The Source of Self-Regard

by Toni Morrison
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 498

Toni Morrison is one of the most revered American novelists in modern history. Her accolades include many coveted titles and awards, including the Nobel Prize in Literature. The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded her the US government's highest form of honor for the arts, the famed Jefferson Lectureship. She holds the Pulitzer Prize for her 1987 book titled Beloved. For the same book she won the American Book Award. Barack Obama even presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her work in The Source of Self-Regard: Toni Morrison on Wisdom in the Age of Information is a perfectly selected nonfiction collection of essays, speeches, and more, examining a variety topics in a way only a gifted mind like hers could.

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The genius behind this work (which spans four decades) is the way in which she provokes the reader's thoughts with surgical precision. This is executed by evoking emotion and linking personal experiences. In a bold and powerful move, she splits the collection into two parts (really three with the interlude).

Part one is titled "The Foreigner's Home" and begins with a prayer for the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks. She then dives into numerous social issues, including everything from advocacy for the arts to racism to money. This section also includes her famed Nobel Lecture in Literature. Then we encounter an interlude cleverly titled "Black Matter(s)" that begins with what is called a "searching meditation," a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. This interlude discusses another central theme: the African American presence, or lack thereof, in American literature.

The second part is titled "God's Language" and begins with one of the most sorrowful pieces of literature found in ages: a eulogy for James Baldwin. James Baldwin was an important figure to Morrison; he was a novelist who explored the complicated issues of racism and classism at a time when doing so was extremely controversial. He passed away in the late 1980s. It is here that Morrison says,

Jimmy there is too much to think about and too much to feel. The difficulty is your life refuses summation, it always did, and invites contemplation instead. . . . You gave us ourselves to think about, to cherish. . . . You knew, didn't you, how I needed your language and the mind that formed it? How I relied on your fierce courage to tame the wilderness for me? . . . "Our crown" you said, "has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do," you said, "is wear it."

Morrison's communication methods there at the end, asking Baldwin directly yet rhetorically about the impact he left on those around him, is a stand-out moment in a book full of astute observations. The statement "Jimmy. You crowned us" is a household rallying cry for the oppressed and unjustly treated. By examining each part of the three parts of the collection, we are able to have both a close-up, intimate experience as well as a big-picture understanding of what the collection is about.

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