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The Eternal Wisdom of Toni Morrison

Reading a Toni Morrison novel is often a transformative experience—Morrison’s language both entrances and educates. Her latest book, God Help the Child, follows a young woman irrevocably shaped by a lonely and traumatic childhood. Morrison has woven bits of wisdom throughout Bride’s emotional journey: reminders of what it takes to live a fuller, happier life. We gathered just a few of these pieces of guidance into the list below, but there are plenty more for you and your reading group to discover on your own.

“What you do to children matters. And they might never forget.” (Sweetness, p. 43)

Morrison’s core message in this book can be distilled into these two sentences. God Help the Child is essentially about how early life experiences, both good and bad, shape who we become as adults. Bride’s journey is a cautionary tale to parents.

“A promise is a promise, especially if it’s to oneself.” (Bride, p. 12)
Here Morrison reminds us of the importance of integrity. Bride grapples with so much internal conflict that it becomes difficult for her to know her own mind. Keeping promises, especially to herself, is one way for her to diminish her mental disquiet.

“Correct what you can; learn from what you can’t.” (Booker, p. 56)
Bride’s love interest, Booker, is a complex character with a shady past, but he is often the voice of wisdom in the novel. Here, he reminds Bride that she will never be able to control everything around her, but that she can choose how she uses the knowledge she gains from each experience.

“She knew from personal experience how hard loving was, how selfish and how easily sundered. Withholding sex or relying on it, ignoring children or devouring them, rerouting true feelings or locking them out.” (Queen, p. 158)
Morrison has illustrated time and time again just how fragile love is. Bride and Booker are proof of how complicated it is to care for someone; we also see this in the relationship between Bride and her mother. As Morrison demonstrates throughout the novel, it’s essential to cherish love of all kinds. It is all too easy to take it for granted.

“You don’t have to love me but you damn well have to respect me.” (Bride, p. 154)
More than anything else, this quote exemplifies Bride’s considerable growth as an individual. Over the course of the novel, she experiences a true evolution, becoming a more self-assured adult. Her desperate craving for love of any sort, especially in her relationship with Booker, recedes in the face of her newfound confidence.