The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook Quotes and Analysis

That they were both "insecure" and "unrooted," words which dated from the era of Mother Sugar, they both freely acknowledged. But Anna had recently been learning to use these words in a different way, not as something to be apologised for but, but as flags or banners for an attitude that amounted to a different philosophy.

Anna, pg. 9

Despite Anna and Molly seemingly enjoying being free women, they acknowledge that states of being insecure and unrooted typically have negative connotations. They know that many of the ways in which they live their lives, such as being single mothers and having affairs with married men, are considered taboo by wider society. The reference to Mother Sugar implies that the two women wrestle with emotional responses such as shame or guilt in relation to their personal choices to live unconventional lives.

This quote shows Anna choosing to reject shame and actively be proud of her unconventional life. The quote also shows how, initially, Anna has an optimistic view of the relationship between language and experience: she believes that changing the way she feels about words can change the way she sees herself.

Yes I know that sounds funny, for you, because of course you choose to be alone rather than to get married for the sake of not being lonely. But I mean something different. You are afraid of writing what you think about life, because you might find yourself in an exposed position, you might expose yourself, you might be alone.

Tommy, pg. 37

Tommy, Molly's son, plays the role of Anna's critic when he accuses her of being unwilling to reveal her true identity in her writing. He makes Anna afraid, tense, and anxious. This may be because Anna knows that what Tommy says to her is true. Anna often tries to maintain a detached and analytical position, believing that this serves her as an artist and thinker. However, in this quote, Tommy hits on Anna's deep fear that she is never really writing authentically, and that her fear of vulnerability is holding her back. Anna is upset when she finds out that Tommy has been reading her notebooks because he gets the chance to observe her constructing and editing her impressions rather than simply writing freely.

The mass of the Africans up and down the continent were sardonically amused at the sight of their white masters crusading off to fight the racialist devil-those Africans with any education at all. They enjoyed the sight of the white baases so eager to go off and fight on any available battle-front against a creed they would all die to defend on their own soil. Right through the war, the correspondence columns of the papers were crammed with arguments about whether it was safe to put so much as a pop-gun into the hands of any African soldier since he was likely to turn it against his white masters, or to use this useful knowledge later. It was decided, quite rightly, that it was not safe.

Anna, pg. 61

This quote appears in the black notebook and reveals Anna's shrewd observations on colonial politics and the inherent absurdities of war. White British colonists in Africa assume that they are a superior race, and they use this assumption as justification for exploiting and dominating the Black Africans. However, they are now going to fight Hitler's armies on the grounds that the ideology of a superior race is wrong. The tensions in the African colony are such that no one is willing to give weapons to the Africans. Anna is able to stand outside of the colonialist ideologies and see what is flawed about them. This ability to be a keen observer and notice tensions and contradictions in political movements foreshadows the challenges Anna will face in the Communist Party.

The novel has become a function of the fragmented society, the fragmented consciousness. Human beings are so divided, are becoming more and more divided, and more subdivided in themselves, reflecting the world, that they reach out desperately, not knowing they do it, for information about other groups inside their own country, let alone about groups in other countries. It is a blind grasping out for their own wholeness, and the novel-report is a means toward it.

Anna, pg.57

Anna is talking about her novel Frontiers of War here. She explains her fears of growing social isolation and political divisiveness, but she hopes that fiction and art can be of some use in creating unity. By choosing to write about an interracial relationship in colonial Africa, Anna tries to offer the reader something they would not have otherwise considered. This quote shows her believing that she can use language as a tool for coherence and clarity in the world—but this belief will be tested as time goes on.

"Why can't you understand that," I said, really wanting to make her understand, "that I can't pick up a newspaper without what's in it seeming so overwhelmingly terrible that nothing I could write would seem to have any point at all?"

