways. Though the Daltons, for instance, have made a fortune out of exploiting blacks, they aggressively present themselves as philanthropists committed to the black American cause. We sense that they maintain this pretense in an effort to avoid confronting their guilt, and we realize that they may even be unaware of their own deep-seated racial prejudices. Mary and Jan represent an even subtler form of racism, as they consciously seek to befriend blacks and treat them as equals, but ultimately fail to understand them as individuals. This failure has disastrous results. Mary and Jan’s simple assumption that Bigger will welcome their friendship deludes them into overlooking the possibility that he will react with suspicion and fear—a natural reaction considering that Bigger has never experienced such friendly treatment from whites. In this regard, Mary and Jan are deceived by their failure to recognize Bigger’s individuality just as much as an overt racist such as Britten is deceived by a failure to recognize Bigger’s humanity. Ultimately, Wright portrays the vicious circle of racism from the white perspective as well as from the black one, emphasizing that even well-meaning whites exhibit prejudices that feed into the same black behavior that confirms the racist whites’ sense of superiority.

Toni Morison’s The Bluest Eye: Racism Within the Family

          “Quiet as it is kept,” the most painful kind of racism is within the family. When the family has rejected each other for what they are, although rare, is possible and painful especially for the rejected. When society is racist against a person, the victim can avoid those within society who have become particularly offensive. However, when those who are supposed to be held most dear, the family, have rejected themselves and their relationships, there is no escape from the pain. At this time, a person will become completely immersed in misery and go insane. This was the fate of Pecola Breedlove. For Pecola, constant abuse by society and her family had made her so utterly alone. Her brother had run away from home by encouragement from his mother, who had rejected the family and gone to work for a white family. By working for the white family, she got everything that she wanted and was needed. In doing so, she rejected the needs of her family entirely, not even her own daughter could call her “mother” instead she was forced to call her “Mrs. Breedlove”, a symbol of the unfamiliarity of the connection that should be filled with love, but was only filled with hatred and rejection. This increased when Pecola was raped by her father, followed by her mother beating her until the baby died. This final blow, the hopelessness of rejection caused by both the internal and external racism, was what drove Pecola insane, and would drive any person to madness, because the pain that this racism caused is the pain of being alone, a pain which no human can bear.

          The abuse from racism is never forgotten, it leaves a scar; the pain may recede after time, but the scar remains. Pecola Breedlove’s story should serve as a reminder of what racism can do to a person; that the deepest scars never really heal. Her story took place one hundred years after the slaves were released; not much had changed in that time. Pecola’s life serves as a reminder that people accept themselves and others for what they are. Although some people still hold beliefs against certain races, it is important to be reminded of the damage racism can cause.

          In 1950 America, racial discrimination is implied by different skin colors. Toni Morrison’s work, The Bluest Eye, reiterates that this sort of racism goes both ways, as stereotypes are formed between each race.

          Toni Morrison uses the racism of the 1950’s and shows that “It is the blackness that accounts for, that creates, the vacuum edged with distaste in white eyes” (The Bluest Eye, p, 49.)

          It is not just Pecola who brings about this reaction, for each time white people come into contact with “the blackness.” This is not an isolated situation, but a constant and recognizably unchanging event that was part of life for a black person during the 1950’s. This kind of racism became such a common occurrence that soon the victims began to believe that the insults were true.

          Geraldine’s family is an example of such hatred, as she shapes her life, family, and son to reject their heritage; the color of their skin and accept inferiority. Geraldine molds her son’s views by telling him only to play with “White kids; his mother did not like him to play with niggers. She had explained to him the difference between colored people and niggers. They were easily identifiable. Colored people were neat and quiet; niggers were dirty and loud” (The Bluest Eye, P, 87.) The family has abandoned their race because of the abuse and shame imposed upon them by the white people and because of this they have come to believe that the white people are superior because of their color, and the shame and hate they feel for themselves is displayed by their emulation of ideal white lifestyle. Although it is well hidden, the misery that Geraldine and her family feel is still present in their lives.

The Fear And Flight In The Native Son

          Bigger Thomas wakes up in a dark, small room at the sound of the alarm clock. He lives in one room with his brother Buddy, his sister Vera, and their mother. Suddenly, a rat appears. The room turns into a maelstrom and after a violent chase, Bigger kills the animal with an iron skillet and terrorizes Vera with the dark body. Vera faints and Mrs. Thomas scolds Bigger, who hates his family because they suffer and he cannot do anything about it.

