Toni Morrison: A Creative Celebration

Year 12 IB students have been reading the novel, 'The Bluest Eye', by one of America's greatest writers, Toni Morrison, who died last year. Morrison wanted readers to understand "how hurtful racism is" and that it leads its victims to be "apologetic about the fact that their skin (is) so dark”; in this novel, she conveys the destructive effect racism can have on African-American identity. 

Emma Moseley presents her re-creative interpretation of Toni Morrison's novel:

Maureen Peal was like a movie star to us; she was who we wanted to be: a black girl treated properly. Everywhere she walked it was always “Scuse me, Miss, I’ll get out of your way” and never the “what do you think you’re doin’” that was spat at us if we ever dared dream of the luxury of walking outside of the designated aisle down the side of the corridor, the side opposite the windows where no light don’t shine. That side that would always be cold, even when the sun was beating down outside and rust coloured water would trickle down from the ceiling. All of the dirt was swept to our side of the corridor for us to clean up as if it was our fault the mess was made. I hated walking down that corridor.

Elle would walk down the middle of the corridor - she walked with a smile on her face like she couldn’t feel the pale eyes boring into her skin or feel the whispers crash against her ears, but her fingertips would tremble the whole way down and if you were listening closely, you could hear the long exhale of relief when she passed that forsaken hallway.

Elle Roberts was also new, but she wasn’t high-yellow-lace-doily-straight-hair Maureen. She was like us. Her coiled hair snaked outwards from her face where it had escaped from her hairband, her fingernails were caked in dirt but reeked of acetone, her socks were stained light gray and slumped around her ankles. A faded skirt hung loosely on her slender frame. Her shirt had various names drawn in and scribbled out: Clara Roberts, Evie Roberts, Claire R. Elle. Whenever she talked, her voice sounded like a symphony: even and measured just like the songs Papa would play on the violin. Her nose protruded out from her face, and a scar meandered down from her right nostril to the top of her velvety lips. Her skin was smooth like Mama’s fancy china, but deeply coloured like sickly caramel.  Her eyes were pools of burnt honey but on closer inspection bespeckled with flecks of sapphire. These were eyes of defiance. Eyes that belonged to a person that would do what had to be done and not what was expected of her to do; eyes of the devil as my mother would say. Eyes that didn’t belong to Elle.

If Maureen was the dream, then Elle was a reminder of the reality.

She and Pecola were forced to sit at the back of the classroom, where the eyes of the teacher wouldn’t dare to wander. The displays behind were paid more interest than them, the neatly coloured in pictures of sparrows were far more pleasing to the eye than those two. Pecola would sit with her legs crossed at the ankle, her hands gently placed on the desk and stare at the birds nest until class was over but Elle would produce a notebook far larger than her natty-hand-me-down bag and begin furiously scribbling everything the teacher would say. I asked her what she was doing; surely she knew that the school didn’t care how well she did. She said that her uncle managed to get by, by learning what he could and then working for a man in the city waiting tables. I sniggered at this, all of this ‘learning’ clearly didn’t help: no one would employ anyone who looked like Mama, let alone her.  Her eyes met mine after my laugh, her eyebrows furrowed and nose scrunched up in disgust making her scar writhe around on her face like a worm. “No need for that, Claudia.” she hissed, “You are ​just  like them.”

I didn't dare peep another word for the rest of the day, and when I got home, I cried. I was ​not
​ the same as those pasty white devils, I wasn’t! She must've just been confused, just like she was with this ‘job’

 Elle never spoke to me again. I never bothered her again either.

SofĂ­a Findlay-Pacheco  presents her re-creative interpretation of Toni Morrison's novel:

After the incident with Maureen she had stopped talking to me and began swerving away in the halls and clutching her books tight enough to make her knuckles alabaster if she was ever cursed enough to sit within five metres of me in class. We had perfected our locker timings as to never have to even come close to each other but if there was a day where we met at the lockers she would recoil and avert her eyes as if coming in contact with any part of me would link her to the madness and lunacy she had encountered that fake spring day from the opposing side of the road, she made other friends however, white friends,in particular a girl in my class named Jane. I never understood how Maureen had managed to become friends with Jane as Jane had always been one to look upon even the slightest high yellow kids with disgust and anger. 

