Remember mystery flavored candy? When you were little, you and your friends would take turns tearing a piece from a mystery Airhead, and fight over what the flavor was. You used to roll white DumDum pops from cheek to cheek, closing your eyes as your mouth discerned hints of strawberry from notes of lemon.
For me, reading Toni Morrison is just like eating mystery candy; when I crack the spine of each new book, I never know just what to expect, but I know it’ll be something that will invigorate my mind. The very first book I read of Morrison’s was Beloved, and the first line of the novel packed a punch full of literary notes, “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.” Immediately my brain was throttled by wonder, alarm, and a haunting intrigue that would stay with me far after I had finished the book. My brain felt the way my tongue did when I chewed on off-white pieces of Airheads—confused, inspired, and clamouring for more.
I haven’t read all of her novels yet. I’m savouring them, spreading them out so that I can enjoy the sweetness of her unorthodox prose in waves. Although I have countless favorite quotes from Morrison, I’ve compiled a list of ten quotes that speak to my soul, and I hope they are able to remind you of mystery candy.
- “Nuns go by as quiet as lust…”
― Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
Like a welcomed slap in the face, the opening lines of Morrison’s work surprises you, and the sting of her words linger long after you turn the last page. This dichotomy between nuns and lust is the slap in the face at the beginning of The Bluest Eye, my second favorite Morrison novel. The opening line is just the tip of the iceberg; this novel is packed full of thought-provoking, and at times, excruciatingly uncomfortable narratives. It’s a harsh read, but that’s why I like it so much; it shows how much literary prowess Morrison has, to be able to make me physically react while reading her novel.
- “But they do not want the yellow heads—only the jagged leaves. They make dandelion soup. Dandelion wine. Nobody loves the head of a dandelion. Maybe because they are so many, strong, and soon.”
Another important quote from The Bluest Eye, and in this one the moral of the novel shines through. Beauty is the major theme of the novel, perceptions of beauty, European beauty standards, and how beauty is often used as a weapon. One of the main characters, Pecola (who is considered ugly by both European and African-American beauty standards), likens the heads of dandelions to beauty, but is perplexed as to why people call them ‘weeds’.
- “Only her tight, tight eyes were left. They were always left…They were everything. Everything was there, in them…Thrown, in this way, into the binding conviction that only a miracle could relieve her, she would never know her beauty. She would see only what there was to see: the eyes of other people.”
Pecola Breedlove is the complete opposite of the Eurocentric standard of beauty; she is dark-skinned with kinky hair and black eyes. She spends the novel wishing to have blue eyes, which she believes will make her beautiful. In this quote, Pecola is trying to make herself disappear, but she can never get rid of her eyes. I find this part of the novel so relatable; growing up as a black girl in a society that holds Barbie as the standard of beauty, the pain of wanting to be considered beautiful struck me particularly hard. I think Pecola’s blue-eyed complex is a conversation that contemporary American society still needs to have, not just for black girls, but for all girls who feel pressured to be Barbie’s version of beautiful.
- “This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live.”
This is a complex quote. What I love about Morrison is that I don’t always understand her, even when I think I do. That might seem counterintuitive, but her prose has always forced me to think about my own perspective, sometimes to the point of headaches. I feel that this part of The Bluest Eye holds an enormous amount of meaning, but to relate it to the present day, it reminds me of the ongoing conversation about police brutality in America. When a victim of police brutality dies, “we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live,” regardless of the situation. Criminality is inexplicably linked to race in American society, and this quote highlights that this reality needs to be expelled.
- “When you gone to get married? You need to have some babies. It’ll settle you.’
‘I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.”
Sula is a story about womanhood, about the societal traps women can fall into, and the resistance thereof. It’s about friendship and understanding oneself fully, and being okay with the formation of that identity. That being said, this quote speaks to my soul. I’m a twenty-one year old woman with ambitions to travel the world, to write, and to achieve my PhD. Amidst all of this, I’m always wondering when I’ll find time for a relationship, marriage and children. It’s often unclear when I’ll even find the right person to start this type of life with. With all of my aspirations floating around, I tend to feel extreme pressure to assimilate to the idea of “settling down.” But as Sula says in Morrison’s novel (my third favorite), “I want to make myself.” Day after day, I remind myself that boyfriends will come and go, but what I put into the world, my memories and achievements, and general content, that will stay with me forever.
- “Lonely, ain’t it?
“Yes, but my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else’s. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain’t that something? A secondhand lonely.”
5 and 6 go hand in hand. Often times, seeing other couples happy and together can make me feel more alone; as if these examples confirm that I’m missing out on something amazing. However, I’d rather have to find contentment in my own loneliness than experience the pain of being lonely with someone else. That is to say, for now I’m happy with being surrounded by people who are genuine to me, my friends and family that help to ease the sting of the single life.
- “Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place—the picture of it—stays, and not just in my rememory, but out there, in the world. What I remember is a picture floating around out there outside my head. I mean, even if I don’t think it, even if I die, the picture of what I did, or knew, or saw is still out there. Right in the place where it happened.”
Let me start by saying Beloved is my all-time favorite book, period. I think it should be a requirement of all Americans to read this novel, since it so hauntingly illustrates the devastation and trauma of American slavery.
This quote is something I’ve ended up living by; the idea that everything we do is stuck in some kind of perpetual way. I’m graduating soon, but I think of this quote when I consider what it will be like to move on—even when I’m no longer at UConn, the memories I made here will remain, and when I go back, the memories will still be there. I love the idea that our memories are like footprints. When you make a footprint in sand, the wind might blow it away, but you’ll always know that you walked there.
- “By and by all trace is gone, and what is forgotten is not only the footprints but the water too and what it is down there. The rest is weather. Not the breath of the disremembered and unaccounted for, but wind in the eaves, or spring ice thawing too quickly. Just weather.”
—Toni Morrison, Beloved
This quote comes at the end of Beloved, and I’m still grappling with what it means. Beloved is dedicated to “6 million and more”, which accounts for all of the souls lost during the middle passage, or the trans-Atlantic slave trade. My best interpretation revolves around the “breath of the disremembered”, the “and more” or Morrison’s dedication. It reminds me of the cycle of rain; how the souls unaccounted for at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean are recycled into weather. Morrison provides an achingly beautiful depiction of this historical amnesia by fusing images of nature into the memory of the forgotten.
- “This is not a story to pass on.”
― Toni Morrison, Beloved
At the very end of Beloved, Morrison writes this and the lack of a decisive meaning behind this quote is what makes me love it so much. Is the legacy of American slavery the story that we should not pass on, or something we should not pass on – as in, ignore? After my third time reading through this novel, I still don’t know.
1.“You your best thing”
― Toni Morrison, Beloved
This last one is the best; a principle I keep with me on the day-to-day. Morrison focuses on the experience of black Americans, black women in particular, in this country, throughout history, the good, and the ugly. Sethe, a woman who escaped from slavery, is told this quote near the end of the novel, when she feels as though there is nothing left for her. Here, I believe that Morrison has embedded a message for all of her readers, regardless of their background: You are your best thing, through every hardship that you may face.