Faculty of Arts
Department of English and American Studies
English Language and Literature
WHITE BEAUTY AS AN OBSTACLE IN THE
SEARCH FOR LOVE IN TONI MORRISON’S
THE BLUEST EYE AND TAR BABY
Bachelor‟s Diploma Thesis
Supervisor: Mgr. Kateřina Prajznerová, M.A., Ph.D.
I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the sources listed in the bibliography.
I would like to express my gratitude to my supervisor, Mgr. Kateřina Prajznerová,
M.A. Ph.D. for her support and time. I am grateful for her helpful suggestions and
valuable comments. My thanks also go to Mgr. Jana Heczková for her helpful advice.
Table of Contents
2. Toni Morrison and Her Definition of Beauty……………………..........5
3. Pecola Breedlove in The Bluest Eye........................................................7
4. Jadine Childs in Tar Baby ......................................................................19
Toni Morrison is regarded as one of the most influential African American women
writers. In her works she explores many themes concerning the African American
experience, focusing primarily on the position of black women in the contemporary world.
Jane S. Bakerman stresses that “the central theme of all [Morrison‟s] work is beauty, love
[…]” (541). Morrison is also concerned with the intolerance that African American women
are subjected to while living in a predominantly white society and thus surrounded by
white beauty. Through her female protagonists one can clearly see the devastating impact
on the lives of these black women whose lives are dominated by white beauty.
In my final thesis, I intend to examine two of Morrison‟s novels, dealing with them
in a chronological order – The Bluest Eye (1969) and Tar Baby (1981). Firstly, I want to
outline Morrison‟s definition of beauty and the circumstances that lead her to write about
African American women. The main aim of my thesis is to investigate how African
American women have been influenced by the white beauty and to analyze the
consequences that this white beauty has had on African American women while they have
been searching for love.
My thesis is divided into three parts. The first part explores Morrison‟s own
definition of beauty. The second part analyzes Morrison‟s The Bluest Eye, the main
protagonist Pecola Breedlove as well as several other characters from her community who
are affected by white beauty. I examine the main images of white beauty and their
devastating effects on African American women. The last chapter deals with Morrison‟s
Tar Baby and the character of Jadine Childs. I look at Jadine as a powerful illustration of a
black woman who has succeeded in some of Pecola‟s desires but at the same time has lost
her bond with her past.
The arguments I make in this thesis are supported by mainly secondary evidence
from articles and books written by scholars such as Malin LaVon Walther, whose “Out of
Sight: Toni Morrison‟s Revision of Beauty” gives a deep insight into the exploration of the
visual system upon which definitions of beauty are based. Walther also elaborates on
Morrison‟s rejection of beauty and also discusses images of black female beauty. Another
piece of influential writing is Missy Dehn Kubitschek‟s Toni Morrison: A Critical
Companion which gives a detailed survey of Tar Baby‟s motifs, e.g. conflicts between
traditional, rural Southern African American culture and white culture. Last but not least is
Elizabeth B. House and her essay “The “Sweet Life” in Toni Morrison‟s Fiction” which
examines the superiority of life-giving idyllic values. She connects sweets, commercially
prepared candy and pies in particular, with the sugar and shows that neither is truly
nourishing for human life. She describes numerous examples of the inner losses which
competitive success dreams bring.
The Bluest Eye, first published in 1969, traces white society and its enormous
influence on the African Americans. Maria Bring implies that the character of Pecola, the
main heroine, is based on a true story of a real girl whom Morrison met when she was 11
years old. Morrison and her little black friend discussed whether or not there is a God.
Morrison thought there was a God, however this girl disagreed. The only reason the black
girl disagreed was that she had wanted blue eyes. This was a deep and heartfelt wish which
she had not been granted. Morrison recalls her reaction well. Morrison could not
understand why this little girl prayed for almost two years for blue eyes. This girl did not
see her own beauty and Morrison did not understand why this girl would want the most
obvious feature of white beauty. This memory of the little girl longing for blue eyes has
stayed with Morrison.
The characters in The Bluest Eye represent what it means to be an African
American searching for love and influenced by white beauty. Pecola, a member of an
untypical African American family, is an extreme victim of the society around her,
resulting in her desire to be a holder of white beauty. In this novel Morrison stresses the
images of the dominant white beauty and its devastating effects on the black people when
searching for love while Tar Baby deals with the main heroine, Jadine, who has already
succeeded in the world dominated by white beauty but she has lost love “with her ancient
properties” (TB 308). Tar Baby reveals that the consequences of white beauty cannot be
true values for African American community. When Pecola wants blue eyes, she says that
she wants to escape from this world. Pecola and her family learn that being black is a
synonym with being ugly. Blue eyes are regarded as beautiful by the community
surrounding Pecola, particularly her mother, Pauline, who deeply admires Shirley Temple
and Greta Garbo. Pecola‟s desperate hunger for love leads to insanity when she starts to
believe she actually has obtained blue eyes.
Tar Baby, published in 1981, comes as Morrison‟s fourth novel. Jadine is a light-
skinned woman who has been educated according to white standards. She has a supportive
family, a promising career as a model, learns the way of life dominated by white beauty,
but is apparently not happy. Like Pecola, she yearns for love. Jadine‟s life, the same as
Pecola‟s, is paradoxically threatened by white beauty. Jadine‟s black lover, Son Green, is
her opposite. He has no education, no family, no future. He lives in Eloe and sees white
beauty as jeopardizing Jadine‟s life. Son does not value luxurious items made by the world
dominated by white beauty. He tries to rescue Jadine from the white world and bring her
back to Eloe. This novel again offers many images of white beauty which I elaborate later
on in my thesis. Jadine has achieved some of the goals which Pecola and Pauline desire.
Jadine identifies herself with the white world and scorns her black world, but she never
really fits into either of them.
In my thesis I primarily concentrate on the two novels mentioned above and on the
main female characters as well as some of the male characters whose lives are threatened
and affected by white beauty. The images of white beauty stand as a barrier for their
hopeless search for love.
2. Toni Morrison and Her Definition of Beauty
Everybody, whether they have black skin or white skin, deals with the question of
beauty. When talking or reading about beauty, it always leads me to think about skinny,
long-haired, long-legged, blue-eyed and white-skinned woman. Many women strive for
beauty. Some people do not consider the main idea of one proverb which says that “beauty
is in the eye of the beholder” (AskOxford Dictionary). Beauty cannot be clearly
characterized by what people are told. Standards of beauty are different for everyone.
