180 Toni Morrison Quotes Revealing the Truth About Society

There’s nothing more eye-opening than these Toni Morrison quotes that tackle almost everything under the sun!

From self-discovery to cultural segregation, you’re sure to find it here.

As a multi-awarded writer, she delved deep into the issues of the human psyche, making it the focus of her most well-known works.

We’ve rounded up some favorites for this collection.

Check out the full list below.

And make sure to read these Audre Lorde quotes and James Baldwin quotes too.

Best Toni Morrison Quotes

Toni Morrison Quote - Definitions belong to the definers.

1. “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.”

2. “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”

3. “You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

4. “I dream a dream that dreams back at me.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Thing you are scared of

5. “What difference does it make if the thing you are scared of is real or not?”

6. “If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.”

7. “Me and you, we got more yesterday than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow.”

8. “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”

9. “Not knowing it was hard; knowing it was harder.”

Toni Morrison Quote - We mistook violence for passion.

10. “We mistook violence for passion, indolence for leisure, and thought recklessness was freedom.”

11. “It is sheer good fortune to miss somebody long before they leave you.”

12. “As you enter positions of trust and power, dream a little before you think.”

13. “Anything dead coming back to life hurts.”

14. “Beauty was not simply something to behold; it was something one could do.”

Toni Morrison Quote - If you're going to hold someone down.

15. “If you’re going to hold someone down, you’re going to have to hold on by the other end of the chain. You are confined by your own repression.”

16. “All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”

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

18. “I don’t think a female running a house is a problem, a broken family. It’s perceived as one because of the notion that a head is a man.”

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

Toni Morrison Quotes on the Road to Freedom

Toni Morrison Quote - the mind always knows the truth and wants clarity.

20. “No matter how hard we try to ignore it, the mind always knows the truth and wants clarity.”

21. “When I woke up, I reminded myself that freedom is never free. You have to fight for it, work for it, and make sure you are able to handle it.”

22. “Look to yourself. You are free. Nothing and nobody is obliged to save you but you. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world.”

23. “How loose the silk. How fine and loose and free.”

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

Toni Morrison Quote - Make a difference about something other than yourselves.

25. “Make a difference about something other than yourselves.”

26. “Somebody has to take responsibility for being a leader.”

27. “Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.”

28. “To get to a place where you could love anything you chose—not to need permission for desire—well, now that was freedom.”

29. “There is really nothing more to say except why. But since why is difficult to handle, one must take refuge in how.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Anger is a paralyzing emotion.

30. “Anger—it’s a paralyzing emotion. You can’t get anything done. People sort of think it’s an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling—I don’t think it’s any of that. It’s helpless. It’s absence of control. I have no use for it whatsoever.”

Toni Morrison Quotes on Life and Existence

31. “But to find out the truth about how dreams die, one should never take the word of the dreamer.”

32. “Being good to somebody is just like being mean to somebody. Risky. You don’t get nothing for it.”

33. “If you can’t imagine it, you can’t have it.”

34. “Correct what you can; learn from what you can’t.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Today is always here. Tomorrow, never.

35. “Today is always here. Tomorrow, never.”

36. “You couldn’t learn age, but adulthood was there for all.”

37. “They did not believe death was accidental—life might be, but death was deliberate.”

38. “If you’re open, you can rely on the lived wisdom of the elderly. It’s not the book learning, it’s the lived wisdom.”

39. “I was happy, free in a way I had never been, ever. It was the oddest sensation. Not ecstasy, not satisfaction, not a surfeit of pleasure or accomplishment. It was a purer delight, a rogue anticipation with certainty.”

Toni Morrison Quote - We never shape the world, the world shapes us.

40. “We never shape the world, the world shapes us.”

41. “Everything depends on knowing how much. Good is knowing when to stop.”

42. “We must do all we can to imagine the other before we presume to solve the problems that work and life demands of us.”

43. “Own things, and let the things you own own other things.”

44. “Have a sense of humor; deliver something that somebody can use.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Birth, life, and death each took place on the hidden side of a leaf

45. “Birth, life, and death―each took place on the hidden side of a leaf.”

46. “Sifting daylight dissolves the memory, turns it into dust motes floating in light.”

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

48. “You got a life? Live it! Live the motherfuckin life!”

49. “He relished never knowing what lay in his path, who might approach with what intention.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Death is a sure thing, but life is just as certain.

50. “Death is a sure thing, but life is just as certain. Problem is you can’t know in advance.”

