“Phantom” Assumptions and Expectations

Dr. Beth invoked an excellent metaphor for the outside forces that affect our responses to cultural productions like Morrison’s A Mercy. The idea is that we as products of various cultural and other forces bring expectations and assumptions into the space of the classroom, and if we do not try to root our responses in the text themselves, we are often possessed by these thoughts and “scripts” that may have nothing to do with the text. As someone that considers themselves as very conscious of these forces (from other English classes and my personal life), and as someone that has negatively been shaped and centered in the culture by them in various ways (primarily as a queer individual), I was very surprised to find myself “possessed” by these scripts while reading A Mercy.

The character of Lina prompted some passive assumption with me initially noticing. I imagined, before getting more context and background to Lina, that she would align herself closely to the other servants to work together against the white people that are asserting ownership over them. I had very little textual basis for this, but a result of colonialism and a postcolonial world is a false dichotomy between white/non-white and oppressor/oppressed. Foucault explains that power relationships are not top-down but rather more reflexive and complex (which is a serious simplification of his ideas, which I only have a basic understanding of). My point is that, even as someone that was aware of these forces and trying to resist them, I still made false assumptions. The reality in the novel is that Lina and the other non-white and servant characters are not simply banding together to oppose the oppressors, and especially after the death of Jacob, the power situation becomes even more complex. Rebekka still appears to be the dominant figure, but she herself is in a serious position of weakness as Lina points out that no man is there to “master” all these women, meaning in this historical context that the women have limited if no rights to the property and other essential features. Furthermore, Lina seems more concerned with ensuring her safety among a family after the death of her own in her village.

The script I passively adhered to before thinking more critically about it was the allegiances of the characters in a colonial setting in a false oppressor/oppressed dichotomy. This seems to be the danger Dr. Beth outlined in one of our earlier classes, one even more keen readers are susceptible to in a novel that conceals many details of the characters in a nonlinear fashion. Going forward, I am interested to see if this is a deliberate or reoccurring device in the novel that may achieve the effect of causing this experience repeatedly to make readers challenge these scripts.

 

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