When there is a woman passing by, one can see her as beautiful or ugly. It depends on
what one considers beautiful. What is beautiful for me may be ugly for someone else.
Beauty is a central focus for many American women. They are not satisfied with
their physical appearance. They feel that they are not as beautiful as the women on
television or in magazines. The media brainwash women to believe that if they are not slim
and do not have blond hair and blue eyes, then they are not beautiful. According to Naomi
Wolf, “this is a very powerful myth” (qtd. in Sugiharti). Since the ideal of beauty is and
has been largely depicted as a woman with light skin and blue eyes, it is even less possible
for a woman of colour than for a white woman to achieve this ideal. Elizabeth B. House
underscores that “competitive American society teaches that beauty makes people lovable”
(182). This causes women not only to hate the ideal women from magazines or television,
but also to hate themselves. Bertram D. Ashe confirms that “African American women,
with their traditionally African features, have always had an uneasy coexistence with the
European (white) ideal of beauty” (579). This can be clearly seen in the African American
women characters in Morrison‟s novel who suffer when trying to assimilate white
standards of beauty.
Toni Morrison addresses the issue of female beauty and forces the black women to
think about themselves. Primarily, Morrison rejects the traditional view of white beauty
because she sees it as “racist and frivolous and it separates women from reality” (qtd. in
Walther 775-76). This is clearly demonstrated on Pecola‟s urgent desire for bluest eyes and
Jadine‟s loss of her bonds with the black world. These two black women lose contact with
reality. Pecola goes insane at the end and Jadine does not know where she belongs. In
“What the Black Woman Thinks About Women‟s Lib” Morrison asserts: “It seems a
needless cul-de-sac, an opiate that appears to make life livable if not serene but eventually
must seperate us from reality. I maintain that black women are really O.K. O.K. with our
short necks. O.K. with our calloused hands. O.K. with our tired feet and paper bags…O.K.
O.K. O.K.” (qtd. in Walher 775-76). Essentially, this statement rejects beauty, yet contains
“the seeds of Morrison‟s future redefinition of beauty” (qtd. in Walther 776). Further,
Morrison questions whether “it might be just as well for black women to remain useful”
(qtd. in Walther 775). According to Morrison, the women should “remain useful” (qtd. in
Walther 776), but in the white culture these women are helpless. In other words, when a
woman has tired feet and calloused hands she is not appropriate for the white culture. But
for Morrison “these attributes are beautiful and more authentic than popularized standards
of white female beauty, because they reflect women who are useful and real” (qtd. in
Walther 776). Morrison‟s rejection of white female beauty is reflected in her first novel
The Bluest Eye where she reveals the crippling effects of white beauty on a young black
girl. Her later works such as Tar Baby insist on “a beauty who is useful, a beauty who
works” (qtd. in Walther 776). To sum up, Morrison claims that “blacks must love and
desire racially authentic beauty, rather than imitating other races‟ forms of beauty” (qtd. in
Ashe 589). In the next chapter I will analyze Pecola‟s yearning for bluest eyes and the
horibble effects white beauty has on her as she is searching for love.
3. Pecola Breedlove in The Bluest Eye
The main protagonist of The Bluest Eye, Pecola Breedlove, is an eleven-year-old
girl, growing up as a black female in The United States in the 1940s. Pecola‟s only one
wish is to be loved and accepted by her family and her schoolmates. Throughout the book
she searches for love. It is clear, as Maria Bring observes, that “Pecola envisions achieving
someone‟s affection as something that [she] can do” (8). She already knows that nobody
loves her and that there exists something which might change her situation. She believes
that through blue eyes and white beauty she will find love and acceptance by the people.
However, her wish results in insanity. At the beginning of the novel, Pecola‟s frantic
search for love is introduced by her question to Claudia: “How do you do that? How do
you get somebody to love you?” (TBE1 23).
Pecola is a tragic victim whose victimization results from the society in which she
lives and from the family surrounding her. Wayne Blake and Carol Anderson Darling
assert that “African American ability to love has required self-acceptance and has been
suported by the family” (414). The family Pecola grows up in is full of racial self-loathing.
Pecola‟s parents do not know how to love and sadly they cannot give love to their children.
Pecola seems to be born knowing, as Bakerman suggests, that “the Breedloves were
damaged people, undervalued by both whites and blacks” (543). Pecola‟s parents have
accepted the only one idea – that they are ugly. It can be clearly seen from the novel that
the blacks are forced to see themselves as dirty and ugly. Their white employers often say
to them: “You are ugly people” (TBE 28). Most members of the black community look at
themselves and see nothing to refute this statement. They are not the model which the
society portrays as appropriate. They have no self-confidence and no self-esteem.
TBE stands for The Bluest Eye.
Although they are beautiful, they are taught and convinced that their ugliness is unique. To
Pecola, the youngest member of her family, this is just a fact of life.
Since Pecola does not witness love at home, she has a vague idea of what it would
be like to be loved. Pecola wonders: “What did love feel like? How do grown-ups act when
they are in love? Eat fish together?” (TBE 44) The only beings who talk to Pecola about
love are the prostitutes who live upstairs. One of them tells Pecola about a man whom she
loved. They ate fish together so Pecola deduces when people are in love they eat fish
together. This demonstrates that Pecola has no idea of what real love is, and she concludes
that it has much in common with her appearance and the colour of her eyes.
Pecola‟s mother, Pauline Breedlove, whom Pecola refers to only as Mrs. Breedlove,
is the most damaging person who causes Pecola‟s original sense of self-hatred. When
Pauline was a young girl, she felt isolated and lonely. This isolation was exacerbated by
the removal to the North, where she was unlike other blacks and unaccepted by them.
Pauline recalls: “It was hard to get to know folks up here, and I missed my people […].
