Jennifer Wilber works as an ESL instructor, substitute teacher, and freelance writer. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison demonstrates how men and women are allowed different types of freedom, and how each gender perceives the concept of freedom. For the men in the novel, especially Cholly, it seems as though freedom is simply the ability to do whatever they want to do, when they want to do it, and being tied down to just one woman represents a loss of freedom. For women, the concept of freedom is a little more complicated. Some of the women, such as Pauline, think that women can only be free if they have a man, whereas others, like the whores, feel as though freedom is not having a man at the center of their lives. Men and women are expected to behave according to differing models of freedom in society, and gender greatly influences an individual’s interpretation of what freedom really is.
Pecola and Sammy
One of the most obvious examples demonstrating the difference in freedom between males and females in the book is Pecola and her brother, Sammy’s, reactions to their parents’ constant fighting. By time Sammy was 14, he had already run away from home “no less than twenty-seven times” (43). In order to protect himself from the fighting, he sought freedom away from his family. Pecola, however, “restricted by youth and sex,” had to seek other ways of coping, such as hiding under her blanket or silently wishing that she could die or disappear. Sammy, being a male, could find temporary freedom by running away, whereas Pecola, a girl, was trapped in her home with no way to escape the fighting.
Pauline and Cholly
Another example of this disparity of freedom between men and women is how each view relationships with the opposite sex. One example demonstrating this is Pauline and Cholly’s marriage. Before Pauline met Cholly, she fantasized about meeting a man who would free her of her current lonely and miserable life. She didn’t care who it was, and in her fantasies, he “had no face, no form, no voice, no odor” (113), but she thought that everything would be better if she was with him. Then she met Cholly, with whom she fell in love right away, most likely simply because she wanted someone - anyone - to fall in love with and take her away to freedom. Cholly was Pauline’s proverbial prince charming. She had no idea what his true feelings for her, or about women in general, really were. She was simply attached to the idea of a lover setting her free, and Cholly could have been anyone.
Cholly had different views on what freedom entails than did his wife. His father wasn’t in his life growing up, because he didn’t allow himself to be tied down to any woman or any child, and Cholly repeats his father’s actions and outlook on life. Because his father wasn’t in his life, he has no idea how to have a real relationship or how to be a husband (or father). Before he met Pauline, Cholly lived his life in a “dangerously free” way. He felt as though he was free to do whatever he wanted, especially to women. But then, after marrying Pauline, he felt almost trapped. He didn’t like the idea of only being able to sleep with one woman for the rest of his life, and the day-to-day sameness of married life was too much for him to handle.
It is no surprise that women feel that they need a man to have a good life, or that men feel that they need freedom from being tied down to just one woman. Girls are conditioned to feel that they need a man in their life, but to expect their man to seek freedom from the woman. In the beginning of the novel, Frieda and Claudia’s mother sings a song about being left by a man, and the way that her voice sounds makes Claudia feel as though that type of pain was not only tolerable, but “sweet.” Later, remembering the song, the girls talk about having a baby with a man in the future, before he leaves them. They not only expect to have a man impregnate them when they get older and then leave them to raise a child on their own, but anticipate it.
The Working Girls
Conversely, the three whores, China, Poland, and Miss Marie, are free from the burden of being controlled by a man. Though they let men use them for their bodies, they feel as though they are the ones taking advantage of the men who visit them. They abuse their visitors, and cheat them out of their money. They simply hate men. They also hate most women, however, except for black good Christian women. They have no qualms about sleeping with (and taking the money of) the husbands of these women, however, as they feel like they are extracting revenge on these men. Perhaps some of their hatred for men stems from the fact that they feel resentment for the freedom that men appear to have in society, and their hatred for women similarly stems from their resentment of their own gender and the opportunities denied to women. Aside from the fact that it’s a simple way to make money for doing something that they would most likely do anyway, the whores probably chose their profession on the basis that they like feeling as though they are taking advantage of the men that they are sleeping with. For the whores, in order to be truly free from the dominion of men, they use and abuse men while making a living from it.
Freedom means different things to different people. Men and women see freedom differently, based on how they were raised and what society expects of them. Cholly, who saw that his father was free to do whatever he wanted, imitated his behavior and assumed the freedom to take advantage of women and do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. Pauline had a romantic notion that freedom was something that a man could give to a woman through love. Claudia and Frieda’s mother demonstrated through her song that a woman can never really strive for anything other than a man, who will inevitably leave her for his own freedom, though she can never be free herself. The whores rejected the idea of freedom through love and the idea that women could not have freedom by taking advantage of the men who paid for their “services.” Each of the characters are still so bound by their notions of what freedom is, that perhaps none of them are really truly free.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber
Elijah A Alexander Jr from Washington DC on June 09, 2018:
Thank you Jennifer,
Your analysis is well done and presents something I have observed but never was able to articulate. I've found that truth but I have also found that some whores also long for a boy to give them the pleasure they feel the boys are getting out of sex.
There is the story of a boy who took a whore's friend to a motel and satisfied her immensely and the whore came to the boy and suggested she would allow him to be her pimp just to have him do for her what he did for her friend. So I believe the book presents the truth as far as it went but I believe there's more to it.
Again, thank you for presenting it so vividly.