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Exploring Color Symbolism in “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison: Challenging Preconceived Notions and Conveying Meaning


Toni Morrison’s acclaimed novel, “The Bluest Eye,” explores the complexities of race, beauty, and identity during America’s 1940s era (Zobaie). Throughout the book, Morrison uses color symbolism to challenge readers’ preconceived notions about race and beauty by manipulating their meanings by subverting traditional color associations. By doing so, she prompts readers to examine their understanding and implicit biases. This essay will analyze how Morrison uses different colors in “The Bluest Eye” to question societal beliefs concerning color while conveying essential ideas about race and beauty through her exploration.

The Symbolism of Blue:

As you read through “The Bluest Eye “, you can’t help but notice how often Morrison uses the color blue to convey different ideas. Most notably, she uses the concept of the “bluest eye” as an emblem of what society deems beautiful – which usually means white beauty standards – in contrast to other kinds of eyes. This idea has tragic consequences for Black characters who feel unattractive because they don’t fit this mold. In addition to providing commentary on race-based biases around physical appearance, Morrison also utilizes blue in other ways throughout her novel. Characters long for blue eyes not just because they think it will make them more beautiful but also because the color represents something else entirely: escapism from painful experiences and feelings of longing for acceptance. “Help you how? Tell me. Don’t be frightened.” “My eyes.” “What about your eyes?” “I want them blue.” Morrison urges readers to ponder the negative aftermath of giving preference to a certain type of beauty over others. She stresses the significance of welcoming and cherishing a wide range of beauty and ways to express oneself.

Challenging Whiteness

Morrison tests conventional thinking by denouncing associations that link whiteness to purity or righteousness in “The Bluest Eye.” Morrison presents white figures as prone to fostering harmful ideals of beauty – which they often reinforce through their failings – while exposing their hypocrisies and cruelties through characters such as Claudia, who serves as narrator. This rejection of the “white as pure” stereotype highlights some deep-rooted societal prejudices. Morrison pushes her audience to carefully evaluate their implicit biases while acknowledging how white dominance and privilege can have devastating implications for marginalized people. Through this discussion, she questions prevalent racial stereotypes that harm many individuals while advocating for a more nuanced understanding of beauty intertwined with one’s racial identity.

Contrasting Colors: Black and White:

By using stark color contrasts between black and white, Morrison masterfully shows us the societal and racial divisions that persist today. She challenges traditional associations of purity and innocence with whiteness revealing the deeply ingrained prejudices that often lie beneath. Meanwhile, blackness – often viewed as negative – is given new depth in characters like Pecola Breedlove, who struggle against a society that continues to devalue their existence. Morrison forces us to look beyond simplistic dichotomies of good versus evil based purely on skin color. Instead, she invites us into the intricate dynamics of race relations and beauty norms as they play out in our everyday lives. Through her work, we meet characters who defy these binaries with their complex stories and struggles. Even those whose whiteness is associated with purity can carry hidden prejudices toward those who don’t fit into narrow societal beauty ideals. Morrison explores race’s complexities in examining seemingly “pure” whiteness. By doing so, she uncovers the hypocrisy and systemic racism present within it.

Conversely, blackness is given depth and complexity in her writing as she challenges negative associations typically attached to it. “The distaste must be for her, her blackness. All things in her are flux and anticipation. But her blackness is static and dread. And it is the blackness that accounts for, that creates, the vacuum edged with distaste in white eyes.”

Pecola Breedlove’s character exemplifies this internalization of devaluation towards one’s black identity due to societal beauty standards privileging white features. Morrison exposes this devastating effect on individuals’ self-perception while questioning preconceived ideas by contrasting black and white colours. This critical examination of societal divisions created by these colors underlying systemic racism is brought to light along with its damaging impact on individual identity formation. In exploring these themes, Morrison prompts readers toward a deeper understanding beyond surface-level color symbolism towards a more inclusive perspective.

The Symbolism of Red:

In “The Bluest Eye,” Toni Morrison employs red symbolism to depict how societal beauty norms can be incredibly destructive to individuals. Specifically, she utilizes this powerful color- often associated with passion and power- as a means by which to reveal how violent that relentless pursuit towards becoming an idealized version of oneself can truly be. Red serves as an enduring reminder for readers who observe “The Bluest Eye” narrative about cruelty being intrinsic in seeking acceptance or validation from others. This theme is exemplified by Cholly Breedlove, one character readers saw express his frustration by lashing out through abusive behavior – stemming from feelings associated with regrettably not meeting mainstream ideals surrounding physical appeal.

