Toni Morrison first novel The Bluest Eye published in 1970 deals with certain controversial themes such as racism, incest and child molestation. It rose out of Morrison’s remembering a conversation with a school friend who wanted to have blue eyes. Morrison thought of this when she was part of the Black is Beautiful Campaign during the 1960s.
Set in Lorain in Ohio, against the backdrop of America's Midwest during the years following the Great Depression, the novel starts with a School Primer that describes a typical white family:
Here is the house. It is green and white. It has a red door. It is very pretty. Here is the family. Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane live in the green-and-white house. They are very happy. See Jane. She has a red dress. She wants to play. Who will play with Jane? See the cat. It goes meow-meow. Come and play. Come play with Jane. The kitten will not play. See Mother. Mother is very nice. Mother, will you play with Jane? Mother laughs, Laugh, Mother, laugh. See father. He is big and strong. Father, will you play with Jane? Father is smiling.
Set in the 1940s, it has the protagonist Pecola who has assimilated the white standards of beauty so much that she wants blue eyes.
Toni Morrison uses the black vernacular in order to create the experiences of the black community in the US and she manages to depict the damage done by internalised racism on a young vulnerable girl of twelve. The black girl Pecola is subject to the dominant American culture that says to her that she is not beautiful or relevant but that she is invisible.
Pecola belongs to a dysfunctional family where her parents Cholly and Pauline constantly fight. She comes to stay with the MacTeers because Cholly has burnt the house down. The Breedloves’ initial years of knowing each other, courtship and marriage were happy. However, once the novelty of their relationship fades away, Cholly turns into an alcoholic and Pauline takes comfort in her job as a housekeeper and in movies.
Pecola suffers much as her mother loves only the white children under her care and is abused by her father. She goes to Soaphead Church, a sham mystic, and asks him for blue eyes. Claudia prays for Pecola’s baby to survive but however just like the marigolds that they had planted in the garden, the baby also does not survive. Pecola turns mad but in her state believes that she has finally got the blue eyes that she had always wanted.