Love, Collaboration, and Spiritual Improvement in Morrison’s Jazz

By: Rachel Balfoort, Claire Corbeaux, Yadelin Fernandez, Denis Hartnett, Randall Lombardi, Brian Vargas, Quentin Wall

When Dante and Virgil emerge once more to see the stars, they find themselves in Purgatory, a lone island that takes the shape of a mountain. Dante’s Purgatory is first divided into Purgatory Proper and Antepurgatory, which are then further subdivided. Purgatory Proper is divided first into three regions that are defined in terms of love. The regions of Misdirected  Love, Deficient Love, and Excessive Love are composed of the 7 Terraces of Purgation, where each terrace corresponds to one of the Seven Deadly Sins. According to Dante scholar, Dr. Ronald Herzman, the function of Purgatory is spiritual improvement, which is to say that if an individual scales Mount Purgatory and works through each region and terrace, that individual will undergo and achieve spiritual improvement through this movement. 

The structure and function of Purgatory, as well as its emphasis on love, likely played a large role in the creation of Toni Morrison’s own rendition of purgatory, which takes shape in the island of Manhattan in her novel, Jazz, the second installment in her Dantesque trilogy. Furthermore, the geography of Jazz’s setting, Manhattan, aesthetically looks and functions as Dante’s Purgatorio. Jazz’s characters, many of whom live in Manhattan, are placed in Morrison’s purgatory to undergo spiritual improvement. In particular, Jazz follows the characters of Joe, Violet, and Felice who live and love in Manhattan. They are joined by their respective relationships with Dorcas, a young girl murdered by her lover, Joe, whose deceased body was attacked but whose spirit was loved by Joe’s wife, Violet, and who was allowed to die by her closest friend, Felice. Just as Purgatory is divided into three particular regions, Misdirected Love, Deficient Love, and Excessive Love, Jazz works through Violet, Felice, and Joe, who correspond respectively to the aforementioned regions. The narrator follows these characters through their own spiritual improvement and in so doing guides the reader through the purgatory that is Manhattan. Thus, just as a sinner scales Purgatory to achieve spiritual improvement, Jazz pushes readers up and around Dorcas’ lovers so that readers may understand the power, danger, and nature of Love and thereby undergo a kind of spiritual improvement through this newfound understanding. 

Moreover, the narrator connects not only Jazz’s various characters through the concept of Love but also connects the characters to the reader through their shared journeys towards spiritual improvement. Thus, Jazz represents a collaboration not only between Morrison and Dante, insofar as that Morrison is building on and breaking from Dante’s Purgatorio, but between each character and between all of the characters and the reader, as well. These collaborations, in turn, suggest a possible explanation for the collaboration which created this very project and for the name of Morrison’s novel, as well. Indeed, Jazz‘s collaborations parallel Jazz music in the sense that many different improvisational elements, the characters, are united with a shared structure and function which is spiritual improvement. In all, Morrison, Dante, Jazz as a narrator, and all of Jazz’s characters are brought together in a jazzy collaboration that educates readers not just about the beautiful problem of Love but the path to spiritual improvement, as well.

Exploring Sin in “Jazz” and “Purgatorio”

By: Alice Chen, James Bonn, Allison Flanagan, Margaret Hall, Mya Nazaire, Rickie Strong, Helen Warfle

This paper will explore Toni Morrison’s Jazz through the lens of Dante’s Purgatorio in terms of mapping through time and space. Mount Purgatory is clearly divided into layers based around the seven deadly sins. The bottom starts with antepurgatory, and then progresses through sins based on how each sin distorts love, ending with excessive love and the sin of lust. Sinners must move up through the levels, purging themselves of sin. Similarly, in Jazz, the characters move up and down the island of Manhattan, mimicking the social and emotional journey of their own struggles towards recognizing the origin of their sins and what it takes to achieve true morality. Furthermore, Joe Trace goes through his own evolutions, of which there are seven. Based on these similarities, we hypothesize that, if Beloved is the suffering due from a sin one has committed, then Jazz is the acknowledgement of the source of said sin and letting it go. 

As we discussed in class, the mapping of Manhattan is complex and filled with intricate markings of neighborhoods, which can be traced to fulfill a social-emotional story within Joe and Violet’s narrative. The story of Jazz is non-linear, working through the emotional turmoil of Joe having committed a crime of passion, Violet disfiguring the dead woman, and back again to events that led up to it. In living through the sins they have committed for love, they are able to overcome their domestic struggles and reunite stronger at the end. Morrison uses the idea of movement in stages – with the physical movement of the characters up and down Manhattan, the temporal movement of the narration, and the emotional movement and evolution of characters like Joe – to mirror the levels of Purgatory and Dante’s own search for freedom from sin. The most important line in Purgatorio, according to Dr. Herzman, is “May it please you to welcome him – he goes in search of freedom” (Canto I lines 70-71). This idea of freedom, from sin and the tendencies that cause us to sin, is also found in Jazz through Joe’s transformations in his sinful love of Dorcas and in Violet’s search for fulfillment. Ultimately, we see Felice as a Beatrice figure, leading Joe and Violet to freedom, and this is the culmination of our analysis of Jazz as a mirror of Purgatorio

We believe this is an important study for several reasons, especially as it applies during this time of quarantine. First, through the idea of excessive love and having that which we love excessively, being taken away, we have noticed that, in our own individual experiences, made us realize that what we need and what we want are very different. Second, the idea that community can arise in unexpected ways, as we see in the friendships throughout Jazz, is significant in this time of social distancing. And finally, in collaborating across time and space on this essay, the act of reading and thinkING together is a form of self-improvement, much as Purgatorio and Jazz encourage us to do.

