Racism has been an ongoing issue in America since the 1600s. While it continues to exist, the incidence and severity of oppressive racist behavior has significantly reduced and continues to decline. ..
There are many books, articles, tv shows, songs, and activist groups highlighting he damaging effects of racism, and emphasizing how seemingly privileged white majority have mistreated their fellow African American countrymen.. In two pieces that portray racism, The Bluest Eye and Home, writer Toni Morrison shows how the struggles of society’s past events, society’s standards and racial discrimination negatively influence the African American community; in order to challenge the white majority to reflect and evaluate the impact of their racial behavior and actions.The influential writer, Toni Morrison was born in Lorain, Ohio in early 1931. She lived here “after her parents moved to the North to escape the problems of southern racism” (Toni Morrison).
Morrison was an intelligent student from her early childhood. For one she mentioned to the New York Times “when I was in first grade, nobody thought I was inferior. I was the only black in the class and the only child who could read”, having the ability to read set herself in another category.
Even as a young girl, she showed passion for reading, music, and folktales She graduated high school with top honors and enrolled in a distinguished black college, Howard University, to follow her interest in literature by majoring in English. Following Bachelor’s degree at Howard University, Morrison completed her master’s degree, also from Howard University, and began her teaching career at Texas Southern University. After 6 years of troubled marriage, her husband left her, and she took the responsibility of raising her children. The added demands on her time and energy, did not detract from her love for writing. She took time to write while working as an editor at the Random House. The Bluest Eye was her first novel and did not receive immediate recognition but was eventually awarded a nobel peace prize. Throughout her life she encountered difficult obstacles due to her race and she made parallels to it in her novels. Morrison had many themes and strands based on racism, that contributed to her success and elevated her status to an influential african american writer.
One major theme Morrison uses consistently across her books is how the past events of characters affect their daily life and consciousness. In The Bluest Eye, the main protagonist, Pecola Breedlove, has parents whose present life was the way it was because of their early life. As her mother was growing up she felt isolated from her family, causing her to feel as if she was worth nothing. “Her general feeling of separateness and unworthiness she blamed on her foot” (Morrison 111). Her mother, Pauline Breedlove had an imperfection in her foot due to when “a rusty nail was met when it punched clear through her foot” which also eventually twisted her spine (Morrison 110). Having this imperfection and characteristic of loneliness led her to enjoy spending time in solitude. She discovered her obsession with arranging things, creating order, and neatness. This followed through her life until present day where her house is always organized, and she likes for her family to have an order about almost everything they do.
She became very melancholy during this season of her life since she felt isolated until someone walked into her life and changed it. She fell in love and married a man she met in her field, Cholly Breedlove. Their marriage started off on a happy note but then soon starting cracking and caused problems in her life, making her feel more depressed and lonely than before her marriage. She started to watch media which emitted fairy tale ideas of romantic love and physical beauty. As it was a stark contrast to her present life, s she suffered from depression and experienced destructive thoughts and “probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion” (Morrison 122). After Pauline had her child, Pecola she declared a promise to “love it no matter what it looked like” even if she was ugly (Morison 124).
This led her to finding a well paying job that had another brightside, she actually enjoyed it. “Here she found beauty, order, cleanliness, and praise” (Morrison 127). However, the job didn’t solve her feeling of isolation, because “she neglected her house, her children, her man—they were like the afterthoughts one has just before sleep” (Morrison 127). Her past childhood of feeling shunned by her family and the world, caused her to feel even more dejected and alone decades later. This feeling of isolation caused her to not care about her family or fulfill her promise. The past events of Pauline affected the way she treated her family and looked at herself, ultimately making her take a negative outlook on life.. Pecola’s father, Cholly Breedlove also had a traumatic childhood affecting where he is now.
“When Cholly was four days old, his mother wrapped him in two blankets and one newspaper and placed him on a junk heap by the railroad.” (Morrison 147). His great aunt, luckily saved him and he is grateful for the kindness his family offered him as he grew up. After a rough incident with a girl Cholly decided to run away to Georgia to find his dad, Samson Fuller. After a long journey he reached Georgia, and found his father.
