Intergenerational Violence in The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Written by Brandi Carnes

Racial oppression causes a disruption of motherhood, often resulting in an interruption of girlhood. Matriarchs of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye adopt poor mothering tools that they themselves learned within the household, and often pass those behaviors down to their daughters. Claudia reveals her internalized racism using the intergenerational violence she learned in the home. Violence is a mode of rebellion against situations in which black females may experience victimization under slavery and/or racism, but is a form of escapism often redirected toward themselves or others. For example, Claudia redirects her frustrations with a lack of representation in popular culture by dismantling her white baby dolls. Echoing the verbal assaults passed between members of her family, Claudia restores power by refusing radical and gendered expectations of society.

Appearance plays the biggest role in exposing Claudia’s displeasure with the Eurocentric beauty standards—which often attempt to devalue her Afrocentric features. After enduring Pecola and Frieda’s obsession with Shirley Temple, in which Pecola literally consumes whiteness by drinking large amounts of milk from a cup stamped with Shirley Temple’s face, Claudia attempts to understand the roots of their fascination. By dismembering a little white doll, Claudia tries to dismantle racism, but is still left wondering what makes a white doll better than a black doll. The experiment yields no answers for Claudia. When narrating her experience with internalized racism, Claudia confesses that she later learned to love Shirley Temple, noting it was “an adjustment without improvement.”

Instead of continuing to question the toxic environment around her, one which has decided she is less worthy of love because of her skin color, Claudia assimilates to the culture. By invoking violence or emotional abuse to rear or care for their children, they in turn teach these children poor coping behaviors and feelings of self-worth. The experiences of motherhood and girlhood are interrupted by the conditions of low socioeconomic status, attributed to the oppression of being black in white America.

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