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11 Literary One-Liners That Will Stop You in Your Tracks

Good writing has the power to leave us speechless. Sometimes all it takes is a single line, a memorable maneuvering of a few words, and they’re etched into our consciousness forever. These words have the ability to inspire and enlighten, but the best ones also tend to evoke a deep connection, making particularly effective pieces of literature feel like lifelong friends.

Often, these powerful one-liners act as a window into the human experience that causes us to reflect on self-discovery, freedom, love, and loss. The complexity of human life is not easily captured or conveyed, but these quotes by authors from different genres and eras showcase their awe-inspiring abilities to convey raw emotions, elicit deep empathy, and truly stir the soul.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Great Gatsby”

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I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.
Sylvia Plath, “The Bell Jar”

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The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.
Ernest Hemingway, “A Farewell to Arms”

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When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time — the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers.
John Irving, “A Prayer for Owen Meany”

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There are years that ask questions and years that answer.
Zora Neale Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

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If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.
George Eliot, “Middlemarch”

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Choose a place where you won't do harm — yes, choose a place where you won't do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.
E.M. Forster, “A Room With a View”

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Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat.
Ralph Ellison, “Invisible Man”

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Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.
Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”

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Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.
Kurt Vonnegut, “Slaughterhouse-Five"

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And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.
John Steinbeck, “East of Eden”

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Featured image credit: jbooks/ Alamy Stock Photo

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About the Author
Nicole Villeneuve
Nicole is a writer, thrift store lover, and group-chat meme spammer based in Ontario, Canada.
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