Cinema In Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye

1761 words - 7 pages

Cinema in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye

In Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, characters learn how to perform social roles though film. Pauline goes to the movies in search of a more glamorous identity. Instead, the unattainable beauty she sees onscreen reaffirms her low place in society. Laura Mulvey’s article, Visual and Other Pleasures, explains film’s ability to indoctrinate patriarchal social order. This ability is certainly applicable to Morrison’s novel. Film reinforces the Breedloves’ place in society, teaches Claudia to love Shirley Temple and constructs women as sexual objects for pleasure. Mulvey’s article also examines the powerful, active male gaze. In The Bluest Eye the female gaze is constructed as dirty, unnatural and wrong. Women and children in this novel are relegated to the role of passive sexual objects. Little girls are subjected to the gaze of Cholly and Soaphead Church. Mulvey defines this type of gaze as fetishistic scopophilia. In both Mulvey’s article and Morrison’s novel film is used as an instructional tool to create identity and reinforce social and gender roles.

Film’s power to enforce social order is revealed in Pauline’s trips to the movies. She is drawn to the physical beauty and therefore taught to value beauty above anything else in society. Pauline receives an “education” from the movies. “It was really a simple pleasure, but she learned all there was to love and all there was to hate” (Morrison 122). Pauline learns how to order her world though film. She is taught to love beauty and hate ugliness. Film, however, also teaches her to hate herself because of her ugliness. At first Pauline identifies with the beautiful white women she sees in the movies. She even attempts to look like them. She goes to the movies with “my hair up like I’d seen hers on a magazine. A part on the side, with one little curl on my forehead. It looked just like her. Well, almost just like” (Morrison 123). Pauline recognizes herself in the glamorous women onscreen. Mulvey discusses this type of recognition in her article. She refers to it as a type of mirror stage when the viewer’s “curiosity and the wish to look intermingle with a fascination with likeness and recognition” (Mulvey 17). She goes on to explain how this type of recognition then leads to misrecognition. Pauline experiences such misrecognition. She learns that she can never be like the beautiful women in the movies. While watching the show, her tooth falls out. She then realizes, “There I was five months pregnant, trying to look like Jean Harlow, and a front tooth gone. Everything went then. Look like I just didn’t care no more after that” (Morrison 123). The tooth falling out reminds Pauline of her ugliness and helps her to understand her mistake in identifying with Jean Harlow. She understands she will never be beautiful or glamorous, which are the traits the movies have taught her to value. Because of her film...

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