One Child Has Brown Eyes by Marilyn Chin Analysis
An eye, the human organ of sight, has numerous co-dependent components. From the cornea to the iris, from the iris to the pupil, the eye is a complex structure. Vision is, by far, one of the most vital functions of the human body. Behind the thin exterior of color in each person’s iris, the eye encompasses much more, yet people are ironically fixed on what they can see with theirs. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Oregon, Marilyn Chin distills her experiences via contemporary literature. As a Chinese-American poet with a confrontational writing style, Chin focuses on her hyphenated identity. Indisputably, immersing herself in social activism inspires her to compose revolutionary poetry. Marilyn Chin’s compelling poem, “One Child Has Brown Eyes,” communicates the message that oppression leads to isolation, ultimately creating a more segregated environment. Through her deliberate use of juxtaposition and similes, Chin demonstrates the dangers of inequitable treatment towards marginalized demographics. Moreover, with her commentary on the human eye, Chin exposes our blindness towards everyday injustices.
The carefully structured juxtaposition of physical features creates both visual and verbal understandings of the division in society. Chin’s strategic placement of commas reinforces the detachment individuals have from the rest of the world. Admittedly, the general public deems blue and rounded eyes as more beautiful than brown and slanted eyes. Chin introduces this injustice by, straightforwardly, stating the first two lines of her poem as “One child has brown eyes, one has blue/ One slanted, another rounded” (Lines 1-2). Here, this contrasting diction, separated by allegorical commas, paints a clear illustration of the adverse effects of oppression. By putting these two descriptions side by side, Chin implicitly reveals society’s favoritism towards Western features. As a result, readers can visualize the rift preventing us from uniting. Cultural assimilation has detrimental and prolonged consequences, one of them being the discrimination of BIPOC, as there’s a preferential bias towards those with Eurocentric facial features. Therefore, when Chin juxtaposes “One child has brown eyes” and “one has blue,” she emphasizes the social stratification based on appearance. To summarize, the subtle separation of the complementary phrases creates a visible divide, which translates to our imperative need for change in beauty standards.
Marilyn Chin’s intentional application of similes, in her intricate poem, confirms the malignant effects oppression has, such as separating us from one another. She begins synthesizing her interpretation of society’s racism by asserting, “One transfixed like a dead doe, a convex mirror/ One shines double-edged like a poisoned dagger” (Lines 7-8). By comparing oppressed individuals to something so cadaverous and lethal, Chin foreshadows the torment and suffering society will endure. Essentially, she communicates that xenophobia is a fatal weapon and disease. The aftermath of oppression acts as a “double-edge[d]” and “poisoned dagger,” making it a complex and crucial subject matter. Ineluctably, both sides are bound to undergo its detriments. Besides, the following connection to a “convex mirror” reveals that, despite the notion of “one transfixed like a dead doe,” the dilemma is much more critical. It extends, above and beyond, one person’s pain. The “convex mirror” reflects the chaos onto the rest of the world, similar to a domino effect. Chin is hinting that the person who “shines double-edge like a poisoned dagger” is a manifestation of systemic oppression. Accordingly, “one” does not solely symbolize a singular person but rather a group of people who actively contribute to the destruction and unsettlement, causing a breach in society.
While it is evident that Marilyn Chin shows that oppression results in seclusion, which consequently establishes separation, some argue that “One Child Has Brown Eyes” explores how individuals conform to the status quo to meet irrational standards. Society allows its members to internalize forces of oppression. Chin does, in fact, mention how people reconstruct their appearances, but she does it to address the catastrophic effects of racial discrimination. Assuredly, these transformations of facial features are merely a byproduct of unjust treatment. She describes how “One had her extra epicanthic folds removed” (Line 4) and “One roams the heavens for a perfect answer” (Line 6). These people want to escape the social abuse and feel a sense of superficial belonging because, to them, it’s better than no belonging. Individuals are, willingly, changing their features to alter their identity, recognizing that they’re considered an outcast for looking the way they do or simply even being who they are. They’re continually searching for the missing puzzle piece that allows them to be accepted — they’re attempting to pursue “a perfect answer,” even if it involves having their “extra epicanthic folds removed.” Inevitably, some overlook the repercussions of oppression that Chin is warning us about in her writing. People indeed put on façades of all sorts to masquerade their true selves. However, the underlying message of her poem explains that change influenced by prejudice splits us up further. Likewise, Chin urges us to “Understand their vision, understand their blindness/ Understand their vacuity, understand their mirth” (Lines 9-10). The last two lines reveal, to readers, that society needs to engage in a proactive empathizing process. We must learn to understand those who are different from us to bridge the gap we have formed due to xenophobia. If the problem, to begin with, is people concealing or changing themselves, the greater and longer-term issue is the racial divisions that desperately need mending.
In essence, Marilyn Chin is requesting our attention and willingness to engage in social action. Chin utilizes her direct literary style to explore how her poem, “One Child Has Brown Eyes,” exposes the ramifications oppression has on humanity. The implementation of juxtaposition and similes verify that hostility and exploitation towards people of color are primary causes of the world’s division. We need to unite as one, acknowledging the harm we inflict on others from our discrimination. Society must come together, prepared to learn and unlearn, to make a change. Although this poem pertains to those who have Asian descent, hence the “extra epicanthic folds” reference, cultural assimilation roots from imperialist beliefs, affecting people internationally — it’s an eye for an eye. Racism molds itself into the DNA of society. We perpetually turn blind eyes to acts of injustice and the pain of those agonizing under its oppression. Thus, to liberate ourselves from this revolting chain of suffering, we must look deeper and see individuals for who they are without judgment. No matter the eye color or shape, the eye serves one universal function: vision. The purpose of vision and perception is necessary for all to recognize inequalities in dire need of reparations. We are accountable for seeing how our biases are damaging, despite our differences in physical profiles.