Early in the novel, after we have seemingly received the unvarnished “truth” of her illness, Claudia, in “full adult dress” asks “[b]ut was it really like that? As painful as I remember…”(Morrison 12). This unexpected interjection ( which forces the reader to recall the temporal distance between the narrator and the protagonist) positions Adult Claudia in relationship to her own past similarly to the way that Nikki Giovanni positions her potential biographer in Nikki-Rosa.
This might suggest that the same operation that makes Giovanni’s happy childhood illegible as such is operative here but internalized into the one who experienced it ( Claudia is here her own white biographer). Considering this alongside later moments in the text where the narrative registers this shift in perspective at key moments of resistance and often violence (for example, the progression to love with Dolls and Shirley Temple, Maureen Peal),how might this help us to interpret adult Claudia as a character? How might this undercut some assumptions that readers hold regarding the the progress of maturity in the binary opposition of adult/child?
As we’ve seen with the beginning, Morrison is subverting and calling to attention traditional and conventional forms of storytelling, specifically conventions regarding the “idyllic” childhood and family unit as popularized in the children’s primers.
One idea could be that she’s doing something similar by inverting the bildungsroman format. Instead of having her first-person narrator come of age–and be somewhat transformed in regards to seeing the world–she, in some ways, does the opposite.
I think something like this happens with the seed metaphor that we see at the beginning of the novel and near the end. Despite their best intentions and efforts, Claudia and Freida’s seeds do not sprout or grow come fall, instead, they wither and die.
In this way, instead of “coming of age” in the traditional–perhaps white sense–Morrison is subverting this norm and simultaneously showing us that the traditional, established idea of growing up was false in the first place, and that maybe our old distinctions between childhood and adulthood are very much lacking.
The interjections of adult Claudia seem, to me, to serve as a voice of reason throughout the novel. Her input only appears at times when young Claudia’s views come across as particularly innocent, or child-like. For example, at the beginning, she explains how she and Frieda believed that it was their own fault that their seeds didn’t grow and that Pecola’s baby died. “It never occurred to either of us that the earth itself might have been unyielding” (5). Here, adult Claudia points out their lack of understanding of the situation and the control they had over it. To some extent, I think she does serve as the more mature, more grown-up version of Claudia (because she literally is the grown up version of Claudia), a version of Claudia that has undergone some sort of “coming of age” transition, even if it’s not in the traditional sense of the term.
As we discussed in class today, it is not that Claudia and Frieda are innocent in the sense that they don’t understand the situation, but in that they believe that a little faith and magic can fix it. Therefore, we can see adult Claudia as grown out of this faith, this belief in magic. Adult Claudia is the disillusioned version of young Claudia. She has realized many things about the world around her; that it’s not her’s nor Frieda’s fault that the marigolds didn’t sprout and Pecola’s baby died, that no matter how much faith she has, magic isn’t real, and she can’t change what’s happening in the world around her. Therefore, split between child vs adult is not so much innocent vs not innocent, but maybe more hopeful & spirited & outspoken vs disillusioned
To me, Adult Claudia seems to be the device Morrison uses to explain/explore more sophisticated concepts that would not normally come into the mind of a child. As we saw in Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk”, this is a potential issue when writing using a first-person narrator, especially if that narrator is a child. We noticed in Beale Street that some of Baldwin’s more sophisticated or long-winded concepts seemed out of place in Tish’s narration, and I think that Adult Claudia’s interjections is Morrison’s way of making her more intense/mature thoughts seem feasible. On the other hand, I do also agree with Noah, and believe this could be Morrison’s way of inverting the bildungsroman format.
Thank you for this comment, Abigail. I really agree with your comment and your contrast between “The Bluest Eye” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.” For Tish, Baldwin’s authorial voice shines through at moments and it almost disrupts the flow of the narrative since it feels inorganic. For Claudia, there is a certain level of it feeling organic and it gives a sophisticated outlook without inserting an authorial voice.
I agree with Abigail! The first person narration makes it difficult for the author to portray complex thoughts about political concepts. However, Morrison gets passed this by creating moments of reflection for Claudia that are mature because they are remembrances from an adult instead of the retellingsnof a child. This gives a multifaceted view of Claudia as a character. Conversely, the fact that Claudia is privy to so many mature contents and only some moments are from her adult self, the novel calls into question what is an adult and what is a child!
I think its really interesting that this section is written in the present tense and yet is interjected by Adult Claudia and recalled as past tense. In such a move, from present tense to past tense reflections on the present tense, Morrison again messes with the constructs of traditional literature. Her question, “But was it really like that?” (12) seems to be in stark contrast to the present tense which typically suggests that that is the way things are. Present tense suggests a closer connection to the narrator (and a likely greater sense of honesty) because it is suggested that “this is happening.” There seems to be no room for the narrator to be human and forget and make mistakes because they seem to transcribe everything in the moment. We believe every word we read in this present-tense section to be true to the Youthful Claudia. The Adult Claudia yanks us away from such naivety and Morrison reminds us that literature isn’t necessarily truth but may just as well be fabrication.
I think that Adult Claudia’s interjections further the emotion of the scene, while also adding interpretation. I think when she says “but was it really like that?” she is creating some narrative distance and showing that she was a child then. But I also think this goes to show how overwhelming these feelings were for Claudia as a child. Perhaps as an adult, she wouldn’t have been so affected or thought it as bad, but this memory sticks with her because it was significant. I also think Adult Claudia serves to show an arc of her life, being able to reference multiple points of it, rather than just being able to reference the current. In this novel, to the children, the adults seem very separate and not inclusive toward them. This lack of understanding is challenged by Adult Claudia. I would say that while she has moments of mental clarity as an adult that she didn’t have as a child, she also works to validate her child self and experiences by focusing on these recollections and their nuances and impact.
I never thought much about adult Claudia as a narrator until now. I was always fixated on the story of Pecola. Now that this question has been posed perhaps adult Claudia’s thoughts serve as a source of validity and credibility that juxtapose cultural ways we think about a child. By that I mean, a child is seen but often not heard. Morrison complicates this binary by presenting a complex narrative of Pecola’s childhood told through a narrator who witnesses the unveiled complexities of childhood (which are often violent) as a child. Thus their role as narrator “validates” the importance of Penola’s story. Ultimately, adult Claudia bridges the gap in childhood and adulthood. Claudia even plays a role in honoring a child’s experience though it is met with challenges. For instance, Claudia and her sister Frieda are consistently attempting to restore innocence in childhood by experimenting with ideas of magic that one could argue derives from hope in the unseen. As we get older, we are pushed to be more practical about ideas such as one’s hopes and dreams. So, it comes at no surprise when Claudia dismisses the magic in saving Pecola’s baby as an adult. Though this is not unprecedented as coerced adaptation of practicality is initially discovered when Claudia submits to a love for Shirley Temple for example.