As a disclaimer, the 3 of us who run this book club are white, and will be speaking from a place of privilege. We understand this, and will try our best to not be ignorant or assume anything.
I didn’t enjoy this book. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to. I found it moving, upsetting and distressing, but it made me think.
The main theme, I thought, was whiteness as beauty. Whiteness as the ideal of beauty, as it being the standard against beauty is measured, as if not being white meant not being beautiful. And for Pecola, it did. Her desperation for blue eyes is a symbol of her unhappiness at the way she looks, how she feels that if she looked different, better, whiter, with all those things that go along with being white, she would be better, and be able to be loved. But in reality it’s not her skin colour or eye colour that stop her being loved by her family, it’s their own personal dysfunction. However it is her skin colour that stops her being loved by others, society, the world. Her unhappiness at her image is racial self loathing, Morrison says in her afterword ‘how something as grotesque as the demonisation of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society’. It made me think about how whiteness is perhaps still seen as the ideal (type beauty into google images and you get white women), and about how children, girls especially, from an early age absorb all of the words and images around them and understand beauty, what constitutes it, how they ‘ought’ to look, the power it holds. All of this focus on beauty can be really harmful, and we see in the novel how unhappy it makes Pecola.
I found the book really disjointed , jumping from time to place to person, but found it gave me a good insight into each person, their life, their history, how the events they went through shaped them. Reading the afterword, Morrison said it was written like that to do that, and so that the reader could assemble the pieces for themselves, and not pity Pecola, as ‘the weight of the novels inquiry on such a delicate and vulnerable a character could smash her and lead readers into the comfort of pitying her, rather than into an interrogation of themselves for the smashing’. I’m not sure I understand this. I do pity her. Is it that we ought to be questioning ourselves, our cultures and societies, our emphasis on beauty, our emphasis on whiteness, rather than just reading a piece of fiction and then forgetting it? Did you think the novel was fragmented, and did you like the way it was written, enjoy piecing it together for yourself, or not?
There were a lot of things in this book that made me think, but as always with me, it’s simply my thoughts and feeling, rather than a deep educational analysis. I’m looking forward to discussing this with you all, but as always please put your own selfcare first.