This week is Banned Book Week, and here in Ohio our State Board of Education is marking the occasion by attacking Nobel-prize wining Ohio author Toni Morrison’s 1970 novel The Bluest Eye and recommending that it be banned from the suggested reading list for Ohio high schools. Board president Debbie Terhar calls Morrison’s book “totally inappropriate,” and board member Mark Smith, president of Ohio Christian University, asserts the book has an “underlying socialistic-communist agenda.” It’s not evident that either of them has actually read the book.
Set in Morrison’s hometown, Lorain, Ohio, in 1941, The Bluest Eye tells the story of Pecola Breedlove, an eleven-year-old African-American girl who wishes she had blonde hair and blue eyes. Then she’d be beautiful and her whole life would be so much better. “I wrote The Bluest Eye because someone would actually be apologetic about the fact that their skin was so dark,” says Toni Morrison. “I was deeply concerned about the feelings of being ugly.”
In his astute op-ed column for The Columbus Dispatch, Joe Blundo offers his support of The Bluest Eye. Blundo says the book is entirely appropriate for high school students and finds no trace of communism. Blundo imagines that the novel, which demonstrates what it’s like to live with poverty, racism, and violence, might make high school students consider experiences outside their own, which might then lead to more reading and then thinking and then questioning of authority. Says Blundo in a followup to this column, “I highly recommend [The Bluest Eye] for anyone who isn’t afraid of literature. And if that doesn’t describe every high school kid in Ohio, then the State School Board is doing a lousy job of educating them.”
Judith Barker and Bonnie James