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Analyzing Interaction of Multiple Themes: A “Power Line” of Characters in ‘The Bluest Eye’


Common Core, Language Arts  


11, 12  

Note: This lesson plan structure may be used with any novel that has power or another facet of human relationships (compassion, jealousy, etc.) as a theme.

Students examine the theme of power and powerlessness—and related themes–in Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.” In small

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

groups, students must come to a consensus and put key characters in order from most powerful to least powerful, leading to a discussion of what elements are sources of power throughout the novel and how characters’ power or powerlessness influences their actions.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-CCR.2:  Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11CCR.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-CCR.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


Students will be able to form and defend an analysis regarding how the themes of power and powerlessness interact with other themes (such as racism, beauty, and violence) in Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”

Students will be able to cite textual evidence effectively in support of their analysis.

Students will understand how multiple themes are related and contribute to the complexity of the novel.


Students will have read “The Bluest Eye” and engaged in comprehension and/or discussion activities prior to this analysis activity. A day or more before class, establish two to four groups of students and assign, within each group, each student to represent a character or group of characters (Pecola, Claudia, Freida, Cholly, Pauline, Mrs. MacTeer, Maureen Peal, BayBoy/Woodrow Cain/Buddy Wilson/Junie Bug, The Fishers [Pauline’s employers], Soaphead Church, etc.) The inclusion of minor characters or groups can vary based on the number of students in the group. Also assign one to two reporters—who need not represent a character—in each group.


  1. Establish—through student discussion, to the extent that time allows—a consensus definition of “power”. (Alternatively, do this the day before and ask students to come prepared with ideas of who in “The Bluest Eye” has power, who does not, and why.)
  2. Establish and oversee group task:
    1. “Power line” formation. Each group orders the characters from the most to the least powerful based on the class definition of power. This requires discussion and debate, as each group must come to internal consensus and physically line up the “characters” in order. Students refer to the text for evidence; teacher circulates to advise and scaffold. It is recommended that one or more groups consider characters’ status earlier in the novel and one or more groups consider characters’ status at the end.
    2. Each group’s reporter lists “sources of power” (i.e., wealth, race, beauty, etc.) and “responses to power or powerlessness” (i.e., violence, submission, self-hatred, etc.) that emerge during discussion and debate.
    3. Lead group discussion:
      1. At conclusion of time limit, have each group briefly explain their two or three toughest choices and/or teacher may ask specific questions as to the reasoning behind the order chosen.
      2. Ask students to compare the order chosen by different groups and explore reasons for any differences: Did the power relationships change during the novel? Were there different interpretations? Based on what evidence?
      3. Discuss related ideas, those that emerged on the lists. Which ideas are also important themes in the novel? How do they interact with power? Do some themes belong on both lists (i.e., can self-hatred be both a source of and a response to powerlessness? can violence or aggression be both a source of power and a response to power or to powerlessness?, etc.)? 
      4. Assign individual writing based on discussion: Choose a theme that emerged from the lists and/or discussion. Trace that theme’s development throughout the novel in relation to the theme of power and powerlessness (i.e., In what ways does internalized racism lead to a sense of powerlessness?; In what instances are the perpetrators of violence acting in response to feelings of power or powerlessness, how, and why?) Teacher may need to provide significant scaffolding, such as a list of specific questions and/or in-class time with teacher help available.


Both in-class participation and the writing assignment may be used for assessment as appropriate within the unit and the course.

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