Publication Date

Summer 7-10-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)



Committee Chair

Dr. Debbie Lelekis

Committee Member

Dr. Jonathan Murphy

Committee Member

Dr. Paul Niemeyer

Committee Member

Dr. Monica Munoz


This thesis analyzes the effects of Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, on its readers and the public discourse surrounding the central issue of systemic racism and incest. The central focus of the analysis is trauma in the novel: how Morrison captures that trauma in writing, how the reader encounters and interprets that trauma, and the effects of that trauma on the narrative and the reader. To construct this argument, I apply the lenses of reader response criticism, psychoanalysis, and trauma studies to the novel.

Morrison expressed concern that readers would miss the crucial message of why the novel’s trauma occurs. However, a reader response analysis of reviews, applications of, and publications about the novel reveals that a majority of readers not only grasp the why but are moved, as Morrison intended, to personal change and social activism. Analyzing trauma in the novel with both traditional psychoanalysis and modern trauma studies approaches reveals that the personal traumas of the central characters are all connected to the larger social traumas of racism, sexism, and poverty that haunt the entire community. The conclusion combines the lenses of reader response and trauma studies to reveal the impact of the trauma in The Bluest Eye on its readers, underscores the novel’s true significance, and demonstrates why it is simultaneously a deeply devastating and an incredibly motivating literary work.