51. “When good people take you in and treat you good, you ought to try to be good back.”

52. “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”

53. “Would it be all right? Would it be all right to go ahead and feel? Go ahead and count on something?”

54. “I had only one desire: to dismember it. To see of what it was made, to discover the dearness, to find the beauty, the desirability that had escaped me, but apparently only me.”

Toni Morrison Quotes on Overcoming One’s Struggles and Internal Trials

Toni Morrison Quote - Making them think the next sunrise would be worth it.

55. “Making them think the next sunrise would be worth it; that another stroke of time would do it at last.”

56. “The presence of evil was something to be first recognized, then dealt with, survived, outwitted, triumphed over.”

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

58. “What’s fair ain’t necessarily right.”

59. “Nothing could be counted on in a world where even when you were a solution you were a problem.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Nothing will undo the accident.

60. “Nothing will undo the accident; nothing will immediately repair the jar, so what is the urgency of the beating? To teach a lesson or to enjoy it?”

61. “Misery doesn’t call ahead. That’s why you have to stay awake—otherwise it just walks on in your door.”

62. “Hate does that. Burns off everything but itself, so whatever your grievance is, your face looks just like your enemy’s.”

63. “She was broken. Not broken up but broken down, down into her separate parts.”

64. “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 Quote - To be given dominion over another is a hard thing.

65. “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.”

66. “The human body is robust. It can gather strength when it’s in mortal danger.”

67. “Lonely was much better than alone.”

68. “Lay my head on the railroad line. Train come along; pacify my mind. ”

69. “Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear, and when the land kills of its own volition, we acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Why not? I can be miserable if I want to.

70. “Why not? I can be miserable if I want to. You don’t need to try and make it go away. It shouldn’t go away. It’s just as sad as it ought to be and I’m not going to hide from what’s true just because it hurts.”

71. “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.”

72. “There is honey in this land sweeter than any I know of, and I have cut cane in places where the dirt itself tasted like sugar, so that’s saying a heap.”

73. “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.”

74. “When fear rules, obedience is the only survival choice.”

Toni Morrison Quote - The real hell of Hell is that it is forever.

75. “The real hell of Hell is that it is forever.”

76. “She was fierce in the presence of death, heroic even, as she was at no other time. Its threat gave her direction, clarity, audacity.”

77. “The enemy is not men. The enemy is the concept of patriarchy, the concept of patriarchy as the way to run the world or do things.”

78. “You don’t have to love me, but you damn well have to respect me.”

79. “Like friendship, hatred needed more than physical intimacy; it wanted creativity and hard work to sustain itself.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Cowards are so dangerous.

80. “Cowards are so dangerous. It’s that quality that informs serious hostility.”

81. “So this is what insanity is. Not goofy behavior, but watching a sudden change in the world you used to know.”

82. “I get angry about things, then go on and work.”

83. “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 Quotes on Love and Attachments

84. “It was lovely. Not to be stared at, not seen, but being pulled into view by the interested, uncritical eyes of the other.”

Toni Morrison Quote - You got anything left to you to love, anything at all, do it.

85. “I’ll tell you a real one. You got anything left to you to love, anything at all, do it.”

86. “It’s not about choosing somebody over her. It’s about making space for somebody along with her.”

87. “If happiness is anticipation with certainty, we were happy.”

88. “When they fall in love with a city, it is for forever and it is like forever.”

89. “He wants to put his story next to hers.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Love is divine only and difficult always.

90. “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.”

91. “I wish I’d known more people. I would have loved ‘em all. If I’d known more, I would have loved more.”

92. “More than fear of loving bears or birds bigger than cows, I fear pathless nights. How, I wonder, can I find you in the dark?”

93. “And for a reason he still did not understand, he began to cry. Love—plain, simple, and so fast it shattered him.”

94. “Whatever happens, whether you get rich or stay poor, ruin your health or live to old age, you always end up back where you started: hungry for the one thing everybody loses—young loving.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Love is not a gift. It is a diploma.

95. “Love is not a gift. It is a diploma. A diploma conferring certain privileges: the privilege of expressing love and the privilege of receiving it.”

96. “Which was what love was: unmotivated respect.”

97. “The sun and the moon shared the horizon in a distant friendship, each unfazed by the other.”

98. “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.”

99. “Love is never any better than the lover. 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.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Couples that enter the sacrament of marriage and are not prepared to go the distance

100. “Couples that enter the sacrament of marriage and are not prepared to go the distance, or are not willing to get right with the real love of God, cannot thrive.”

