Toni Morrison Quotes on Life, Love, Freedom, and Oppression

Array of African American woman Toni Morrison Quotes

Few creators have had the depth of knowledge, raw emotion, and resonating passion as the legendary late Toni Morrison. Not only was she the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but she wrote and inspired countless readers and listeners over her extensive careers.

Her works often focused on ideas of freedom, identity, oppression, and resistance as she tackled issues of humanity, race, and injustice. Her words were at once brazen and moving, connecting with listeners in deep meaningful ways. She did not shy away from harsh realities or uncomfortable truths, and in so doing, brought a realness to her works not often seen elsewhere.

Because of this, Morrison has a near endless supply of quotable and inspiring passages and phrases which have both inspired and comforted readers for generations. Here we have complied just a few of those meant to inspire, motivate, and empower.

Quotes on Freedom

No one speaks about freedom quite like Toni Morrison does. Her many works are rooted in this idea of freedom, or the lack of it, and how this can both wound and inspire people. Throughout her life and her literary pieces, she embodied a deep sense of self that did not shy away from her own lack of freedoms, and yet created a sense of hope and power within that. These quotes on freedom are sure to stir you and fill you with a sense of lightness and possibility.

1.“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

2.“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

3.“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

4.“We mistook violence for passion, indolence for leisure, and thought recklessness was freedom.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

5.“I dream a dream that dreams back at me.” – Toni Morrison, A Mercy

6.“The presence of evil was something to be first recognized, then dealt with, survived, outwitted, triumphed over.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

7.“Sweet, crazy conversations full of half sentences, daydreams and misunderstandings more thrilling than understanding could ever be.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

8.“Everything depends on knowing how much…Good is knowing when to stop.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

Quotes on Life

Morrison’s knack for telling truths in a clear and poignant way did not only focus on her works. Her messages of hope, inspiration, and empowerment often offered deep and wonderful truths about life itself. Here are some of our favourite Toni Morrison quotes about life, and how to best live it.

9.“At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don't need someone to share it with or tell it to. When that happens—that letting go—you let go because you can.” – Toni Morrison, Tar Baby

10.“Today is always here,' said Sethe. 'Tomorrow, never.’” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

11.“No matter how hard we try to ignore it, the mind always knows truth and wants clarity.” – Toni Morrison, God Help the Child

12.“Being good to somebody is just like being mean to somebody. Risky. You don't get nothing for it.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

13.“What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want it?” – Toni Morrison, Jazz

14.“Nothing could be taken for granted. Women who loved you tried to cut your throat, while women who didn't even know your name scrubbed your back. Witches could sound like Katharine Hepburn and your best friend could try to strangle you. Smack in the middle of an orchid there might be a blob of jello and inside a Mickey Mouse doll, a fixed and radiant star.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

15.“'I sure did live in this world.' 'Really? What have you got to show for it?' 'Show? To who? I got my mind. And what goes on in it. Which is to say, I got me'.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

16.“Perhaps that's what all human relationships boil down to: Would you save my life? or would you take it?” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

17.“Nowadays silence is looked on as odd and most of my race has forgotten the beauty of meaning much by saying little. Now tongues work all day by themselves with no help from the mind.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

18.“The hopelessness that comes from knowing too little and feeling too much (so brittle, so dry he is in danger of the reverse: feeling nothing and knowing everything.)” – Toni Morrison, Jazz

19.“I don’t think many people appreciate silence or realize that it is as close to music as you can get.” – Toni Morrison, God Help the Child

Quotes on Love

There are few emotions more powerful than love, and Toni Morission expresses love in a unique and strong way. From the power of deep love to familial connections, and even expressing a lack of love, her words beautifully describe one of the most well known and oft felt emotions.

