Toni Morrison was the eighth woman and the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize (1993) in Literature. She also won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Her seventh and most recent novel, Paradise was published early in 1998. Her speech ‘Once Upon a Time’ wonderfully exhibits how the proper usage of language could bring about changes and big revolution in the world and more so the immediate surrounding. This speech makes the point that language should be living and vibrant. Narratives have not only been entertaining but also one of the principal ways of absorption of knowledge. There are anecdotes which bring out the theme through the most simple form of expression and language. The given speech is a fine example of this.
“Once upon a time there was an old woman. Blind but wise.” Or’ an old man? A guru, perhaps, soothing restless children. I have heard this story, or one exactly like it, in the lore of several cultures.
In the version I know, the woman is the daughter of slaves, black, American, and lives alone in a small house outside of town. Her reputation for wisdom is without peer and without question. Among her people, she is both the law and its transgression. The honour she is paid and the awe in which she is held reach beyond her neighbourhood to places far away; to the city where the intelligence of rural prophets is the source of much amusement.
One day the woman is visited by some young people who seem bent on disproving her clairvoyance and showing her up for the fraud they believe she is. Their plan is simple: they enter her house and ask the one question the answer to which rides solely on her difference from them, a difference they regard as a profound disability: her blindness. They stand before her, and one of them says.
“Old woman, I hold in my hand a bird. Tell me whether it is living or dead.”
She does not answer, and the question is repeated. “Is the bird I am holding living or dead?” Still she does not answer. She is blind and cannot see her visitors, let alone what is in their hands. She does not know their colour, gender, or homeland. She only knows their motive.
The old woman’s silence is so long, the young people have trouble holding their laughter.
Finally she speaks, and her voice is soft but stern. “I don’t know,” she says. “I don’t know whether the bird you are holding is dead or alive, but what I do know is that it is in your hands. It is in your hands.”
For parading their power and her helplessness, the young visitors are reprimanded, told they are responsible not only for the act of mockery but also for the small bundle of life sacrificed to achieve its aims. The blind woman shifts attention away from assertions of power to the instrument through which that power is exercised.
Speculation on what (other than its own frail body) that bird in the hand might signify has always been attractive to me, but especially so now, thinking as I have been about work I do that has brought me to this company. So, I choose to read the bird as “language” and the woman as a “practiced writer”.
“Once upon a time. . .” Visitors ask an old woman a question. Who are they, these children? What did they make of that encounter? What did they hear in those final words: “The bird is in your hands?” A sentence that gestures towards possibility, or one that drops a latch? Perhaps what the children heard was, “It is not my problem. I am old, female, black, blind. What wisdom I have now is in knowing I cannot help you. The future of language is yours.”
They stand there. Suppose nothing was in their hands. Suppose the visit was only a ruse, a trick to get to be spoken to, taken seriously as they have not been before. A chance to interrupt, to violate the adult world, its miasma of discourse about them.
“You, old woman, blessed with blindness, can speak the language that tells us what only language can: how to see without pictures. Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.
“Tell us what it is to be a woman so that we may know what it is to be a man. What moves at the margin. What it is to have no home in this place. To be set adrift from the one you knew. What it is to live at the edge of towns that cannot bear your company.
“Tell us about ships turned away from shorelines at Easter, placenta in a field. Tell us about a wagonload of slaves, how they sang so softly their breath was indistinguishable from the falling snow. How they knew from the hunch of the nearest shoulder that the next stop would be their last.
“The inn door opens: a girl and a boy step away from its light. They climb into the wagon bed. The boy will have a gun in three years, but now he carries a lamp and a jug of warm cider. They pass it from mouth to mouth.
“The girl offers bread, pieces of meat and something more: a glance into the eyes of the one she serves. One helping for each man, two for each woman. And a look. They look back. The next stop will be their last. But not this one. This one is warmed.”
It’s quiet again when the children finish speaking, until the woman breaks into the silence.
“Finally,” she says. “I trust you now. I trust you with the bird that is not in your hands because you have truly caught it. Look. How lovely it is, this thing we have done – together.”
PANORAMA ENGLISH BOOK PART 2 CLASS 10 PROSE
Chapter 1 The Pace for Living
Chapter 2 Me and The Ecology Bit
Chapter 3 Gillu
Chapter 4 What is Wrong with Indian Film
Chapter 5 Acceptance Speech
Chapter 6 Once Upon A Time
Chapter 7 The Unity of Indian Culture
Chapter 8 Little Girl Wiser Than Man
PANORAMA ENGLISH BOOK PART 2 CLASS 10 POETRY
Chapter 1 God Made The Country
Chapter 2 Ode On Solitude
Chapter 3 Polythene Bag
Chapter 4 Thinner Than a Crescent
Chapter 5 The Empty Heart
Chapter 6 Koel (The Black Cuckoo)
Chapter 7 The Sleeping Porter
Chapter 8 Martha
PANORAMA ENGLISH READER PART 2 CLASS 10TH SOLUTIONS BIHAR BOARD
Chapter 1 January Night
Chapter 2 Allergy
Chapter 3 The Bet
Chapter 4 Quality
Chapter 5 Sun and Moon
Chapter 6 Two Horizons
Chapter 7 Love Defiled
BIHAR BOARD CLASS 10TH ENGLISH WRITING
Unseen Passage for Comprehension Literary
Unseen Passage for Comprehension Factual
BIHAR BOARD CLASS 10TH ENGLISH GRAMMAR
Active and Passive Voice
Narration Direct and Indirect Speech
Idioms and Phrases