Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, set in 1940, is the story of eleven year old Pecola Breedlove.
Pecola considers herself ugly, and already thinks so little of herself, that from the very beginning, it seems there is little hope for her.
And in this story there isn't.
As a little black girl from a poor and violent family, growing up in a white world, she believes that all could be made right if only she had blue eyes.
It certainly seemed to work for the little blue-eyed white girls that she knew. Everyone seemed to love them, paid attention to them, and treated them well.
Who can imagine how she must have felt the day she sees even her own mother coddling and cooing to the white, blue-eyed child that belongs to the family her mother keeps house for?
The little white girl is even allowed to call her "Polly", when Pecola herself calls her mother "Mrs. Breedlove".
Pecola is raped by her father and gets pregnant when it happens the second time. She is forced to leave school. People gossip about her, but won't quite look at her. The baby is born premature, and does not live.
And in the end, it all drives Pecola mad.
As sad as this story is, it gave me something to think about, as any good story does. How many times in my life have I unknowingly added to the grief of someone by treating them with less dignity and respect than they deserved?
The family Pecola's mother worked for did that very thing. They were very good and generous to her. They claimed they could not do without her, that they'd never find another servant like her.
But then, there's that word "servant" to consider, isn't there?
It's something to think about.
The Bluest Eye has been banned and/or challenged for years. Complaints about sexual content, including the rape of an eleven-year-old girl by her father.
As recent as 2012, it has been challenged because of sex scenes, profanity, and age-appropriateness. It's even been called pornography.
These are high school kids we're talking about! If you think they don't know about such things already, you might want to give that some more thought.
The little girl they are reading about is eleven. Sadly, these things can, and do, happen to children of all ages.
If kids can survive the actual abuse, I'm pretty sure teenagers are able to handle reading a story about it.
Update: September, 2013
The Bluest Eye is back in the news. It is on a suggested reading list for Ohio high-school students, specifically an eleventh-grade English/language arts class.
Debe Terhar, Ohio School Board President, is trying to change that. Ms. Terhar says the book should not be used in any school for any Ohio K-12 child.
She says the book is "totally inappropriate", that she doesn't want her grandchildren reading it, and she doesn't want anyone else's children reading it. (Might parents of these other children want a say in this?) Perhaps she has not taken this into consideration. Perhaps she should.
Board member Mark Smith, president of Ohio Christian University, joins her in saying he's very concerned about such books, that they are "quite divisive, and the benefit educationally is questionable at least".
Smith goes on to say that he sees "an under-lying socialist-communist agenda".
The American Civil Liberties Union is now involved. They've sent a letter to Tehar questioning her comments. They've also asked her and other board members to attend a September 26th event in Columbus, observing Banned Books Week.
Christine Link, executive director of the ACLU of Ohio, says there's a "long and troubling tradition of attacking African-American literature on the grounds of being 'too controversial'".
Link also states that " these attempts to ignore or gloss over complex issues do a disservice to our students, who cannot lead our future unless they fully understand the past and present".
(Source: The Columbus Dispatch. Read the entire article here.)
Alabama State Senator Bill Holtzclaw also wants it banned.
I agree with Christine Link. Ignorance serves no good purpose. I'll be watching to see what happens next. Hopefully, students will not be deprived of reading and discussing the issues brought to our attention in The Bluest Eye.