For the Love of Toni: 4 of Her Best Novels and Quotes

Author Toni Morrison had an incredible way with words and possessed an understanding of the world that we may never see again.

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Toni Morrison writing at a desk.

Toni Morrison’s career spanned many decades and widely focused on social commentary. Specifically highlighting the treatment of black people in America, her works have sparked many debates over the years. She was vital in bringing Black literature to the forefront. Her books continue to be studied in many high school and college settings, despite recent attempts to ban many of her them, especially Beloved. Let’s take a look at some of her most influential books as well as a quote from each novel.

Beloved (1987)

I would be remiss not to start a Toni Morrison recommendation list with Beloved. Widely believed to be her best and most well-known novel, I have been studying it off and on for about four years now. It tells the story of Sethe, a freed slave grappling with her past both in terms of her trauma as well the decisions she’s made over the years. When the character Beloved appears, Sethe believes she is the ghost of the daughter that she killed to keep her from being taken back to slavery. The novel also explores how Sethe’s actions affect those that she loves. It heavily focuses on the theme of control and memories.

Cover art for Beloved. Beloved written in gold cursive on a red background.

“It’s so hard for me to believe in [time]. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think it was my rememory. . . . 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.”

The Bluest Eye (1970)

Morrison’s first novel is also widely regarded as one of her best which is not an accomplishment many writers can claim. The novel follows the life of Pecola Breedlove, a young girl growing up in Lorain, Ohio (which also happens to be Morrison’s hometown) in 1941, just after The Great Depression. Often the target of harassment in her community and school life for her dark skin, she begins to wish for herself qualities that represent white American beauty, specifically blue eyes. This, combined with other trauma she experiences at the hands of others, causes her to eventually begin to lose her sense of self. The novel explores how the white standard of beauty influences Black communities as well as themes of storytelling and sexual abuse.

The Bluest Eye cover art. The Bluest Eye written in blue cursive on a white background.

“Try as she might, she could never get her eyes to disappear. So what was the point? They were everything. Everything was there, in them. All of those pictures, all of those faces. She had long ago given up the idea of running away to see new pictures, new faces, as Sammy had so often done.”

Song of Solomon (1977)

Another well-loved Morrison novel, Song of Solomon, tells the story of a black man during the Great Depression, Macon “Milkman” Dead III. Also set in the Great Depression, Milkman goes on a treasure hunt of sorts in search of gold that his father and aunt found when they were kids. During the search, he learns many things about his heritage and uncovers things he didn’t previously know about his otherwise wealthy and high-status family. The novel deals with themes of storytelling, the power of names, and racism. It specifically explores the themes of racism and how it isolates the Black community. It does so by only ever featuring white racism towards black Americans offstage and includes no white characters in the scenes themselves.

Song of Solomon cover art. Song of Solomon in light tan cursive and blue background.

“Perhaps that’s what all human relationships boil down to: Would you save my life? or would you take it?”

Sula (1973)

Morrison’s sophomore novel, Sula, tells the story of two young girls living in the black neighborhood of Bottom in the 1920s. Sula and Nel could not be more different. Nel is raised in a conservative, high-moral family, while Sula is raised by her mother and grandmother, who, while very eccentric, are well respected and loved by the town. Despite this, the girls are best friends. Nel gets married right out of high school, and Sula leaves town soon after, not to return for nearly a decade. When she does return, it seems she leaves destruction at every corner, both in reuniting with her family as well as with Nel. The novel features themes of racism and the power of love and is a continuation of Morrison’s early interest in girlhood. It also features themes of female relationships.

Cover art for Sula. Sula in gold cursive text on a green background.

“…Sula was wrong. Hell ain’t things lasting forever. Hell is change.” Not only did men leave and children grow up and die, but even the misery didn’t last. One day she wouldn’t even have that. This very grief that had twisted her into a curve on the floor and flayed her would be gone.”

Toni Morrison was a talent like no other. She had the power to revisit the same themes again and again but always make them feel like something new. Her most explored themes were racism and the power of storytelling. She was able to take both of these and sew them into her novels with ease and make them seem new. As we remember and miss her talent, it is also important we express our gratitude for what she brought to this world, literarily or otherwise.

To learn more about the life and legacy of Toni Morrison, click here.