Lessons from Toni Morrison



BY BRITTANY M. ORIE LEAK

There is so much to say about the late Toni Morrison. She was a world-famous, Pulitzer-prize winning African American author, professor, and editor whose novels were filled with history, folktales, heartbreak, black culture, and inspiration. She was born Chloe Anthony Wofford on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio. She grew up with a tremendously hardworking father and a domestic mother, both of which instilled a love of literature, reading, music, and folklore. Her upbringing is the reason she pursued an enlightening and groundbreaking career in literature. She was always passionate about her studies, although the integrated schools she attended created racial disparities. But the idea of race would later become prominent themes in her novels and essays.

Toni Morrison recently passed away in August 2019, but she left us with precious and realistic characters, poignant novels, and timeless life lessons that will always be relevant. Here are some of my personal picks from Morrison’s rich archive and how the messages spill over from fictitious worlds to tangible life.

The Bluest Eye

Morrison makes her writing debut with a dark, realistic, and thought-provoking novel. It primarily focuses on Pecola Breedlove, a dark-skinned girl who is often regarded as “ugly” by her family and schoolmates. She continuously believed that if she had blue eyes, she would be more beautiful. Her strange ideal stemmed from the white blond-haired, blue-eyed dolls that were given to her as a child; she always admired them for their beauty. The novel contains rape, incest, and self-hatred. While Pecola never gets the blue eyes she wanted, she is the scapegoat for other black children to help them feel more beautiful.

The lesson I grabbed from this heavy read: don’t rely on other people or the media to validate your beauty. People will always find something to pick at, so know your own beauty, have strength in it, and don’t compare your physical attractiveness to the next person.

God Help the Child

This stunning, thought-provoking 2015 novel focuses on a blue-black young woman, nicknamed “Bride,” who is abused by her light-skinned mother for being “too dark.” Her mother often punished her for her dark skin and, subconsciously, wanted to protect Bride from the prejudice and discrimination she would likely face in the world. Despite her challenges, Bride grows into a beautiful and successful woman with her own cosmetic business who only wears white to emphasize her beauty. With her past still dangling in the back of her head, she has found a way to be comfortable in her own skin…as comfortable as she possibly can be. She was always taught, “The lighter you are, the better.” After her boyfriend, Booker, walks out on her, she is on a journey to find him. During this journey, she notices her body is changing: her womanly curves are straightening out and shrinking down a child’s body. Only she can see this change; nobody else can. Though with a good ending, Bride’s body begins to return to normal.

The lesson I took away: overcome any insecurities created by your past or else they will follow you into adulthood and eat away at your self-esteem and emotional well-being. Bride’s body was aging backward because she needed to face her childhood insecurities and overcome them and come back as a more stable adult!

Beloved

One of Morrison’s most popular novels, Beloved is a complex novel inspired by a true story. Sethe, the protagonist, flees from slavery with her children. She plans to take her children’s lives so they won’t live with the risk of returning back to slavery. She ends up taking the life of her youngest daughter, called “Beloved.” Sethe’s home soon becomes haunted by the ghost of her child, marinating Sethe in guilt and fear. Later on, a young woman who calls herself Beloved enters Sethe’s life, and Sethe suspects that she is her daughter reincarnated. This turning point in the novel brings on various events that help the complex novel take shape.

My lesson from Beloved: be careful of the present decisions you make. Making rash, unwise decisions will reap consequences that will always tap on our shoulders until we face them.

A unique author who always stirred our imaginations and made us wonder, Toni Morrison’s legacy will live on eternally. Rest in Paradise, Toni!

 


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