A Comparative Critique of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks
That literature is a reflection of the society is a fact that has been widely acknowledged. It indeed reflects the society, its good values and ills as well. In its corrective function, literature mirrors the ills of the society with a view to making the society realize its mistakes and make amends. In essence, it is an imitation of human action, often presents a picture of everyday living. However, interest in the relationship between literature and society is hardly a new phenomenon. Nonetheless, as a mirror of the society, it passes as a great orb if wielded effectively, holds great lessons dating back to the distant past, the present, and deducing what the future likely portends. By establishing the fact that literature does not exist in a vacuum, it is only rationale to say that writers draw the content of their works from the immediate happenings in their society. A writer who is confronted with the realities of violence or war will write based on these events. Same goes for a writer who has experienced the ugly sides of racial discrimination or any of its diverse forms. In other words, the outlook of a work is greatly conditioned by the present physical or mental state of the writer. In this regard, Toni Morrison and Frantz Fanon are renowned writers of African descent who either battled with or experienced first had the challenges that confronted black skinned individuals. Interestingly, the experiences of blacks irrespective of the location during most times of the early 20th century are almost the same. While the blacks in the US faced racial discrimination in its highest proportion, the blacks in French colonies did not fare better as well. Although the French adopted the policy of assimilation, it was far from what obtained in the US against blacks. The assimilation policy is nothing but a nomenclature that passes of as a covert attempt in concealing the plight of blacks at the mercy of their task masters. To this end, the Bluest Eye, The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks are great literary works that aesthetically express the grueling but similar realities that befell many at a particular period of time particularly those of African descent in the US, France and French colonies.
Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is a novel that details the realities of African Americans during the 1940s. Revolving around the life of an African-American girl named Pecola Breedlove, who grows up during the years following the Great Depression in Lorain, Ohio, the novel amongst many other preoccupations captures the challenges and fate of many African American women during the period of the great depression. It presents a realistic view of the hard choices African American women have to make. They could either get married and have children, work for white families or end up as prostitutes. Pecola, a victim of domestic violence, bullying, sexual assault and a broken family and a dysfunctional society is also caught up in this web of emotional and physical torture. Also, as the protagonist, Pecola suffers the unhealthy race relations of the time. She suffers massively from low self-esteem and views herself to be ugly because she is dark skinned. Hence, her obsession with blue eyes is evident in the manner she craves earnestly for it, which to her connotes beauty of being white to escape the horrors of racism; a supposed pathway to a good life. Whiteness in the bluest Eyes is associated with beauty, goodness, cleanliness and purity. Therefore, each of the characters who have internalized popular and cultural concepts of goodness, innocence and beauty tend to have some kind of obsession; whether covert or overt, with whiteness. Pecola, Soaphead Church and Maureen Peal (Meringue Pie) typify this class of individuals. Also, there is a juxtaposition of the idealized white world with the sad living conditions of the Breedloves who represent typical African American families. This juxtaposition reveals that race and class are nearly inextricable. One is often a function of the other. The embers of racial discrimination have brought about huge economic barriers for African Americans. The blacks either work in the coal mines or as domestic servants for white families. Sadly, the black colour of African Americans is often associated with laziness and treated with contempt. For instance, Cholly Breedlove is made to sleep with a lady by two white men who watch and sneer at him. These traumatic events make Cholly a violent husband and a rapist who impregnates his daughter. In essence, these circumstances culminate into huge problems for African American families.
Furthermore, Pecola’s adoption by the MacTeers shows the dysfunctional state of many African American families. Pecola is a victim of a broken home is sexually assaulted by her own father who is supposed to protect her. Fortunately for her, she finds succour in the hands of the MacTeers’ family in an old, cold and green house. Although the MacTeers are also slender means, they have a strong family unit. The MacTeers also seem to have much stronger agency and are never really passive victims in the way that the Breedloves are. Worthy of note is the support and respect of the MacTeer sisters’ Claudia and Frieda, for Pecola. Unfortunately for Pecola, despite the support of the MacTeers, her dark and ugly past eventually catches up with her. At a very tender age, she becomes a mother and the ugly turn of events causes her to lose her sanity. This shows the gloomy fate of many black families during the 1940s. Regardless of their efforts in breaking free from the chains of oppression and all its attendant challenges, more often than not, they are overwhelmed by it in the long run. At that stage, they appear helpless and seem to accept it as their ultimate fate. For instance, in the aftermath of the loss of her child, a dialogue ensues between two sides of Pecola’s own deluded imagination, in which she indicates conflicting feelings about her rape by her father. In this internal conversation, Pecola speaks as though her wish for blue eyes has been granted and believes that the changed behaviour of those around her is due to her new eyes, rather than the news of her rape or increasingly strange behaviour.
