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Toni Morrison’s Nobel Lecture

Yesterday I read and listened to an interesting speech by Toni Morrison that she gave while accepting the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993. The speech was interesting in that it did not feature Morrison just thanking people and talking about her life in an autobiographical way, as one might expect someone to do while accepting a prestigious award like a Nobel Prize. Instead, Morrison told the story of a blind old woman (or was it a man?) who lectures her students when they ask her if the bird they are holding is living or dead.

The metaphor here is, to what I understand, that the bird is supposed to represent language and if its a living thing that is always changing or if its dead thing that is solid and concrete and if it should be left alone. I believe that Morrison is trying to appeal to her audience’s pathos while telling us that it is not up for us to decide if “the bird” is living or dead, but for us to allow “the bird” to go out of our hands and to exist as it is, without categorization or a demand that it be contained. I feel like Morrison is trying to get us to see that as simple mortal beings, we cannot just take our language and force it into a neat little description, but we must allow it to be free, whether its living or dead, and away from our hands. Only then will we have “truly caught it” or to put it more simply, understand it.

So, that was my take on the speech. I could be completely wrong on this, as I steered away from what others have written on it and tried to focus on my own interpretation. I’d ask others if I had to if my description holds up and if they would agree with me. Also, is the bird supposed to be the super symbolic part of this?


About joneszj2

Just a handsome kid trying to pass college english class.

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