          That evening, Bigger has to see Mr. Dalton for a new job. Bigger’s family depends on him. He would like to leave his responsibilities forever but when he thinks of what to do; he only sees a blank wall. He walks to the poolroom and meets his friend Gus. Bigger tells him that every time he thinks about whites, he feels something terrible will happen to him. They meet other friends, G. H. and Jack, and plan a robbery. They are all afraid of attacking and stealing from a white man, but none of them wants to admit their concerns. Before the robbery, Bigger and Jack go to the movies. They are attracted to the world of wealthy whites in the newsreel and feel strangely moved by the tom-toms and the primitive black people in the film, but they also feel that they do not belong to either of those worlds. After the cinema, Bigger returns to the poolroom and attacks Gus violently, forcing him to lick his blade in a demeaning way to hide his own cowardice. The fight ends any chance of the robbery occurring; Bigger is obscurely conscious that he has done this intentionally.

          When he finally gets the job, Bigger does not know how to behave in the large and luxurious house. Mr. Dalton and his blind wife use strange words. They try to be kind to Bigger, but they actually make him very uncomfortable; Bigger does not know what they expect of him. Then their daughter, Mary, enters the room, asks Bigger why he does not belong to a union, and calls her father a “capitalist.” Bigger does not know that word and is even more confused and afraid to lose the job. After the conversation, Peggy, an Irish cook, takes Bigger to his room and tells him that the Daltons are a nice family but that he must avoid Mary’s communist friends. Bigger has never had a room for himself before.

          That night, he drives Mary around and meets her Communist boyfriend, Jan. Throughout the evening, Jan and Mary talk to Bigger, oblige him to take them to the diner where his friends are, invite him to sit at their table, and tell him to call them by their first names. Bigger does not know how to respond to their requests and becomes very frustrated, as he is simply their chauffeur for the night. At the diner they buy a bottle of rum. Bigger drives throughout the park, and Jan and Mary drink the rum and have sex in the back seat. Jan and Mary part, but Mary is so drunk that Bigger has to carry her to her bedroom when they arrive home. He is terrified someone will see him with her in his arms; however, he cannot resist the temptation of the forbidden, and he kisses her.

          Just then, the bedroom door opens, and Mrs. Dalton enters. Bigger knows she is blind but is terrified she will sense him there. He silences Mary by pressing a pillow into her face. Mrs. Dalton approaches the bed, smells whiskey in the air, scolds her daughter, and leaves. Mary claws at Bigger’s hands while Mrs. Dalton is in the room, trying to alert Bigger that she cannot breathe. As Bigger removes the pillow, he realizes that she has suffocated. Bigger starts thinking frantically, and decides he will tell everyone that Jan, her Communist boyfriend, took Mary into the house that night. Thinking it will be better if Mary disappears and everyone thinks she has gone for a visit, he decides in desperation to burn her body in the house’s furnace. Her body would not originally fit through the furnace opening, but, after decapitating her head with a nearby hatchet, Bigger finally manages to put the body inside. He adds extra coal to the furnace, leaves the corpse there to burn, and goes home.

          Bessie suspects him of having done something to Mary. Bigger goes back to work. Mr. Dalton has called a private detective, Mr. Britten, and this time, sensing Britten’s racism, Bigger accuses Jan on the grounds of his religion (he is Jewish), his political beliefs (Communist), and his friendly attitude towards black people. When Britten finds Jan, he puts the boy and Bigger in the same room and confronts them with their conflicting stories. Jan is surprised by Bigger’s story but offers him help.

          Bigger runs through the city. He sees newspaper headlines concerning the crime and overhears different conversations about it. Whites call him “ape.” Blacks hate him because he has given the whites an excuse for racism. But now he is someone; he feels he has an identity. He will not say the crime was an accident. After a wild chase over the rooftops of the city, the police catch him.

          During his first few days in prison, Bigger does not eat, drink, or talk to anyone. Then Jan comes to see him. He says Bigger has taught him a lot about black-white relationships and offers him the help of a communist lawyer named Max. In the long hours Max and Bigger pass together, Max learns about the sufferings and feelings of black people and Bigger learns about himself. He starts understanding his relationships with his family and with the world. He acknowledges his fury, his need for a future, and his wish for a meaningful life. He reconsiders his attitudes about white people, whether they are prejudiced like Britten, or accepting like Jan. Bigger is found guilty and is sentenced to death for his murder and false witness.

Racism as one of the major themes in The Bluest Eye

          Beauty is a subjective concept; every individual maintains a different perspective on what is beautiful. Wait a minute. Does everyone, in fact, maintain a different perspective? Would the result of a survey asking “Who is more beautiful: Julia Roberts or Rosie O’Donnell?” be decided on the last ballot? Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye examines the effect of the media on popular thinking. Using the white, middle-to-upper-class society as a backdrop for the black community of Loraine, Ohio, Morrison asserts that the concept of beauty is affected by mainstream culture.

