«Volume III, Issue IV, June 2015 – ISSN 2321-7065 An Ecofeminist Reading of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye Srima Nandi Assistant Professor ...»
Volume III, Issue IV, June 2015 – ISSN 2321-7065
An Ecofeminist Reading of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye
Department of Humanities
Sir J C Bose School of Engineering, Mankundu, Hooghly, West Bengal
Ph. D Scholar, Department of English, University of Burdwan, West
Toni Morrison‘s The Bluest Eye is a study of the dichotomised relation between man and
woman and man and nature through the lens of ecofeminism. This article attempts to see man‘s domination over woman and human‘s domination over nature analysed through an ecofeminist reading of Toni Morrison‘s The Bluest Eye. Perceiving this twin domination, the study of the text will reveal the resultant apocalyptic vision when the eleven year old girl Pecola Breedlove is raped by her father Cholly Breedlove. Symbolising Pecola with Nature‘s quality as passive, weak, and submissive, the article will focus on the impending danger for man if woman and nature are deliberately tampered and displaced by them. This activity of willful annihilation leads to the ecological breakdown. As Vandana Shiva observes that this ―ecological breakdown and social inequality are intrinsically related to the dominant development paradigm which puts man against and above nature and women‖ (48).
Ecofeminism, ecocritics, apocalypse, objectification, theriomorphism, green movement, ecocide.
Refereed (Peer Reviewed) Journal www.ijellh.com 164 Volume III, Issue IV, June 2015 – ISSN 2321-7065 Toni Morrison‘s The Bluest Eye is a pathetic story of Black children in the American context where race, gender and class exploitation play a pivotal role in shaping their lived experiences within the white supremacist domain. While the text is a representation of various intersecting oppressions of varied social issues; race, class and gender have gained recognition to ecocritics who have begun to see a relationship with these issues affecting women and children by relating it to the natural world. My article will analyse how the patriarchal oppression of women (throwing light on race, class and gender matrix) is seen in relation to the human domination of non-human nature, since ecofeminism analyses the relationship between the patriarchal oppression of women and human domination of nonhuman nature. This twin domination (i.e. patriarchal oppression of women and human domination of non-human nature) will be studied in this article and will focus on how women and nature are intrinsically linked, holding a marginalised position within capitalist America.
This domination shall be perceived as one form of violence and, the immoral sexual behaviour on women will be viewed as ‗bestial‘ or ‗animal‘ (Garrad141). In Morrison‘s The Bluest Eye, the Black children and women are exploited and seen as victims like the natural world in the hands of men. The following extract by Zora Neal Hurston, well illustrates this concept of domination.
Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as ah been able tuh find out. May be it’s some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don’t know nothin’ but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but don’t tote it. He hand it to his women folks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as ah can see. (qtd. in Collins 52, emphasis original) Zora Neale Hurston‘s fiery passage indicates power and omnipotence of the white man who transfers his physical burden on to the Black man. The Black man then becomes the ‗beast of burden‘. He is forced to carry the load thrown down by the white man, but instead hands it over to the Black woman. The Black woman is then supposed to do the job left undone by man. Man considers himself to be more powerful than woman and boasts of his physical prowess. His supposed indomitable strength makes him the ruler of the world, then why does not he exhibit his strength in carrying his own burden? Why does he hand it over to women?
Refereed (Peer Reviewed) Journal www.ijellh.com 165 Volume III, Issue IV, June 2015 – ISSN 2321-7065 This brings in the question of domination and subordination, violence and silence, oppressor and oppressed and the argument related to these have catered interest among ecofeminists who protest and resist such violence on the ―other‖. Ecofeminist theorists like Carolyn Merchant, Ynestra King, Carol Bigwood, Vandana Shiva, Maria Mies, Mary Mellor and others resist this sort of continued domination of men over the disempowered groups such as women, children, the disabled, animals, nature and men of colour. Ynestra King argues in her essay ―Healing the wounds: Feminism, Ecology and Nature/Culture Dualism‖ that ―The ecological crises is related to the systems of hatred of all that is natural and female by the white, male western formulators of philosophy, technology and death inventions‖ (qtd. in Madsen 23).This system of hatred can be observed in The Bluest Eye and will form an interesting study on violence and suffering.
Hurston‘s statement of ―the nigger woman is de mule of de world‖ has been a frequent reference to Black woman and the comparison of her to a mule has become a familiar rhetoric. Even African American female writers like Sojourner Truth, bell hooks, Toni Morrison and others make constant reference to the mule while talking about woman.