Jazz and Purgatorio Collaboration (Inversion Vibes)

Sydney Cannioto, Tommy Castronova, Thomas Gillingham, Katie Haefele, Dong Won Oh, Abigail Ritz, and Emily Zandy

At its narrative and literal levels, Toni Morrison’s Jazz reflects Dante’s Purgatorio through her use of space and directionality. Morrison introduces readers to a New York City that feels distinctly alive, with inhabitants that go in every direction, but ultimately compose one City. Morrison emphasizes the inherent liminality of characters through mapping her narrative onto jazz music; through utilizing the apparent, though purposeful, lack of structure of jazz, Morrison creates characters that are constantly making and remaking themselves and one another. Indeed, the characters of Jazz seem to be both lacking direction and going in many opposing directions at once, much like the style of music the book draws its name from. Jazz music itself is structurally unique―it is composed of a basic iteration of a melody that musicians build upon. Since musicians improvise upon a singular melody, the seemingly chaotic iterations and modifications themselves are a direction and destination. The novel Jazz alludes to the initial chaos of jazz music through the seemingly disjointed stories of its characters. This allusion functions to connect the experiences of each character in order to form a singular melody. 

Jazz is an aftermath story that flips the linear spiritual journey of Purgatorio on its head. This structure highlights Joe Trace’s spiritual fulfillment after the crime rather than leading up to the crime. This is shown through the inversion of the seven sins in Purgatory; rather ending with lust, as Purgatory does, Jazz begins with it. Morrison presents Joe as a man whose desires are limited by his relationship with Violet. Similarly, Purgatorio seems to open with a desire for freedom: “May it please you to welcome him- he goes in search of freedom, and how dear that is, the man who gives up his life for it well knows” (70-72). The similarities between Joe’s desire for freedom and the desires for freedom that open Purgatorio are presented in the beginning of Jazz, which demonstrates how Morrison is constructing Joe Trace’s spiritual fulfillment around that of a soul entering purgatory.

Professor McCoy’s comments on utilizing backward design as a pedagogical tool during our unexpected transition to online courses reminded us of the inverted characteristics of Purgatorio and Jazz. In backward design, a class, whether a professor, a student, or anything else in between, must take into account what aspects of the course are most important and rebuild based upon these core aspects. The point is to preserve the thing which everything else is built upon. This thing for our course being collaboration. This too seems to be central to Jazz and Purgatorio. The backward design that we are utilizing in our class is the same as that inversion which is seen in Jazz and Purgatorio. The goal of this inversion is also to consider which aspects of self, of personhood, of community are most important to being, which aspects a person should be rebuilding from in order to reach freedom.

Movement and Narration in Morrison and Dante

By: Cal Hoag, Ashley Daddona, Jenna Doolan, Margaret Pigliacelli, Kat Johnson, Micayah Ambriz, Ellie Walker

Movement, transition, and togetherness are major components of the lives of the characters in Toni Morrison’s Jazz as well as in the spiritual improvement of the sinners found in Dante’s version of purgatory in Purgatorio. Movement within the minds of sinners as they re-evaluate and repent for their actions on Earth is manifested in physical movement up and down Mount Purgatory. Canto IV describes the mount: “This Mount is not like others: at the start / it is most difficult to climb, but then, / the more one climbs the easier it becomes” (88-90). This journey appears to be a simple movement from bottom to top, yet the path is not so linear as it circles around and around the mountain as it comes to the precipice. 

Morrison’s novel follows this same roadmap laid out by Dante as a casual, seemingly omniscient narrator describes a fraught, loveless marriage between characters Joe—who had just murdered his young teenage lover, Dorcas—and Joe’s wife Violet—who assaulted Dorcas’ body in a rage as it was presented at her funeral. The start of the couple’s journey is difficult and full of pain as they attempt to rebuild and reconcile their relationship, yet as they move up their personal purgatorial mountains the journey gets easier because of the way they simultaneously move backward in time. 