His father behaves the opposite of what Cholly had imagined would happen at the meeting. Samson cursed and ostracized his son. This unwelcome and abusive attitude caused feelings of frustration and anger in Cholly. “He knew if he was very still he would be all right. But then the trace of pain edged his eyes, and he had to use everything to send it away” (Morrison 156). After being “rejected a second time” and his father “brutally turns him away, it leaves Cholly to soil himself and weep like a baby” (Edmund 1). Cholly didn’t want the tears racing done his face to continue competing, he wanted the race to be over.
This rejection meant “… Cholly was free.
Dangerously free. Free to feel whatever he felt—fear, guilt, shame, love, grief, pity” (Morrison 159). The grief of his great aunt hit him hard, he began to beat women, take and quit jobs and throw white men in affect of it. It all changed when one summer day when he met Pauline. She was like an adorable sheep, sweet and innocent. Cholly needed those idiosyncrasies in his life so they got married. As their marriage journey continued through difficult roads, it gave him a reason to drink, and he grew to be an alcoholic.
Cholly has a negative thought process, “abandoned in a junk heap by his mother, rejected for a crap game by his father, there was nothing more to lose” which all plays a role in how he acts now (Morrison 160). Thought he was married, Cholly and Pauline were so far apart in their relationship, the love they used to share was lost and this example was not good for their children. As time went on Cholly eventually left Pauline and Pecola on their own, essentially doing what his mother did to him, that is, abandon when trouble knocks on the door. Morrison made a parallel to this situation with her own life.
After 10 years of her marriage to Harold Morrison, he left her to go back to his home in Jamaica, leaving her with their 10-month old baby. It wasn’t easy for Morrison to take the role of a single mother, just as it wasn’t for Pauline either. All concluding that the parents in Home the parents’ “individual identity is said to be negotiated within the collectively shared past” making an affect on themselves and others in their daily life (Ibarrola 112). She showed this theme again in the historical fiction book, Home. Main progantist, “Frank Money, an African-American war veteran shows clear symptoms of PTSD” (Ibarrola 111). The stress disorder affects him on a daily basis, led him to consume excessive alcohol and makes him look down on the the white majority.
At unexpected and random occasions memories of war would haunt Frank’s mind and he would slip into a a very dark place. Alcohol was the only antidote to calm himself down and counter destructive actions like getting unduly violent. At times Frank would just get suddenly violent even if nothing about the war was brought up. He had a girlfriend that somewhat helped him with these occurrences but she too like any normal human was scared and worried for him. These random events could get Frank hurt. At one point Frank got down from his train at the station and was watching two girls fight with each other, right outside.
The man they were with noticed him and punched Frank. This instantly triggered anger and violet node, and he started to punch the man until he fell down unconscious. Frank thought to himself that “this violence was personal in its delight” (Morrison 102). Because of repeated instances like these, Lily sent him to a mental hospital which he eventually escaped from. The reason these memories came back at random times was because they were “broken memories” meaning they were “returning to haunt him now as if they were being experienced for a first time” (Ibarrola 112). Having these broken memories from war left him with a “sense of alienation and emotional deprivation”, he wasn’t the same person after his past experience of war (Ibarrola 113). Besides the past memories from war, memories of his childhood affected Frank’s perception of the white majority. When Frank was only four his family and neighbors in Texas were forcibly kicked out of their houses s.
The only reason they had to leave was solely because of the color of their skin. Frank painfully recalled how all their belongings were quickly dumped into a single small wheelbarrow. This incident made his mother, Mrs.
Money, very sad and she cried inconsolably. This memory left a strong imprint in Frank’s mind, that he could not erase. When they were living in Texas they had adequate food for dinner every night but now on this journey they “stood in line at Church of the Redeemer waiting for a tin plate of dirt, hard cheese already showing green, pickled pigs’ feet-its vinegar soaking stale biscuits”, imagine how many health codes that broke (Morrison 40). All this anguish had to be born because of the fact that their family was black, and their white owners could just kick them out of the house that they had made as a home for themselves. As Frank grows up, his perception of white people is tainted by his prior experiences.
He sees them as a group that he can’t trust or expect fair treatment from which is why he does not have much respect for them. Frank Money was a “victim of some hateful childhood experiences, war shooks, and racial humiliations” engendering his thinking and actions to irreversibly change for the worse (Ibarrola 113). Morrison included the scene of the eviction to show an important anecdote to her. When Morrison was two years old, her house was set on fire while her family was still in it. “People set our house on fire to evict us…” said Morrison. After this incident, it immediately made the negative view his father had on white people grow stronger. “He simply felt that he was better and superior to all white people” explained Morrison. A similar incident happened to Morrison again in 1993 soon after she won her nobel peace prize.