          Morrison uses popular figures from the 1940’s to show the acceptance of African Americans towards the “white beauty.” This is first seen when Mr. Henry arrives at the MacTeer’s house, greeting Claudia and Frieda with: “Hello there. You must be Greta Garbo, and you must be Ginger Rogers.” [ The Bluest Eye p,16]. Rogers, a dancer, and Garbo, a mysterious movie star, were both white, leading the reader to assume that white women were used to describe pretty girls of any race. Pecola Breedlove, who comes to live at the MacTeer household as well, stares at the picture of Shirley Temple etched on one of their glasses, and, in the process, drains the home of milk. “‘Three quarts of milk. That’s what was in that icebox yesterday. … Now they’re ain’t none.’ …We knew she was fond of the Shirley Temple cup and took every opportunity to drink milk out of it just to handle and see sweet Shirley’s face.” [ The Bluest Eye p.23]. When Pecola buys three Mary Jane candies from Mr. Yacobowski, she notices the wrappers, the picture of the smiling, blonde, blue-eyed, white girl. “To eat the candy is to somehow eat the eyes, eat Mary Jane. Love Mary Jane. Be Mary Jane.” This important line in the book is directly preceded by a realization from Pecola that her blackness makes her unimportant. “Dandelions. … She thinks, ‘They are ugly. They are weeds.'” [ The Bluest Eye p, 50].

          As Frieda, Claudia, Pecola and a white girl named Maureen Peal walk past a theatre, they stand in awe at Betty Grable smiling down on them and discuss Hedy Lamarr’s haircut. Pauline Breedlove, Pecola’s mother, recounts her visits to the “picture shows,” the “education” that ended her ability to “look at a face and not assign it some category in the scale of beauty…” [ The Bluest Eye, p 122]. On one particular occasion, when Pauline goes to see Jean Harlow, she fixes her hair up like the celebrity. While chewing on candy, she breaks her tooth. Morrison uses this as a reminder of Breedlove’s blackness. “‘There I was, five months pregnant, trying to look like Jean Harlow, and a front tooth gone.'” [The Bluest Eye, p,123].

           The only character in The Bluest Eye that seems to be unaffected by mainstream culture is Claudia MacTeer. As Frieda and Pecola converse about how cute Shirley Temple is, Claudia becomes disgusted. She hates Shirley because she feels that instead of “one of those little white girls whose socks never slid down under their heels,” she should be the little girl dancing with Mr. Bonjangles [The Bluest Eye p,19]. Claudia reminisces about the Christmas she was given a white baby doll. With no interest in a white baby doll, and feeling let down that her parents didn’t even ask her what she wanted, she destroyed it. Her feelings towards the doll transferred over to actual white girls. “What made people look at them and say, ‘Awwwww,’ but not for me?” [The Bluest Eye 22]. Yet, Claudia understands what the future holds. “Younger than both Frieda and Pecola, I had not yet arrived at the turning point in the development of my psyche which would allow me to love her.” [The Bluest Eye p, 19]. Although she rejects the idea now, Claudia will recognize that whiteness is the standard of beauty at some point.

          Morrison layers another dimension into the story in the form of Maureen Peal, “a high-yellow dream child.” The rich, white child immediately becomes the hub of the entire school’s admiration, and the MacTeer children’s jealousy. They search for fault in her features, and find one: a dog tooth, which they utilize to secretly call Maureen names [62-63]. Peal’s verbal attacks toward Pecola and the MacTeer’s (“I am cute! And you ugly! Black and ugly black e mos. I am cute!”) lead Claudia to wondering, “What did we lack?” She concludes that, “The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful and not us.” [The Bluest Eye 73-74].

          The reader can deduce that the “Thing” that made people look at Maureen with “eyes genuflected under sliding lids” [The Blyest Eye p, 62] was the same thing that caused Pauline Breedlove to style her hair like Jean Harlow, or Pecola to drink three quarts of milk, or Mr. Henry to refer to Frieda and Claudia by the names of famous celebrities. The “Thing” was the same thing that drove Pecola Breedlove to visit Soaphead Church and ask for blue eyes.

