Beloved

Beloved by Toni Morrison

I just wrapped up Beloved (after reading it twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything), and I wanted to share my favorite TEN quotes. 

Before reading Beloved, I recommend reading a short plot summary (regarding the first half of the book) to clarify the fantastical/time warping aspects of the story. As Barack Obama said, “Time is no match for Toni Morrison. In her writing, she sometimes toyed with it, warping and creasing it, bending it to her masterful will.”

Find beauty & terror in the quotes included by the lyrical genius Toni Morrison.


on sweet home: 

and suddenly there was Sweet Home rolling, rolling, rolling out before her eyes, and although there was not a leaf on that farm that did not make her want to scream, it rolled itself out before her in shameless beauty. 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. Boys hanging from the most beautiful sycamores in the world. It shamed her–remembering the wonderful soughing trees rather than the boys. Try as she might to make it otherwise, the sycamores beat out the children every time and she could not forgive her memory for that.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

on men:

But maybe a man was nothing but a man, which is what Baby Suggs always said. They encouraged you to put some of your weight in their hands and soon as you felt how light and lovely that was, they studied your scars and tribulations, after which they did what he had done: ran her children out and tore up the house…

A man ain’t nothing but a man,’ said Baby Suggs. ‘But a son? Well now, that’s somebody.”

Toni Morrison, Beloved

on iron:

He wants to tell me, she thought. He wants me to ask him about what it was like for him. About how offended the tongue is, held down by iron. How the need to spit is so deep you cry for it. She already knew about it, had seen it time after time in the place before sweet home. Men, boys, little girls, women. The wildness that shot up into the eye the moment the lips were yanked back. Days after it was taken out, goose fat was rubbed on the corners of the mouth, but nothing to soothe the tongue or take the wildness out of the eye. 

Toni Morrison, Beloved

on white folk:

There is no bad luck in the world but whitefolks.

Baby Suggs lesson she had learned from her “sixty years a slave and ten years free: that there was no bad luck in the world but white people. They don’t know when to stop.”

Toni Morrison, Beloved

on songs & death:

They sang of bosses and masters and misses; of mules and dogs and the shamelessness of life. They sang lovingly of graveyards and sisters long gone. Of pork in the woods; meal in the pan; fish on the line; cane, rain and rocking chairs.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

And they beat. The women for having known them and no more, no more; the children for having been them but never again. They killed a boss so often and so completely they had to bring him back to life to pulp him one more time. Tasting hot mealcake among pine trees, they beat it away. Singing love songs to Mr Death, they smashed his head. More than the rest, they killed the flirt who folks called Life for leading them on. Making them think the next sunrise would be worth it; that another stroke of time would do it at last.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

On freedom:

What for? What does a sixty-odd-year-old slavewoman who walks like a three-le gged dog need freedom for? And when she steppe d foot on free ground she could not believe that Halle knew what she didn’t; that Halle, who had never drawn one free breath, knew that there was nothing like it in this world. It scared her. 

Something’s the matter. What’s the matter? What’s the matter? she asked herself. She didn’t know what she looked like and was not curious. But suddenly she saw her hands and thought with a clarity as simple as it was dazzling, “These hands belong to me. These my hands.” Next she felt a knocking in her chest an d discovered something else new: her own heartbeat. Had it been there all along? This pounding thing? She felt like a fool and began to laugh out loud. 

Mr. Garner looked over his shoulder at her with wide brown eyes and smiled himself. “What’s funny, Jenny?” 

She couldn’t stop laughing. “My heart’s beating,” she said. 

And it was true.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Listening to the doves in Alfred, Georgia, and having neither the right nor the permission to enjoy it because in that place mist, doves, sunlight, copper dirt, moon — everything belonged to the men who had the guns. Little men, some of them, big men too, each one of whom he could snap like a twig if he wanted to. Men who knew their manhood lay in their guns and were not even embarrassed by the knowledge that without gunshot fox would laugh at them. And these “men” who made even vixen laugh could, if you let them, stop you from hearing doves or loving moonlight. So you protected yourself and loved small. Picked the tiniest stars out of the sky to own; lay down with head twisted in order to see the loved one over the rim of the trench before you slept. Stole shy glances at her between the trees at chain-up. Grass blades, salamanders, spiders, woodpeckers, beetles, a kingdom of ants. Anything bigger wouldn’t do. A woman, a child, a brother — a big love like that would split you wide open in Alfred, Georgia. He knew exactly what she meant: to get to a place where you could love anything you chose — not to need permission for desire — well now, that was freedom.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

on the jungle whitefolks planted:

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.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

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