A deconstructive reading of Octavio Paz’s “The Blue Bouquet”
We are being programmed to perceive the world in a particular perspective, and most of us are unaware of it. What we consider “natural” or “common sense” is based on societal norms and standards. Most of us do not see, however, that these norms and standards are set by a dominant group that influences the rest of the world to see things the way it does. This necessarily becomes what is “objective” and everything else is measured against it. People try to make sense out of their experiences with this in mind, unconsciously defining reality according to what they have been influenced to believe.
The character in Octavio Paz’s Blue Bouquet is an example of someone conditioned to see things a certain way. He “inhales the country air…and hears the breathing of the night.” His romanticism of the country and towards life in general, becomes apparent in these lines:
I breathed the air of tamarinds. The night hummed, full of leaves and insects. Crickets bivouacked in the tall grass. I raised my head: up there the stars too had set up camp. I thought that the universe was a vast system of signs, a conversation between giant beings. My actions, the cricket’s saw, the star’s blink were nothing but pauses and syllables, scattered phrases from that dialogue. What word could it be, of which I was only a syllable? Who speaks the word? To whom is it spoken? I threw my cigarette down on the sidewalk. Falling, it drew a shining curve, shooting out brief sparks like a tiny comet.
He is one of those who believe that one’s life has a purpose and that there is a reason for everything. The lines “I walked a long time, slowly. I felt free, secure between the lips that were at that moment speaking me with such happiness,” show that he is reflective and at that moment seems to be at peace. When he said that “the night was a garden of eyes” probably referring to the stars, this revealed not only a foreshadowing event, but also that the character was poetic.
His poetry, however, is confronted with the harsh reality of a man wanting to take the former’s eyes out. The man said that his girlfriend had a penchant for a bouquet of blue eyes. This very striking image is one that is difficult to get out of one’s head. But there is more to it than its absurdity – why is there an obsession with blue eyes?
Blue eyes are usually a signifier for “American.” The fact that the man wanted to take out blue eyes from people does not only show a simple act of obsessive violence but obsessive violence towards the “American.” The man said, “Don’t be afraid, mister. I won’t kill you. I’m only going to take your eyes.” The desire to remove people’s blue eyes may symbolize the desire to stop them from seeing things the “American” way.
But while there seems to be anti-American present in the text, the line “my girlfriend has this whim. She wants a bouquet of blue eyes. And around here they’re hard to find” can also be construed as an obsession to see things through American eyes, because that is something “hard to find” around here. This could mean that while the dominant way of perceiving the world is through “blue eyes”, the situation in the country was different. The owner of the boardinghouse was described as a “one-eyed taciturn fellow.” As for the man who wanted to take people’s blue eyes out, there was no mention of his eyes, except that half his face (including his eyes perhaps) was covered by a sombrero.
When the character insisted that his eyes were brown and not blue, he could very well have meant “Spare me, I am not who you’re after. I am different from them.” But the fact that he was mistaken for one of those with blue eyes can be taken to mean that even if his eyes were brown and not blue, it was as if he saw things through blue eyes.
Another striking image is when the man’s machete grazed the character’s eyelids and the flame from the match burned the latter’s lashes. It is a threat to the character in more ways than the obvious, and he responds by leaving town the next day.
The symbol of the eyes is very appropriate to refer to how the world is perceived. The bouquet of blue eyes is foreshadowed by the night being described as a garden of eyes. Night is the binary opposite of day, and day is usually associated with light. Light is the root word of “enlightenment” and to be enlightened means to understand things better and come out of the “dark” or come out of one’s confusion. But when the night is described as a garden of eyes – a variety or assortment of ways of seeing, instead of a “blue bouquet,” it seems to undermine the privileged term “light,” and position “night” in the positive, over “day” or “light.” The insecurity, instability or relativity the night offered is preferred to the certainty and “objectivity” of daylight. It was after all, during the Age of Enlightenment that categorical truths were established, the flaws of which were later on revealed through deconstruction.
While it remains unclear whether the girlfriend’s obsession for blue eyes is in order for her to use them or destroy them, the blue bouquet calls our attention to seeing or perceiving realities through the dominant culture, leading most of us to dream the American dream. The blueprint to success that we follow is Western, in spite of the fact that our culture and context are different. This illusion has led most of us to desire created needs and wants that keep us in poverty as we succumb to a system that furthers its own interest. But the West sees itself in its interest, and so to see things the way it does may be against our own interest. Knowing this forces us to re-examine our own worldviews on national as well as international issues and assess just how blue our black or brown eyes have become.