Northern colored folk was different too. They could make you feel just as no-count, ‟cept I
didn‟t expect it from them” (TBE 91). Pauline searched for entertainment and she found it
in the movies. Her own idea of love was confirmed by the movie theatres. In her loneliness
during her pregnancy with Pecola, Pauline turned to the movies for consolation: “The
onliest time I be happy seem like was when I was in the picture show. Every time I got, I
went. I‟d go early, before the show started […]. White men taking such good care of they
women, and all dressed up in big clean houses with the bathtubs right in the same room
with the toilet” (TBE 95). The movies had a devastating effect on Pauline because of what
they taught her about romantic love and the importance of physical beauty. Pauline
becomes obssessed with Jean Harlow. An incident occured to Pauline when she watched a
film starring Jean Harlow, “an American film actress and a top sex symbol known as the
„Platinum Blonde‟ for her famous hair” (Stephan, par. 4). As Pauline sat in the movie
theatre, her own hair styled in an imitation of Harlow‟s, she ate and bit into a piece of
candy. Pauline remembers: “[…] it pulled a tooth right out of my mouth. There I was,
trying to look like Jean Harlow, and a front tooth gone. Everything went then” (TBE 96).
Pauline‟s loss of a front tooth was a determining event in her life. After this affair, she
gave up her efforts to be beautiful. As Pauline admits: “I let my hair go back, plaited it up,
and settled down to just being ugly” (TBE 96). Pauline felt unworthy and this depressing
event heightened her awareness of her physical appearance. She realized that she will
never be beautiful and loved like Jean Harlow. She gave up some possibilities of being
beautiful and “settled down to just being ugly” (TBE 96). This proves that even with
beautiful hair, the loss of her smile has doomed her to ugliness. Pauline feels that without
the tooth she will be considered ugly and unlovable. According to Pauline only women
with nice teeth are allowed to be loved. Pauline has transferred this ugliness to Pecola and
this has affected her treatment of Pecola.
In The Bluest Eye love is linked with the child ideal of Shirley Temple. The
fascinating power of Shirley Temple is clear in the novel when Frieda, Claudia‟s older
sister, brings Pecola a snack: “Frieda brought her four graham crackers on a saucer and
some milk in a blue-and-white Shirley Temple cup. She was a long time with the milk, and
gazed fondly at the silhouette of Shirley Temple‟s dimpled face. Frieda and she had a
loving conversation about how cu-ute Shirley Temple was” (TBE 12-13). Shirley Temple
was a famous child actress whose movies were immensely popular in the 1930s and 40s.
The popularity of Shirley Temple during the Depression and the importance she had for the
Americans are difficult to overestimate. In that time love was represented by this goddess
Shirley Temple who embodied “equality, happiness, worthiness, and overall comfort” (The
Bluest Eye by Toni Morrsion). If a girl is a white with curly hair like Shirley Temple living
in North America, this girl is going to be happy and lovable. The American president
Franklin Delano Roosvelt, speaking in 1935, praised Shirley Temple: “During the
Depression, when the spirit of the people is lower than at any other time, it is a splendid
thing that for just 15 cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a
baby and forget his troubles” (qtd. in Carney). Pecola is fascinated by Shirley Temple
because Shirley Temple represents what Pecola is not and what she desires for. Pecola is
taught that white skin and curly hair are the virtues that make people lovable.
It is not just the image of Shirley Temple that Pecola starves for, it is also the white
substance inside the cup. It is only later in the story that we are told that Pecola drinks
three quarts of milk a day. Pecola drinks so much milk because she believes that she can
become as white as the milk. The milk symbolizes the change from being black to being
white, from being ugly to being beautiful and from being unlovable to being lovable. This
theme concerning desire for love is also clear in Pecola‟s selection of candy from Mr.
Yacobowski‟s store. She buys Mary Janes. Even the innocent act of buying a candy
becomes an opportunity for Pecola‟s humiliation: “Each pale yellow wrapper has a picture
on it. A picture of little Mary Jane, for whom the candy is named. Smiling white face.
Blond hair in gentle disarray, blue eyes looking at her out of a world of clean comfort. The
eyes are petulant, mischievous. To Pecola they are simply pretty. To eat the candy is
somehow to eat the eyes, eat Mary Jane. Love Mary Jane. Be Mary Jane” (TBE 38). Like
the milk, the piece of candy is believed to have the power to change Pecola‟s appearance.
The surrounding community which Pecola grows up and lives in is another reason
for Pecola‟s overwhelming longing for blue eyes. The children at school do not see her as
beautiful and tease her primarily because she is dark-skinned. In the school Pecola learns
that it is important to have a light skin. Those children who are light-skinned take the
chance to taunt someone who is darker then they are. The most popular girl in school is
Maureen Peal. She is presented as a “high-yellow dream child […] rich as the richest of the
white girls” (TBE 47) meaning that she is light-skinned and more lovable. Maureen
embodies the ideals by which other girls are judged. She is admired by everyone except
Claudia and Frieda. Their loving mother, Mrs. MacTeer, who has no problem in
complaining when she feels bad, who “would go on like that for hours, connecting one
offense to another until all the things that chagrined her were spewed out” (TBE 16),
transfers this ability to Claudia. Claudia and Frieda despise Maureen because she is lighter-
skinned and because she is not racked by the boys as they and Pecola are. Maureens‟s
lighter skin gives her more self-confidence, power and love.
Pecola is abused and neglected at school and in the community, nobody wants to
play with her, nobody seems to see her. As Malin LaVon Walther asserts: “Pecola‟s
ugliness, defined visually by white standards, forces her into a position of invisibility and
absence” (777). Pecola hides behind the ugliness. She feels that she was born at a place
where she is worthless and useless. Pecola is resentful but at the same time the most
innocent girl. She sees her ugliness as a curse because it excludes her form the society and
leaves her lonely. Pecola also feels so powerless that she tries to escape reality: “„Please,
God,‟ she whispered into the palm of her hand, „please let me disappear‟” (TBE 33). It is
her wish not to be seen as ugly as the blacks are seen but to be as beautiful and lovable as
the whites. In order to compensate for her ugliness and her self-loathing, she begins to pray
for possessing blue eyes. Walther argues that “women‟s eyes often serve as an attribute of
female beauty” (778). Pecola believes that “if those eyes of hers were different, that is to
say beautiful, she herself would be different” (TBE 34). If she had blue eyes, she would be
beautiful, she would be admired and loved by other people and people would not say bad
things about her.