The Bluest Eye has many interesting images of flora and fauna that lends the text to an interesting study of ecofeminism. Ecofeminism is an activist movement that perceives a critical connection between the domination of nature by humans and the exploitation of women by men. According to Mary Mellor, ―ecofeminism is a movement that sees a connection between the exploitation and degradation of the natural world and the subordination and oppression of women. It emerged in the mid-1970s alongside second-wave feminism and the green movement.1 Ecofeminism brings together elements of the feminist and green movements, while at the same time offering a challenge to both. It takes from the green movement a concern about the impact of human activities on the non-human world and from feminism the view of humanity as gendered in ways that subordinate and exploit, and oppress women‖ (www.wloe.org/WLOE-en/background/ecofeminism.html). The Bluest Eye begins with the image of the marigold flower and ends with it. The metaphoric analysis of the marigold flower is discussed in the later part of this article. The narrative then opens up with several glimpses of the fauna images and the most common one is the comparison of the mule to the ‗nigger woman‘. Treated as and equated to mules, doing hard domestic work, Black women and children are relegated to the much lower strata of the social ladder. This devalued projection of women is protracted and ecofeminist theorists resist this sort of Refereed (Peer Reviewed) Journal www.ijellh.com 166 Volume III, Issue IV, June 2015 – ISSN 2321-7065 marginalisation. Ecofeminism claims that the domination of women and the domination of nature are intrinsically linked and, the source of this domination is capitalism and America.
Appropriation and domination are the main factors of subjugating both women and the natural world that encourage violence, and this works along the intersecting oppression of race, class and gender. Women and the mule both are victimised and considered as dehumanised objects. As the mule is beaten and burdened with heavy loads, and its passive submission to human order, so is the Black woman, synonymous with an animal like the mule who is subjugated and burdened with the pressures of work both inside and outside her home. As Collins says in her book The Black Feminist Thought: ―Making black women work as if they were animals or ‗mules of the world‘, represents one form of objectification‖ (Collins 78), since objectification has become a central issue in the process of oppositional difference. This oppositional difference brings into focus the binary thinking that categorises people, ideas, and things in terms of their difference. Therefore we have man/woman, white/black, culture/nature, adult/children, human/non-human, civilisation/wilderness, and this dualism is seen and understood in terms of their relation with the other. The above dualism shapes our thinking and understanding such differences where the first part of the binary is privileged over the second.
The mule is a domestic animal tamed in carrying out human orders, so are the Black women performing their assigned roles in their own families as well as white ―families‖ as ‗mammies‘ or domestic servants. A glimpse of African American women working like mules is seen in the following extract when Pecola‘s mother yells at her father to get her some coal to burn during the freezing winter month of the year and the father is reluctant to provide this
for his family:
―I said I need some coal. It‘s as cold as a witch‘s tit in this house. Your whiskey ass wouldn‘t feel hellfire, but I‘m cold. I got to do a lot of things, but I ain‘t got to freeze.‖ ―Leave me alone.‖ ―Not until you get me some coal. If working like a mule don‘t give me the right to be warm, what am I doing it for? You sure ain‘t bringing in nothing. If it was left up to you, we‘d all be dead…‖ (The Bluest Eye 30) Refereed (Peer Reviewed) Journal www.ijellh.com 167 Volume III, Issue IV, June 2015 – ISSN 2321-7065 This is the way a Black woman like Pauline Breedlove slogs the whole day while the Black man like Cholly Breedlove spends his time drunk and contributing nothing towards his family.
According to Jeremy Bentham, a Utilitarian philosopher suggested ―that cruelty to animals was analogous to slavery and claimed that the capacity to feel pain, not the power of reason, entitled a being to moral consideration‖ (Garrad 136). So, Black women as slaves lack the power to reason which is meant only for the fathers, who possess them. Looking into the history of slavery in America and Africa, one can recollect those moments when Africans and African American men and women were mistreated and even worse than animals.
Morrison‘s Beloved is one of the best examples of the lives of slaves, where the Blacks are almost equated to animals, chained with iron rods and beaten for asking breakfast (Beloved 127).The long voyage of the Africans as slaves during the Middle Passage from Africa to America and the inhuman treatment meted out to them is a signification of cruelty and injustice. As the Utilitarian ‗principle of equality‘ states that ―everyone is entitled to equal moral consideration, irrespective of family, race, nation or species…‖ (Garrad 137), then why are the Blacks ruthlessly beaten and discriminated by the mainstream culture? The race factor has proven to be the main issue, interlocked with gender and class category that causes pain and suffering in myriad ways. Most of the animal similes and lowly connotations are referred to women and children. They are even considered as insentient beings. So the dominant groups most of the time combine humans with animal characteristics and use them for the purpose of mockery to which the marginalised are meant for. This form of looking at the powerless and marginalised humans according to Steve Baker is theriomorphism which is the opposite of anthropomorphism (Garrad 143). Theriomorphism is the representation of humans as animals usually with satirical purpose (143). Most often we observe that humans feel better to raise animals than humans as the latter becomes incorrigible to manage.