In the same vein, Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth expresses similar concerns captured in The Bluest Eye, howbeit from another perspective. It passes for a seminal discussion of decolonization in Algeria. Over the course of five chapters, Fanon covers a wide range of topics including patterns in how the colonized overthrow the settlers, how newly independent countries form national and cultural consciousness and the dehumanizing effects of colonization upon individuals and nations using a former French colony; Algeria. Just as Toni Morrison brings to bare the broader social, cultural and political implications of segregated societies on African Americans, Fanon does the same in the Wretched of the earth by highlighting the struggles of natives in under the authoritative and high-handed nature of the colonialists. The identities that result from racial discrimination; whites and blacks with different economic opportunities is also represented by Fanon who classifies the colonialists as settlers and the oppressed as natives. Sadly, there is always an ensuing battle for supremacy between the settlers and the natives. In the first chapter, “On Violence”, Fanon introduces the colonial world as one that is characterized with class struggles; the bourgeoisie (settlers/colonialists) and the proletariat (natives). These identities are created by the settlers to assert their superiority. And in order to maintain the status quo, the settlers resort to the use of violence. Ironically, Fanon stresses that it is only through the same violence that the natives (colonized) can re-assert their decolonization. He goes further to point out that decolonization is a violent process not only of overthrowing a colonial government but of freeing the natives from the mindset imposed upon them. At first, this anti-colonial violence is sporadic, usually spontaneous in the rural areas. But in time, as violence awakens the masses to the injustices of colonialism, more and more fight back and soonest the colonized people as a whole fight colonialism.
During the stage of decolonization as pointed out, the colonized may for a number of political organizations. However, in most cases, the colonized elite in the urban areas tend to ignore the needs and desires of the colonized in the rural areas where the majority of the colonized actually lives. Over time, the urban elite, urban workers and rural fighters do come together to form a nation after independence is attained. Unfortunately, the nation does not just automatically cohere as they battle with internal rancour and disagreements. Some of the natives particularly the elite always try to re-create colonial situations in the decolonized nation. In addition, Fanon draws upon his research as a trained psychiatrist practicing in Algeria to describe the psychological disorders colonialism produces in both the settlers and the natives. This is not far-fetched in relation to tense relationships between whites and African Americans in the US in The Bluest Eyes. African Americans tend to believe that the blue eyes signify the good life while the colour of their skin represents backwardness and less of human. Some become grossly obsessed with the blue eyes. Similarly, the whites treat blacks with disdain because their mental faculties and reasoning have been conditioned to see the black skinned as inferior. In the same vein, Fanon believes that colonialism teaches the colonized (natives) that they themselves are evil and even subhuman, thus, they always question reality, leading to a series of psychoses including depression and anxiety disorders. At the same time, because the colonial world is a violent world, people living in it may have post traumatic disorders such in which they develop homicidal tendencies or are predisposed to psychotic breaks. Refugees sent to internment camps and those who have been tortured also exhibit a number of psychological symptoms. However, Fanon slightly differs from Toni Morrison fatalistic vision as detailed in The Bluest Eyes where the protagonist; Pecola is overwhelmed by the vicissitudes if life. Fanon believes that in spite of the challenging circumstances, individuals or nations alike can always rise above them if the necessary steps are taken. He argues that getting rid of colonialism will get rid of the source of these neuroses and pathologies, liberating the personality of man in addition to his nation. In addition, the one of the many steps that could also be taken to ameliorate the ills of colonialism is conscious efforts to educate people across the entire nation and engage in rationale dialogue on the future of the nation. In rounding off his essay, Fanon is careful to point out that building a national culture is not an end to itself but a stage towards a larger international solidarity. The struggle for national culture induces a break from the inferior status that was imposed on the nation by the process of colonisation, which in turn produces a national consciousness.
Table of Contents