101. “So when I think of autumn, I think of somebody with hands who does not want me to die.”

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

103. “Love. We have to embrace ourselves.”

104. “Don’t ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it.”

Toni Morrison Quote - It is more interesting, more complicated, more intellectually demanding, and more morally demanding to love somebody.

105. “It is more interesting, more complicated, more intellectually demanding, and more morally demanding to love somebody, to take care of somebody, to make one other person feel good.”

106. “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.”

107. “Something that is loved is never lost.”

Toni Morrison Quotes on Self-Discovery and Familial Ties

108. “What a man leaves behind is what a man is.”

109. “A man ain’t nothing but a man. But a son? Well, now, that’s somebody.”

Toni Morrison Quote - A daughter is a woman that cares about where she comes from

110. “A daughter is a woman that cares about where she comes from and takes care of them that took care of her.”

111. “I don’t want to make somebody else. I want to make myself.”

112. “You can do some rather extraordinary things if that’s what you really believe.”

113. “The best thing she was, was her children.”

114. “It was a silly age, twenty-five; too old for teenaged dreaming, too young for settling down. Every corner was a possibility and a dead end.”

Toni Morrison Quote - She is a friend of my mind.

115. “She is a friend of my mind. She gathered me, man. The pieces I am, she gathered them and gave them back to me in all the right order.”

116. “She would never know her beauty. She would see only what there was to see: the eyes of other people.”

117. “How long had childhood trauma hurtled him away from the rip and wave of life?”

118. “I write the way women have babies. You don’t know it’s going to be like that. If you did, there’s no way you would go through with it.”

119. “You think because he doesn’t love you that you are worthless. Don’t.”

Toni Morrison Quote - You are about to find out what it takes, how the world is, how it works, and how it changes when you are a parent

120. “You are about to find out what it takes, how the world is, how it works, and how it changes when you are a parent. Good luck and God help the child.”

121. “What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”

122. “I am nothing to you. You say I am wilderness. I am. Is that a tremble on your mouth, in your eye? Are you afraid? You should be.”

123. “Grown doesn’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that supposed to mean? In my heart it doesn’t mean a thing.”

124. “A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves—a special kind of double.”

Toni Morrison Quote - What one puts up with in a friendship is determined by the emotional value of the relationship.

125. “What one puts up with in a friendship is determined by the emotional value of the relationship.”

126. “You need a whole community to raise a child. I have raised two children, alone.”

127. “You can’t own a human being. You can’t lose what you don’t own.”

128. “And I am all the things I have ever loved: scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in silent water, dream books, and number playing.”

129. “Your brain. That’s all there is.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth.

130. “Everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth.”

131. “Unless carefree, mother love was a killer.”

132. “Free yourself from baggage and vanity and all sorts of things and deliver a better self.”

133. “Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss, but for yourself.”

134. “You are your best thing.”

Toni Morrison Quote - You make the job; it doesn't make you.

135. “You make the job; it doesn’t make you.”

136. “It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”

137. “Your real life is with us, your family.”

138. “You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.”

139. “He has double eyes. Each one a different color. A sad one that lets you look inside him, and a clear one that looks inside you.”

Toni Morrison Quotes on Passions and the Power of Words

Toni Morrison Quote - I need to use everything to get at the full meaning of the story.

140. “I need to use everything—sound, image, performance—to get at the full meaning of the story.”

141. “Her passions were narrow but deep.”

142. “I don’t think many people appreciate silence or realize that it is as close to music as you can get.”

143. “Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflections. Books change your mind.”

144. “I think some aspects of writing can be taught. Obviously, you can’t teach vision or talent. But you can help with comfort.”

Toni Morrison Quote - At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough.

145. “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.”

146. “All I can do is read books, and write books, and edit books, and critique books.”

147. “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.”

148. “Art is not mere entertainment or decoration, it has meaning, and we both want and need to fathom that meaning—not fear, dismiss, or construct superficial responses told to us by authorities.”

149. “You revel in the smoke that the words send up.”

Toni Morrison Quote - Nowadays silence is looked on as odd and most of my race has forgotten the beauty of meaning much by saying little.

150. “Nowadays silence is looked on as odd and most of my race has forgotten the beauty of meaning much by saying little.”

151. “All narrative begins for me as listening. When I read, I listen. When I write, I listen—for silence, inflection, rhythm, rest.”

152. “Language, when it finally comes, has the vigor of a felon pardoned after twenty-one years on hold. Sudden, raw, stripped to its underwear.”

