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In the world of the twenty-first century, it is difficult to understand why feminist reviewers and critics did not immediately claim Toni Morrison for their camp when her first novel, The Bluest Eye, appeared in 1970. The book, ornate in its fragmented juxtapositions and modernist narrative style, focused on childhood deprivation, and it culminated in the rape of the child, Pecola Breedlove, by her father: it included vivid and often intentionally humorous scenes of menstruation, girlhood envy, curiosity about sex, friendship, and bullying. It reeked of sexuality of all kinds, of families pushed to the edge to find and maintain living places, of a marginal Ohio society filled with so many outsider characters that readers had trouble focusing on the MacTeer family, whose two daughters—Frieda and Claudia—provided the narration, and the conscience, of the story.
The Bluest Eye might well have been linked to such novels as Joan Didion’s Run River (1963) and Play It as It Lays (1970), Sue Kaufman’s The Diary of a Mad Housewife (1967), Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar (available in the US in 1970, after its initial British publication in 1963), Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing and Alix Kates Shulman’s Memoirs of an ex-Prom Queen to come in 1972, and Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, the first feminist best seller in 1973. Instead, its reception illustrated the wide chasm between the white literary world and the newly emergent grouping of African American writers: most critics did not cross that color line....
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