In the novel “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison, the author makes heavy use of symbolism and parallel scenes to help illustrate the motivations of and influences on her characters. The marigolds that fail to thrive, as Pecola does, are just one example of Morrison’s use of symbolism. However, one of the most significant symbols in the book is that of the mongrel “Bob,” as this symbol provides insight into Pecola’s transformation.
Bob is a symbol of Pecola’s own victimization by the rest of her community. This suggestion is supported in many places throughout the book. Often, Pecola is compared to a dog. For example, Marie asks Pecola, “Where your socks? You’re as barelegged as a yard dog.” (51) After falling on the sidewalk while leaving the grocery store, Pecola’s anger, “like a hot-mouthed puppy, laps up the dredges of her shame.” (50) As Mrs. MacTeer ushers the girls into the house after finding Pecola bleeding, Pecola carries “a white tail.” (31)
These descriptive images of Pecola as a dog link her to some of the most unlikable characters in the book. Her violent father, Cholly, and Mr. Henry, are called “old dogs” by neighbors in response to their unacceptable behavior. The association of Pecola, described as a dog, with these characters who are called dogs, reinforces the idea that Pecola is among the lowest of the low in relation to the rest of the community (as if her treatment by the community wasn’t reinforcement enough).
Because the community thinks of Pecola as lower than themselves, she becomes a scapegoat onto which others project their self-hatred. Throughout the book, Pecola is persecuted by her family and community. On the playground, Pecola’s peers taunt her for being black. “That they themselves were black…was irrelevant.” (65) In this way they are able to feel better about themselves. They believe that they are not as black, and thus not as worthy of scorn, as she is.
When Pecola seeks to escape this victimization and find some respect for herself, as symbolized by her desire for blue eyes, she is told by Soaphead Church that he can grant her wish. However, he first has her poison the dog. Doing this, Pecola is as unaware of her own victimization of the dog as the others are unaware of their victimization of Pecola. This scene suggests that for Pecola to attain any sort of relief or satisfaction, she must join her peers in finding a place to project her self-hatred, and must make a sacrifice of a victim herself.
As low as Pecola is seen to be, Bob the dog is lower still – low enough, at least, for Pecola to put herself above. Not only is Bob literally less than human, but his eyes are even uglier than her own. Bob’s eyes are described as “liquid eye(s), matted in the corners with what looked like green glue.” (175) However, the self-satisfaction Pecola receives from her blue eyes once she sacrifices Bob, is as delusional as the self-satisfaction attained by her peers when they persecute Pecola.
Pecola’s act of poisoning the dog in order to attain a sense of self-worth parallels the actions of her peers as they victimize Pecola in order to feel better about themselves. The result is delusional in either case, but in Pecola’s case it is tragic as well. The reader is left to wonder what a different, positive outcome might have looked like. Because Pecola is unable to beat her tormentors, she is ultimately left no alternative but to join them.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Plume, 1994.