153. “Certain kinds of trauma visited on peoples are so deep, so cruel, that unlike money, unlike vengeance, even unlike justice, or rights, or the goodwill of others, only writers can translate such trauma and turn sorrow into meaning, sharpening the moral imagination.”

154. “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Toni Morrison Quote - The writing is I'm free from pain

155. “The writing is—I’m free from pain. It’s where nobody tells me what to do; it’s where my imagination is fecund and I am really at my best. Nothing matters more in the world or in my body or anywhere when I’m writing.”

156. “Your life is already artful—waiting, just waiting, for you to make it art.”

157. “History has always proved that books are the first plain on which certain battles are fought.”

158. “We don’t need any more writers as solitary heroes. We need a heroic writers’ movement: assertive, militant, pugnacious.”

159. “Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.”

Toni Morrison Quote - I remember very clearly I was writing with a pencil.

160. “I remember very clearly I was writing with a pencil. I was sitting on a couch, writing with a pencil, trying to think up something and remembering what I just described.”

161. “Writing, for me, is the big protection.”

Toni Morrison Quotes on Racial Inequality and Cultural Segregation

162. “Her color is a cross she will always carry.”

163. “All paradises, all utopias are designed by who are not there, by the people who are not allowed in.”

164. “We cannot be optimistic, but we can be clear. We can identify the enemy. We can begin by asking ourselves what is right rather than what is expedient. Know the difference between fever and the disease. Between racism and greed. We can be clear and we can be careful. Careful to avoid the imprisonment of the mind, the spirit, and the will of ourselves and those among whom we live. We can be careful of tolerating second-rate goals and secondhand ideas.”

Toni Morrison Quote - People tend to think that when black people leave home, they are weak

165. “People tend to think that when black people leave home, they are weak, that they’re leaving their children.”

166. “In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”

167. “Our past is bleak. Our future, dim. But I am not reasonable. A reasonable man adjusts to his environment. An unreasonable man does not. All progress, therefore, depends on the unreasonable man. I prefer not to adjust to my environment. I refuse the prison of ‘I’ and choose the open spaces of ‘we.’”

168. “You stupid, man. Real stupid. Ain’t no law for no colored man except the one sends him to the chair.”

169. “Don’t let anybody, anybody convince you this is the way the world is and therefore must be. It must be the way it ought to be.”

Toni Morrison Quote - I dedicated the book to the more than 60 million black men and women who died as a result of slavery.

170. “I dedicated the book to the more than 60 million black men and women who died as a result of slavery.”

171. “Being a black woman writer is not a shallow place but a rich place to write from. It doesn’t limit my imagination; it expands it. It’s richer than being a white male writer because I know more and I’ve experienced more.”

172. “I didn’t really have a strong awareness of segregation and the separation of races until I left Lorain, Ohio.”

173. “Black women were armed, black women were dangerous, and the less money they had the deadlier the weapon they chose.”

174. “I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don’t know why I should be asked to explain your life to you.”

Toni Morrison Quote - I wanted to separate color from race

175. “I wanted to separate color from race. Distinguishing color—light, black, in-between—as the marker for race is really an error.”

176. “Mother never rejected or accepted anybody based on race or color or religion or any of that. Everybody was an individual whom she approved of or disapproved of based on her perception of them as individuals.”

177. “My world did not shrink because I was a Black female writer. It just got bigger.”

178. “Racism will disappear when it’s no longer profitable, and no longer psychologically useful. And when that happens, it’ll be gone. But at the moment, people make a lot of money off of it.”

179. “Racists always try to make you think they are the majority, but they never are. It’s always the minority against all of the poor, all of the women, or all of the blacks.”

Toni Morrison Quote - I merged those two words, black and feminist, because I was surrounded by black women.

180. “I merged those two words, black and feminist, because I was surrounded by black women who were very tough and and who always assumed they had to work and rear children and manage homes.”

Which Toni Morrison Quotes Speak Your Truth?

Throughout her life, Toni Morrison dedicated herself to putting lived human experiences into writing—through her poems, essays, and publications like Sula, the Song of Solomon, and The Bluest Eye.

Though she had already passed on, her legacy still lives on today, reminding us of the rampant racism that still occurs right in front of our eyes, and how we should move forward to stop it.

Which Toni Morrison quote struck you the most? Are there any other quotes you’d like us to include? List them down in the comments section below.


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Amy Finn

Hi. I'm Amy, the founder of this blog. I love quotes and enjoy sharing the best ones with you.

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