Sometimes, I think my childhood was pretty traumatizing. Then, I read some stories by Toni Morrison, or about Toni Morrison’s childhood in general, and I realize, maybe my childhood wasn’t the bad after all. But I find this way of thinking to be self-pitying and disturbing from a humanitarian point of view, especially when contrasted with the following indifference.
I’m not sure if this train of thought is considered productive. The thing with fantasizing about completion in your head is that it provides a source of temporary catharsis to otherwise obsessive thoughts. Yet, at the same time, the fantasy only reinforces itself in the face of the injustice of reality. So often, we turn our eyes away from reality into the world of fantasy to hide from how cruel reality can actually be.
The thing I realize about life is that so often, it does not work in the same arcs that follow novels. There is no “redemptive arc” of the protagonist where the events later on in life somehow justify the events that happened earlier on in life. Yet, we constantly search for these arcs because we have been conditioned by literature to do so. I could even venture to say that it is a part of human nature to search for arcs that make good literature.
I often talk about forgetting the past as a solution to all of my problems, and I believe that strongly. But, since I literally cannot forget my past but it is physiologically impossible, I am stuck with the memories that I have.
Why is it when I read about Pecola and Polly in The Bluest Eye that I feel a sense of comfort? I can’t tell if it’s a recognition of solitary between my experience and her experience or a sense of gratitude stemming from a realization that my life is not as bad as I thought it was.
To some extent, I feel that a lot of minorities growing up in predominantly white neighborhoods feel an acute awareness but also contempt for their own race. After all, it is the phenotypical markers of race that are the source of derision among children who cannot help but internalize societal understandings of aesthetics in accordance with western beauty standards. And, since we lack understandings of racial dynamics to blame society when we are children, we typically internalize the blame to ourselves and hate ourselves. Even when I could not articulate it at the same, I felt the same sense of unattractiveness originating from a sense of difference.
For me at least, I never wanted to have blue eyes as a child, but I did want to have a different nose. I also wanted to have double eyelids. For most Asians, I feel the acceptance of identity comes from the acceptance of your eyes and nose. In some supplementary readings I read for a class, Sui Sin Far postulated that the origins of discrimination against Asians come from accented phenotypical differences in the process of assimilation. Since humans tend to identify with themselves, these observable differences become formulations of identity as we age. It just so happens children are especially vocal with their observations.
Physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion.Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
Unlike Pecola, no one killed a cat in front of me when I was a child. But, nevertheless, I still have my fair share of experiences that still occupy some space in my head despite my alleged temporal distance from them. And, just like I am doing right now, I try to do whatever I can in order to free myself from those reflections of the past.
Similarly, there are a lot of things that happen in life that are pretty bad. There is a lot that shouldn’t happen, and there are so many injustices that exist in the world at every given moment that even attempting to list them would do an injustice to the sheer magnitude of its existence. Things happen to people, and we turn to art, literature, and music as a means to understand the experiences that happen to us. For people who don’t understand the negativity of these experience, they will label it as other and associate it with negativity they do not understand without realizing that it is just an attempt to move on in any way they can.
To me, the role of art has never been a means of communication for others to understand. Communication does come, of course, as a byproduct. But, at the end of the day, it is mostly a means for us to understand our own experiences in all of its disillusionment.
Pecola does obtain blue eyes by the end of The Bluest Eye. But, this realization of this desire comes at the price of her sanity. We may all want to have peaceful pasts that wouldn’t consume our thoughts, but the reality is that it is one of those rare lives, like having blue eyes, that is out of reach for most people. For most people, I’d imagine, there will always be some sort of trauma that persists from the past to the present. But, resolving the lack of something through the possession of something does not necessarily solve our trauma. It certainly did not work for Pecola.
We all do what we do in order to make sense of what has happened to us. There is always a set of blue eyes we will never have, an absence that has caused us a lot of pain in the past. We all can do what we can to move on because moving on, and not holding on, is how we can truly live a fruitful life unencumbered by the past. There are always things we wished we did when we were younger. But, acquiring or doing those things, won’t solve the gap their absence left behind. Life, lived for the good life, can only go forward into a different future, a future seperate from the past.