The Heartbreakingly Beautiful Language of Toni Morrison

The Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author turns 86 on Saturday. We celebrate her creative genius by selecting some of the most emotionally stirring passages from her novels.
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Toni Morrison Photo

Toni Morrison poses on September 21, 2012 during a reception sponsored by the US ambassador at his residence in Paris, as part of the 10th America Festival.

Known for her beautifully constructed language in novels like The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon and Beloved, Toni Morrison is a living legend in black literature and is considered to be one of the greatest writers in American history. What makes Morrison's novels distinctly remarkable is her ability to resist the categorization of the black experience. She creates complicated characters who are often forgotten by society and turns them into heroes and heroines of their banal worlds.

In honor of Morrison's 86th birthday, we've selected passages and quotes from her novels that remind us why she is a living treasure of the humanities.

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” - Beloved

“You’re turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can’t value you more than you value yourself.” - Song of Solomon

“What’s the world for you if you can’t make it up the way you want it?” - Jazz

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

“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.” - The Bluest Eye

“It was a fine cry - loud and long - but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.” - Sula

“You do not deserve love regardless of the suffering you have endured. You do not deserve love because somebody did you wrong. You do not deserve love just because you want it. You can only earn - by practice and careful contemplations - the right to express it and you have to learn how to accept it.” - Paradise

“A dream is just a nightmare with lipstick.” - Love

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

“What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?” - Song of Solomon

“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. And like an artist with no art form, she became dangerous.” - Sula

“We live in the world . . .The whole world. Separating us, isolating us–that’s always been their weapon. Isolation kills generations. It has no future.” - Paradise

“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.)” - Jazz

“…the oldest and most devastating pain there is: not the pain of childhood, but the remembrance of it.” - Sula

“He did not always know who he was, but he always knew what he was like.” - Tar Baby

“Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind. It is a learned application without reason or motive except that it is God.’ - Paradise