This book was a required read for my 404 course of American Literature and I had to do some background reading for it first on Wikipedia to gain some prereading knowledge.
Suffice to say this book broke me. It not just touched me but also moved me, as Ms. Morrison intended Pecola’s story to be. At first, I was tad put off by the Jane and Dick prologue and wondered if this book will drag me for the syllabus.
I was thoroughly proven wrong. I was slow at first in the book, and then finished it in two hours since it was such a short novel (a novella maybe). And this book tore my heart by the realistic yet gruesome portrayal of an innocent girl’s life and the subsequent leading to insanity.
Pecola Breedlove was repeatedly called an ugly girl throughout the book, by the writer-narrator, by the only first person narrator, Claudia, and by the surrounding characters. This book was written in a simple language with easy diction yet it was no easy read. Everybody here was hankering after beauty including Pecola. In their pursuit of beauty, they turned ugly; sometimes by themselves, sometimes by others, the rest by circumstances.
This book is about racial inferiority complex and how beauty is an ugliness in itself. Everybody wanted beauty and in the process, smeared themselves and everything beautiful in their lives with ugliness that could not be cleansed. They destroyed their own lives and were not much hesitant or repentant afterwards about destroying other’s lives either.
Pecola was the only one in the book who never destroyed anybody’s life for beauty knowingly. She was the only one who felt guilt, repentance, and suffered from them. Her innocence was marred and ruined by others repeatedly yet she never avenged it, rather let them ruin her. She was the only true beauty in this book. Only true innocence. And yet, and yet she was used, abused and thrown away after use. She was the only innocent beauty in this ugly world so obviously this ugly world, jealous of her beauty, marred it beyond healing.
The characters, the rest of them, were protagonists of their own lives, both right and wrong in their disgusting and disastrous pursuits of beauty. Mrs. Breedlove let her alcoholic husband succumb further into alcoholism and thus secondarily destroyed her daughter’s life, all as a revenge for everything beautiful everyone took from her. Mr. Breedlove was a victim like Pecola and yet also an abuser. Soaphead Church was a victim and yet an abuser. China, Marie and one other prostitute living above Pecola’s flat were beautifying themselves yet knew those were false, fading beauty. Geraldine kept everything in her life in a neatly order yet was a broken hollow shell in life. Her son, Junior, also failing in pursuit of the beauty of friendship, enjoyed torturing and bullying everyone else. Claudia and Freida were mostly bystanders as they watched everyone in the story self-destruct themselves.
They all bore a symbolic and thematic meaning. Hankering after materialistic beauty drained away all their inner beauties. But they were not always at fault for that. And that is the greatest ugliness of life. And they were all ensnared in the traps of beauty’s elusive web.