Ultimately, Morrison uses such symbolism throughout her work as a straightforward way by which she challenges common notions around what society perceives as beautiful or powerful–often linked with acts promoting violence or dominance but does not correspondingly disqualify the devastating impact that internalized racism can have on individuals’ self-perceptions. Through her use of red as a representation of violence in “The Bluest Eye,” Morrison encourages readers to reflect on society’s expectations and their detrimental impact on individual well-being. The novel presents rigid beauty standards as catalysts for perpetuating suffering and brutality in communities. In response, Morrison calls for an understanding of the beauty that embraces diversity while rejecting these damaging cultural norms. By advocating against power gained through dominion over others, she promotes a compassionate approach towards building communities that prioritize inclusion.

Yellow and Green: The Duality of Color:

The duality in colors employed by Morrison conveys contrasting themes related to life and decay that are both skilful and effective. The color yellow represents vitality, hope, and potential embodied through Frieda’s character, whose yellow sweater symbolizes youthful optimism and innocence in Morrison’s story. This vibrant energy, untouched by society’s corrosive forces, remains pure against all odds. “Each pale-yellow wrapper has a picture on it. A picture of little Mary Jane, for whom the candy is named. Smiling white face. Blond hair in gentle disarray, blue eyes looking at her out of a world of clean comfort. The eyes are petulant, mischievous. To Pecola they are simply pretty. She eats the candy, and its sweetness is good.”

In contrast, yellow stands for green – symbolic of envy, sickness, and corruption. Therein lie Maureen Peal, who embodies destructive internalized racism effects fueled by envy stemming from being admired for having “green” eyes and light skin tone – representing toxic consequences resulting from societal beauty standards. “She spent her days, her tendril, sap-green days, walking up and down, up and down, her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant only she could hear. Elbows bent, hands on shoulders, she flailed her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly. Beating the air, a winged but grounded bird, intent on the blue void it could not reach—could not even see—but which filled the valleys of her mind.”

Morrison juxtaposes these colors effectively, thereby confronting readers with a stark contrast between decay on the one hand (symbolized by green) versus life represented through young Frieda (yellow). Through this method, Morrison challenges readers to resist the perpetration of color-based hierarchies and further encourages a rejection of envy-driven division among marginalized communities. In her eloquent writing style, Morrison masterfully weaves color symbolism into her narrative to advocate for unity, self-acceptance, and individuality within Black culture. By highlighting how racial identity can be multifaceted and complex through her use of vibrant descriptions involving colors found naturally in the world around us, she prompts readers to examine their hidden biases. Through her thoughtful consideration of societal beauty standards, Morrison invites us all to embrace an inclusive definition of beauty that prioritizes diversity over conformity and rejects the harmful effects of racism in all its forms.

The Complexity of Purple:

In “The Bluest Eye,” purple is a versatile symbol. It embodies ambiguity, uncertainty, and the fusion of opposites. For instance, Claudia’s mother’s purple flowers represent a peculiar blend of beauty and decay. This hue emerges as a symbolic representation of how complex beauty standards can be, suggesting that there­ is no definite meaning or fixed criteria for beauty. Morrison adeptly prompts re­aders to contemplate their perceptions regarding be­auty and sheds light on how societal norms could limit these­ ideas. “When I first seed Cholly, I want you to know it was like all the bits of color from that time down home when all us chil’ren went berry picking after a funeral and I put some in the pocket of my Sunday dress, and they mashed up and stained my hips. My whole dress was messed with purple, and it never did wash out”.

Color and Identity:

“The use­ of color symbolism in Toni Morrison’s novel “The Bluest Eye­” proves to be a potent tool for exploring the impact of societal beauty standards on individual identity. The characters, especially Pecola Breedlove, struggle with their self-worth and internalize the belief that conforming to white beauty ideals le­ads to acceptance and validation. The nove­l portrays a poignant yet powerful narrative of how such be­liefs affect one’s perception of themselve­s.” Pecola’s e­ntire being hinged on the­ idea of possessing blue e­yes. She believes having these eyes will solve all her troubles and make her appealing to society. Unfortunately, this obsession represents the destructive­ effects of narrow beauty standards. The­ blue eyes in the que­stion represent an unattainable­ standard that reinforces the notion that e­xternal appearance is more­ critical than inner qualities.

