NPR logo Your Turn: Pecola Breedlove

Your Turn: Pecola Breedlove

From The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Nominated by Evy in Minnetonka, Minn.

The delicate, distant protagonist of Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye — an 11-year-old mocked for her dark skin, a girl who dreams of trading her brown eyes for Shirley Temple blue — inspired this essay.

Rhapsody in 'Bluest': Pecola Breedlove (Alana Arenas ) in Lydia Diamond's stage adaptation of The Bluest Eye at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Photo: Michael Brosilow/Steppenwolf Theatre Company hide caption

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Photo: Michael Brosilow/Steppenwolf Theatre Company

I met Pecola in 1997, when I was a 34-year-old single parent in graduate school. She took me back to 1969, and to elementary school — a school that considered me borderline retarded.

Like Pecola, I prayed for straight hair, straight hair like the girls at school. If I had straight hair, Julie Alezetta would let me sit next to her at lunch, and I would be loved.

Pecola is my mother and her three sisters: Black women, born to a housekeeper who banned all games because games were the work of the devil.

These women were beaten and raped. They were unloved. They escaped into their minds, like Pecola. Today, one is dead, one lives on the streets of Los Angeles, one is lost, and one survives on government aid for mental illness.

Pecola is me, my mother, my aunts.

The Encyclopedia Britannica calls The Bluest Eye the "founding text" of the '70s-era black women's literary renaissance. Self-alienation, a major theme in the novel, has been a note in the author's life as well; Toni Morrison, born Chloe Anthony Wofford, has said she regrets publishing her first novel under another name.

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