The most important reason for Pecola‟s mad desire is the fact that she wants to be
treated differently by her parents. As Claudia, the narrator, says: “If she looked different,
beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and Mrs. Breedlove too” (TBE 34). Pecola
strongly believes that her beauty would prevent people‟s misbehaviour. She thinks that if
she had pretty blue eyes, she would see only nice and pleasant things. Therefore, she
begins to pray: “Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. Fervently, for a year she
had prayed” (TBE 35). Despite the fact that she knows that it will take a long time to
obtain blue eyes, Pecola persists. What is really striking is the fact that she keeps on
hoping. This shows how much the society affects Pecola‟s view of herself. The pressure
from the outside makes her believe that only blue eyes, which represent love, can make her
happy and loved. To the African Americans, blue eyes represent love and power. Pecola
comes to see her dark skin and her non-blue eyes as trash. She will never accepts herself
without blue eyes. She finds salvation only in the hope of blue eyes.
Like Pauline, Pecola internalizes that being beautiful is equal to being loved. For
Pecola and Pauline beauty is something in which they invest everything. Living her life
through white skin, curly hair and blue eyes shown in the movies, it is no wonder that
Pauline, when Pecola is born, describes Pecola as “a black ball of hair” (TBE 96). Pauline
adds, “But I knowed she was ugly. Head full of pretty hair, but Lord she was ugly” (TBE
98). The reason for Pauline‟s reaction to the newborn Pecola is probably that her child has
a dark skin and looks like Pauline. From the beginning we can see that Pauline loathes
Pecola. Pauline distances herself from Pecola as well as from her own family. Pauline
settles to be a housemaid to a white family. Although she neglects her own family, she is
obsessed with cleaning the Fisher‟s house. As Phyllis R. Klotman points out, “[Fishers‟]
values become hers and their lifestyle takes on more meaning than her own” (124). In the
Fisher‟s house, Pauline feels happy and responsible. The Fisher‟s home has “white
porcelain, white woodwork, polished cabinets, and brilliant copperware” (TBE 83). These
things fill her need for beauty and for power. “They even gave her what she never had – a
nickname – Polly” (TBE 99). Pauline realizes that she is accepted by the Fishers. The
nickname is a device of acceptance.
One of the most heart-breaking scenes in the book occurs in the Fishers‟ kitchen.
One day Claudia and Frieda are on a serious search for whiskey. They set out to find
Pecola, who is at the Fishers‟ for the laundry. Pauline is not happy to see Pecola‟s friends
but she allows them to step inside “her kitchen.” While waiting for Pauline to retrieve the
wash, a young white girl – the little Fisher girl – comes into the kitchen where Pecola,
Frieda and Claudia are waiting. She calls anxiously for Pauline. Instead of calling her
“Mrs. Breedlove,” the formal address that her own children call her, the little white girl
calls for “Polly.” When calling on Pauline, Pecola, Frieda and Claudia notice a deep-dish
blueberry cobbler near the stove. Pecola decides to touch it to see if it is hot. As she does
so, the blueberry pie falls by accident. The hot blueberries are everywhere, with most of
the juice splattering on Pecola‟s legs. Pauline treats Pecola “a crazy fool” (TBE 84) as she
worries about the dirtiness of the floor. In the meantime, the little white girl begins to cry.
Pauline immediately turns her attention to the white girl‟s pink dress that is dirtied by the
black blueberries. She repeats, “Hush. Baby, hush […]. Don‟t cry no more. Polly will
change it” (TBE 85). She sooths the tears of the “little pink-and-yellow girl” (TBE 85).
This clearly shows that the white body must be loved and cherished, while the black body
can be insulted and verbally attacked. As the three black girls leave, they can hear Pauline
promise to make another pie for the little white girl. The white girl twice asks Polly who
they are. Pauline refuses to answer. Klotman summarizes: “Through her mother‟s blurred
vision of the pink, white and golden world of the Fishers, Pecola learns that she is ugly,
unacceptable, and especially unloved” (124). Black is ugly and substandard. Her own
mother prefers the strange white child. She is left to conclude that it is white beauty that
guarantees love. This is why Pecola sits for hours “looking in the mirror, trying to discover
the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by
teachers and classmates alike” (TBE 34).
Another example of a person desperately searching for love is demonstrated in the
crucial character of Cholly Breedlove, Pauline‟s husband and Pecola‟s father. His shame
and powerlessness, which stem from his first sexual encounter with a young girl, Cholly
passes on to Pecola. He feels unworthy. Cholly‟s life begins with rejection. When he was
only four days old, his mother “wrapped him in two blankets and one newspaper and
placed him on a junk heap by the railroad” (TBE 103). What is striking is the fact that
Cholly‟s mother does not even give him a name. It is his Aunt Jimmy who brings him up
and takes care of him. He is rejected by his biological parents. He has never experienced a
loving family. A horrible situation occurs in Cholly‟s youth. Cholly is caught by two white
hunters when having sexual intercourse with Darlene. The white hunters flash a flashlight
in his face and giggle at him. He is forced to continue as they watch. This built up a lot of
anger and hatred in Cholly‟s mind. As the narrator says: “They were big, white, armed
man. He was small, black, helpless. His subconscious knew what his conscious mind did
not guess – that hating [the white hunters] would have consumed him, burned him up like a
piece of soft coal, leaving only flakes of ash and a question mark of smoke. He was, in
time, to discover that hatred of white men – but not now” (TBE 118). This moment
changes Cholly‟s attitudes to his beloved Darlene. He feels humiliated, mad and angry and
that is why he transfers this anger to Darlene rather than the hunters: “He hated the one
who had created the situation, the one who bore witness to his failure, his impotence”
(TBE 118). This horrible act changes him into a man who has trouble expressing his
emotions. After this incident Cholly is afraid of Darlene becoming pregnant. He feels that
the only person who is able to understand his fear is his real father, since his father got
Cholly‟s mother pregnant and abandoned her. Cholly decides to find his real father,
Samson Fuller. After walking long hours, he finally finds his father playing craps in an
alley. Cholly goes up and wants to indroduce himself. At this moment Cholly realizes that
he does not know his mother‟s name: “No. Sir, I‟m…” (TBE 122). Cholly does not know
who he belongs to. As Samson says: “Tell that bitch she get her money. Now get the fuck
outta my face” (TBE 123). Samson rejects him and from this time on Cholly is forced to
take care of himself. Cholly‟s rage and failure to protect Darlene from the hunters‟
flashlighst affects his future relationship with women.
