The Source of Self-Regard

by Toni Morrison

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 313

It is a bit difficult to write a summary of Toni Morrison’s The Source of Self-Regard because it is a varied collection of works, spanning decades in the author’s life.

In spite of this, the essays, meditations, and speeches gathered in this single volume do seem somehow to be focused pretty cohesively on topics that are directly affecting humans now on a national—and, indeed, global—basis. This doesn’t mean that the subject matter is the same across the works, but rather that they take a multi-pronged approach to the geo-political situations we currently face: imperialism, racism, and nascent fascism, for examples, as well as suggestions of a way forward.

It seems appropriate then, that the works are not arranged chronologically; this decision emphasizes that Morrison’s work speaks to a contemporary reader, no matter when she sat down to complete it. Rather, the book is divided along lines of theme: globalization that has worked to separate people instead of unifying them, manifesting in fear and blaming of the “other”; the implicit and explicit racism that exists in the United States, and the need to fully understand the history, experience, and lives of black people in order to understand modern life at all; and the position of an artist in society to draw attention to what needs to change.

All three sections begin with acknowledgement and a certain kind of memorialization of the dead—those who died on September 11, 2001 in the first, “Foreigner’s Home”; Martin Luther King, Jr. in the second, “Black Matter(s)”; and James Baldwin in the third, “God’s Language.” But Morrison does not dwell on the dead in these works; instead, these beginnings act as springboards to propel the reader forward to the idea that these problems must be taken seriously and to stir the conscience of those who are able to improve conditions materially.

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