The Bluest Eye begins with two untitled, one-page prologues. The first paragraph of the first section reads like a 1940s first grade children's reader. In simple sentences, it describes the house and family of a girl from a typical white, middle-class family. The second paragraph repeats the first, but this time without any punctuation. The third paragraph repeats the same text, but this time there is not only no punctuation, there are no spaces between the letters, so the words do not make any sense.
The second one-page prologue is italicized. Claudia MacTeer recalls the fall of 1941 when she was a childhood friend of Pecola Breedlove. Pecola was carrying her father's baby. During that fall of 1941, no marigolds grew. Claudia and her friends thought at the time this was because of the incest. The childhood girlfriends were preoccupied with Pecola's pregnancy and engaged in superstitious activities to ensure the baby's safe delivery. However, the baby died and the girls felt guilty. Claudia informs the reader that the girls lost their innocence and their faith that fall. The reader will never know why the incest occurred, Claudia informs us in this first narrative; however, she promises to tell us what happened.
In the first one-page narrative, the ideal scene suggests a false picture, such as that presented in children's books of the 1940s and 1950s. In these decades, people preferred their children to read about the ideal nuclear family, as if no other kind of family existed. The tone conveys innocence, but at the expense of reality. The contrast between the tone of this first grade reader and what really happens in life-incest, for example-makes it even more shocking.
The first-person narrative of Claudia MacTeer in the italicized one-page narrative makes the story seem immediate and real. As readers, we know that Claudia was there as a child. She was a witness, so we trust her telling of the story. The reader knows why Claudia needs to tell the story-to understand it herself, from an adult's perspective.
These two narratives pave the way for the story that follows. The Bluest Eye is a novel about a lonely black girl, Pecola Breedlove, living in Ohio in the 1940s. Morrison shows the power and effect of white middle class perceptions of beauty and value, through Pecola's obsession with having the bluest eyes. Throughout the novel, the reader comes to know what it is like to be a young black girl in a culture defined by white, middle-class values. In the end, the reader can surmise that Pecola's obsession is a likely result of a black girl's immersion in a value system that idealizes white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes as the only form of beauty.
The novel is not told in chronological order or from a single perspective. Part of it is told in retrospect from the memory of Claudia MacTeer, a childhood friend of Pecola's. Other parts are told by an omniscient narrator in sections that are introduced by run-on, unpunctuated fragments from the first-grade reader introduced in the prologue.