If we are to accept the presumptively pacificist cliché—that the pen is mightier than the sword—we must also accept that slippery proposition that words can be dangerous. The proper alignment of words can pierce hard-fought illusions of self and society in just one visual pass, and a second pass can shatter them. Why else would all those PTA Karens mobilize to ban books?
In 2013, forty-three years after it was published, The Bluest Eye was ranked as the second most banned book in America by the American Library Association. Yes, The Bluest Eye is this dangerous because Toni Morrison denies the colonial and capitalist assumption that people are objects and thus, threatens the solipsistic haze that comes with it. Every precise, loving and comedic detail in the book is its own celebration and every characterization granted the full scope of humanity is its own revolution.
In the beginning of the novel, Morrison writes through the voice of her young narrator that “why is difficult to handle,” so “one must take refuge in how.” How?” is a question I found myself writing frequently in the margins.
“Misery colored by the greens and blues in my mother’s voice took all of the grief out of the words and left me with a conviction that pain was not only endurable, it was sweet.” — how?
“Cholly and Mrs. Breedlove fought each other with a darkly brutal formalism that was parralled only by their lovemaking.”—how?
When you ask them where are from, they tilt their heads and say ‘Mobile’ and you think you’ve been kissed.” —how?
How can someone write about vomit, hotel rooms, orgasms—real and fake—and spilled berry cobbler all in the most divinely creative way?
Other Questions that this book inexorably leads to
Is fiction more real than non-fiction?
Why fuss over story structure, plot development, rising actions and all that when you could try to write like this?
What does it truly mean for a book to challenge you? What responsibility do both reader and author have in facillitating this challenge?
While it\’s not my favorite book, The Bluest Eye is certainly the best book I\’ve read. We\’ll see how these titles shake up as I read the rest of Morrison.