Racism as one of the major themes in The Native Son

          Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, stirred up a real controversy by shocking the sensibilities of both black and white America. The protagonist, Bigger Thomas, is from the lowest ring of society, and Wright does not blend him with any of the romantic elements common to literary heroes. Bigger is what one expects him to be because of the social conditions in which he lives: he is sullen, frightened, violent, hateful, and resentful. He is the product of the condemnation the “white” society has brought upon him. He is a “native son.” Native Son opens with an act of violence. The alarm clock abruptly awakens Bigger and his family to their miserable reality–a rat-infested, one bedroom apartment in the urban ghetto of Chicago. Bigger’s battle with the rat reveals his capacity for brutality. He crushes the rat’s head after he has killed it with a skillet. Bigger represents a persuasive racial stereotype of black men–violent, criminal, and cowardly. The powerful, racist white majority considers his personality a natural characteristic of his race. However, Wright shows how Bigger’s consciousness is in fact shaped by his environment. Bigger was not born a violent criminal, but became one in the unforgiving world of racism and poverty in American society. Bigger’s entire existence is a prison. His crowded, rat-infested apartment is only one of his prison cells. He is imprisoned in the urban ghetto by racist rental policies. His own consciousness is a prison. His entire life is filled by a sense of failure, inadequacy, and most importantly, unyielding fear. Racist white society, his mother, and even Bigger himself all believe that he is destined to meet a bad end. His relentless conviction of an impending awful fate demonstrates that Bigger feels a nearly complete lack of control over his life. He is permitted access only to menial jobs, substandard housing, substandard food. Basically, white society permits him no choice but a substandard life. Gus and Bigger play-act at being white. They associate whiteness with the power, wealth, and authority to deny them control over their own lives. Bigger hates and fears whiteness. Therefore, he has a latent desire to do violence to the force that oppresses him. Backed into a corner, he is primed to lash out at the very force that restrains him through fear. His fear and theirs perpetually keep their relations full of tension and barely suppressed anger. He has no sense of solidarity based on race except the same companionship based on misery that he has with his family. He even robs other black people–who are almost certainly poor as well–because he is too afraid to break a dangerous social taboo by robbing a white man. Racism has conditioned not only Bigger’s relationship with white, but his relationship with other members of his race as well. Wright wants to show that, considering the conditions of Bigger’s existence, his violent personality and his criminal behavior are not surprising. Bigger wants to feel like a human being with a free, independent will. Crime is one avenue to obtain money without submitting to white authority by taking the menial jobs assigned to him. His overwhelming sense of fear arises from his feeling of impotence in the face of an unnamed, impending doom. Crime is an act of rebellion, an affirmation of his independent will to act against the voice of social authority. Violence and crime are the only things Bigger feels he can use to declare his individual will as a human being. In Fate, Wright explicitly develops the debate between free will and determinism. Neither Jan nor Bigger’s lawyer Boris A. Max condemn Bigger. They believe that, oppressed by a racist society, he had no choice but to murder. However, Bigger will not concede that his actions were predestined. In fact, the moment that defines Bigger as a free man is the murder itself; he discovers that his actions have liberated him from his passive acceptance of fate. Bigger admits killing Mary and is sentenced to death.
          Although these actions demonstrate acts of rage, they do not portray the true motivation for Bigger’s actions.  The cause of Bigger personal conflicts stem his fear of repercussion for his actions as a black in a white dominated society.  His fear of the consequences of  being discovered with a drunk white woman, drive Bigger Thomas to smother Mary Dalton.  This fear arose because of the non physical barriers, set up by society, between white and black people.  This tension made Bigger angry while he was forced to secretly drive Jan and Mary around in the car and finally made him snap.  Like Bigger, the entire city demonstrates conflicts based upon fear brought about by racial segregation.  During the progress of the man hunt, blacks and whites go at each others throats.  These various conflicts all stem from fear and racial hatred.  Although Richard Wright portrays the segregation of the blacks, he does not omit the segregation of various social groups such as the communists.  In contrast, Jan and Max’s efforts to save Bigger stem from a struggle for equality. They too feel the constraints of oppression, but have a philosophy and social position with which to rebel.

Various Stories of Pecola which is created for Racism

          Claudia hated beautiful white doll which she got in Christmas. She destroyed the white doll. She also hated Shirley who is white and beautiful.

          Pecola was black so in her class nobody liked her. She was only the student who sat alone in the two seat desk. If one girl wanted to make angry to another boy she said he loves Pecola and he becomes very angry. When Pecola went to the shop to have candy the shopkeeper ignored her. He gave her the candy so carefully that he doesn’t touch her hands. Maureen Peal was beautiful new classmate of Pecola. She made fun of Pecola because she was black and ugly.

Pauline Breedlove is Pecola’s mother. She didn’t like her own children because they were black and ugly. But she liked the beautiful children of the house where she used to go for work.

Louis Jr. cheated Pecola because she was ugly and black girl. He took her in his house. They had a cat. He killed the cat and blamed Pecola for killing the cat. Geraldine was his mother. She scolded and insulted Pecola for killing the cat.

          Soaphead Church was west Indian with lightly brown skin. Pecola went to him to have blue eyes. He gave rotten meat to Pecola and said her to eat that and also gave it to the dog which he hated. Pecola gave it to the dog and the dog died. He misbehaved with Pecola.

