Choice and the Number Eight

In A Mercy, Jacob Vaark wants to build his house on a hill. The dream of a house on a hill is similar to the dream of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and John Winthrop’s idea of a City Upon A Hill (1630). I bring this up to draw attention to the fact that this colony was made up of Puritans who had come to the New World to be a “model of Christian charity” for the eyes of the world.

For those of you who are unaware, Puritans believed in pre-destination and the idea of an “elect” people. As Rachel has already looked into in one of her blogposts, the idea of free will vs. Predestination is a common issue that comes up in the critiques of religious doctrine; Dante being no exception. The idea of predestination is commonly entwined with the belief that God has a special “elect” people; those who will join him in his paradise as opposed to those who will not. One of those groups who will not find themselves in paradise are the sons of “Ham.” We discussed briefly in class that the “Curse of Ham” was an interpretation of a Genesis story that has been used to justify slavery and racism. The “sons of Ham” have not usually been considered to be part of the “elect,”  I find it to be no mistake that the belief that her mother chose her brother over her is the driving impetus for the character Florens.

It’s also worth pointing out how old Florens thinks she was when she was bought by Jacob, “Lina says from the state of my teeth I am maybe seven or eight when I am brought here” (6) and how much she was purchased for, “pieces of eight” (195).

In Beloved the number eight comes up again in the number of Baby Suggs children, “Eight children and that’s all I can remember.” (6) The novel also centers on a past choice made by Sethe.

The number eight is also common in Jazz, I’m thinking specifically of the conversation between Joe and Violet about lottery tickets. “I don’t believe an eight has been out this month…Not one. Bound to come up soon, so I’m hanging an eight on everything.” (23)

Again the number eight comes up in Paradise with the “8-rock” people, a people who try to set themselves up as the elect in Ruby.

These are just some examples. More can be done here but basically to sum this all up I’m trying to point you here. The idea of the “eighth day” of creation. Some people believe that god created two types of people. One are those described in the original creation story and the other are those described in the second. The second people are said to be the descendants of Adam and Eve; the people who have had god’s soul breathed into them, in other words, the elect.

I have a hunch that Morrison is aware of this interpretation of the creation stories. Another thread, another method of separation, another complexity.

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