The cause of it was unknown but Morrison was most upset about all the artwork and report cards of her sons than her own work. This is similar to when Mrs. Money cried because of the things she had to give up on their journey over to Georgia. These hidden parallels of Morrison’s books to her life gives readers more emphasis on her main point.Another very significant past memory of Frank in Home was a story from his childhood that was shared with his sister, Cee. It was important to Frank how the horses fought like men meaning they stood on their hind legs and fought. Frank would also say how horses that stood up with full dignity and violence. When one horse would win, the losing horse would run away almost because of embarrassment.
As this novel unfold many references are made back to this fight Frank witnessed. He remembered them as rising up like men, these horses inspired him to stay a strong man and fight the fight needed to be fought. Although this was a while ago, he “…
remembered the horses. They were so beautiful. So brutal. And they stood like men” (Morrison 5). This memory of Frank was used more as an inspiration to act like men and rise up. Frank references this story multiple times in this book, to remind the readers and himself about how strong those stallions stood and that he could do it too. Toni Morrison used the past traumatic events that characters like Pauline and Cholly Breedlove and Frank Money from The Bluest Eye and Home, take a major responsibility in the way their life progressed for mainly the worse which was also supported by the literary criticism written by Aitor Ibarrola.
To add onto the key topic of racism shown through Morrison’s novels, how could one forget about all the society’s beauty standards impacting her characters. In The Bluest Eye a major theme was beauty, the main character, Pecola Breedlove felt as if she wasn’t pretty. She blamed the fact that she wasn’t being treated fairly, doing bad in school and not being happy on the fact that she was “ugly”. But calling herself ugly wasn’t just a self conscious teenage symptom, it was appropriate at the time.
She heard this from people all around her, even the ones most important to her. Surprisingly, her own mother called her ugly from the second she was born. Her first words when she saw Pecola was ” Lord she was ugly” and this makes an impact because when one is first growing up they typically think everything their parents say are true (Morrison 124). So this led to Pecola knowing she was ugly, that it was a fact she was ugly, not an opinion. There were also instances of the neighborhood women talking and mentioning how Pecola was ugly, how it was “unfortunate” for her family.
This “fact” going around and dwelling into Pecola’s self consciousness ruined any confidence she may of had for herself, this “fact” was a bully. To continue the bullying in Pecola’s life, at a point in the story, she saw Claudia’s baby doll which was a replica of Marilyn Monroe, a superstar at the time that was identified as cute and someone most kids wanted to be. Most kids including Pecola, she studied that piece of plastic. Little did she know this “superstar” was going to agonize her. After seeing Monroe’s fame and success, she thought that having blue eyes would make her beautiful and change all the evil in her life to good. For “it had occurred to Pecola some time ago that is her eyes.
..were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different”, the colors of her eye were thought to “change” her (Morrison 46). So from this point onwards, Pecola dreams of having blue eyes. She blamed the cause of “ugliness” on not having these blue eyes which ultimately causes all the injustice in her life.
Towards the end of the story when Pecola is pregnanted by her father, Cholly, there are a lot of disgusting things being said about her in her neighborhood. She decides to go to the Soaphead Church and plead to Soaphead about giving her blue eyes, because clearly that would change this bad part of her life to good. She was asking him to grant this wish for her. The problem is that the way christianity works is that you don’t “wish” your things to your pastor or to God. You pray for what you want and according to God’s plan for you he will make these things happen for you.
Soaphead is not an actual appointed pastor, he was a self-declared “Reader, Adviser, and Interpreter of Dreams” (Morrison 165). He did grant this wish though, as if he was a Genie granting Aladdin’s wish restrictions though. Pecola didn’t literally have blue eyes but she thought she did, it was a mind game.
He lead “Pecola to lies, self-delusion and madness”, not a great quality of a pastor (Edmund 2). These blue eyes that she saw, were supposed to fix everything and change “the evil to good”. In fact these blue eyes did nothing like that but just made the people around her continue to think worse of her. The way Pecola looks like gives her no self confidence and just makes her to want beauty from others causing her to almost always have a negative attitude which carries through her entire life. More racial discrimination was shown in Home by Toni Morrison.