Various Stories of Bigger Thomas Which is Created for Racism

            The deleterious effect of racism extends to the white population, in that it prevents whites from realizing the true humanity inherent in groups that they oppress. Indeed, one of the great strengths of Native Son as a chronicle of the effects of oppression is Wright’s extraordinary ability to explore the psychology not only of the oppressed but of the oppressors as well. Wright illustrates that racism is destructive to both groups, though for very different reasons. Many whites in the novel, such as Britten and Peggy, fall victim to the obvious pitfall of racism among whites: the unthinking sense of superiority that deceives them into seeing blacks as less than human. Wright shows that this sense of superiority is a weakness, as Bigger is able to manipulate it in his cover-up of Mary’s murder. Bigger realizes that a man with Britten’s prejudices would never believe a black man could be capable of what Bigger has done. Indeed, for a time, Bigger manages to escape suspicion.

          Other white characters in the novel—particularly those with a self-consciously progressive attitude toward race relations—are affected by racism in subtler and more complex ways. Though the Daltons, for instance, have made a fortune out of exploiting blacks, they aggressively present themselves as philanthropists committed to the black American cause. We sense that they maintain this pretense in an effort to avoid confronting their guilt, and we realize that they may even be unaware of their own deep-seated racial prejudices. Mary and Jan represent an even subtler form of racism, as they consciously seek to befriend blacks and treat them as equals, but ultimately fail to understand them as individuals. This failure has disastrous results. Mary and Jan’s simple assumption that Bigger will welcome their friendship deludes them into overlooking the possibility that he will react with suspicion and fear—a natural reaction considering that Bigger has never experienced such friendly treatment from whites. In this regard, Mary and Jan are deceived by their failure to recognize Bigger’s individuality just as much as an overt racist such as Britten is deceived by a failure to recognize Bigger’s humanity. Ultimately, Wright portrays the vicious circle of racism from the white perspective as well as from the black one, emphasizing that even well-meaning whites exhibit prejudices that feed into the same black behavior that confirms the racist whites’ sense of superiority.

          Wright’s exploration of Bigger’s psychological corruption gives us a new perspective on the oppressive effect racism had on the black population in 1930s America. Bigger’s psychological damage results from the constant barrage of racist propaganda and racial oppression he faces while growing up. The movies he sees depict whites as wealthy sophisticates and blacks as jungle savages. He and his family live in cramped and squalid conditions, enduring socially enforced poverty and having little opportunity for education. Bigger’s resulting attitude toward whites is a volatile combination of powerful anger and powerful fear. He conceives of “whiteness” as an overpowering and hostile force that is set against him in life. Just as whites fail to conceive of Bigger as an individual, he does not really distinguish between individual whites—to him, they are all the same, frightening and untrustworthy. As a result of his hatred and fear, Bigger’s accidental killing of Mary Dalton does not fill him with guilt. Instead, he feels an odd jubilation because, for the first time, he has asserted his own individuality against the white forces that have conspired to destroy it.

          Throughout the novel, Wright illustrates the ways in which white racism forces blacks into a pressured—and therefore dangerous—state of mind. Blacks are beset with the hardship of economic oppression and forced to act subserviently before their oppressors, while the media consistently portrays them as animalistic brutes. Given such conditions, as Max argues, it becomes inevitable that blacks such as Bigger will react with violence and hatred. However, Wright emphasizes the vicious double-edged effect of racism: though Bigger’s violence stems from racial hatred, it only increases the racism in American society, as it confirms racist whites’ basic fears about blacks.

Data Analysis and Interpretation

A Report on Racism in The Bluest Eye

          Toni Morisson’s novel The Bluest Eye is about the life of the Breedlove family who resides in Lorain, Ohio, in the late 1930s. This family consists of the mother Pauline, the father Cholly, the son Sammy, and the daughter Pecola. The novel’s focal point is the daughter, an eleven-year-old Black girl who is trying to conquer a bout with self-hatred. Everyday she encounters racism, not just from white people, but mostly from her own race. In their eyes she is much too dark, and the darkness of her skin somehow implies that she is inferior, and according to everyone else, her skin makes her even “uglier.” She feels she can overcome this battle of self-hatred by obtaining blue eyes, but not just any blue. She wants the bluest eye. Morrison is able to use her critical eye to reveal to the reader the evil that is caused by a society that is indoctrinated by the inherent goodness and beauty of whiteness and the ugliness of blackness.   She uses many different writing tools to depict how “white” beliefs have dominated American and African American culture.

          The narrative structure of The Bluest Eye is important in revealing just how pervasive and destructive social racism is. Narration in novel comes from several sources. Much of the narration comes from Claudia MacTeer as a nine year old child, but Morrison also gives the reader the insight of Claudia reflecting on the story as an adult, some first person narration from Pecola’s mother, and narration by Morrison herself as an omniscient narrator.