Pauline‟s need for love is obvious when as a young girl she possesses “a crooked,
archless foot that flopped when she walked” (TBE 86). She sees her maimed foot as the
reason why she can never find a man who will love her. She falls in love with Cholly
because he is the first man to pay her any attention. For the first time Pauline “felt that her
bad foot was an asset” (TBE 90). But only for a short time. After having had a deeply
humiliating encounter with the hunters Cholly is insecure about his manhood. As the
narrator comments: “Even a half-remembrance of this episode, along with myriad other
humiliations, defeats, and emasculations, could stir him into flights of depravity […]”
(TBE 31-32). As Cholly at first directed his frustration and anger towards Darlene, he does
the same later when he is at home against Pauline and Pecola. Once Cholly, being
extremely drunk, comes home and sees Pecola washing dishes in the kitchen. While he is
watching, he recollects the images of young Pauline and the love he felt for her. The
silhouette of young Pauline coincides with Pecola, for “[Pecola‟s] timid, tucked-in look of
the scratching toe – was what Pauline was doing the first time he saw her in Kentucky”
(TBE 128-29). Not knowing how to deal with this situation, Cholly “[…] with revulsion,
guilt, pity, then love” (TBE 127) rapes her. He sees Pecola‟s sad look and this awakes in
him his personal failure to protect Darlene. As Walther points out, “the male gaze is
connected with sexual desire and objectification of women” (779). Cholly somehow wants
to love his daughter but he does not know how. He needs to be someway accepted by his
family through love which he would not accept. Cholly‟s isolation, unhappy childhood and
unsatisfying life are the main causes of his failure: “This incestual act does nothing but
bring out more sympathy for the protagonist” (Mellage, par. 16). Cholly had internalized
resentment and shame. He lets these feelings out and causes other people to be hurt. I see
this as a vicious cycle. His past was full of rejection and he never knew what it would be
like to love someone. Cholly thinks he loves Pecola but at the same time he rejects her. He
rejected Pauline, but this time he rejects his daughter. After the rape, Pecola becomes
pregnant and finds the only refuge available to her – madness.
Pecola eventually makes her way to Soaphead Church, a West Indian spiritualist
and a sort of faith healer. He had never experienced anything like this: “A little black girl
who wanted to rise up out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes”
(TBE 137). Pecola believes that Soaphead Church is able to help her acquire blue eyes.
Soaphead Church‟s idea of love is to endow Pecola with the thing which she aks for, but it
is not really love. He sees her, like everybody else, as an ugly little black girl. If he could
really work miracles, he would change everything around Pecola. She searches him out as
a last resort, after a year of praying has not helped. God is not capable of helping her. But
Pecola is tricked and she begins to believe that she has now obtained the blue eyes. She
invents an imaginary friend to whom she speaks about her new blue eyes. At the beginning
of her conversation with her new friend, Pecola is happy and convinced that people are
jealous of her blue eyes. That is why people do not look at her when they meet her. This is
the first time she sees herself as beautiful. But it is only an illusion. In fact, Pecola cannot
see her own beauty because she is deceived and her blue eyes are imaginary too. Pecola
loses touch with reality. In her mind she is not content even when she thinks she has
become beautiful. Karla Holloway argues that “even this internal dialoguing of Pecola
does not bring her solace, because she is afraid the eyes given to her by Soaphead Church
are not blue enough” (qtd. in Mellage). Simply having blue eyes is not enough for Pecola.
She is obsessed with the idea of being the most beautiful person possible. Pecola starts to
wish for even bluer eyes. She needs more. She must have the bluest eyes which would
bring her love. Such aim brings along great pain.
White beauty has an enormous influence on the African American community. The
white beauty becomes the ideal for almost everybody from Pecola‟s community. They,
however, cannot reach this ideal of blond hair, blue eyes and white skin. They are therefore
forced to feel inferior. According to Lawrence Halprin, “women of color are judged
according to white beauty and therefore they are always considered ugly” (qtd. in Powers).
This implies that many blacks are taught to hate themselves. The white beauty becomes a
dangerous trap for Pecola. She is born black and she can never escape it. Her life is
dominated by ideas and beliefs regarding white beauty – a thing so superficial and
Pecola and her friends are also exposed to this white beauty. Claudia receives a gift
for Christmas. It is a big, blue-eyed baby doll. This doll is considered beautiful but Claudia
does not think so. Claudia dismembers the baby doll. She tries to rip out her eyes, tear off
her head in the effort to learn “what made people look at them and say, “Awwwww,” but
not for me” (TBE 15). Pecola admires the Shirley Temple cup and buys Mary Jane‟s
candies. She wants to be like them and she realizes she cannot. Claudia hates Shirley
Temple and concerns herself how Mr. Bojangles could select Shirley Temple as his dance
partner over herself in a famous movie scene. She refuses these white girls because they
steal the attention and love that Claudia deserves.
The ideal of white beauty has had a terrible impact on the black community. Due to
the power of this ideal, Pecola believes that only through blue eyes will she remedy her
desperate life and people will love her. Sharon House points out that “One way to get
[love] is by loving and caring for yourself” (par. 3). Pecola cannot be loved because she
does not have blue eyes and blond hair. She is ugly because she does not look like the ideal
of white beauty. Pecola‟s parents, Pauline and Cholly have never experienced love and
they transfer their self-hate to Pecola. They incorporate ugliness into her heart and soul.
Morrison suggests that “her extreme case of self-hatred comes from a series of rejections,
some routine, some exceptional, some monstrous that combine to form the means of
Pecola‟s ultimate destruction” (qtd. in Powers). Pecola succumbs to white beauty. She
searches for love, trying to become somebody she is not and can never be.
4. Jadine Childs in Tar Baby
Jadine Childs is an another character who is desperately searching for love. Jadine,
the main heroine of Tar Baby, has achieved some of the goals which Pecola and Pauline
Breedlove desire such as beauty, power, success and freedom. At the same time she has
lost her bonds with the black world because she has internalized the myth of white beauty.
Jadine is a green-eyed light-skinned black woman who lives her life in between the world
of white culture and her own world of black culture, but fitting into neither of them.