20.“Love is or it ain't. Thin love ain't love at all.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

21.“But the picking out, the choosing. Don't ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it. I saw you and made up my mind. My mind.” – Toni Morrison, Jazz

22.“Love is never any better than the lover.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

23.“Wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly, stupid people love stupidly, but the love of a free man is never safe. There is no gift for the beloved. The lover alone possesses his gift of love. The loved one is shorn, neutralized, frozen in the glare of the lover’s inward eye.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

24.“It is sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you” – Toni Morrison, Sula

25.“He wants to put his story next to hers.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

26.“She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

27.“Something that is loved is never lost.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

28.“‘Gimme hate, Lord,’” he whimpered. “‘I’ll take hate any day. But don’t give me love. I can’t take no more love, Lord. I can’t carry it…It’s too heavy. Jesus, you know, you know all about it. Ain’t it heavy? Jesus? Ain’t love heavy?’” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

29.“In a way, her strangeness, her naiveté, her craving for the other half of her equation was the consequence of an idle imagination. Had she paints, or clay, or knew the discipline of the dance, or strings, had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for.”– Toni Morrison, Sula

30.“I wish I’d a knowed more people. I would of loved ‘em all. If I’d a knowed more, I would a loved more.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

31.“For a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe you'd have a little love left over for the next one.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

32.“You looked at me then like you knew me, and I thought it really was Eden, and I couldn't take your eyes in because I was loving the hoof marks on your cheeks.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

33.“Love is divine only and difficult always.” – Toni Morrison, Paradise

34.“Nobody gave you to me. Nobody said that’s the one for you. I picked you out.” – Toni Morrison, Jazz

35.“Every now and then she looked around for tangible evidence of his having ever been there. Where were the butterflies? the blueberries? the whistling reed? She could find nothing, for he had left nothing but his stunning absence.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

36.“Now he knew why he loved her so. Without ever leaving the ground, she could fly. 'There must be another one like you,' he whispered to her. 'There's got to be at least one more woman like you.'” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

37.“It's a bad word, 'belong.' Especially when you put it with somebody you love … You can't own a human being.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

38.“She was the third beer. Not the first one, which the throat receives with almost tearful gratitude; nor the second, that confirms and extends the pleasure of the first. But the third, the one you drink because it's there, because it can't hurt, and because what difference does it make?” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

39.“She left me the way people leave a hotel room. A hotel room is a place to be when you are doing something else. Of itself it is of no consequence to one's major scheme. A hotel room is convenient. But its convenience is limited to the time you need it while you are in that particular town on that particular business; you hope it is comfortable, but prefer, rather, that it be anonymous. It is not, after all, where you live.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

40.“Every sentence, every word, was new to them and they listened to what he said like bright-eyed ravens, trembling in their eagerness to catch & interpret every sound in the universe.”– Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

41.“if they put an iron circle around your neck I will bite it away.”– Toni Morrison, Beloved

42.“In fact her maturity and blood kinship converted her passion to fever, so it was more affliction than affection. It literally knocked her down at night, and raised her up in the morning, for when she dragged herself off to bed, having spent another day without his presence, her heart beat like a gloved fist against her ribs. And in the morning, long before she was fully awake, she felt a longing so bitter and tight it yanked her out of a sleep swept clean of dreams.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Quotes on Self

Morrison has a powerful way of reminding us to find strength and peace within ourselves. Whether you need a reminder of who you are, or a nudge towards self-acceptance, these heartfelt quotes share some insight into inner identity.

43.“How exquisitely human was the wish for permanent happiness, and how thin human imagination became trying to achieve it.” – Toni Morrison, Paradise

44.“And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

45.“Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

46.“Say make me, remake me. You are free to do it and I am free to let you because look, look. Look where your hands are. Now.” – Toni Morrison, Jazz

47.“Here was an ugly little girl asking for beauty…A little black girl who wanted to rise up out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes. His outrage grew and felt like power. For the first time he honestly wished he could work miracles.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

48.“You don't have to love me but you damn well have to respect me.” – Toni Morrison, God Help the Child

49.“She had been looking all along for a friend, and it took her a while to discover that a lover was not a comrade and could never be—for a woman. And that no one would ever be that version of herself which she sought to reach out to and touch with an ungloved hand. There was only her own mood and whim, and if that was all there was, she decided to turn the naked hand toward it, discover it and let others become as intimate with their own selves as she was.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

