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.
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.
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.
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Book: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Poem: “What Do We Do with a Variation?” by James Berry
Article: “Toni Morrison Biography” (Encyclopedia of World Biography)
Website: The Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence
Article: “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehesi Coates
Article: “On Beauty: Banning Toni Morrison’s the Bluest Eye from PEN” by Banning Toni Morrion's ...
Song: “Pretty Hurts”
Article: “What it Means to Be a Man”
Poem: “Harlem” by Langston Hughes (the Poetry Foundation)
This assessment accompanies Unit 2 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.
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.
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.
theme, symbol, motif, narration, diction, non-linear plot, structure, characterization, juxtaposition, epigraph, text features
in- (indirect, interminable, inviolable, infallibility), un- (unabashed, unblinking, uncomprehending, unsullied), peri- (peripheral), ab- (abhorrent), epi- (epigraph, epithet), fall (infallible)
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)
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)
“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.
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.
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.
The Bluest Eye pp. 9 – 16
Explain how Morrison characterizes the narrator and the MacTeer family.
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.
The Bluest Eye pp. 19 – 23
Explain what Claudia’s treatment of the white dolls reveals about Claudia.
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.
The Bluest Eye pp. 27 – 32
Explain how the author develops the themes of powerlessness and love in these pages.
The Bluest Eye pp. 33 – 37
Explain the impact of the author’s choice of structure and narration.
The Bluest Eye pp. 38 – 47
Explain Pecola’s motivations for desiring blue eyes.
The Bluest Eye pp. 47 – 58
Explain how Morrison uses symbolism to convey theme in this chapter.
The Bluest Eye pp. 61 – 69
Trace the characterization of Maureen Peal and explain how her character develops the themes of beauty and racism.
The Bluest Eye pp. 80 – 93
The Migration Series
Analyze Morrison’s characterization of Geraldine and Junior.
Discuss some of the major themes and events of the text in order to prepare for the mid-unit assessment.
Craft an essay in response to the prompt.
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.
The Bluest Eye pp. 105 – 109
Explain how Morrison uses the motif of houses and homes to develop the themes of the novel.
The Bluest Eye pp. 110 – 121
Explain how Pauline Breedlove became the mother who abuses her daughter so mercilessly.
The Bluest Eye pp. 121 – 131
Trace the symbol of dreams as it is used in this chapter.
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.
“What it Means to Be a Man”
Read an informational text and uncover the central idea of the article.
The Bluest Eye pp. 143 – 153
Explain how the events of this chapter develop the themes of power/powerlessness and beauty/love.
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.
The Bluest Eye pp. 161 – 163
Analyze Morrison’s purpose in including this scene at this point in the text.
The Bluest Eye pp. 164 – 175
Analyze Morrison’s characterization of Soaphead Church and explain how it reveals the themes of beauty and racism.
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.
The Bluest Eye pp. 193 – 206
Analyze the impact that racism had on Pecola Breedlove.
The Bluest Eye
Analyze the poem “Harlem” and compare its theme to the themes represented in the novel.
Review for the unit exam by having a class discussion on the major themes and events of the novel.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a proverb that first appeared in ancient Greek writings from third century BCE and is still commonly in use today. Summarize the meaning of the proverb and the explain whether you agree or disagree with its premise. Use evidence from the video “Eye of the Beholder,” the novel The Bluest Eye, and/or your own experiences to support your answer.
An effective essay:
Toni Morrison has said that she wrote The Bluest Eye to answer a large question she was thinking about at the time: “How does a child learn self-loathing (self-hatred) for racial purposes…and then what might be the consequences?” In the novel, Pecola Breedlove is the vehicle for exploring this question. In one of the book’s most heartbreaking and relevant scenes in answering the question, Pecola enters Yacobowski’s Fresh Veg. Meat and Sundries Store to purchase candy only to end up having a most disturbing experience. In 250 to 300 words, summarize Pecola’s experience in the candy store (pp. 46–50) and then describe how the experience affects her.
An effective essay:
Visual artists, musicians, filmmakers, poets, and authors can be some of the most important voices in encouraging societies to investigate themselves and pay attention to the issues that may plague them. Use two works from this unit (one must be the novel) and explain how in each case the artist uses his or her craft to offer a critique of our society. In your essay, you must summarize each author’s work and then explain how the author uses the work to communicate a message about American society.
An effective essay: