Read This: The Bluest Eye

the bluest eye

On the state Senate floor in the waning hours of the final day of the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate) read a passage from Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye as part of his effort to derail Common Core in Oklahoma. Ignoring that Common Core doesn’t require any schools to read The Bluest Eye (the books listed are suggestions), Sen. Brecheen’s use of The Bluest Eye indicates not only fundamental misunderstanding of the work but also precisely why Oklahomans ought to read it. Its frank portrayal of poverty, misogyny, and racism, still all too common in Oklahoma, helps readers to empathize with those affected by oppression. By giving them the tools to understand the world around them, The Bluest Eye equips readers to change that world.

The Bluest Eye is by no means an easy read. The novel’s protagonist is a poor, eleven year-old Black girl named Pecola Breedlove, who dearly wishes she had blue eyes – an unattainable standard of white beauty. In the course of the novel, Pecola is raped by her father and subsequently becomes pregnant. She eventually miscarries and appears to be insane by the end of the novel.

In his attempt to prove why The Bluest Eye is inappropriate, Sen. Brecheen read aloud a paragraph taken grossly out of context, choosing to spell out some of the words rather than read them in full. He later described the scene as “miserably graphic,” apparently due to its sexual content.

However, the scene Sen. Brecheen chose to read describes the incestuous rape of Pecola. At no point in his description of the book did Sen. Brecheen indicate that the sexual scene he was reading aloud was not consensual, nor that the subsequent blame and ostracization Pecola encounters from her community in the aftermath drive much of the book’s conflict. Within the novel, as Pecola’s pregnancy becomes more visible, Pecola’s school attempts to ban her from the classroom, and her community shuns her. Sen. Brecheen treats this scene as a tawdry form of pornography, instead of a pivotal moment in a heart-wrenching narrative about a girl whose community cares more about hiding the evidence of a crime than her well-being.

Books give students the context and skills to critique their own lives and communities. The Bluest Eye is a compassionate, unflinching look at poverty, racial inequity, and violence against women. These issues are still rampant in Oklahoma and our students need the skills to understand and confront them. About one-quarter of children statewide live in poverty – but that rate nearly doubles for Black children, one in two of whom lives in poverty. Similarly, an inherited system of discrimination impedes economic stability for families of color, essentially stacking the deck against them. Rates of dating violence among ninth-graders in Oklahoma is more than three times the national average, and Oklahoma ranks sixth nationwide for (reported) rapes.

Being able to describe one’s world is the first step to changing it. Oklahoma students are not required to read it – but we’re pretty sure most Oklahomans should. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in January 2014. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern. A Kansas City native, Carly graduated from the University of Tulsa in December 2013 with a BA in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. She is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification Program, the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking program, and The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa. She previously served as board president for United Campus Ministry at the University of Tulsa. At OK Policy, Carly supervises policy staff and conducts research focusing on health care and the safety net.

2 thoughts on “Read This: The Bluest Eye

  1. Shame on you. It is all about choices…we in American are given so many choices to upgrade our lives, opportunities abound. Welfare allows a financial life better than many who have worked all their lives, the healthcare system is wonderful. What is poverty but a refusal to work and live a good moral, responsible life. It can’t be changed by throwing more welfare and more food at those persons. Why do you think most of them weigh 200 pounds and above? Employees are impossible to get at $10 per hour, and what is minimum wage? Look around, all the businesses are crying loudly for workers!!! Encourage family pride, good work ethics, good schools who don’t try to get students labeled ADD, ADHD, etc in order to get more funds for schools who don’t want to teach, then the drugs make the children have more problems. The book chosen by Mr. Brecheen is an example of schools, teachers, family and community who paid no attention to a child in need in the United States but we choose to laud our citizens for going to foreign countries to WORK!! Teach our people to work and take care of their own. Bad choice of a book!!!

  2. Agree with Lana Sewell Reed’s opinion. I read this book many years ago and thought it was wonderful… Also, being a Toni Morrison fan.

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