Jadine is a twenty-five-year-old model with a promising future ahead of her. She is
a graduate of the Sorbonne and an actress who has had a “small but brilliantly executed
role in a film” (TB2 116). Jadine grew up in a black working-class family. After her mother
died, uncle Sydney and aunt Ondine, who were servants for the wealthy Valerian family,
took her to the Carribean island of Dominique. Jadine is black but was brought up by the
white family. She thinks and behaves like the whites. She leads a life that is different from
the lives of many black women. The lost bond with her own black world is caused by the
Valerians, the owners of the mansion, who live on Isle des Chevaliers. The white family
finances Jadine‟s education in the cosmopolitan Paris and this starts Jadine‟s modeling
Tar Baby‟s central motif is black and white beauty and Jadine‟s search for love.
Beauty is represented by Margaret Street and Jadine. Jadine is proud of being a part of the
white world. She has been educated according to the white world which enables her to get
to know white culture. Jadine encounters symbols of white beauty in the cities all around
the world which she visits during her modeling career. Jadine realizes that being a black
woman in a white world means to be different. However, she manages to be a model
whose pictures adorn Paris magazines. In spite of the fact that she is an adorable person,
TB stands for Tar Baby.
she is apparently not happy. This unhapiness is demonstrated in an accident when Jadine is
buying food in the supermarket. She comes across a lovely, perfectly self-possessed black
African woman in the dairy section who is characterized as “mother/sister/she […]
unphotographable beauty” (TB 43). Jadine is aware of her own photographable beauty and
this woman‟s unphotographable beauty. The woman represents what Jadine desires for and
at the same time fears. Jadine is also haunted by the thoughts of the striking woman in “her
long canary yellow dress” (TB 42). Morrison depicts this woman as somebody who resists
white beauty. Jadine is also distracted by “the skin like tar against the canary yellow dress”
(TB 42). The brigthly coloured clothes remind her of the clothes worn by some black
women. Importantly, this woman has no shopping basket. She solely places three eggs
“between earlobe and shoulder” (TB 42). This woman looks at Jadine and spits out. A
moment like this intensifies Jadine‟s feelings of love and black woman as she remembers:
“When you have fallen in love, rage is superfluous, insult impossible. You mumble „bitch‟
but the hunger never moves, never closes. It is placed, open and always ready for another
canary-yellow dress, or other tar-black fingers holding three white eggs” (TB 43-44). The
image of the black woman as mother completely derails Jadine. Jadine‟s hunger for this
woman is seen as a result for Jadine‟s desire for her mother and for love. This also reveals
Jadine‟s loss of her identity. As Sandra Paquet observes: “It triggers an identity crisis at the
moment when [Jadine] ought to have felt most secure as as successful model and student –
her marketability assured by beauty and education” (507).
Isle de Chevaliers is an important place for Jadine. It is a place of escape, a kind of
home where she comes to gather with her family and decides the next steps in her career.
Jadines arrives to spend Christmas with her black aunt and uncle and have time to think
about herself. As the narrator remarks: “This vacation with light but salaried work was
what she needed to pull herself together” (TB 66). Jadines works and lives in Europe the
European way of life. Jadine, as a black woman with a certain social status, who lives
among white people in the high-fashion circles in Europe, is a sort of person who has never
worked as a servant or butler to a white family. She gradually realizes that this is how the
other African Americans are treated. She got the chance to live another way of life in the
Tar Baby offers many images of white beauty. Jadine demonstrates her values by
comparing white art and black art, saying: “Picasso is better than an Itumba mask” (TB
72). The paradox is that Jadine studied art history in Paris but got a degree which ignores
her own black world and teaches her to internalize the white world. Jadine prefers Ave
Maria to gospel music. She is definitely consumed by white beauty. This clearly shows
how much she has distanced herself from black culture.
Jadine is black but she is treated like a white girl. The kind of accommodation a
person is offered plays an important role in the world dominated by white beauty. Sydney
and Ondine, the black servants, live “up over the downstairs” (TB 85). Jadine is placed in
the upper rooms on the second floor. Gideon, Therese and the other black natives who do
odd jobs outside the house stay seperated from the mansion. This reveals the positions
these people occupy in the family. Sydney and Ondine‟s room inside the house shows their
acceptance in the Street family. On the contrary, Gideon and Therese have no room in the
house and they belong to the community of the island. Although Jadine is black, she lives
at the top of the house. This shows Jadine‟s attitude to her black world. Jadine lives in a
world dominated by white beauty and does not admit that she is black and should be
treated like black. This occurs when dining with the Valerians while her adoptive parents,
Sydney and Ondine, serve her meals. She feels like a white girl who should be treated like
a white – who should be hovered about. However, Gideon and Therese do not assimilate to
the white way of life in the house. They resent the whiteness with which the mansion is
Jadine‟s education was paid for by Valerian who has accumulated his wealth in the
candy business. The roots of this business are in the Carribean soil, where the main
ingredients of candy like cocoa and sugar are grown. Paradoxically, these ingredients grow
in the field which were laboured and cultivated by black slaves. In other words, black
people carried out Valerian‟s business and wealth. Thanks to black slaves Jadine could
Jadine‟s clothes are another example of an area where white beauty is very
dominant. As a model, Jadine must look good in photographs. She wears “natural raw
silk…honey-coloured…[dresses]” (TB 116). The jewellery which she wears costs about
thirty-two thousand dollars. Her earrings belonged to Catherine the Great, “the Empress of
all the Russians” (TB 117). Jadine‟s nickname reflects “copper Venus” (TB 115). Jadine‟s
beauty resembles a Roman goddess of love and beauty. As Malin LaVon Walther
summarises: “This image pressuposes a universal standard of female beauty which is
actually based on white criteria” (784).
Jadine‟s beauty represented in the photographs, her education and wealth change
her life, but she is also deeply influenced by Son Green, the filthy young black man. He is
not initially a member of the Valerian mansion. After being discovered in the mansion in
Jadine‟s closet, he is invited to stay. He is a kind of intruder with “wild, aggressive, vicious
hair […] uncivilised, reform-school hair, mau, mau, Attica, chain-gang hair” (TB 113).