50.“Guileless and without vanity, we were still in love with ourselves then. We felt comfortable in our own skins, enjoyed the news that our senses released to us, admired our dirt, cultivated our scars, and could not comprehend this unworthiness.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

51.“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

52.“You are your best thing.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

53.“Let me tell you something. A man ain’t a goddamn ax. Chopping, hacking, busting every goddamn minute of the day. Things get to him. Things he can’t chop down because they’re inside.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

54.“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.'” – Toni Morrison, Sula

Quotes for Expressing your Emotions

Morrison’s words are extremely emotive, and she in turn describes emotions with a depth and clarity that resonates with listeners. If you find yourself going through some strong emotions, these quotes may help ground you.

55.“Anger is better. There is a sense of being in anger. A reality and presence. An awareness of worth. It is a lovely surging.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

56.“‘You looking good’." "‘Devil's confusion. He lets me look good long as I feel bad.’” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

57.“Jealousy we understood and thought natural… But envy was a strange, new feeling for us. And all the time we knew that Maureen Peal was not the Enemy and not worthy of such intense hatred. The Thing to fear was the Thing that made her beautiful, and not us” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

58.“If happiness is anticipation with certainty, we were happy.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

59.“Never did he once consider directing his hatred toward the hunters. Such an emotion would have destroyed him…His subconscious knew what his mind did not guess—that hating them would have consumed him, burned him up like a piece of soft coal, leaving only flakes of ash and a question mark of smoke.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

60.“Me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

61.“No matter what all your teeth and wet fingers anticipated, there was no accounting for the way that simple joy could shake you.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

62.“There in the center of that silence was not eternity but the death of time and a loneliness so profound the word itself had no meaning.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

63.“Sula was wrong. Hell ain't things lasting forever. Hell is change." – Toni Morrison, Sula

64.“Lonely was much better than alone.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

65.“Pain. I seem to have an affection, a kind of sweet tooth for it. Bolts of lightning, little rivulets of thunder. And I the eye of the storm.” – Toni Morrison, Jazz

66.“They encouraged you to put some of your weight in their hands and soon as you felt how light and lovely it was, they studied your scars and tribulations.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

67.“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.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

68.“Her passions were narrow but deep.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

69.“She learned the intricacy of loneliness: the horror of color, the roar of soundlessness and the menace of familiar objects lying still.” – Toni Morrison,A Mercy

70.“It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

Quotes on Power and Oppression

The works of Morrison also tend to focus on power dynamics. Here we have compiled some powerful quotes that share her stance on oppression, ownership, and slavery. Through her stories and words, she expresses these ideas and examples of ownership, but also the power and strength in those that resist it.

71.“When fear rules, obedience is the only survival choice.” – Toni Morrison, God Help the Child

72.“Like any artist without an art form, she became dangerous.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

73.“You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

74.“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.” – Toni Morrison, A Mercy

75.“What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” – Toni Morrison, God Help the Child

76.“‘Was it hard? I hope she didn't die hard.' Sethe shook her head. 'Soft as cream. Being alive was the hard part.’” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

77.“Sunk in the grass of an empty lot on a spring Saturday, I split the stems of milkweed and thought about ants and peach pits and death and where the world went when I closed my eyes.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

78.“It never looked as terrible as it was and it made her wonder if hell was a pretty place too. Fire and brimstone all right, but hidden in lacy groves.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

79.“But to find out the truth about how dreams die, one should never take the word of the dreamer.” – Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

80.“‘The real hell of Hell is that it is forever.' Sula said that. She said doing anything forever and ever was hell.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

81.“He licked his lips. ‘Well, if you want my opinion—’ ‘I don’t, ‘ She said. ‘I have my own.’” – Toni Morrison, Beloved

82.“And talking about dark! You think dark is just one color, but it ain't. There're five or six kinds of black. Some silky, some woolly. Some just empty. Some like fingers. And it don't stay still, it moves and changes from one kind of black to another.” – Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

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