The Bluest Eye and the spiral of abuse

“The bluest eye” depicts a patriarchal society, that of the black south, in the forties. One of the protagonist families moves up North in order to increase their probabilities of having a better life after the Great War. The prospects in the South were not hopeful, but those they encounter up North are not what they had first expected either. Mr. and Mrs. Breedlove come across difficulties, due to the clash between societal habits in the North and South, but this fact is much more noticeable by Pauline Breedlove, as she has developed a strong dependence on her husband and finds it harder to adapt to their new environment. She depends on him emotionally and economically, until she decides to work. They start having violent fights and finally their relationship deteriorates until eventually she becomes fully responsible for work and money, while her husband becomes a drunkard layabout. When they arrive at Lorain, Ohio, she feels lonely, dependent and useless, and she is despised for it. When she starts working, she keeps on being abused by other coloured women (for being ugly, for not straightening her hair, for her manners), by the whites and at home. She becomes just a beast of burden that produces money, sexual relief and absorbs all her husband’s complaints and resentment about his past experiences, and his meaningless present.

Gipsy girl with child by Modigliani (copy)We encounter concentric circles of dependence and abuse in “The bluest eye”, the outer being constituted by being black in a white ruling society, then the one resulted from the tense relationship between southern blacks and northern coloured people. Another circle holds men’s frustration due to all all the above pressures which are in turn projected on women in the shape of violence, contempt, hostility and hatred, the same feelings they get from their surrounding context.

The inner circle of subservience is that constituted by little girls. Little boys are abused as well, as can be derived from Cholly’s experience or by the image of Sammy being beaten up by his mother in order to release her own pressure as a woman abused by men, society and the whites. However it is even more noticeable in the case of girls, who are subjected to abuse as children and as women. Pecola is turned into the object of everybody’s contempt and hostility (except for the group of whores), even other children’s. Finally, she is raped and impregnated by her own father, which is the culmination of all subordination and reification of women.

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Canons, anxiety, writing, penises.

Although English literary history is not restricted to male authors since way back in the past, as clearly shown by the existence of the first professional woman author, Aphra Behn, in the 17th century, most authors in anthologies are still male, even nowadays. This comes to show that literature has been, and still is dominated by men, whose texts are self-established as the canon of literature and whose views are held as objective and universal. On the contrary women’s point of view is seen as a fruit of women’s alterity, as they have always been considered as the other of men, and defined by what they lack – a penis, which (I must say out of my own experience) is not essential for writing -. Thus, literature written by women has always been looked down on, and regarded as a minor product designed for the consumption of an unimportant niche of the public: other women. Experiences, worries and feelings belonging to women only are disregarded or considered from an alien perspective, not first hand knowledge. And, to what extent is it not minimized, simplified, ignored?

Woman with hat , Modigliani(copy)

This non-unbiased male-constituted canon does not represent women’s experience, thus male literary precursors cannot really be seen as those of women authors, who have to build a literary tradition of their own, in which their views and direct experience is represented, and characters are not simplified or plain due to lack of direct knowledge of what being a woman in a certain place and time represents. This is explained in Gilbert and Gubar´s theory of the Anxiety of Authorship, which revise Bloom’s own theory of the Anxiety of Influence. Women do not have the same kind of pressure as men. It is difficult for male writers to produce a text which does not resemble that of the literary precursors or seems which seems strongly indebted to them (Anxiety of Influence). Women do not have this problem, as they lack a proper literary history of their own.

 

However, women have a disadvantage: Anxiety of Authorship, as they had always been traditionally barred from the literary world, but this fact has its own consequences for them, as they are isolated from male precursors when they write and thus establish a tradition of their own. They may not become classics or precursors ever because of their sex. They may not be taken seriously because of their detachment from the tradition which set the foundations for literary history, that is male literature.

Why worshiping other humans?

Yesterday, as I drove back home from the airport listening to the radio, I learned that The Genius Albert Einstein wrote a draft with directions for Mileva Maric to follow if she was to keep on living with him when they moved to Berlin. I could not but marvel at the content of that list, even bearing in mind that it happened a hundred years ago (to be compared with Wollstonecraft’s writings!). Peculiar!

Amongst the points that he made, we can find some pearls of love and companionship towards one’s own wife, that describe a servant-master relationship. Mileva, who had to forget about her own career when she became a mother, had to keep the house clean, with special care when it came to his dominions – bedroom and office – , serve three meals that he would eat in his quarters, renounce to any kind of personal relationship with him, except when social occasions made it inevitable. She should not sit next to him, go for walks , or travel with him. They should not have sex, or argue. She should agree to stop talking if he asked her to and should leave on his command. She should not despise him in their children’s presence – although he does not say if it worked the other way round as well -.

I started wondering why we highlight intelligent remarks and interpret antisocial behaviour as something to be admired as a sign of their excellence. We set it in the shrine as well, next to our heroes, as something to be in awe of . Well, I guess we look for some signs of genius in anything and everything they do. Their importance makes everything about them mythic. That slippery quality, genius, allows well-known artists (painters, film makers, actors) scientists, such as Einstein or some politicians, to abuse people, have sex with girls under age, or cheat the tax office. Together with their assumed godliness people around them seem to accept these unacceptable privileges without a blink.