Monday, January 14, 2008

Review: The Bluest Eye

Rich in metaphor, dripping with poetry, yet poignantly and subtly raw: these are but a few of the accomplishment’s of Morrison’s work, The Bluest Eye. But this wasn’t something I expected. Truth be told, I never had read any of Morrison’s works much less heard anything about her works. My literary education played the tunes of the ‘literary classics,’ those stuffy works that frequent the reading lists of high school students. And, if we’re honest, these classics were predominantly written by middle- to upper-class white males, leaving little wiggle room for the contributions of any non-majority power group. Thus, as I began a little research about the author and heard her acclaimed as one of America’s gems—a member of the ranks of Faulkner, Hemmingway, and Twain—I knew I was jumping into something greater than mere dabbling at fiction.

The opening of the book—framing the story around a child’s sparely informed explanation of an agricultural mishap, cusped with a brief, nugatory mention of child rape—succeeded in confusing me of the narrative’s direction, which I believe Morrison intended. Rather than spinning a linear, detective-like retelling of the events leading to that spring’s barren harvest, Morrison coyly destroyed my brash expectations by sending my brain into a scramble. I kept asking, “Where is this going?” which would be immediately followed by, “Wait, am I missing the point by wondering where this is going?” I stepped into the novel to investigate racial tension or the haphazard dance of social class in early 20th century Americana, and, above all, I wanted to emerge victorious, sure of myself and my well-informed, progressive opinions. Forget that! When I got over myself, I started to enjoy…no, love this novel.

Morrison’s writing is melodic. Not melodic like a ho-hum congregational hymn, or as uncomfortable as a immature jazz ensemble trying to keep up with Coltrane, but more of a playful bounce-back blues session between George and Ringo, where the riffs and rhythms fit snugly without being forced. Entire pages of the novel transformed into a music score, where the pages are slightly tattered from turning and the pencil marks speak of familiarity. I couldn’t help but notice how Morrison’s flow resurrected those antiquated but familiar feelings of experiencing Abbey Road for the first time. Start to finish, everything flows, complimenting the previous piece while leading to the next, an organic cycle that still retains order. Basically, her writing is beautiful.

What touched me most about the novel was how no one was made out to be ‘the enemy.’ No lines were drawn in the sand. Each character had their own tale, a coming-of-age that was uniquely theirs, and depending how fate and flux corresponded, the character would then come to process reality in accordance to the lenses through which they perceived the world. The aphorism rings true in life as it does in this tale: perception is reality. Yet, the downfall of such a cultural truth of our common humanity (e.g. human nature) is that even the most notorious and nefarious criminals of history don’t often perceive themselves as such. Sure, such men of power don’t beseech humility’s door, but deep down in their psyche, there is that instinct to put the blame on someone else. ‘It was the way I was raised;’ ‘the Jews started it first;’ ‘it was the white man who did this to me;’ etc. The verisimilitude of these claims is irrelevant. The point is… we humans have a tendency to see ourselves as either victim or survivor. Even if the responsibility of our choices—no matter how poor they are—is ours to bear, we rarely perceive it as such, and it’s much easier to displace our anger, anxiety, or rage towards ‘the other,’ whomever or whatever they might be.

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