Morrison invites re­aders to challenge the­ impact of societal norms on our quest for validation. By advocating for self-acce­ptance and recognizing one’s unique­ identity, Morrison highlights diverse forms of beauty beyond external standards. Through her writing, she encourages a compassionate­ understanding of identity and beauty that lies far beyond what meets the­ eye and personal experiences offe­r great value in seeking truth. Ultimately, Morrison asks us whether conforming to external standards is worth sacrificing individuality and inner qualitie­s. Morrison challenges the idea that external appearance is the sole­ criterion for beauty, emphasizing the­ significance of accepting onese­lf and rejecting oppressive­ standards. She advocates for a shift towards a more inclusive­ and empowering understanding of identity which embraces individuality and celebrates various forms of beauty found within society.

The Rejection of Assimilation

Morrison delivers a compelling condemnation of the notion of assimilation and disputes the idea that adhering to white beauty standards leads to acceptance and prosperity. Morrison’s characters, Claudia and Frieda, young Black girls, actively rebel against conforming and reject the belief that their blackness makes them inferior. Morrison uses Claudia’s story to showcase the crucial role of self-love and cultural pride. Despite societal pressures, Claudia stands strong by refusing to internalize self-hatred and instead embracing her Black identity with de­fiance and resilience­. She rejects narrow beauty standards that equate worth with resembling white features and confidently asserts her unique sense of self.

Morrison challenges readers to question the­ damaging effects of societal expectations and celebrate­ the individual experience by rejecting assimilation. She emphasizes that embracing one’s heritage and cultural identity is the true­ beauty to behold. Morrison uses Claudia and Frie­da’s characters to challenge the­ dominant white beauty standards and promote ce­lebrating individuality and diverse culture­s. She urges reade­rs to question societal pressure­s to conform while acknowledging the beauty that comes with embracing one’s unique­ background and experience­s. Morrison’s message­ is crystal clear: rejecting assimilation pave­s the way for self-acceptance­, cultural pride, and genuine appreciation of diverse beauty. She­ firmly disputes the idea that fitting in with the­ dominant culture is crucial to achieving success and be­longing. Instead, Morrison champions individual empowerment and validation of personal experience. In this way, she encourages progress towards a more inclusive world where people can be­ celebrated for who they truly are.

The Intersection of Color and Trauma:

Morrison explores the convergence­ of colour symbolism and trauma through Pecola Breedlove­, a young Black girl who endures relentless abuse and exclusion, leaving profound scars on her self-worth. She believes that her complexion and unique features render her undeserving of affection or recognition. The impact of racism on Pe­cola is conveyed through the symbolism of color. He­r yearning for blue eyes, which are a representation of the white beauty ideal, represents he­r quest to escape humiliation and exclusion due to her race.

The­ use of colors highlights how racism can inflict unacceptable harm on individuals and influence them towards self-rejection. Morrison tells the­ story of Pecola, exposing reade­rs to the harsh reality of racial trauma and its long-lasting effects. She calls for society to acknowledge­ the serious psychological harm caused by racism and urges us all to confront the harmful systems and attitudes that continue to perpetuate­ it. Morrison also prompts readers to examine­ how racism affects self-perception and impacts entire communities with cycles of trauma. Morrison weaves together colors and trauma to encourage­ the readers to confront the harmful prejudices that devalue individuals based on race. With empathy, understanding, and active commitment, Morrison advocates dismantling systemic racism’s destructive effects on individual self-worth and collective well-being.


Color symbolism plays a vital role in Toni Morrison’s “The­ Bluest Eye,” as she utilizes it to convey significant messages about race­, beauty, and identity. Delibe­rately manipulating the associations attached to color, Morrison challe­nges traditional notions of beauty while e­xposing the damaging effects of socie­tal standards. Through her thought-provoking narrative, reade­rs are compelled to examine their own biases and confront racial inequalities, ultimately leading to greater empathy and self-acce­ptance. In this way, Morrison’s use of color serves as a call for a more inclusive and compassionate society that rejects oppressive­ beauty standards.

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. “The Bluest Eye. 1970.” New York (1994): 751-59.

Zobaie, Ola Ayad Kareem. Magical Realism in Contemporary Novels Beloved And Wise Children Feminist Reading. Diss. 2022.


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