On the very first page, we are told that Pecola Breedlove, an 11 year old girl with only the desire of seeing the world through blue eyes, is impregnated by her own father, and that Pecola will live and her child will die.
“There is really nothing more to say,” writes Morrison, “except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.” The story she tells us is all about the how, which verily explains the why.
Pecola’s story is about love, about the absence of it. It is about hate, the overwhelming power of it. It is about innocence, about the destruction but also the resilience of it.
Mostly though, it is a story about failed societal standards of beauty, prevalent as much when this book was written as it is now.
Individually, we have so much power to destroy a life. Mostly, we don’t even need weapons, we wreck with words or the lack of them, we maim by starting a rumour or adding fuel to the one already going around, we easily extinguish hopes and dreams.
So, what happens when unconcerned parents, snotty schoolmates, dismissive adults and a deeply racist society collectively come together to pounce upon a child, who to her disadvantage is also black, poor and a girl, and rip off everything she has and everything else she could ever hope to have?
We live in a world where nothing is surprising about people anymore. Everyone makes sense in their own chaotic ways, they are all a product of the circumstances hurled at them the crimes committed against them. Some of these crimes are committed by people, others by groups of people, many by “society” itself.
Morrison, the keen chronicler that she is, doesn’t make villains or heroes out of her characters. She just makes humans out of them, flawed and haunted by their own histories. The cycle of violence only goes to show human frailty instead of condemning them outright. The task of moral judgement lies on the shoulders of the reader.
As a reader, the injustices detailed were often disturbing to read, but they were filled with too much truth to deny or turn away from.
There is no sensationalisation of events, no flashy facts, instead Toni Morrison elevates her story with wisdom and compassion for the human experience.
In my most humble opinion, there’s no better way to write a book.