16 Of The Most Iconic Quotes From Literature

by E. Ce Miller

Remember that scene in the movie version of A Walk To Remember when Mandy Moore is holding her late mother’s journals, and mentions that her mother used them to write down great lines from literature, and all sorts of other quotes she’d loved and wanted to remember? OK, sure, so it wasn’t the most riveting scene in the film, I’ll admit, but it’s the one that has stuck with me the longest. My middle-school-aged, sleepover party animal self thought that idea was kind of brilliant, and since then I always read with a pen and a journal by my side. Over the years, I've filled hundreds of pages of these notebooks, with row after row of quotes from books that I've fallen in love with, and simply needed to pen across paper of my own.

But, brutal honesty here: All book quotes are not created equal. Some of literatures great one-liners stick with you for as you seem to need them, while others inform your life long after you’ve turned the last page and the book has grown a little dusty on your shelf. Then there are the book quotes so memorable that they become cultural touchstones. (We all know a rose by any other name does not, decidedly, smell as sweet, after all.) These are the lines from literature that become iconic.

Here are 16 of literature's most iconic quotes:

1. "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

2. "Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat."

—Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

3. “‘Dear God,’ she prayed, ‘let me be something every minute of every hour of my life.’”

—Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

4. "None of those other things makes a difference. Love is the strongest thing in the world, you know. Nothing can touch it. Nothing comes close. If we love each other we're safe from it all. Love is the biggest thing there is."

—David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars

5. “Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good luck pennies, and our lives.”

—Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

6. “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

―Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

7. "She had waited all her life for something, and it had killed her when it found her."

—Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

8. “Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”

—Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried

9. "Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other."

—John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

10. “That's the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they're not much to look at, or even if they're sort of stupid, you fall in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.”

―J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

11. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

12. "We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories."

—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

13. "You are your best thing."

—Toni Morrison, Beloved

14. “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

15. "I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing."

—Herman Melville, Moby Dick

16. “Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold.”

—S. E. Hinton, The Outsiders

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