In The Bluest Eye, the plot is not centered around just one character, but two, both Claudia and Pecola. It is almost difficult to determine who is the minor character in the other person’s story. So when beginning to think about writing a post, I was surprised that I didn’t quite know which character was the main character. If you read the summary added by the publisher on the back of the book, it makes it quite clear that Pecola is the main character, the primary person of interest. No other character is mentioned. But when we read the actual novel, we find that we get none of Pecola’s interiority or internal thoughts, only her outward behaviors and actions. At the same time, we get all of Claudia’s internal thoughts. We can track Claudia’s development on a personal level, but we are always somewhat removed from Pecola. We never hear her internal voice. She is a minor character in her own story.
In the Forward, Morrison writes that, “Begun as a bleak narrative of psychological murder, the main character could not stand alone since her passivity made her a narrative void. So I invented friends, classmates …” (x). How is our understanding of Pecola affected by this status as a ‘minor’ main character? Does it limit the reader’s ability to connect with her? Does it inform the reader’s understanding of her relegated position in society?
It is also interesting to think about the strange things the narration must do in order to have Pecola’s story told by Claudia. There are some instances where Claudia is very clearly the narrator, and where she is talking about thoughts and experiences in first person, many of which have nothing to do with Pecola, like when she is narrating her interactions with her mother or her thoughts about Maureen Peal. However, there are other sections of the story where Claudia is absent, and the story is centered just on Pecola, like the scene with Junior and the cat or the time Pecola goes to buy Mary Janes. These are all narrated in third person. Are we supposed to understand Claudia, perhaps an older Claudia, narrating these stories, or are we supposed to understand them as coming from an outside, third person narrative voice?
February 12, 2018 at 12:46 pm
The idea of Pecola being a minor character in her own story brings to my mind our discussions during our reading of Fun Home around Bechdel’s personal breakthroughs being overshadowed by revelations about her father. However, unlike Bechdel’s ability to define herself through her father (and in doing so, define herself), Pecola’s minor character status doesn’t come with the narrative power of viewpoint. The result is that as a reader, I completely understood how a little girl like Claudia could mostly non-maliciously push Pecola further into social exclusion (as when she breaks up the outwardly positive instance of Maureen Peal’s reaching out to Pecola). For what it’s worth, I understood those moments where Claudia was not present as being the voice of an omniscient narrator, not Claudia. One consequence, interestingly enough, of accepting that there is an omniscient narrator is that there is an omniscient value judgment of what to depict and who to follow, what instances to include, to prioritize Claudia’s voice over Pecola’s, and so on. If the narrator were actually solely Claudia, then Pecola might still be a minor character in her own story but we could as readers imagine her viewpoint to be of equal importance, and could get accustomed to viewing her through Claudia. Instead, we have to work harder as readers to understand Pecola through the wide variety of her surroundings (and we have to pay more attention to those surroundings as well).