I remember two years ago I had been paired with her to do a class project in literacy and she had made a huge scene about not being able to work with one of my kind, her screeching and crying had sounded like a dying animal and had attracted the attention of not only the teacher conducting the class but also a teacher in the next class over, who both in turn had turned to me with an apathetic face and told me to move to the back of the class and work on my own as if I had been responsible for causing her ludicrous shrieks and cries.

Jane was the perfect young girl in everyone’s eyes, her straw like hair enchanted everybody while her narrow blue eyes fascinated all into believing she was sweet and kind. Even my mum would constantly speak about her “you should make friends with that pretty girl Jane” or often “Jane would never go to school without combing her hair”. She was perfection for my mother, what she wanted us to look like and be seen as, but I think my mother also felt guilt for not being able to give us the clothes Jane wore, or the food Jane ate at lunch. Because of this I hated her more, I didn’t understand what was so desirable, she looked boring to me, just like Shirley Temple, I think this is why Frieda admired her. I grew to loathe her, I wanted everybody to see the witch I saw. She used to always come and stand with Maureen by her locker, make snide comments and jabs. “Does anybody else smell that?” She would wine. Her pack of worshippers would nod and answer with affirmations in unison as if they were robots. Her brightly coloured dresses and white stockings would only be won to taunt and anger me, making me question why such a person could dress so nice yet I had to wear Frieda's old clothes full of stitches and holes. It infuriated me, at the beginning I had spoken to Frieda and my mother about it but both had quickly dismissed me and told me jealousy would eat away at me and make me green. But it wasn’t jealousy, it couldn’t be, not of her anyway. I had never found anything to be jealous about, I didn’t want to be Jane like Maureen and Frieda did, I wanted her to understand the hatred I felt for her, I wanted Jane to feel what I felt. But she never would because she had blue eyes and I didn’t.

Becky Wiles  presents her re-creative interpretation of Toni Morrison's novel:

I watch as my mother glides through the kitchen, moving objects from one side of the room to another in an attempt to make herself look busy. At every opportunity she lets out a prolonged sigh, making sure to note that I have acknowledged the exaggeration. Her eyes move from side to side at almost the speed of light, doing everything ten times faster than needs be. They look like an antelope in headlights, so alert yet so oblivious to anything happening around her. I have never understood how she can anguish so much about the appearance of her home all whilst knowing that no ordinary person will ever see it differently to how it is; contaminated by the impurity of our blackness. I wish I could tell her that all her efforts are for nothing, we will always be the runt of the litter, unwanted and unloved wondering what makes us so different from the rest of them. It fascinates me, yet also angers me in ways that I cannot describe. It is as if I am reaching for something behind the counter yet every time I touch it it gets further away, like someone is yearning for me to fall back into the darkness that I may never escape from. 

It is cold in our house, but it isn’t just the breeze that hits every time I enter a new room or the chill that I feel when I look outside and see the frost gathering on our excuse for a lawn, it is the sharp sensation that takes over my entire body when my mother glares at me as I pass her. The chill takes over my entire body as she walks straight through me as if she didn't even acknowledge I was there, standing right in front of her. The sensation of hatred that I get from her yet at the same time knowing that no one will ever love me like she does. My mother's voice drones on as she mutters to herself about my incapability to bring her pride. She is talking to white people yet she calls it by my name: Claudia. She lets out her anger on the world on me, knowing that I will not retaliate and will sit quietly all whilst dreaming of having the things those girls have, the high-yellow skin, long brown hair braided into one lynch rope that hangs down their backs, rich as the richest white girls. Their clothes threaten to madden Frieda and I. The colored knee socks perfectly placed at the right point on their calfs, the fluffy sweaters tucked into their pleated skirts and the fur coats that drape over their shoulders show off the privilege that people like us will never achieve. What made them so special? How were we any different? They are pretty. And we are ugly. Our blackness makes us ugly. 