Jadine is attracted to him. When she looks at Son, she sees “the small dark dogs galloping
on silver feet” (TB 113), which symbolizes Jadine‟s attempt, as James Coleman observes,
“to assert control where control is lacking start running” (64-65). When Jadine first sees
Son, she is full of strange feelings. The reason is that she realizes she had not seen a black
man like him for more than ten years. Jadine feels somehow allied to Son. When Son
meets Jadine, he perceives her white beauty despite the black colour of her skin. Son feels
this white beauty as jeopardizing Jadine‟s life. Jadine is an example of a black girl who is
not able to identify herself with her own black world primarily because of the place she
lives in and her success in her fashion career in the white world. She thinks that she is a
self-confident and self-sufficient young woman until she meets Son. He awakes her past in
her. From this time on, Jadine wonders about her past and begins to think intensely about
herself. As Jadine describes: “I want to get out of my skin and be only the person inside –
not American – not black – just me” (TB 45). Jadine is not able to live freely in the white
world nor the black world. Son, her future lover, seems opposed to Jadine‟s lack of
awareness of her black world.
According to magazine covers and the standards of white beauty, Jadine is beautiful
and she wants to be beautiful all the time. On an excursion with Son to a remote part of Isle
de Chevaliers, Jadine wears “an expertly crushed white cotton halter and a wide, wide skirt
that rich people called „peasant‟ and peasants called „wedding‟” (TB 169). Jadine,
unfamiliar with this part of the island, walks into a mossy area and sinks in the muck to her
knees. Her white skirt is dirtied, spoiled and covered with black slime. In this scene Jadine
comes into dangerous contact with blackness. She is afraid of this blackness which
symbolizes her past. Jadine is happy in her white clothes. This blackness symbolizes Son
Jadine once receives an expensive Christmas gift from her French white fiancé. The
coat he sends her is made from “the hides of ninety baby seals stitched together so nicely
you could not tell what part had sheltered their cute little hearts and which had cushioned
their skulls” (TB 86). Instead of being revolted by this product that Mary Lupton calls
“efficient commercial slaughter of innocence” (417), Jadine loves it. Sinking into its
blackness, “she lay spread-eagle on the fur, nestling herself into it. It made her tremble.
She opened her lips and licked the fur. It made her tremble more” (TB 112). Symbolically
speaking, Jadine is dazzled by this kind of dead black hide. Elizabeth House claims that
Jadine demonstrates “her lack of altruism through wearing apparel” (199). This coat
embodies Jadine‟s own flesh. She identifies herself with this coat. It is black and it was
manufactured by white Europeans. It exactly expresses Jadine‟s personality. She is black
but she is manufactured and treated as white.
Clothes are also important for Son. As a runaway, he first appears on the Isle de
Chevaliers as a smelly guy. Once clothed and bathed, he becomes desirable to Jadine. As
Jadine expresses: “In a white shirt unbuttoned at the cuffs and throat, and with a gentle
homemade haircut, he was gorgeous” (TB 113). At first sight Jadine is afraid of Son. But
when he changes his clothes and wears a white shirt, Jadine is amazed by his beauty. Son
does not value luxury clothes. He sees them as products made by the suffering of others.
Son strictly rejects everything white. Even when he needs money, he does not take it from
Valerian, from his white hands. Son is proud and strong in his black skin. He tries to rescue
Jadine. He wants her to “have dreams about yellow houses with white doors which women
opened and shouted Come on in, you honey, you! And the fat black ladies in white dresses
minding the pie table in the basement […]” (TB 119). In my opinion Son‟s dream of
domesticity has some implications for his hometown in Eloe where he grew up. Son lacks
the strength to change himself. His life is full of deprivation and death. He says: “I don‟t
have a real life like most people, I‟ve missed a lot” (TB 177). He leaves Eloe as a fugitive,
avoiding arrest for his wife‟s death. He may not have meant to kill his wife Cheyenne, but
he is responsible for her death. To punish her for being unfaithful with another man, Son
drunkely drove a jeep through the wall of their house. Cheyenne died in the flames. Since
then, Son has wandered. He becomes a drifter with no idea how to settle down. He cannot
find his position in the society.
Jadine and Son gradually fall in love. Jadine is so affected by the touch of his finger
on the sole of her bare foot and by his “laughing into the sky” (TB 180) that she thinks of
making love to him. Son tries to rescue Jadine from white beauty and Jadine tries to rescue
Son from being an uneducated, “cultural throwback” (TB 278). She wants Son to enroll in
college, to leave behind him the life dominated by blackness. Son questions the value of an
education which neglects his blackness. Finally, despite his love for her, Son realizes that
Jadine is “a model of industry and planning […] that is all the power there is or ever will
be and I don‟t want any of it” (TB 270).
From Jadine‟s conversation with Son it is clear that she is satisfied with her
education. They quarrel a lot and in one of these arguments Jadine highlights Valerian: “I
was being educated […] I was learning how to make it in this world” (TB 266-67). In my
opinion, “making it” is the need to act white and “make it” in white society. This world is
the world in which Jadine lives – the white world. Son‟s black world of Eloe is not good
enough for Jadine. Son wants to settle down in Eloe while Jadine wants to live her life in
New York. By contrast, Son sees New York as a place where “the black girls were crying”
(TB 216). Jadine describes New York as “place which oiled her joints and she moved as
though they were oiled” (TB 223). Jadine sees New York as a basket of the white culture.
She is happy there and she declares that “this is home” (TB 223). New York is a place
where Jadine makes her good money. But Son still insists on Eloe, his hometown in
Florida. This is the first moment when it becomes apparent that their relationship is
doomed. Jadine and Son pull in opposite directions, split between loving and hating New
York. Jadine agrees to take a trip to Eloe, hoping that she will find there something that she
unconsciously searches for. But once there, against Son‟s hopes, the split between them
widens rather than narrows. Jadine soon makes her decision to escape the attraction of Son.
She subsequently boards the plane to Paris where she is surrounded with the luxurious
things of the white culture.
Another character who is caught by white beauty is Margaret Street, Valerian‟s
wife, who is in close contact with Jadine because of Jadine‟s rather fair complexion.
Margaret represents, as Walther indicates, “the mainstream culture‟s reification of white
standards of female beauty” (783). Margaret is helpless. She lives a pampered lifestyle in
which her “beautifully manicured hands do nothing but look beautiful” (TB 22). She grows
up as a poor girl who is first isolated because she does not like a member of her clan, and
then she is admired for good looks. She is truly aware of her beauty as a teenager and she
is forced to exploit it. Whether she likes it or not, she embodies white entrancing beauty.
