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The Bluest Eye

Deeply poetic novel explores racial and sexual feelings.

What parents need to know

Educational value

The Bluest Eye reveals some details about the complexities of race relations in the American South and Midwest around 1941: the types of jobs available to African Americans, children's school and life experiences, class divisions, and the way popular culture (movies in particular) reflected or reinforced the then-current idea of white beauty. Some facts about menstruation are also presented, but most young people who read The Bluest Eye should be old enough to have their own understanding about beginning sexuality by the time they read this novel.

Positive messages

Toni Morrison's first novel deeply investigates ideas of sexuality, loss, and physical beauty. By shining a light on the hurt and self loathing of the young African-American character Pecola Breedlove, the author asks readers to examine their own ideas about superficial appearances, and to see how much all children deserve love and protection.

Positive role models

Frieda and Claudia's parents are harsh with their daughters about all sorts of things, but when a man harms one of the girls, the parents come to her aid and drive the perpetrator away with a vengeance. They also take Pecola in for a brief period when her family is in crisis.


Claudia is an angry kid who resents the idea that white or mixed-race kids are considered prettier or better than black kids; she describes attacking a couple of other kids and feelings of violent anger toward light-skinned kids. Claudia and Frieda's mother hits them when she is angry. Their father chases a man  with a shotgun. In the Breedlove household, Polly and Cholly physically fight often, and Cholly is said to have set fire to their home. A boy abuses and mortally injures a pet. The most disturbing violence in the novel is a sexual assault on an 11-year-old girl.


There are numerous descriptions of sexual feelings and events in The Bluest Eye. Mr. Henry interacts with two prostitutes. A girl is sexually molested. A boy's mother is described as having an aversion to sex; her sexual interactions with her husband are reserved and obligatory. Three prostitutes, who live in the flat above the Breedloves, engage in bawdy talk in front of Pecola. In the Breedlove household, Polly's sexual experiences with her husband are described somewhat poetically, where colors represent strong feelings of desire and enjoyment. However, we learn that Cholly's feelings about sex have been affected by a disturbing first sexual experience. A man turns out to be a pedophile.


There's a fair amount of profane, rude and cruel language: "f--k," "bitch," "p---y," "t-t," the "N" word.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Cholly is a known drunk and becomes violent when he drinks.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Bluest Eye is the first novel by Nobel-prize winning author Toni Morrison. The book is a complex investigation of ideas of physical beauty among blacks and whites, and the ways racial attitudes, and other life experiences, damage the lives of these characters. Pecola Breedlove's self-hatred, and her wish for blue eyes, is an outgrowth of the way she's treated by her family and the world in which she lives. Sexual behavior is also very complicated in this novel from 1970. Sex acts and feelings between adults are described, and more than one grown man behaves inappropriately with young girls. There is also incest and domestic violence, including a sexual assault on an 11-year-old girl. Even teens may need some adult guidance to understand the world of the novel, in which many characters seem driven by emotional and sexual feelings they can't control.

What's the story?

Two preteen sisters, Frieda and Claudia MacTeer, live with their parents in Ohio. Mr. and Mrs. MacTeer take on a lodger, whom the girls call Mr. Henry, and for a brief period they take in a quiet, unhappy 11-year-old classmate of Frieda and Claudia's named Pecola Breedlove. The girls befriend Pecola, who comes from a very troubled household; her father, Cholly, is often drunk, and he and her mother, Polly, fight physically and verbally. Pecola considers herself ugly and unworthy of love, and believes that if only she could have blue eyes, she would be pretty and happy. Readers learn the life events that have shaped Polly and Cholly, led them to marry, and led them ultimately to their unfortunate state. Because of the book's edgy content, there have been efforts to ban it from schools and libraries.

Is it any good?


THE BLUEST EYE is a poetic and complex investigation of racial, personal, and sexual feelings. These doomed characters are both beautifully realized as individual characters and richly representative of the concepts Toni Morrison explores with her story. As the point of view shifts from character to character, the reader comes to understand what drives them, and will be deeply engaged in their experiences and moved by their fates.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Pecola's wish for blue eyes. Why does she think having blue eyes will change her life?

  • Why are Cholly's feelings about sexuality bound up with anger?

  • Why does Claudia feel rage toward Shirley Temple, toward Rosemary and Maureen?

Book details

Author:Toni Morrison
Genre:Literary Fiction
Topics:Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:January 1, 1970
Number of pages:224

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Teen, 16 years old Written byLexiStat March 17, 2013

High School Junior- Bluest Eye Opinon

I'm a junior in high school and personally thought this book was beautifully written. However, teacher's must have a full understanding of the book and should be able to justify it's importance to a student's education. Although there is sexual initiation and abuse, and inappropriate/offensive language it has to be looked at objectively- If you focus on the graphic nature, you will miss the point that Toni Morrison is trying to make.
What other families should know
Educational value
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Parent Written byJayne28 July 20, 2013

Not appropriate for high-school English classes

This book is far more graphic than our school's rationale form let on. I highly recommend parents read the entire work in advance of minors doing so. In my professional and personal opinion, I do not consider this book to be appropriate for minors, nor the best choice for dealing with the issues it raises (and never resolves).
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent Written byluvstoread January 12, 2013

Heads up parents!!!

The review this site provided for this book regarding the sexual encounters in this book as edgy. Let me tell you, unless you want your child to read in graphic detail about an 11 year old girl being sexually assaulted by her father, this is NOT a book for your child. Toni Morrison has a reputation and this book more than lives up to it. My son read the book at age 12/7th grade because it was on a teacher recommended list for a historical novel. Once I read the book and brought it to the school's attention, the book was removed from the school (Middle School, by the way) and the teacher received disciplinary action. Her excuse was that my son reads at a Senior high-school level reading. I would not recommend this book for students to read without their parent knowing fully what the content is and giving their permission.
What other families should know
Too much sex