Today, in news that makes you wonder if you’ve time-warped back to the 1970s, an Alabama legislator is calling for the ban of Noble Prize winner Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in the state’s schools. Forty-three years after the book was published, Republican state senator Bill Holtzclaw has finally gotten around to reading it and would like us to know he’s not a fan.
According to the New York Daily News, Holtzclaw said the novel “is just completely objectionable, from language to the content.”
Since Holtzclaw was so parsimonious with his words, let’s review what might be considered controversial about this novel. Morrison’s work is centered on an 11-year-old black girl named Pecola Breedlove, who dreams of having blonde hair, blue eyes, and white skin. She’s from Morrison’s hometown of Lorain, Ohio, and is raped and impregnated by her own father.
In other words, the book Holtzclaw has chosen to attack for its “objectionable” content is likely upsetting because it contains descriptions of child molestation and rape. But as John Leonard’s 1970 New York Times review of the book explains, these moments are not employed to titillate a reader. They weave together to form a poetic statement about the overwhelming hardships of minorities. Writes Leonard, “The Bluest Eye is also history, sociology, folklore, nightmare and music. It is one thing to state that we have institutionalized waste, that children suffocate under mountains of merchandised lies. It is another thing to demonstrate that waste, to re-create those children, to live and die by it. Miss Morrison’s angry sadness overwhelms.”
Incidentally, this is not the first time someone has made a fuss about Morrison’s masterpiece. The book was challenged in a Livingston County, Michigan high school. Law enforcement officials reviewed the book after a conservative activist group accused schools of illegally distributing sexually explicit materials to minors.
“After reading the books in question, it is clear that the explicit passages illustrated a larger literary, artistic or political message and were not included solely to appeal to the prurient interests of minors,” the county prosecutor wrote. “Whether these materials are appropriate for minors is a decision to be made by the school board, but I find that they are not in violation of the criminal laws.”
According to the New York Daily News, “Holtzclaw’s protest is widely seen as a method of saving face after fellow GOP members criticized him for opposing a repeal of federal Common Core standards, an initiative that seeks to regulate state curricula.”
But if Holtzclaw did hypothetically just choose a random controversial book to demonstrate his dedication to core “standards,” why pick a 43-year-old book that was churned through the political machine long ago? The other provocative books of the world deserve their due controversy! May we offer some suggestions?
What would you say to Senator Bill Holtzclaw, if you had the chance?