When Valerian first sees her, he has to have her. He might not realize it, but he wants her
because she has bright red hair and striking white skin, the same colours as the candies
which are “red and white in a red and white box” (47-48), and are called after him. He
marries Margaret when she is only seventeen. Valerian expects her, as Missy Kubitschek
implies, “to remain beauty queen who would reflect well on him” (67). Margaret discovers
that this cold and lonely life of beauty is not for her and she begins to be friends with
Ondine. Valerian stops Margaret‟s friendship with Ondine because he sees it as
undignified to talk with servants. Even though Margaret enjoys a calm life on the estate,
she despises it. As a result of her hatred she physically abused her son Michael when he
was a toddler.
The main characters of Jadine and Son are so different, but each has something
which is vital to the other. Jadine is a black materialistic woman with no connection to her
blackness and her past. Son is a black man with a strong connection to his blackness and to
his past. He is left unfulfilled, lonely and unstable. Son has a past, Jadine has a future and
each one carries his or her culture. Jadine feels that they cannot live together. However,
they both realize that they love each other and how difficult it is to be lonely.
Jadine prefers whiteness to her own blackness and her black boyfriend. Like
Pecola, Jadine succumbs to white beauty. She succeeds in something which Pecola and
Pauline never obtain – beauty, power and success, but also at the same time she fails at
love. Jadine is not a superficial human being. She is a loving and sensitive woman. But she
carries emptiness in her heart. She feels only pain and troubles. In spite of the fact that she
succeeds in many things, she loses one of the most important things – love. She is insecure
about her white European boyfriend Ryk when wondering: “What if it isn‟t me he wants,
but any black girl who look like me, talks and acts like me, what will happen when he finds
out that I hate ear hoops, that I don‟t have to straighten my hair” (TB 45). This reveals
Jadine‟s desire for love and for white beauty.
The main purpose of this thesis was to show how the images of white beauty
threatens and affects African Americans when searching for love. African Americans,
women in particular, have been exposed to the white beauty and therefore they have tried
to follow these standards. White beauty stands as an obstacle in their search for love.
Through Pecola and Jadine Toni Morrison shows the results the white beauty has on these
human beings. Each of the heroines has adopted an attitude towards white beauty. As far as
Pecola and her mother Pauline are concerned, they completely succumb to the influence of
white beauty. Pauline‟s self-loathing has been transferred over to her daughter Pecola.
Pecola as a newborn was already seen as ugly. Pecola is deeply influenced by her mother
who attends the movie theatre which shows what beauty should be. On the big screen
Pauline constantly sees how “the flawed became whole, the blind sighted, and the lame and
halt threw away their crutches” (TBE 95). Unfortunately, these miracles are short lived.
When Pauline leaves the theatre, she enters into the harsh reality when she is black again,
ugly and missing her tooth. Pauline knows that she will never be a glamorous movie star
like Greta Garbo or Clark Gable no matter how she wears her hair. Consequently, Pauline
turns to Pecola, the only person she can have power over. Pauline victimizes Pecola
because she is victimized by white beauty which she could never achieve – she is not white
and indeed is black.
As for Cholly, Pecola‟s powerless and confused father, he rapes and impregnates
Pecola. This is an extreme case of Cholly‟s inability and shame to provide security which
Cholly as a young guy experiences when white male hunters stumble across him during his
first sexual experience and exploit him. Cholly‟s attitudes to Pecola are shaped by the
absence of a father in his life. The lack of a father figure makes Cholly believe that the
black man is good for nothing. The episode with white hunters is an example of the white
community which make black people to blame themselves.
Pecola‟s only way out from the world where everybody victimizes her and runs her
down is in the hope of obtaining the bluest eyes. According to Powers “to blacks, blue eyes
represent the white beauty that they can never attain, neither biologically nor socially; thus
blue eyes become objects of both adoration and hate” (par. 2). After a year of praying,
Pecola obtains them. In fact, she is tricked and this moment brings her into madness. As
Powers testifies: “forever locked in a idealized white beauty, Pecola‟s belief eventually
drives her insane” (Powers, par 9.). The result of Pecola‟s wish to be loved and seen like
white woman leads to a destruction of her own personality. Pecola‟s fictional adoption of
the bluest eyes reveals the effect white beauty can have. The images of white beauty have a
huge influence on the blacks when searching for love. Pecola cannot find love because she
perceives herself as ugly. Sharon House suggests that “to love yourself means to meet your
needs through activities and relationships that are satisfying for you” (par. 3).
Jadine, the Parisian model, is a another example of an African American woman
who succumbs to white beauty. As a black woman, she succeeds in the white world but
forgets “her ancient properties” (TB 308). Like Pecola, Jadine is not happy although she
has achieved something that Pecola never gets – beauty and success. However, Jadine
suffers a lot because of her love for the black man Son. Jadine‟s liking for luxuries, for
instance coats and expensive earrings, and cosmpolitan cities has consequences on the
relationship with Son. Jadine internalizes the images of white beauty and feels that she is
not able to enter Son‟s world. She is part of the white world, where she feels comfortable,
but not free. It is extremely hard for Jadine to settle in “Son‟s dream vision of a happy life
together in Eloe” (Russell 106). Jadine needs to live in a big city, where she is surrounded
by the white world with some images of white beauty. This white beauty destroys Jadine‟s
love for Son and they part. It is not clear from the story whether Jadine will stay in the
white world or not. Morrison reveals the impact white beauty has on black women and the
consequences of Jadine‟s lost bonds with her black world.
In conclusion, white beauty has a devastating impact on African American women.
The heroines‟ effort to become something they are not and can never be is very damaging.
The lives of these two heroines, which are dominated by white beauty, are ruined and in
many cases there is no way back. Pecola‟s conflict ends when she goes mad in the end:
“The damage done was total […], elbows bent, hands on shoulders, she flailed her arms
like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly” (TBE 162). Pecola starves for love,
“the need so strong that it is the major mold of character in the childhood” (Sharon House,
par. 1). Claudia concludes: “Love is never any better than the lover. Wicked people loved
wickedly, violent people loved violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love
stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe” (TBE 163). Jadine‟s lost love with her
past is significant when she is not able to return to her own world. People from the black
community do not accept her because she has chosen a culture which is dominated by
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