When Frank went to the war, his sister had to find a job for herself. Cee found a job that paid well for being a black girl and decided to save up for a down deposit on a house. After saving up for a decently long time she consulted a realtor about the house she wanted to buy over the phone and they said they would meet and settle to purchase this home. She had the money for the house and would sign any papers, so why was she not allowed to purchase this house? It was simple, she was black. The agent told her she couldn’t buy it because of her race, he said that the flier said, “no part of said property hereby conveyed shall ever be used or occupied by any Hebrew or by any person of the Ethiopian, malay or Asiatic race expecting only employees in the domestic service” (Morrison 73). He then suggested houses in other places that she could buy but Cee saved up money to live in this neighborhood.
The neighborhood matters because the places where the majority of people were black, meant the area wasn’t as well kept up because the city didn’t care about that place. Now a white majority area would be much cleaner and well maintained by the city. There wasn’t much Cee could do but walk away with frustration for the society she was living in.
To add onto the unluckiness, Cee lost her job but luckily enough she found another well paying job that covered her expenses of food, water and a bed by working as a white doctor’s assistant. When she gets this job she thinks everything is looking up for her, because Cee saw Dr. Scott as a hero. He treated the sick even if they were black and poor. Little did Cee know she was just being used for eugenics. Eugenics was something illegal at the time and meant to manipulate human breeding obviously without the patient’s consent. As the story develops the Doctor experiments eugenics on her which also denote her race and gender. Her body was being used which was not expected when Cee accepted this job.
Morrison wanted to show how ” the injustice of poverty, was made worse by race and gender” (McDowell), that since one was a high class white man they could take advantage of a low class black girl. Morrison had politics all hidden in parts of her novels and this is a perfect example of it. Morrison wasn’t a politician but she did strongly stand by what she believed in. After this incident, Frank came and rescued Cee from the doctor taking them to Mrs. Ethel who was part of a church organization, otherwise known as the only help they could get.
Morrison used many examples of good samaritans in Home, as it was also an important part of helping those being attacked of racial discrimination. Frank and Cee’s parents went a-wall from them a while ago, so church’s were their best option. There were many instances in Home where Frank didn’t have the basic necessities to live. The best example of this shown was when Frank was on his journey to rescue Cee. He just broke out of a mental hospital and was running barefoot to the AME Zion Church. A poor black reverend, John Locke helps Frank because he acted as he had a mission he needed to accomplish as soon as possible.
Locke gives Frank some food a pair of galoshes which were a name for rain boots. The family of the reverend also gives Frank all their money, “seventeen dollars, that’s more than enough for a bus ticket to Portland and then on to somewhere near chicago” with instructions to get help from another reverend in Portland when he got there (Morrison 17). Getting help like this was appreciated by Frank because without it Frank doesn’t know how he could of gotten there. The samaritans “provide the material means..
.give him advice and emotional support”, helping them play a major role in Frank’s life (Ibarrola 115) . It was important Morrison included these good samaritan acts because it was a very important part of her life. Similarly to Frank, there were many times Morrison and her classmates were in positions where the town they had to go to for class wasn’t nice. Not nice in the sense meaning the townspeople weren’t going to let them sleep anywhere.
Because of this “they would check the yellow pages for a Black church and then call up a minister and say, ‘We’re from Howard University and we’re a little chagrined because we don’t have a place to say,” (Italie). They counted on the black church community to help them in dire need because they knew, their community would always help them. Morrison said that the “women, they just fed us, took care of us, put us on these sweet-smelling sheets and cooked, and wouldn’t take any money” (Italie). Because times like this were so appreciated by Morrison, she wanted her readers to show the kindness black people shared for each other when white people wouldn’t be. Morrison wrote stories to show all the struggles faced by African Americans.
Struggles one may not first think of at first, but still just as hard as all the other problems they faced. She used descriptive and keen language to make the story interesting yet still get her point across. Morrison was under the influence when writing, not alcohol but racism she experienced herself. The hidden parts in all her books that were anecdotes of her life were purposely placed there. Mainly for the reason to show some of her experiences and struggles as a black woman. All with the intentions on showing the impacts of the way the white majority has treated the black population.