The Bluest Eye

Students explore thematic topics, symbols and motifs in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, and discuss the impact of racial stereotypes on the identity development of young black women and men.

Unit Summary

Important Note: This novel is both on the Common Core suggested text list and has been banned in a number of school districts around the country. The novel contains explicit descriptions of sexual encounters and sexual violence including rape and incest. Due to the mature nature of the topics and themes of the book (race, class, identity, exploitation, sex) the teacher should prepare, along with his/her instructional leader, how s/he will address these topics with sensitivity in an academic setting prior to beginning the unit.


In this second unit of the year students will continue to investigate the thematic topic of identity, focusing specifically on how societal influences such as racism impact the development of an individual’s sense of self. In her novel, The Bluest Eye, author Toni Morrison explores what she describes in her own words as “how something as grotesque as the demonization of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member: a female.” (Morrison, p. 210) The impact of racial stereotypes on the identity development of young black women and men plays a central role in both the novel and the paired texts.

In addition to racism and its impact on the individual and society, students will also explore the additional thematic topics, symbols, and motifs that Morrison employs in the novel to convey her powerful message. 

  • Thematic topics: racism, love, community, power, beauty
  • Motifs: seasons and nature, Dick and Jane story, color/whiteness, vision and seeing, cleanliness and dirtiness
  • Symbols: the house, blue (est) eye, marigolds/flowers/seeds

The role of authors as change agents in our society is a question that students will address towards the end of the unit, and by the time they complete the novel, students should be able to express in some way that through her novel, Morrison is commenting on the impact of notions of beauty and love (as defined by the culture of power) on black Americans. Specifically, through juxtaposing Claudia and Pecola’s lives, we see how a loving and supportive home can strengthen a child’s response to these pressures, while for the most vulnerable (Pecola) they can be devastating. In their eighth grade year, students read Fences by August Wilson and were introduced to the idea of authors as social commentators.  Additionally, in the first unit of this year, students explored the theme of identity and the many factors that contribute to individual identity. Both of these connections should be made by the teacher during this unit.

At Match, students have a Composition class 4 days per week in addition to English class. Below, we have included Supplementary Composition Projects to reflect the material covered in our Composition course.  For teachers who are interested in including these Composition Projects but do not have a separate Composition course, we have included a “Suggested Placement” to note where these projects would most logically fit into the English unit. While the Composition Projects may occasionally include content unrelated to English 9, most have both a skill and content connection to the work students are doing in their English 9 class.

While there are many thematic topics woven throughout this English 9 unit and novels, the supplemental Composition Projects will focus on the themes of beauty and racism, particularly on how our society’s ideas about race and beauty impact the individual. Students will write one literary analysis essay based on the novel, and two narrative pieces that are thematically connected. In all three cases, students will focus on the same writing focus areas. These areas are mostly repeating from the first unit, with the addition of the skills of summarizing and sentence variety. For the final essay, students will be asked to integrate evidence from at least two sources.

Texts and Materials

Core Materials

Supporting Materials

Assessment

This assessment accompanies Unit 2 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions

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  • Beauty: What is beauty? Who determines what is beautiful? How are the answers similar/different for men and women?
  • Racism: What are the effects of racism on the individual? The community? What is Morrison saying about “racial self-hatred”?
  • Love: What is love? What impact can love and conversely, lack of love, have on individuals? Particularly children?
  • Power: How do feelings of power/powerlessness impact the actions of individuals? What are the consequences for those individuals? For others?
  • Community: How do we create environments of inclusion rather than exclusion? How do we build each other up rather than tear each other down?
  • Authors as Social Commentators: What is the author’s message about our society? What choices does she make that add particular power to her message? What techniques does an author use to create theme and convey his/her message?

Writing Focus Areas

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English Lessons Writing Focus Areas

It is the beginning of the year and we are introducing 9th grade levels of rigor for the three standards listed below, all of which are spiraled from 8th grade. Below are the three rows of the rubric that are the focus areas for this unit. Assess students relative to the "proficient" column on our Composition Writing Rubric.