           In addition to narrative structure, the structure and composition of the novel itself help to illustrate how much and for how long white ideas of family and home have been forced into black culture. Instead of conventional chapters and sections, The Bluest Eye is broken up into seasons, fall, winter, spring, and summer. This type of organization suggests that the events described in The Bluest Eye have occurred before, and will occur again. This kind of cycle suggests that there is notion that there is no escape from the cycle of life that Breedloves and MacTeer live in.   Further, dividing the book are small excerpts from the “Dick and Jane” primer that is the archetype of the white upper-middle class lifestyle. Each excerpt has, in some way, to do with the section that follows. So the section that describes Pecola’s mother is started with an excerpt describing Dick and Jane’s mother, and so on. The excerpts from “Dick and Jane” that head each “chapter” are typeset without any spaces or punctuation marks. The “Dickand Jane” snippets show just how prevalent and important the images of white perfection are in Pecola’s life; Morrison’s strange typography illustrates how irrelevant and inappropriate these images actually are land of the entire country was hostile to marigolds that year. The name of the novel, “The Bluest Eye,” is meant to get the reader thinking about how much value is placed on blue-eyed little girls. Pecola and her family are representative of the larger African-American community, and their name, “Breedlove,” is ironic because they live in a society that does not “breed love.” In fact, it breeds hate; hate of blackness, and thus hatred of oneself. The MacTeer girls are flattered when Mr. Henry said “Hello there. You must be Greta Garbo, and you must be Ginger Rogers”, for the names ring of beauty that the girls feel they will never reach. Soaphead Church represents, as his name suggests, the role of the church in African-American life. “I, I have caused a miracle. I gave her the eyes. I gave her the blue, blue, two blue eyes,” Soaphead says.   The implication is that the church’s promise that if you worship God and pray to Him that everything will be alright is no better than Soaphead’s promise to Pecola that she will have blue eyes. Morrison reveals the significance of Pecola’s name through the character of Maureen Peal. Maureen confuses Pecola’s name with the name of a character in the movie Imitation of Life. By this allusion, Morrison illustrates that Pecola’s life is an imitation of the real experiences of black women.
Morrison also uses metaphors to describe the conditions under which African-Americans in general and Pecola in particular are forced to live. There are two major metaphors in The Bluest Eye, one of marigolds and one of dandelions. Claudia, looking back as an adult, says in the beginning of the novel, “there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941”.   She and her sister plant marigold seeds with the belief that if the marigolds would grow and survive, so would Pecola’s baby. Morrison unpacks the metaphor throughout the book, and, through Claudia, finally explains it and broadens its scope to all African-Americans on the last page. “I even think now that the bear . . .” The implication is that Pecola, like so many other African-Americans, never had a chance to grow and succeed because she lived in a society (“soil”) that was inherently racist, and would not nurture her. The other flower, the dandelion, is important as a metaphor because it represents Pecola’s image of herself. Pecola passes some dandelions going into Mr. Yacobowski’s store. “Why, she wonders, do people call them weeds? She thought they were pretty”. After Mr. Yacobowski humiliates her, she again passes the dandelions and thinks; “They are ugly. They are weeds”.   She has transferred society’s dislike of her to the dandelions.
In The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison tells the story of a little black girl who thinks that if she can live up to the image of the blue-eyed Shirley Temple and Dick and Jane that she will have the perfect life that they have. The importance of this book goes beyond its value as a work of literature. Morrison speaks to the masses, both white and black, showing how a racist social system wears down the minds and souls of people, how dominate images of white heroes and heroines with blue eyes and wonderful lives show young black children that to be white means to be successful and happy, and then they look around at their own lives of poverty and oppression and learn to hate their black heritage for keeping them from the Dick and Jane world. Morrison does not solve these problems, nor does she even try, but she does show a reflection of a world that cannot call itself right or moral.
“Each night Pecola prayed for blue eyes. In her eleven years, no one had ever noticed Pecola. But with blue eyes, she thought, everything would be different. She would be so pretty that her parents would stop fighting. Her father would stop drinking. Her brother would stop running away. If only she could be beautiful. If only people would look at her.” (Back Cover)
The Bluest Eye contains a number of autobiographical elements. It is set in the town where Morrison grew up, and it is told from the point of view of a nine-year-old, the age Morrison would have been the year the novel takes place (1941). Like the MacTeer family, Morrison’s family struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Morrison grew up listening to her mother singing and her grandfather playing the violin, just as Claudia does. In the novel’s afterword, Morrison explains that the story developed out of a conversation she had had in elementary school with a little girl, who longed for blue eyes. She was still thinking about this conversation in the 1960s, when the Black is Beautiful movement was working to reclaim  African-American beauty, and she began her first novel.                                        .
In the afterword to The Bluest Eye, Morrison explains her goal in writing the novel. She wants to make a statement about the damage that internalized racism can do to the most vulnerable member of a community—a young girl. At the same time, she does not want to dehumanize the people who wound this girl, because that would simply repeat their mistake. Also, she wants to protect this girl from “the weight of the novel’s inquiry,” and thus decides to tell the story from multiple perspectives. In this way, as she puts it, she “shape[s] a silence while breaking it,” keeping the girl’s dignity intact.

