Top Ten Tuesday: Ten of My Favorite Quotes From Toni Morrison

Posted May 8, 2012 by in Top Ten Tuesday / 10 Comments

Top Ten Tuesday
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

It has been a long time since I’ve participated in Top Ten Tuesday, but this week’s prompt is right up my alley. This week, The Broke and the Bookish want to know what everyone’s top ten favorite book quotes are.

Now, I have done a lot of reading over the last thirty-five years or so, and I have eleventy-thousand favorite quotes from the books I’ve read. I haven’t kept those quotes all together in one organized place, either; they’re written in different notebooks, underlined in the books themselves, written on various index cards (that are scattered all over who-knows-where), and typed up in different apps on my cell phone and iPod.

Problem: How am I going to decide which ten quotes to post for Top Ten Tuesday?

Solution: As you may or may not know, today was the first ever Riot Reading Day at Book Riot, and they dubbed it Toni Morrison Day in honor of today’s release of Morrison’s latest book, Home. Rebecca (aka The Book Lady) had the great idea of posting what she considers “The 20 Best Lines in Toni Morrison,” and I thought I would post my favorites here for Top Ten Tuesday. Toni Morrison has published ten works of fiction including today’s release, so that means I can pick one (only one???) quote from each of her ten books to share with you.

Here are ten of my favorite quotes/passages from Toni Morrison’s fiction:

The Bluest EyeThe Bluest Eye (1970):
“Along with the idea of romantic love, she was introduced to another–physical beauty. Probably the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Both originated in envy, thrived in insecurity, and ended in disillusion. In equating physical beauty with virtue, she stripped her mind, bound it, and collected self-contempt by the heap.”

SulaSula (1974):
“‘I didn’t even know his name. And if I didn’t know his name, then there is nothing I did know and I have known nothing ever at all since the one thing I wanted was to know his name so how could he help but leave me since he was making love to a woman who didn’t even know his name.

When I was a little girl the heads of my paper dolls came off, and it was a long time before I discovered that my own head would not fall off if I bent my neck. I used to walk around holding it very stiff because I thought a strong wind or a heavy push would snap my neck. Nel was the one who told me the truth. But she was wrong. I did not hold my head stiff enough when I met him and so I lost it just like the dolls.'”

Song of SolomonSong of Solomon (1977):
“‘Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.'”

Tar BabyTar Baby (1981):
“That was the sole lesson of their world: how to make waste, how to make machines that made more waste, how to make wasteful products, how to talk waste, how to study waste, how to design waste, how to cure people who were sickened by waste so they could be well enough to endure it, how to mobilize waste, legalize waste and how to despise the culture that lived in cloth houses and shit on the ground far away from where they ate. And it would drown them one day, they would all sink into their own waste and the waste they had made of the world and then, finally they would know true peace and the happiness they had been looking for all along.”

BelovedBeloved (1987):
“Whitepeople believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. Swift unnavigable waters, swinging screaming baboons, sleeping snakes, red gums ready for their sweet white blood. In a way, he thought, they were right. The more coloredpeople spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves up to persuade whites of something Negroes believed could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside. But it wasn’t the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle whitefolks planted in them. And it grew. It spread. In, through and after life, it spread, until it invaded the whites who had made it. Touched them every one. Changed and altered them. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin; the red gums were their own.”

JazzJazz (1992):
“Pain. I seem to have an affection, a kind of sweettooth for it. Bolts of lightning, little rivulets of thunder. And I the eye of the storm. Mourning the split trees, hens starving on the rooftops. Figuring out what can be done to save them since they cannot save themselves without me because–well, it’s my storm, isn’t it? I break lives to prove I can mend them back again. And although the pain is theirs, I share it, don’t I? Of course. Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it is another way. I am uneasy now. Feeling a bit false. What, I wonder, what would I be without a few brilliant spots of blood to ponder? Without aching words that set, then miss the mark?

I ought to get out of this place. Avoid the window, leave the hole I cut through the door to get in lives instead of having one of my own. It was loving the City that distracted me and gave me ideas. Made me think I could speak its loud voice and make that sound sound human. I missed the people altogether.”

ParadiseParadise (1997):
“She was back in that place where final wars are waged, the organized trenches of high school, where shame is the plate-shifting time it takes to walk down the hall, failure is a fumble with the combination lock and loathing is a condom wafer clogging a fountain. Where aside from the exchange of clothes and toys, there are no good intentions. Where smugness reigns, judgments instant, dismissals permanent. And the adults haven’t a clue. Only prison could be as blatant and as frightening, for beneath its rules and rituals scratched a life of gnawing violence. Those who came from peaceful well-regulated homes were overtaken by a cruelty that visited them as soon as they entered the gates. Cruelty decked out in juvenile glee.”

LoveLove (2003):
“The ocean is my man now. He knows when to rear and hump his back, when to be quiet and simply watch a woman. He can be devious, but he’s not a false-hearted man. His soul is deep down there and suffering. I pay attention and know all about him.
I watch my man from the porch. In the evening mostly, but sunrise too, when I need to see his shoulders collared with seafoam. There use to be white wicker chairs out here where pretty women drank iced tea with a drop of Jack Daniel’s or Cutty Sark in it. Nothing left now, so I sit on the steps or lean my elbows on the railings. If I’m real still and listening carefully I can hear his voice. You’d think with all that strength, he’d be a bass. But, no. My man is a tenor.”

A MercyA Mercy (2008):
“It was not a miracle. Bestowed by God. It was a mercy. Offered by a human. I stayed on my knees. In the dust where my heart will remain each night and every day until you understand what I know and long to tell you: to be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.”

HomeHome (2012):
“‘See what I mean? Look to yourself. You free. Nothing and nobody is obliged to save you but you. Seed your own land. You young and a woman and there’s serious limitation in both, but you a person too. Don’t let Lenore or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no devil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world.'”

Happy Toni Morrison Day, everyone!

Toni Morrison Day 2012


  • Happy Toni Morrison Day! Now I’m thinking about my favorite Morrison quotes. Since you’ve finished reading all of her books (congrats!), what’s your favorite one? Beloved is my favorite though the love-and-hate that I felt while reading Love makes it a close second.

    • My favorite is Song of Solomon, with Paradise taking a close second. I really love them all, though.

  • Happy Toni Morrison day to you too! I havent read Home yet but really enjoyed your quotes and the memories it brought back of every one of those other books. Particularly moved by memories of Sula, maybe because it seems such a long time ago.Thank you!

    • Aw, you’re very welcome! Thanks for reading! Sula is such a great book (well, they all are).

  • Fantastic idea! I haven’t read Toni Morrison yet, but this post has me totally excited to read Sula this summer!

  • You did an excellent job choosing quotes. I’m excited. I’ve had a tradition of geting my copy of a Morrison novel and diving down in it right away. Few people list “Song Of Solomon” as their favorite. Me, too — for a reason that I can’t exactly explain. Of course, I adore “Beloved.” Great, meaning ful quotes.

    • Thanks, Breena! I’m not sure I can give an exact reason for why Song of Solomon is my favorite–I love Pilate, and I love the overall story. I also like the family history and it’s mythology.

  • This is great, choosing ten quotes from ten books by Toni Morrison. I love the arrangement of the books to form a T, so artisitic. I have only one of her novels, The Bluest Eye, which I hope to read soon. But the aim is to get all of her books to read. Well done.

    • Thank you, Celestine! I’m looking forward to your thoughts on them when you read them.