  • Thesis: Clear and relevant
  • Evidence: Draws relevant evidence to support topic
  • Diction: Uses some advanced vocabulary
  • Syntax: Uses some sentence variety

Composition Projects Writing Focus Areas

Students will begin the Composition projects by completing an on-demand writing piece about beauty in which they will apply their practice with the writing focus from Unit 1. The second project is a process writing piece in which students will show their progress on the first three Writing Focus Areas and will also focus on varying syntax. Because the supplementary Composition projects for Unit 1 were more plentiful than the English unit lessons, there are fewer projects for Unit 2. The writing from Unit 1 will likely spill over into the beginning of Unit 2. Assess students relative to the "proficient" column on our Composition Writing Rubric.

  • Thesis: Includes a clear and relevant thesis statement. (The specific focus for this unit is writing a thesis that fully addresses the prompt and previews what is to come.)
  • Analysis: Demonstrates clear and logical reasoning. (The specific focus for this project is on defining/summarizing key terms and tying the analysis to these definitions and summaries.
  • Evidence: Draws relevant evidence to support position. (The specific focus areas for these projects is on providing context that clarifies why the evidence chosen is the most appropriate evidence given the definition and/or summary, etc.)
  • Syntax: Adequate use of sentence variety. (The specific focus for this project is on integrating sentences that utilize appositives to vary sentence structure.)
  • Professionally Revised: Complete and follows guidelines. Adequate revisions.

Vocabulary

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Literary Terms

theme, symbol, motif, narration, diction, non-linear plot, structure, characterization, juxtaposition, epigraph, text features

Roots and Affixes

in- (indirect, interminable, inviolable, infallibility), un- (unabashed, unblinking, uncomprehending, unsullied), peri- (peripheral), ab- (abhorrent), epi- (epigraph, epithet), fall (infallible)

Text-based

video: monolithic

poem: variation, stealthily

novel: melancholy (introduction, 33 and 170), lust (9), addled (13), irrevocable (17), consolidate (17), peripheral (17), furtive (18 and 138), unsullied (19), dismember (20), disinterested (23), repulsive (23), indirect (24), interminable (24), endurable (26), recede (33), pervading (36), abhorrent (42), redemption (42), fervently (46), conviction (46), flux (49), static (49), petulant (50), wrath (56), equilibrium (63), deluded (64), reluctant (66), epithet (67), blunted (83), inviolable (84), idle (88 and 129), unabashed (92), pretentious (118), cunning (106), disillusion (122), infinite (127), reveling (128), infallibility (137), nostalgia (137), serenity (139), deity (143), restraint (145), sullen (151), coherent (159), revulsion (164), annihilate (164), misanthropy (164), scruples (165), former and latter (167), insurgent (168), corrupt (168), lascivious (168), eccentricity (168), predilection (169), dread (172), vexed (180), imbibed (182)

Idioms and Cultural References

Shirley Temple, Dick and Jane, the Bible and Christianity (throughout), Vicks (11), Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers (16), Shirley Temple (17), Bojangles (19), CCC (25), Henry Ford, Roosevelt (25), Imitation of Life film (67), land grant colleges (83), normal schools (83), Liberty Magazine (85), Maginot Line (99), underground railroad (116), Anglican Church (165), Victorian England (167), “’married up’” (168), Shakespeare: Hamlet, Othello, Ophelia, Iago (169), Christ and Mary Magdalene (169), Dante and Dostoyevsky (169), Popeye (182), Moirai (188)

Content Knowledge and Connections

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  • Impact of racism and segregation on communities and individuals of color
  • Creating inclusive (rather than exclusive) communities
  • The Great Migration

Previous Connections

Future Connections

Intellectual Prep

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Lesson Map

1

  • “What Do We Do with a Variation?”

  • “The Eye of the Beholder”

Explain how a society’s reaction to difference impacts the individuals in that society.

2

  • The Bluest Eye — "Dick and Jane" epigraph

Explain Morrison’s purpose for beginning her novel with an excerpt from the Dick and Jane stories.

