Gluttony and The Terror of the Great Outdoors in Lelah’s Eviction

As I traced Lelah’s story of eviction and homelessness throughout the five weeks of Spring 2008 in The Turner House, my mind kept returning to an excerpt we read in the beginning of class from Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.  In it, Morrison attests that:

“Outdoors, we knew, was the real terror of life. The threat of being outsiders surface frequently in those days. Every possibility of excess was curtailed with it. […] There is a difference between being put out and being put outdoors. If you are put out, you go somewhere else; if you are put outdoors, there is no place to go.”

Morrison’s excerpt is particularly harrowing in light of the story of Lelah: who, after being evicted from her apartment, spends much of the novel building upon lies to hide her homelessness while squatting in the Turner house as a buffer to avoid the terror of being put outdoors. The part, however, of Morrison’s analysis that interested me most in connection to Lelah was her description of outdoors as a curtailing of excess. In The Turner House, Flournoy dedicates much of the first chapter novel to narrating Lelah’s humiliating and painful eviction, in which she has two hours to pack her belongings into her car under the watchful eye of two bailiffs. Flournoy writes, “Mostly, all Lelah did was put her hands on the things she owned, think about them for a second, and decide against carrying them to her Pontiac.” Ironically, rather than trying to cram as much of her possession as possible into her Pontiac, Lelah chooses to leave the bulk of her belongings behind. Flournoy clarifies that “Furniture was too bulk, food from the fridge would expire in her car, and the smaller things–a blender boxes of full costume jewelry, a toaster–felt too ridiculous to take along.” Here, the restriction Lelah places onto herself harkens back to Morrison’s intriguing observation that being “put outdoors” means to curtail every possibility of excess. Lelah’s possessions–the sum of years of accumulating “ridiculous,” but surely meaningful, artifacts–become reduced to triviality through the act of eviction.

The relationship between Lelah’s eviction and the curtailing of excess, of course, reminds me of a point made by Roach that we’ve returned to multiple times throughout the semester–his insight that “violence is the performance of waste.” It is not coincidental that when Lelah is evicted, the sum of her possessions that she can’t take in her Pontiac (her furniture and countless objects she trivializes as ridiculous, among others) will be disposed of in a dumpster. Her eviction, then, effectively performs waste: as the collected material value of the objects in her apartment aren’t going to be recycled or repurposed into further use, but are instead reduced to trash. The eviction also performs violence onto Lelah–a point that Morrison exemplifies in her excerpt exploring the terror and fear of being put outdoors. There’s a lot more to say on this subject, but for now, both Roach and Morrison have informed my own previous reading of Lelah’s eviction and prompted me to think about the ripple effect eviction causes in both paradoxically promoting violence and restricting the gluttony of material excess.

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