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Internalized Racism in the Bluest Eye

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Jessie Dann

ENG 200

Benjamin Ambler

May 7, 2015

Toni Morrison, delves into some of the deep-rooted issues that continuously afflict humanity. For example notions including internalized racism and cultural and class divisions are uncovered in her novel The Bluest Eye. This story, along with others that share similar themes reveal the origin of the teething troubles that are so engraved into our mutual existence.   These active evils stem unswervingly from the systematic oppression we accept as members of a conditioned society. The prominent societal ideal that the connection between being happy and successful directly correlates to living according to the standards created, regulated, and controlled by the white world is the heartbeat continuing to give life to racism.

Morrison eloquently unmasks this subject in the text through joining an audience reception theory with an emotive literary criticism. Thus, opening the door for readers of all colors to feel the pain and struggles of her characters facing real difficulties.  Sympathy is defined as the capability to share feelings or the disposition to think and share parallel sentiments. The ability to feel sympathy is a mighty eminence inherently assumed in the makeup of all human beings.  Authors, scholars, and writers are hyperaware of the power that accompanies jolting the reader’s sympathy and exercise techniques designed specifically for that in their works. It is difficult to imagine a literary work of much acclaim that does not seek to stimulate readers’ emotions in some way. Emotive theory, however, is more than just a literary term for touching readers’ hearts. In fact, it is a set of powerful tools that can help society come to grips with key issues, including deeper understandings of racism, class divisions and social injustice. As the town of Baltimore struggles for calm in the days after it buried a man who died at the hands of police, the idea of emotive theory in literature becomes all the more powerful as both a release for those filled with anger and rage and as a source of understanding for those who are looking at Baltimore with puzzlement. Emotive theory can help those who are angry deal with their emotions by learning about others faced with similar or even more challenging circumstances. Additionally, emotive theory allows an exclusive prevue into various societal issues. The Bluest Eye, according to Jerome Bump, an English professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Gerard Manley Hopkins, is a perfect example to explore the theory of emotive literary criticism:

“Some critics have remarked on the emotional impact of The Bluest Eye and thus we can use this novel as a template for the practice of an ethical emotive criticism that connects feelings to thought, in this case to psychological models of racism, stigmatism, judging by appearance, and hierarchies of emotions”(Bump 150).

Morrison communicates important issues to her readers because they have connected to the story on an emotional level. She creates a threshold of understanding between the reader and the character that is easily crossed through her enveloping use of language that captivates what Aristotle calls the readers’ “eleos,” or pity and what W.B. Stanford, Irish classical scholar and senator, calls “compassionate grief,” or feeling one’s pain.

Morrison recognizes the aptitude of incorporating this stirring approach and diligently practices it in The Bluest Eye. Bump explains the value of emotion and literature:

“Certainly, the foundations of English and language departments could be shifted by an emotive literary criticism, especially one that connected research on feelings of “sympathy” to the sympathetic imagination: our ability to penetrate the barrier between us and another person and, by actually entering into the other, so to speak, to secure a momentary but complete identification with her.” (Bump 149).

Once the barriers are removed, deeper connections are formed between the characters in the story and the readers. Those deepened connections allow readers to immerse themselves in the emotions that their characters are feeling. And Bump and others have explained that those emotions are often extremely powerful, “Emotions often generate more energy for reform of race, class, and gender inequalities than abstractions, and a focus on feelings challenges not just the way multiculturalism is taught today but the foundations of higher education itself.” (Bump 148) The ideas for reform of race, class and gender inequalities are woven throughout The Bluest Eye as Morrison tells the story of Pecola Breedlove a young black girl with a refugee-like attitude, trying escaping her family chaos while simultaneously trying to survive in a world tailored, designed, and defined by whiteness as a member of the Black community. The story demonstrates the blatant internalized racism in the Black community after the Great Depression in the poverty-ridden town nestled in Northeast Ohio, Lorain. According to Bump, by using Pecola’s story Morrison is enabling and inciting the reader to, “Feel compassionate grief for Pecola, to feel her pain, is to take the first step toward breaking out of the habits of racism and judging by appearance.” (Bump 157).  The story is built from the foundation of five underlying emotions: shame, love, anger, guilt and fear and constructed and exhibited through the character Pecola who, Erving Goffman, writer and sociologist, renders makes her less than human because of her array of stigmas. According to Bump,

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