In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the character Claudia struggles with the beauty standard that harms her sense of self-esteem. Claudia tries to make sense of why the beauty standard does not include black girls. The beauty standard determines that blonde-haired blue-eyed white girls are the image of beauty and therefore they are worthy of not only attention, but are considered valuable to American culture of the 1940s. Thus, learning she has no value or beauty as a black girl, Claudia destroys her white doll in an attempt to understand why white girls are beautiful and subsequently worthy, socially superior members of society.
In destroying the doll, Claudia attempts to destroy the beauty standard that works to make her feel socially inferior and ugly because of her skin color. Consequently, Claudia’s destruction of the doll works to show how the beauty standard was created to keep black females from feeling valuable by producing a sense of self-hate in black females. The racial loathing created within black women keeps them as passive objects and, ultimately, leads black women, specifically Pecola, to destroy themselves because they cannot attain the blue eyes of the white beauty standard.
Claudia tries to resist loving white girls that her sister, Frieda, and friend, Pecola, admires for their beautiful features–blonde hair and blue eyes. Claudia does not believe that Frieda and Pecola should admire girls who do not look like them physically. Unable to convince Frieda and Pecola that white girls are not the only standard of beauty, Claudia begins to have intense feelings of resentment and anger toward the white beauty standard: “I couldn’t join them in their adoration because I hated Shirley. Not because she was cute, but because she danced with Bojangles, who was my friend, my uncle, my daddy, and who ought to have een soft-shoeing it and chuckling with me.
Instead he was enjoying, sharing, giving a lovely dance thing with one of those little white girls whose socks never slid down their heels (19 Morrison). ” In this quote Claudia’s anger toward Shirley Temple is born out of her desire to have a personal and intimate relationship with a person of her race and background. Claudia says Bojangles is “[her] friend, [her] uncle and [her] daddy”; she expresses anger over someone of her race being depicted in a relationship “sharing” a moment of affection, the “giving a [of a] lovely dance thing.
Claudia wants Bojangles to be her mentor, companion and loving father figure that helps her learn and grow as a person or as a dancer. She does not think that Shirley Temple should have Bojangles as her mentor or guide in life especially since a white girl does not share in the experience of what it means to be black. Bojangles presence with Shirley Temple emphasizes for Claudia how white girls are deserving of the attention Bojangles gives the white girl because she does not let “her socks slide down their heels. Claudia suggests the sock image communicates that white girls know how to be a proper girl by keeping up the appearance of neatness and prettiness.
Claudia displays how the movies work to create images of beauty and associate them with white girls by depicting Bojangles as a friend and father figure who lovingly teaches the proper, neat and pretty girl (the white girl) how to “soft-shoe it” as a reward for being tidy and clean. The conflation of beauty with whiteness leads Claudia to transfer her hate of white girls to white dolls.
Why does Claudia transfer her anger towards her white doll? Claudia’s anger becomes directed at the white dolls because she can express her anger in a physically violent way that she can’t express with real white girls because she would be punished. Claudia outlines her violent resistance to accepting the white doll as pretty and valuable: “I had only one desire: to dismember it.
To see of what it was made, to discover the dearness, to find the beauty, the desirability that had escaped me, but apparently only me. Adults, older girls, hops, magazines, newspapers, window signs–all the world had agreed that a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, pink-skinned doll was what every girl child treasured.
“Here,” they said, “this is beautiful, and if you are on this day ‘worthy’ you may have it (21 Morrison). ” Claudia outlines how the white features are the treasured qualities of the culture appearing in “shops, magazines, newspapers and window signs” which communicate all girls want to possess whether in a doll form or actually physically possess those features.
The media tells Claudia that she should not only want these qualities, but that she should try to be “worthy” of such physical treasures. Claudia works out that white girl or doll is a treasure that is only given to those who are “worthy”; she suggests being “worthy” means accepting that white is beautiful and black is ugly. Claudia finds that the “worthiness” is determined by her willingness to love the white doll for its “turned up nose, glassy blue eye balls and twisted yellow hair” rather than show a preference for her own features.
Yet Claudia does not see why the white qualities are better than her black features; she doesn’t understand why she isn’t worthy as a black girl. So she tries to find the “source of the beauty that escaped her” by ripping the doll apart to determine what makes it beautiful and desirable. But Claudia finds the source of the doll’s beauty is “sawdust and metal disks (Morrison 21). ” She finds that the doll’s source of beauty is not magic but raw, ugly materials. Claudia dismembers the doll’s to understand “what made people look at white girls and say, “Awwwww,” but not for her. 22 Morrison). ”
The presence of the sawdust and metal rings leave her questioning what makes the white girls, like the white dolls, so worthy of the culture’s worship because for Claudia the raw materials suggest that the white beauty standard is just a trick or an illusion to keep her feeling bad about her physical appearance. Claudia knows that she can react in violent ways toward the white beauty standard through the doll without repercussion from the white community for her actions.
Claudia can openly express her rage over how the white beauty standard leaves no room for black women to be beautiful and therefore worthy of recognition by American culture. Claudia is deeply upset that specifically that “black women’s eyes slide as they approached the white girls on the street,” and even more upset by “the possessive gentleness of their touch as they handled them (Morrison 23). ” Even authority figures like black women treat white girls as precious items that must be handled with care and admired for their fragility and beauty.
These black women teach Claudia that she must idealize whiteness as beauty rather than blackness; the black women instruct Claudia that she is not a significant or important object to be socially recognized in the sense that she should not be seen or touched by others thereby making her valuable. Claudia learns to hate her black skin and features, and she learns to seek “the best hiding place of love” (23 Morrison). Claudia suggests with her word “hiding” that she does not really care for white features and/or white girls but she must pretend to have the same feelings and admiration for whiteness.
So why must Claudia pretend to like white girls? Claudia learns it is easier to love the white beauty standard than to fight it because everyone even black women believe in white as the only source of beauty. She cannot fight the whole culture–the media, her sister, her friends, her community and the white community. So Claudia must “convert from pristine sadism to fabricated hatred, to fraudulent love (Morrison 23). ” She must fake her love for whiteness in order to survive in the culture; she must learn to hate her self to survive and treat herself as invisible object, rather than the socially recognized white girl.