Anna, pg. 251

Anna is talking to her psychoanalyst, Mrs. Marx, in one of their sessions. Anna is experiencing writer's block, but she is in denial about it. She has bizarre and creative dreams, and Mrs. Marx is trying to make her see that those dreams are a representation of her creative needs. Anna argues that her writer's block is justified because the geopolitical reality of the world is so terrifying that nothing she writes could be a valid representation of it. The mention of newspapers contrasts with fiction as a different type of writing that is supposed to be designed to be factual, objective, and non-emotional. Anna still has faith that journalism can use language to describe the world, but she is not confident that her fiction can do the same.

I see Ella, walking slowly about a big empty room, thinking, waiting. I, Anna, see Ella. Who is, of course, Anna. But that is the point, for she is not.

Anna, pg. 459

This quote shows Anna thinking about the relationship she has with her characters. It is clear to a reader that Ella shares many similarities with Anna, and this quote shows Anna acknowledging that she draws on her own experiences and emotions in order to write about Ella in the yellow notebook. At the same time, she experiences detachment and a sense of disconnection when she writes about Ella. Writing about a character that is similar to herself gives Anna a chance to reflect on her own behavior and emotions because she is forced to look at herself with an outsider's perspective. At the same time, this sense of disconnection might be hastening Anna's sense of inner fragmentation and mental breakdown.

"Then why write it down at all? Do you realise the whole of this notebook, the blue one, is either newspaper cuttings, or bits like the blood and brain bit, all bracketed off, or crossed out; and then entries like buying tomatoes or tea?"

"I suppose it is. It's because I keep trying to write the truth and realising it's not true."

"Perhaps it it true," he said suddenly, "perhaps it is, and you can't bear it, so you cross it out."


Tommy and Anna, pg. 273

In this scene, Tommy once again critiques and challenges Anna by calling out the way she writes. Looking through her notebooks, he observes that she seems uncomfortable with moments when she writes about violent or graphic subject matters—in fact, she often crosses out this content. At first, Anna defends her choice to do so, arguing that this content is not "true" in the way that factual records of her daily life are. Tommy, however, argues that a willingness to write unflinchingly about unpleasant things is exactly what it means to write in an honest and true way. Anna finds herself uncomfortably torn between writing in an uncensored way and trying to construct and maintain a particular image of herself.

It doesn’t matter if you fail. Why are you so arrogant? Just begin.... I’m going to give you the first sentence then. There are the two women you are, Anna. Write down: The two women were alone in the London flat.

Saul Green, pg. 610

In this quote, Saul Green urgently insists that Anna begin writing a new novel, and he prompts her with an opening sentence. The moment is paradoxical: on the one hand, Saul empowers Anna, urging her to conquer her fear and trust her creativity. On the other hand, he dominates her and gives her words rather than allowing her to speak from her own voice. The line he suggests is interesting because it is not dramatic, unusual, or stylistically striking. Saul seems to be implying that even ordinary things can become worthy of art if someone has the courage to write about them. Most important, the line signals to the reader that the "Free Women" narrative does not exist outside of fiction, but is rather contained within one larger fiction that Anna has been writing all along.

It struck me that my doing this—turning everything into fiction—must be an evasion.

Anna, pg. 228

Anna struggles to make sense of whether writing about emotions and experiences makes any sense: although she writes almost compulsively and feels stressed and dissatisfied when she is not writing, she also wonders if her need to write is healthy. At various moments, Anna comes to see writing as a way of experiencing situations from a distance or in a dislocated way. She admits to herself that she is frightened of vulnerability and becoming too invested, so she writes about things rather than fully experiencing them.

Then I thought: The truth is I don’t care a damn about politics or philosophy or anything else, all I care about is that Michael should turn in the dark and put his face against my breasts.

Anna, pg. 299

This quote appears at a moment when Anna is feeling very emotionally fulfilled due to her happiness with Michael, but also politically distressed at what is happening in the world around her. Although she feels some tension about this conflict, she comes to realize that she actually cares more about her personal relationship and what is experiencing in her own life rather than abstract ideals. Although Anna often seems ambitious when her career and political beliefs are concerned, at this moment, she prioritizes her love for Michael and is not interested in anything else. The quote is important for showing how deeply she loves him, and why she is so devastated when the relationship ends.