Out of the corner of my eye I see myself, I take a step back and stand there for a moment, taking it all in, examining every part of myself that makes me me. The longer I look the harder it is to find it, the thing that makes me ugly, what was that thing? My hand traces every feature on my face, from my bold lips to my poignant eyes. Slowly I let my arms drop to my sides and a tear slides down my face. My eyes are not blue, my skin is not as white as a cloud or as pure as freshly fallen snow. I am dirty and repulsive, people don't want me in their house as they are scared that I might contaminate their beautifully clean house. Yet deep down I know that it is not me but those white bitches that cause me this pain. I now knew where my hatred for those dolls came from and this made me want to rip their heads off even more. To fulfill my deepest desires I had to destroy them. Make them feel the pain I feel.

Emily Curwood presents her re-creative interpretation of Toni Morrison's novel:

Every Sunday is church day. It’s the one day of the week I long for, the one day that fills me with gaiety; young girls in pale pink dresses, with frivolous ribbons and lacy frills, and boys in suits two sizes too big with trouser-legs that mop the dirt off the floor. It’s a day centred around community, the one day where I feel somewhat gracious about it, the one day where instead of ignoring who I am, I can embrace it- being surrounded by people who look like me makes me feel secure, safe, I know I they will not hate me for the colour of my skin, they will love me for what they can’t see. But this Sunday I am woken up earlier than usual, too early, by the sound of autumnal leaves whipping against the shuddering window. I crawl out of bed, surrendering the warmth that cocooned me, and, when make it into the corridor I can feel the harsh breeze stinging my bare legs. As I move forward I become aware of the kitchen door, opening and closing over and over again in rhythm with the swirling wind.
 As I enter the kitchen I shiver, the gloom of the outside world filling me with repulsion, so in order to maintain my diminishing warmth I turn around back around, wanting nothing more than to retreat to the comfort of my sheets and remain there for ever, however I am abruptly stopped by the silhouette of my mother hovering in the doorway, “I ain’t going out this morning.” I say to her as she approaches, inching closer until she stops in front of me. She kneels so that our faces are at the same height, and I look her straight into the eyes, I am not afraid, I am not a coward, but all I see is darkness. The colour of her eyes, the colour of her heart, the colour of her soul, I think. She grabs me by the jaw and squeezes so hard that all I can hear is the grating of my teeth. She retracts her hand from my face, the fierce, tumultuous backdrop beyond the opaque windows act as a pathetic fallacy to her tempestuous emotions, “But I thought you love church?” she questions patronisingly, standing back up over my hunched figure almost as if to consolidate her superiority. My answer comes in the form of quiet, fearful sobs, I keep my head down, centimetres above the stained floor, I can’t look at her, can’t fall back into those almost hypnotic black eyes. Taking me by the scruff of my night-gown and dragging me into to her room, she forcefully dresses me in my usual Sunday attire, the baby blue dress that I secretly wear whenever she is gone so that I can feel like I’m not me anymore- I was one of them.

Mother positions me in front of the mirror and asks; “What’d ya see?”, I shake my head, knowing that any response would be wrong, that anything I do would be replied with hatred and violence. “Ya know what I see?” she mutters, ferociously tying the ribbon hard around my waist so that I have to gasp for breath, “I see a girl living in a lie”. She turns towards me and with one swift blow smashes the mirror. “That’s what you should see” she says, each word louder, more aggressive than the one before. I turn back and all I see are lonely fragmented pieces of glass that cling to the wall, producing a distorted figure that I do not recognise. “This is what you’re seen as,” I can’t control the cries of despair anymore, my head fills with remorse and as I look down, I see blood trickling across my arm, tarnishing my already tarnished skin. “No matter what you wear ya’ll always be seen as who you really are,” I look down, my once pristine dress, now torn, shredded, by the cloud of thousands of tiny shards that had hit me. The cries that escape me are not from fear but from loss and anguish for the once beautiful dress that now is left in tatters. “They ain’t ever seeing you as a pretty dress. You may have the dress, but you’ll never look like them.” She accusatorily says, her unsteady voice only barely managing to produce words, “Cos this is how they see you.” My knees buckle and fall to the ground, grinding against the shattered glass, scraping against my already raw legs that taint my dress in dirty red. When I finally build up the courage I glance back up, realising that mother’s anger, her hatred-fuelled violence wasn’t towards her daughter, but towards the society she has grown up in, the fact that perception will always be perception and that anything you wear, no matter how loved or pretty it is, will always be perceived by the person wearing it, and, as I look down at what I have become I realise that this is all I will be seen as.