A Report on Racism in The Native Son

Bigger Thomas, the main character of Wright’s Native Son, is trapped in a downward spiral that leads to his eventual destruction.  He has no way to escape the poverty and racism that surrounds him.  Although the novel was written during a time when racism and fear prevailed, the novel continues to cause controversy abroad, having never been out of print since its original publishing date in 1939.

This Web Quest will explore the theme of racism and fear through the use of the following: Native Son (the novel), worksheets and handouts, Native Son (the movie), historical and biographical connections, and critical analysis essays.

           Evaluate how Wright’s use of racism and fear in Native Son coupled with his sympathetic portrayal of Bigger relate to historical issues and problems of the time period in which it was written.

           Native Son and seemingly important quotations that relate to the theme of racism and fear as progress. After finishing the novel complete the Quote Analysis exercise. Is the theme of racism and fear prevalent in the novel?  How is this theme presented?Did you respond more to the novel? Why? In order to gain additional insight into the life of an African American in Chicago in the 1940s.  Be sure to notice similarities or connections between these pictures and places described in the novel.

          Research additional historical and critical information dealing with the oppression of blacks, specifically in Chicago, and its affect on Richard Wright and his novel, Native Son.

Critics have said that Wright’s Bigger Thomas captured the thoughts and feelings of black society as a whole during the 1930s and 1940s.  Write an in-depth essay using all of the combined knowledge that you have gained in your search to compare the life of Richard Wright to that of Bigger Thomas.  Be sure to include historical information and events that are relevant.  Consider the following questions when preparing for the essay:

          In what ways were Richard Wright and Bigger Thomas the same in regards to social, psychological, and economic standpoints?  How do these conditions influence their actions?

Conclusion:

           The Bluest Eye provides an extended depiction of the ways in which internalized white beauty standards deform the lives of black girls and women. Implicit messages that whiteness is superior are everywhere, including the white baby doll given to Claudia, the idealization of Shirley Temple, the consensus that light-skinned Maureen is cuter than the other black girls, the idealization of white beauty in the movies, and Pauline Breedlove’s preference for the little white girl she works for over her daughter. Adult women, having learned to hate the blackness of their own bodies, take this hatred out on their children—Mrs. Breedlove shares the conviction that Pecola is ugly, and lighter-skinned Geraldine curses Pecola’s blackness. Claudia remains free from this worship of whiteness, imagining Pecola’s unborn baby as beautiful in its blackness. But it is hinted that once Claudia reaches adolescence, she too will learn to hate herself, as if racial self-loathing were a necessary part of maturation.

          The person who suffers most from white beauty standards is, of course, Pecola. She connects beauty with being loved and believes that if she possesses blue eyes, the cruelty in her life will be replaced by affection and respect. This hopeless desire leads ultimately to madness, suggesting that the fulfillment of the wish for white beauty may be even more tragic than the wish impulse itself.

          Pecola’s desire for blue eyes, while highly unrealistic, is based on one correct insight into her world: she believes that the cruelty she witnesses and experiences is connected to how she is seen. If she had beautiful blue eyes, Pecola imagines, people would not want to do ugly things in front of her or to her. The accuracy of this insight is affirmed by her experience of being teased by the boys—when Maureen comes to her rescue, it seems that they no longer want to behave badly under Maureen’s attractive gaze. In a more basic sense, Pecola and her family are mistreated in part because they happen to have black skin. By wishing for blue eyes rather than lighter skin, Pecola indicates that she wishes to see things differently as much as she wishes to be seen differently. She can only receive this wish, in effect, by blinding herself. Pecola is then able to see herself as beautiful, but only at the cost of her ability to see accurately both herself and the world around her. The connection between how one is seen and what one sees has a uniquely tragic outcome for her.

           The Bluest Eye is not one story, but multiple, sometimes contradictory, interlocking stories. Characters tell stories to make sense of their lives, and these stories have tremendous power for both good and evil. Claudia’s stories, in particular, stand out for their affirmative power. First and foremost, she tells Pecola’s story, and though she questions the accuracy and meaning of her version, to some degree her attention and care redeem the ugliness of Pecola’s life. Furthermore, when the adults describe Pecola’s pregnancy and hope that the baby dies, Claudia and Frieda attempt to rewrite this story as a hopeful one, casting themselves as saviors. Finally, Claudia resists the premise of white superiority, writing her own story about the beauty of blackness. Stories by other characters are often destructive to themselves and others. The story Pauline Breedlove tells herself about her own ugliness reinforces her self-hatred, and the story she tells herself about her own martyrdom reinforces her cruelty toward her family. Soaphead Church’s personal narratives about his good intentions and his special relationship with God are pure hypocrisy. Stories are as likely to distort the truth as they are to reveal it. While Morrison apparently believes that stories can be redeeming, she is no blind optimist and refuses to let us rest comfortably in any one version of what happens.

