When I began reading “The Bluest Eye,” I read the foreword, which elucidated many parts of the novel that might have otherwise confused me. What sticks out the most in looking back on this novel is Pecola’s designation as the main character. Morrison writes, “the main character could not stand alone since her passivity made her a narrative void. So I invented friends, classmates” (X). This confession startled me at the time but I proceeded to read with a fixation on any mention of Pecola, knowing she was meant to be the focal point of the plot. And she is the focal point at a distance–a force that whispers through the lifelines of all other characters, connecting their disparate situations, but she seems to belong to the realm of in-between–a character that exists in tension but not on her own. It is an odd situation when the main character cannot bear the weight of the plot. In the end, when Morrison forces her to confront that role and take her place as the primary voice, she crumbles. Pecola’s split personality then seems less like a necessary reaction to traumatic events, and more like a literary device to ease the burden of Pecola’s designation as plot-bearer.
The Bluest Eyes and narrative shifts
The Bluest Eyes keeps shifting the point of view of the narration, through various mechanisms, either through a different narrator or a change in the focalization. If the first part kept mostly to Claudia and an omniscient narrator’s perspective, the second part of the novel is less sparse in using these kinds of devices, as we are made aware of both of Pecola’s parents’ stories – Polly through a first-person narrative like a journal, intertwined with the omniscient narrator’s account, and Cholly through his own internal focalization. We are even invited into Pecola’s mind, in a strange dialogue with an unnamed “friend” (who might be understood as a form of Pecola’s subconscious). In a novel that questions the subjective view of beauty, showing multiple accounts and perspective serves to create and question a previously fixed understanding of what beauty can contain. There is no clear and definite perspective on beauty, and it translates in the form of a wavering identity; there is a clear vocabulary of stripping oneself of everything once the self is viewed through the lens of beauty: Polly experiences it both when she take on the standard of beauty for herself – “in equating physical beauty with virtue, she stripped her mind, bound it, and collected self-contempt by the heap” (122) – and when she gives it up – “Everything went. Look like I just didn’t care no more after that.” The clear dichotomy between “after” and “before” (196) getting blue eyes – or, the equivalent of becoming beautiful – is soon blurred by the unnamed voice who plants seeds of doubts in Pecola’s mind, forcing her to continue her quest – until the last image of her, “searching the garbage” (206).
In the airport scene, Oedipa is described as “playing the voyeur and listener” (100), observing an array of strange and unusual characters walking by her. Describing the people she sees, the narrative, somehow takes on an omniscient point of view through her eyes, as for example she knows a Negro woman “kept going through rituals of miscarriage each for a different reason”. Contradicting these strange omniscient descriptions, is Oedipa’s own doubts as to how many times she saw the post horn, as “perhaps she did not see it quite as often as she later was to remember seeing it”. Oedipa’s focalization wavers often between internal, subjective, and something more omniscient, never quite reconciling its ambiguity (as when, on page 28, she manages to take off three different earrings). Perhaps the answer can be found in this same description on page 100, where Oedipa sees a double of herself, another voyeur whose consciousness, for some reason, she can’t access, as she doesn’t know what he or she is looking for (“searching for who knows what specific image”).