Toni Morrison makes a good point when, in her acceptance speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, she says, “Narrative . . . is . . . one of the principal ways in which we absorb knowledge” (7). The words we use and the way in which we use them is how we, as humans, communicate to each other our thoughts, feelings, and actions and therefore our knowledge of the world and its peoples. Knowledge is power. In this way, our language, too, is powerful.
In her acceptance speech, Morrison tries to communicate the idea that we must be careful with how we use our words. She analogizes the use of language to the life of a metaphoric bird in a tale of a wise, old, blind woman. Toni Morrison opens her speech by referring to a tale of two young people who, in trying to disprove the credibility of this wise woman, ask the question, “ ‘Is the bird I am holding [in my hand] living or dead?’” (11). Of course, being blind, the woman does not know and must say so. However, she adds that, “ ‘What I do know is that it is in your hands. It is in your hands’” (11). In saying this, she tells the youngsters that the fate of the bird’s life is their responsibility. The bird, in this case, represents language. Morrison explains, “So I choose to read the bird as language and the woman as a practiced writer” (12). The bird has either been found dead, been killed, or has the ability (if it is alive) to be killed, much as language, being looked at as a living thing, can live or die; be saved or destroyed. Language is “susceptible to death, erasure; certainly imperiled and salvageable only by an effort of the will” (Morrison 13). That will is the responsibility of those who ...
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...ossible lives of its speakers, readers, writers,” (20) Morrison describes. The limits of what language can do are indefinite, unachievable, and inaccessible. For, really, there are no limits to language--no limits to knowledge--no limits to power--the power of the mind. “ ‘The future of language is yours,’” (23) Morrison tells us. It is in our hands. This is why we must hold the life of language sacred--the life of this bird, which has wings to make it soar.
Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. “The Claims of a common Culture: Gender, Race, Class and the Canon.” Writing as Re-Vision: A Student’s Anthology. Ed. Beth Alvarado and Barbara Cully. Needham Heights: Simon & Schuster P. 1998. 15-23.
Morrison, Toni. “Lecture and Speech of Acceptance, Upon the Award of the Nobel Prize for Literature.” New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1994.
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