In the novel, whiteness is associated with beauty and cleanliness (particularly according to Geraldine and Mrs. Breedlove), but also with sterility. In contrast, color is associated with happiness, most clearly in the rainbow of yellow, green, and purple memories Pauline Breedlove sees when making love with Cholly. Morrison uses this imagery to emphasize the destructiveness of the black community’s privileging of whiteness and to suggest that vibrant color, rather than the pure absence of color, is a stronger image of happiness and freedom.

Throughout Native Son, Wright depicts popular culture—as conveyed through films, magazines, and newspapers—as a major force in American racism, constantly bombarding citizens with images and ideas that reinforce the nation’s oppressive racial hierarchy. In films such as the one Bigger attends in Book One, whites are depicted as glamorous, attractive, and cultured, while blacks are portrayed as jungle savages or servants. Wright emphasizes that this portrayal is not unique to the film Bigger sees, but is replicated in nearly every film and every magazine. Not surprisingly, then, both blacks and whites see blacks are inferior brutes—a view that has crippling effects on whites and absolutely devastating effects for blacks. Bigger is so influenced by this media saturation that, upon meeting the Daltons, he is completely unable to be himself. All he can do is act out the role of the subservient black man that he has seen in countless popular culture representations. Later, Wright portrays the media as one of the forces that leads to Bigger’s execution, as the sensationalist press stirs up a furor over his case in order to sell newspapers. The attention prompts Buckley, the State’s Attorney, to hurry Bigger’s case along and seek the death penalty. Wright scatters images of popular culture throughout Native Son, constantly reminding us of the extremely influential role the media plays in hardening already destructive racial stereotypes.

          A light snow begins falling at the start of Book Two, and this snow eventually turns into a blizzard that aids in Bigger’s capture. Throughout the novel, Bigger thinks of whites not as individuals, but as a looming white mountain or a great natural force pressing down upon him. The blizzard is raging as Bigger jumps from his window to escape after Mary’s bones are found in the furnace. When he falls to the ground, the snow fills his mouth, ears, and eyes—all his senses are overwhelmed with a literal whiteness, representing the metaphorical “whiteness” he feels has been controlling him his whole life. Bigger tries to flee, but the snow has sealed off all avenues of escape, allowing the white police to surround and capture him.

Bibliography:

  1. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye, New York: Rinehart, and Winston, 1970.
  2. Bloom, Harold. (ed) Richard Wright Native son, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
  3. Miller, Eugene E. Voice of a native son: the poetics of Richard Wright.. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990.
  4.   Native Son, ISBN 0-06-081249-4
  5. Bump, Jerome. “Family Systems Therapy and Narrative.” Reading the Family Dance: Family Systems Therapy and Literature Study. Ed. Womack Kenneth and John V Knapp. Newark: UP, 2003. 151-70.
  6. J, Lucy Crystal. “A Journal of Ideas.” Proteus 21.2 (2004): 21-26.
  7. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, published by First Plume Printing in 1994
  8. Spark Notes Editors. “Spark Note on Native Son.” Spark Notes LLC. 2002.
  9.  Kinnamon, Kenneth (1997). Critical Essays on Richard Wright’s Native Son. New York: Twayne Publishers. p. 96
  10. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye, Princeton, New jersey, November,1993.
  11. Morrison, Toni. “Home.” The House That Race Built. Ed. Wahneema Lubiano. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997. 3-12.
  12. Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Plume, 1970.
  13. “Psychosis.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. New ed. 2004.
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    2. Gallantz, Michael. Barrons Book Notes Richard Wrights Native Son . New York: Barrons Educational Series Inc, 1986. Bloom,
    3. Harold. Blooms Reviews Comprehensive Research & Study Guides Richard Wrights Native Son. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1996
    4. . Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Interpretations Richard Wrights Native Son. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988. Word Count: 1363
    5. Spark Notes Editors. “Spark Note on The Bluest Eye.” SparkNotes.com. Spark Notes LLC. 2002. Web. 13 Dec. 2012.
    6. 1 Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Rinehart, and Winston, 1970. Louise Erdrich. Tracks. 1988.  New York: Harper/Perennial, 1989.
    7. “Racism in in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.” 123HelpMe.com. 30 Dec 2012

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