Family is something everyone can relate to. Whether your family was a large part of your life or if they were essentially nonexistent, from the very act of your creation they define who you are and in many ways, who you have the ability to become. I think struggles related to the family transcend race, class, and location. Abuse can exist in the most affluent homes, and harmony can exist in squalor. Family dynamics constantly shift as children grow, new relationships form and disintegrate, loved ones pass away, and members are forced to question – who are these people that define me?
Anyone can be the victim of abuse.
We cannot control the family we are born into, and thus we must sacrifice much of our autonomy right from the start. Some people, depending on their family situation, carry this sacrifice with them their whole lives, never able to transcend the barriers put on them by the simple fact of their birth. In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the Breedloves represent this predicament. The narrator describes their relationship thusly, “from the tiny impressions gleaned from one another, they created a sense of belonging and tried to make do with the way they found each other (p.34).” Their whole existence has been defined by the chance interaction of two people on two nights, of four people in one place, and two sets of genes pitted against one another like a dueling couple. There can be no joy in this life of bitter resignation. They belonged to a group they resented, they made do with abuse and hatred.
But they, like anyone seemingly trapped in a negative family situation, had options. As we see in the novel, “a family of choice can be and often is healthier than a family of blood (Bump, 350).” When the Breedlove’s shallow excuse for a family implodes, Pecola has the opportunity to join a new family and thus separate herself from the negative self-image her biological family forced upon her.
Claudia’s family, while not perfect, is far from the tempest of Pecola’s. Still, Claudia struggles with her own identity much as Pecola does, confused as to where she fits not only within a family of individuals, but in a world full of diversity. This confusion often leads to self-doubt and deprecation. Whereas Pecola internalizes her struggles and seeks to disappear, Claudia lashes out against the world and tries to assert her identity. As Professor Bump states, “Claudia is able to keep her sanity partly because… she has a tendency to get angry at the other and defend herself rather than to turn inward and sink into depression (Bump, 354).” But even this anger challenges Claudia, as she realizes it is misdirected and shallow. In the case of her treatment of dolls, and by extension white girls, Claudia analyzes her behavior with a sense of regret: “when I learned how repulsive this disinterested violence was… my shame floundered about for refuge. The best hiding place was love. Thus the conversion from pristine sadism to fabricated hatred, to fraudulent love (p.23).” This fraudulent love can be just as damaging to someone as external violence, especially in a family environment. Our families are the easiest group in our lives to resent, as we had no responsibility in assigning them. When we put on a mask of false love to cover up a bitter sense of anonymity, we create a shallow framework for a family that will never grow, only shudder under the weight of building resentment. Claudia’s realization about her relationship with the doll foreshadows her feelings about the role she plays in her family: “the change was adjustment without improvement (p.23).”
Being in a family can cause an identity crisis.
From as much of this book as I’ve read so far, it seems that a major theme is the inability to ever truly escape from the family you’re born into. I am curious to see how Pecola gets sucked back into the severe dysfunction of the Breedloves, and also how Claudia reconciles herself to her place in a large and assertive family. It is interesting to once again think of family from the perspective of a child who is still so trapped in that world, now being so separate from my own family. Being the youngest of four very independent siblings, I can relate to the identity crisis caused by being part of any family, no matter the level of functionality.