After our discussion of racism and reading on the first day of class, I did some research on Toni Morrison and her views on slavery. I came across this guardian article on her views. I paid particular attention to the part on her critique of American history. I say that in the second chapter, Morrison makes a statement on the reasons behind the acceptance of oppression of black people, and the ideology that leads to its continuation over centuries. Jacob Vaark is offered a payment and states “flesh is not my commodity,”(25) which gives his disapproval of the transaction, despite his eventually acceding. I say that Toni Morrison did not use this exchange to indicate a moral superiority from Vaark. I say that she’s in fact demonstrating Vaark’s tacit approval of slavery, and relaying to the reader the cultural and economic reasons that permitted slavery to continue for centuries before ending in the civil war, and for oppression to continue for years after.
I present French philosopher Slavoj Zhizek’s work to inform Morrison’s statement on slavery. Zhizek discussed the concept and danger of cynicism as an ideology. This ideology occurs when someone disapproves of an ideology (slavery for ‘A Mercy,), but participates in the system anyways due to their economic benefits from participation, The ruling class in particular, would refuse to change a system they believe is wrong simply because they’re secure while in the current ideology. A summary of Zizek’s writing that I am using can be found here. Though Toni Morrison’s work never directly connected with that of Slavoj Zizhek, I say she intended to the same concept of cynicism in ‘A Mercy’ with Vaark, to demonstrate the hopeless situation blacks were thrown into with slavery, in concision with her theme of hopelessness for black people. Zizeks’ stated ideas are merely the best quantification of that concept of cynicism I could summon.
By verbally rejecting slavery, Vaark represents moral high ground for those empowered by the system. However, Vaark ultimately does accept a slave girl in payment, which I say is Toni Morrison’s indication that disapproval in a system but continued participation without action is tacit approval. I’ll dig even further for Morrison’s meaning. Vaark is also a merchant. As stated by Hannah Embry in her post, he obeys the system by purchasing goods produced by slaves in the triangle slave trade (Africa-Americas-Europe,) and therefore gives profit to the system of slavery, therefore he’s engaging in cynical ideology by acknowledging his principled disapproval of the system of slavery, yet participating anyways. I say that by developing Vaark, the white protagonist’s character, in this way, Morrison uses cynicism to show the way the endless cycle of slavery and greater black oppression continues. Since the enslaving class profits from slavery, they are unwilling to change the even if they morally oppose it. As a result, powerless black people like the narrator in Mercy are forever swept up in the apathy.