115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Subverting the Tragic Mulatto: The (Invisible) Passing Narrative in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye

Nicole Corrigan, Independent Scholar

With a feminist-psychoanalysis reading, Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye asks readers to explore the tragic mulatto as a symptom that does not necessarily align with racial ambiguity but is, more or less, a symptom of racial-hegemony and white supremacy.

Proposal: 

Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye details the tragic life of Pecola, a young and very impressionable child. Through the narration of Claudia, Pecola’s schoolmate and neighborhood friend, readers find Pecola, a young girl who is abused and neglected by nearly everyone within her immediate world. As the story unfolds, readers learn that Pecola is ignored by her teachers and bullied by the kids at her school. Her father rapes her, and her mother beats her. She is altogether ignored, teased, mocked, assaulted, and is consistently bombarded by ideologies that specifically concern white standards of beauty. Pecola is essentially being violated from all aspects of her life and she finds herself seemingly trapped in a social fabrication that places value in approximations of whiteness. For Pecola, this translates into a tragic longing for blue eyes, which ultimately reads as a metonym for whiteness. It is also the tragedy that is commonly found within the tragic mulatto trope.

Largely relying on the visible aspects of racial ambiguity, the tragic mulatto character is usually one that can pass for white, but Morrison’s novel completely upends this trope by assigning the psychological traits of the tragic mulatto to Pecola, the fictional girl who longs for the bluest eyes. Because Pecola cannot realistically pass for white, the presence of the tragic mulatto in Morrison’s work is completely invisible and is only detected by way of the pathological traits that this particular trope has come to symbolize. The subtle way in which this trope appears not only works to provide readers with an alternative way of viewing the tragic mulatto but also reveals the psychological, or pathological, traits of the tragic mulatto trope as a symptom of the racial-hegemony that exists within social systems of white supremacy. In other words, the existence of blackness within a system of white supremacy is always at-risk of bearing tragic mulatto symptoms. With a feminist-psychoanalysis reading, Morrison’s work asks readers to explore the tragic mulatto as a symptom that does not necessarily align with racial ambiguity but is, more or less, a symptom of racial-hegemony and white supremacy.