The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison's first novel, examines racism, sexuality, and growing up in a hostile world. Set in Morrison's hometown of Lorain, Ohio, in the early 1940s, the novel focuses on three young girls: Pecola Breedlove and Claudia and Frieda McTeer. Claudia serves as the narrator of the book and summarizes the plot: Pecola was raped by her father, became pregnant with a child that died, and went insane.
Pecola's parents, Cholly and Pauline, send their daughter to live with the McTeers because their own home has been destroyed in a fire Cholly started. Claudia and Frieda sense how much Pecola's sensibilities have been shaped by the standards of white American culture: Pecola falls in love with the McTeers's Shirley Temple mug, drinking three quarts of milk in one day in order to continue admiring it, and she confides that she prays every night that God will give her blue eyes, which she considers the epitome of beauty. Pauline thinks much like her daughter does, considering the feelings and property of her white employers more important than those of her own family. Cholly, the product of a broken home, cannot come to terms with Pauline's expectations and his own desires. Other members of the community, including Geraldine, a neighborhood black woman, and Soaphead Church, a West Indian religious leader, express similar feelings of self-hatred. While she is living with the McTeers, Pecola begins to menstruate and to explore her sexuality. After she returns home, Cholly assaults his daughter while she is doing the dishes. Pecola retreats further and further from the real world into madness, finally coming to believe that she has attained her wish for blue eyes. Claudia concludes the book by revealing that Pecola has become a homeless beggar.