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.

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New Units For 9th and 10th Grade English

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

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

Assessment

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

Key Knowledge

Intellectual Prep

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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 Fishtank ELA Connections

Future Fishtank ELA Connections

Lesson Map

4

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 9 – 16

Explain how Morrison characterizes the narrator and the MacTeer family.

6

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 19 – 23

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

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.

15

Writing

Craft an essay in response to the prompt.

19

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 121 – 131

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

21

  • “What it Means to Be a Man”

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

27

  • The Bluest Eye pp. 193 – 206

Analyze the impact that racism had on Pecola Breedlove.

30

Assessment

Composition Projects

1

2 days

Narrative

(ON DEMAND)

“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:

  • Includes a clear, relevant, and complete thesis statement;
  • Demonstrates clear and logical reasoning; and
  • Draws relevant evidence to support position and provide context.

2

4 days

Analysis

(PROCESS)

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:

  • includes a clear, relevant, and complete thesis statement;
  • demonstrates clear and logical reasoning;
  • draws relevant evidence to support position and provide context;
  • uses at least one sentence containing an appositive to create sentence variety; and
  • is professionally revised.

3

2 days

Analysis

(ON DEMAND)

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:

  • includes a clear, relevant, and complete thesis statement;
  • demonstrates clear and logical reasoning;
  • draws relevant evidence to support position and provide context; and
  • uses at least one sentence containing an appositive to create sentence variety.

Common Core Standards

Core Standards

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L.9-10.6

RL.9-10.1

RL.9-10.2

RL.9-10.3

RL.9-10.4

RL.9-10.5

RL.9-10.9

SL.9-10.1

W.9-10.1

W.9-10.1.a

W.9-10.1.b

W.9-10.10

W.9-10.2

W.9-10.2.a

W.9-10.2.b

W.9-10.4

W.9-10.5

W.9-10.6

W.9-10.9