Explain how the author’s decision to alter the excerpt helps to preview the theme of the novel.

3

  • The Bluest Eye

  • “Toni Morrison Biography”

Examine Morrison’s use of seeds and flowers as symbols, and to explain how she uses them to convey meaning in the Introduction.

4

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 9 – 16

Explain how Morrison characterizes the narrator and the MacTeer family.

5

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 16 – 18 — close reading (end before “We had fun…”)

Examine Morrison’s use of metaphor and simile to introduce characters in this chapter. They will also be able to juxtapose the author’s introduction of Pecola with that of other characters and infer the author’s purpose.

6

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 19 – 23

Explain what Claudia’s treatment of the white dolls reveals about Claudia.

7

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 23 – 27

  • “How an Experiment with Dolls ...”

Summarize the central idea of the article, “How an Experiment With Dolls Helped Lead to School Integration" and compare these findings with the narrator’s reaction to her own doll.

8

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 27 – 32

Explain how the author develops the themes of powerlessness and love in these pages.

9

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 33 – 37

Explain the impact of the author’s choice of structure and narration.

10

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 38 – 47

Explain Pecola’s motivations for desiring blue eyes.

11

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 47 – 58

Explain how Morrison uses symbolism to convey theme in this chapter.

12

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 61 – 69

Trace the characterization of Maureen Peal and explain how her character develops the themes of beauty and racism.

13

  • The Migration Series

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 80 – 93

Analyze Morrison’s characterization of Geraldine and Junior.

14

Review

Discuss some of the major themes and events of the text in order to prepare for the mid-unit assessment.

15

Writing

Craft an essay in response to the prompt.

16

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 97 – 104

Analyze the juxtaposition of the “Spring” title and the events of the chapter. Students will be able to analyze the interaction between the girls and the Maginot Line.

17

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 105 – 109

Explain how Morrison uses the motif of houses and homes to develop the themes of the novel.

18

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 110 – 121

Explain how Pauline Breedlove became the mother who abuses her daughter so mercilessly.

19

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 121 – 131

Trace the symbol of dreams as it is used in this chapter.

20

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 132 – 142

Explain how the structure of the novel contributes to the plot and theme.

Gather evidence of Morrison’s characterization of Cholly’s early life.

21

  • “What it Means to Be a Man”

Read an informational text and uncover the central idea of the article.

22

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 143 – 153

Explain how the events of this chapter develop the themes of power/powerlessness and beauty/love.

23

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 154 – 161 — Top of page

Analyze what happens to Cholly when he meets his father, and to explain in what way Cholly is “free” and not free in these pages.

24

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 161 – 163

Analyze Morrison’s purpose in including this scene at this point in the text.

25

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 164 – 175

Analyze Morrison’s characterization of Soaphead Church and explain how it reveals the themes of beauty and racism.

26

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 187 – 192

  • “Between the World and Me”

Explain how Morrison develops the symbolism of seeds and seasons in this chapter of the text.

Summarize the central idea of an excerpt of the article.

27

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 193 – 206

Analyze the impact that racism had on Pecola Breedlove.

28

  • “Harlem”

  • The Bluest Eye

Analyze the poem “Harlem” and compare its theme to the themes represented in the novel.

29

Review

Review for the unit exam by having a class discussion on the major themes and events of the novel.

30

Assessment

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.9-10.6 — Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.9-10.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RL.9-10.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.9-10.3 — Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

  • RL.9-10.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

  • RL.9-10.5 — Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

  • RL.9-10.9 — Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.9-10.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9—10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Writing Standards
  • W.9-10.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • W.9-10.1.a — Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.

  • W.9-10.1.b — Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience's knowledge level and concerns.

  • W.9-10.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

  • W.9-10.2.a — Introduce a topic; organize complex ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

  • W.9-10.2.b — Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience's knowledge of the topic.

  • W.9-10.4 — Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

  • W.9-10.5 — Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

  • W.9-10.6 — Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology's capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.

  • W.9-10.9 — Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

  • W.9-10.10 — Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.