This is a guest post from Morgan Jerkins. Morgan graduated from Princeton University with an AB in Comparative Literature and is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction at the Bennington Writing Seminars. Follow her on Twitter @MorganTheScribe.
I admit that I was ashamed that I waited 22 years to read any of Toni Morrison’s works, especially since she is one of the foremost African-American writers. I spent so much time in undergrad reading European literature that I did not even make time to read Black writers. It wasn’t until I read The Bluest Eye that I realized what I was missing: my own reflection. I realized from reading this novel that Black people can be just as beautiful, complex, and captivating as their White counterparts. I felt such pride in my culture from reading this book, and I hope that I will be able to convey it to you what it means to me. Ironically, words do not do my emotions justice when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by a particular artistic work. Imagine that.
First, Toni Morrison writes in AAVE, or African-American Vernacular English, in such a way that it sounds like Shakespeare. The language is funny, witty, and moving—and I speak it every single day with my loved ones. African-American Vernacular English is often called “ebonics”, which can be interpreted as a pejorative term because it reduces the language to bad English. As I read the dialogue between Mr. and Mrs. Breedlove, I thought to myself, how can this language ever be considered “bad”? The dialect was so beautiful that I almost forgot that these characters were Black and that they were speaking a vernacular that I speak all the time. And then I got upset at myself for slipping into this problematic train of thought: that a black person’s language is reductive and improper. Who taught me that? From where did I learn this?
In The Bluest Eye, I found my blackness. It was an intimate study of who these characters are as individuals and how I can see my reflection within each and every one of them. Not to mention, I felt intimidated by reading this novel. Morrison writes in such a way that she uses verbs that you would not think would go together with certain actions and situations, but they miraculous work. She is able to tie together every element of the story from the agriculture and farming habits to beauty, ugliness, and tumultuous family dynamics. There was never a dull moment. Each sentence moved the story forward with such energy that I devoured more than I intended each time I picked up the book to read another chapter, and I was still begging for more afterwards.
Last but not least, I’m thankful for The Bluest Eye because Toni Morrison brought a highly sensitive issue to the forefront: black beauty. The pinnacle of black beauty is trying to assimilate one’s self to look as European as possible. Black people aren’t entirely responsible for this “system” but they do help in perpetuating it. It was inspirational for me as a budding writer to read this because it lets me know that I can write about issues in the Black community and still maintain widespread appeal. It really, truly is possible to grab an audience’s attention if the story is good, and to call this story good would be a vast understatement.