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Pauline Breedlove would be quite a sight. This minor character in Tony Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye has a missing front tooth and a severe limp that seem to mirror her hollow and warped family life. When looking at the novel from a Freudian perspective, Pauline’s repressions and obsessions stand out. The reader learns a great deal about this mother of two in the middle of the book when the narrative is interrupted and Tony Morrison gives a glimpse into Pauline’s life and history.
Morrison sums up Pauline’s feelings toward her physical imperfections by writing, “The end of her lovely beginning was probably the cavity in one of her front teeth. She preferred, however, to think always of her foot” (110). It seems Pauline consistently repressed the difficult fact that her face, her smile, her presented identity, was deformed. The logic behind this choice was most likely her husband Cholly’s different reactions to the two physical flaws. The first time Cholly sees Pauline, “…she felt something tickling her foot…[Cholly] was bending down and tickling her broken foot and kissing her leg” (Morrison 115). Clearly, he could at least overlook the abnormality. But later, also with respect to her lame foot, Morrison writes, “Instead of ignoring her infirmity, pretending it was not there, [Cholly] made it seem like something special and endearing. For the first time Pauline felt that her bad foot was an asset” (116). It is clear in these and other passages that Cholly never showed Pauline that he thought any less of her because she had a lame foot. In fact, he even went to the other extreme and made her feel like it was attractive. While Cholly is undoubtedly the villain of the story in The Bluest Eye, his quietly loving treatment of this deformity shows that Pauline, for a time at least, did know the sympathetic love of a husband.
In contrast to his gentle acceptance of her limp and lame foot, Cholly is mean and teases Pauline about her missing front tooth. After it happens, Pauline seems still in shock from the loss and thinks, “I could of cried… I wanted my tooth back. Cholly poked fun at me, and we started fighting again” (Morrison 123). This nasty, aggressive reaction is more fitting to Cholly’s character. He is not supportive of Pauline’s sorrow or compassionate to her present situation. It is no wonder, when Cholly’s reactions are taken into account, why Pauline chose “to think always of her foot” (110).
Cholly’s mean-spiritedness leads Pauline justifiably to resent him. However, it seems that though they fight frequently both verbally and physically, she is still unable to unleash all her anger towards him. Unfortunately, as she represses this need to express her bitterness at Cholly, the fury seems to displace itself on her children. “I loved them and all, but…sometimes I’d catch myself hollering at them and beating them… [and] I couldn’t seem to stop” (Morrison 124). Sigmund Freud comments on the anger an older sibling feels when a new baby is born, but a similar principle could be applied to Pauline’s life, where she might view her children as intruders on her marriage. Freud writes, “[this intrusion] actuates a feeling of aversion to these new arrivals and an unhesitating wish to get rid of them again” (Adams 755). Though Pauline’s true hatred is for Cholly, she cannot target it at him satisfactorily. Pauline’s mental substitution of Pecola and Sammy for her husband helps to steer the family down an incredibly destructive path.
Morrison relates the early years soon after Cholly and Pauline marry, before the invasion of their children, through a series of anecdotes told in Pauline’s voice. After moving to a new town, Pauline found it difficult to make friends and even “felt uncomfortable with the few black women she met” (Morrison 118). Seeing the high-heeled shoes they wore, Pauline tried to copy, but this “aggravated her shuffle into a pronounced limp” (Morrison 117). This painfully intense, but unattainable desire to feel accepted and happy led Pauline to an equally intense desire for money to buy new clothing and makeup. Because she unconsciously knows that these women will never accept her due to her physical deformities, but without their acceptance she can never be happy, Pauline emotionally substitutes “clothes and makeup” for “happiness.” Morrison sums up her emotional confusion by saying, “The sad thing was that Pauline did not really care for clothes and makeup. She merely wanted the other women to cast favorable glances her way” (118). Sadly, even Pauline’s most dedicated attempts to fit in do not reap the reward of happiness she expects. “When she tried to make up her face as they did, it came off rather badly” (Morrison 118).
Sigmund Freud speaks of the unconscious as “a special realm, with its own desires and modes of expression and peculiar mechanisms not elsewhere operated” (Adams 752). While consciously, Pauline wouldn’t have been able to articulate that she was substituting “clothes and makeup” for “happiness,” this substitution profoundly affected her everyday life, particularly her marriage with Cholly. “He was not pleased with her purchases and began to tell her so. Their relationship was shredded with quarrels” (Morrison 118).
Pauline’s struggles with her appearance continue when she discovers she is pregnant. Surprisingly, her relationship with Cholly seems tolerable for a period, and she begins to go to the movies all the time. Morrison writes that Pauline “succumbed to her earlier dreams. Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another– physical beauty” (Morrison 122). The author’s commentary continues with, “It was really a simple pleasure but she learned all there was to love and all there was to hate” (122). As Pauline focuses more and more on the absolute beauty she sees on the screen, she begins to crave that for herself. An obsession grows in her to attain love and beauty, concepts which Morrison call “probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion” (122).
In Pauline’s voice, Morrison describes how everything could be closed out but the picture show and how that perfection made Pauline’s own life hard to endure. The oddest thing to observe in this stream of emotional thought is what Pauline does not ever mention. She verbalizes that her beloved movies showing the flawed becoming whole, the blind receiving sight, the lame throwing away their crutches. But she never allows herself to consciously realize that everyone on the screen has two things in common: beauty and white skin.
The repression of this obvious fact seems to be most clear when Pauline is dressing to go see a Jean Harlow movie. “I fixed my hair up like I’d seen hers on a magazine. A part on the side, with one little curl on my forehead. It looked just like her. Well, almost just like” (Morrison 123). Pauline has apparently substituted “Jean Harlow’s hairdo” for “Jean Harlow’s beauty” and “Jean Harlow’s whiteness.” Just like earlier in her life, Pauline is desperately struggling for a happiness she cannot attain because she cannot make herself beautiful, so she mentally substitutes an object she can control for the object that is so beyond her grasp. After Pauline loses her tooth, Morrison confirms that the hairdo was Pauline’s substitute for beauty: “I let my hair go back, plaited it up, and settled down to just being ugly” (123). Like Morrison prophesied, on her journey to attain love and beauty, Pauline traveled through insecurity and ended ultimately in disillusionment.
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