Welcome back to Quote Digest, where I take apart and reflect on my favourite quotes.
In regards to recent events, it is imperative that I honor the work of one the wonderful Toni Morrison, who has passed on recently. May her soul rest in peace.
Although I love many of her books – The Bluest Eye was a wonderfully intense and emotional story, and Beloved is absolutely heartbreaking whilst being so beautifully written –, today I will speak on my favourite book by Morrison and one of my absolute favourite reads: Song of Solomon.
I’ll illustrate the marvelousness of this novel with some quotes, and elaborate on their meaning to the whole story. This will only touch on the general Morrison discussion, since her body of work collectively tackles many larger and very relevant issues, which are mentioned several of her novels. I might continue at a later point in time, since there is so much to be said.
“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?”
Although the story is first and foremost about family heritage – a person’s blood line being coded into them and certain patterns repeating themselves without the perpetrator even knowing why he is making those choices –, Morrison also speaks a lot about the female as an exceptional creature and as a low creature with only the function to please a man and make the man’s life more comfortable, whilst not having any ambitions herself. The Bluest Eye is a wonderful example of how one physical trait can determine a woman’s value or lack thereof.
And yes, the specification at this point is female worth, since from what I gather from every tv show, conversation on Youtube, and article: the black female has been much, much more oppressed in earlier times, not only by white slave masters but also by black men, whose role in society is to be strong and unmoved, thus not showing weakness. TV and movie stereotypes have until recently been quite unchanged, and men are still ridiculed when showing a softer, maternal side to them.
(Issa Rae does a wonderful job with deconstructing those stereotypes on Insecure, and I feel like The Wire did a marvelous job in showing the whole spectre of where the softness and the hardness of a man can lie.)
Song of Solomon is describing a woman’s love for a man who does not appreciate her, but who still longs for him and gives herself up freely, expecting nothing in return. Her value is nil, but she has neither pride of egoism in this regard, behaving rather like a pet than a human. Contrasting to Hagard’s succumbing behaviour is her grandmother Pilate, a wild and independent woman whom men are scared of. Pilate’s character and the mythos of her birth adds to the magical realism aspect of the novel.
“You think because he doesn’t love you that you are worthless. You think because he doesn’t want you anymore that he is right – that his judgement and opinion of you are correct. If he throws you out, then you are garbage. You think he belongs to you because you want to belong to him. Hagar, don’t. It’s a bad word, ‘belong.’ Especially when you put it with somebody you love. Love shouldn’t be like that.”
That is quite the universal sentiment in regards to self-love – love shouldn’t be like that, and this is tied to the small detail that Hagar tries everything to straighten her hair, thinking that to be the reason for her rejection.
The focusing on outward appearances as the first and only indicator of your worth is a topic in regards to women, black women and in today’s instagram-driven society, really everybody and anybody. Whilst we are externally striving towards widening the norms, embracing diversity and inclusivity, and expanding our horizon of tolerance, so many still cling to conventional beauty standards for themselves, even when they admire the courage to step outside the box in others. How straight hair on a black woman is still a topic of discussion because some consider that to be good hair, baffles me.
One one hand, Morrison’s novel is about the search for one’s roots and one’s value as part of a generational machine, a blood line and a cultural heritage and inheritance.
The other side ofthat, the sense of inner emptiness, melancholy and depression whence the feelings of worthlessness inside one’s rootlessness come from, she portrays in a unique, intense and fascinating manner.
However, what keeps resonating with me is the sometimes subtle female perspective inside the part about overcoming one’s past in a manner of commercial success and climbing up on a social ladder. It was not the climber or his success that fascinated me as much – although that did also fascinate me a lot -, but the people he has stepped on on his way towards that new promise of a better position amongst his community.
There is so much more to say, but those two quotes are the first things I specifically thought about while reminiscing on Song of Solomon. I would highly recommend you to read this wonderful novel from Toni Morrison, as do I recomment Beloved and The Bluest Eye.