With memory as a basis of time, movement of the characters and Jazz’s narrator is no longer progressively forward (or upward) based, mirroring the inconsistent rise and descent of a soul, or Dante and his guide Virgil, through purgatory. The specific movement of the forward into Paradise in which the original guides leave their pilgrims so that another will take their place is similar in both works. At the end of Dante’s Purgatorio, Virgil is suddenly replaced with Beatrice who will lead Dante through Paradise. At the end of Jazz, the narrator leaves Joe and Violet when Felice appears. The etymology behind the name Felice is ‘happiness’ and ‘luck’ which could symbolize Joe and Violet’s movement into Paradise hence the change in guides. This movement could also refer to their spiritual happiness and paradise as well. 

In Paradiso, Beatrice berates Dante for his previous physical love of her as he was only infatuated with her outside appearance and this isn’t true love. It is the spiritual love beyond the face that allows people to reach true happiness and become closer to God. In Jazz, Joe has moved from his excessive love of the flesh into a state closer to spiritual love which allows him to be happy with Violet and not seek out Felice the same way he did Dorcas. Dorcas was the object of his infatuation with the physical appearance and it took his movement through his own purgatory to reach this spiritual awakening.

The passage of time to the characters almost becomes irrelevant, as their versions of reality become rooted in the past, making it difficult for readers to identify how time passes and nearly impossible to trust the characters’ judgment or acknowledgment of time because it is strongly based on memory. The same could be said for grief: there is no linear path from start to finish, but instead, an individual must constantly return to the past in order to proceed further still. Our group had a similar experience while completing this project. Similar to Virgil being replaced by Beatrice, our guide was also replaced as we were exiled from campus. Our circumstances while doing this project are so different from what we did for the first collaborative essay that, separated from each other by long distances and from our memory of Jazz by time and stress, we needed to come together to remember what it was like not only to be a student but to be a person working with other people. In this way, we were also walking a recursive, complex path with no clear beginning or end.

The Danger of Numbers

In Molly’s essay she wrote about how she struggled to gather her thinking to respond to the prompt. She stated, “I felt as if I wasn’t noticing anything closely enough to construct a strong essay, so I decided to wait, give myself some time, and read what other classmates were thinking in their essays.” I found myself stuck in this situation also, but as Emily’s writing inspired Molly’s, Maria’s helped me focus on what I wanted to write about too. Maria wrote about how human lives should not be equated to simple statistics. She said that “each one of these numbers is a full human being with a story to tell.” As I was reading her essay, I realized that this history of treating people as numbers has been disturbing me too. 

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“Hear a tua mãe”

Throughout Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, the absence of Florens’s mother is heavily emphasized. This absence is noticed by multiple characters in the novel, not just Florens. Through Florens’s narration, the perspectives of other characters such as Jacob Vaark, and the presence of other mother/daughter relationships, Morrison draws attention to the absence of Florens’s mother. Florens feels abandoned—she is separated from her mother and her original plantation with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Without her mother’s perspective, neither readers nor Florens have the necessary tool to interpret her mother’s absence. However, readers eventually learn that her mother offered her to Jacob Vaark to prevent Florens from being raped; therefore, Florens has her mother’s love all along. While Florens constantly notices the absence of her mother, she does not have her mother’s perspective; without this perspective, Florens is unable to interpret her mother’s love.

Florens is surrounded by maternal figures, but her own mother remains absent. Seeing other mother/daughter relationships calls attention to this absence, both for Florens and for readers. Jacob chooses to take Florens to his plantation because “Rebekka would welcome a child around the place” (Morrison 30). Jacob knows that Florens cannot replace their late daughter Patrician, but he hopes that “Rebekka would be eager to have her” (Morrison 37). Just as Florens cannot replace Patrician, Rebekka cannot replace Florens’s mother. Therefore, the circumstances under which Jacob brings Florens to his plantation calls attention to the removal of Florens from her mother as well as the absence of Florens’s mother in her life.

The absence of her mother is also emphasized by the introduction of the mother/daughter relationship between Widow Ealing and Daughter Jane. When Florens is with Widow Ealing and Daughter Jane, she notices her mother’s absence more frequently than she does in the rest of the novel. For example, she narrates: “If my mother is not dead she can be teaching me these things” (Morrison 129). This passage shows that Florens notices that she lacks her mother’s presence, while Daughter Jane does not. Moreover, after spending more time with the mother/daughter duo, Florens ponders: “I am a weak calf abandon by the herd, a turtle without shell, a minion with no telltale signs but a darkness I am born with, outside, yes, but inside as well and the inside dark is small, feathered and toothy. Is that what my mother knows? Why she chooses me to live without?” (Morrison 135-136). Florens notices that a piece of her life is missing and that it creates an internal darkness; the missing piece is her mother’s love which she so desperately craves.

Like Florens, Jacob also does not think that Florens has her mother’s love. Jacob thinks that by telling him to take Florens, her mother is “throwing away” Florens (Morrison 39). Since Jacob himself was orphaned at a young age, he projects his own abandonment onto Florens: “ “he continue[s] to feel a disturbing pulse of pity for orphans and strays […]. he [finds] it hard to refuse when called on to rescue an unmoored, unwanted child” (Morrison 38). He further implies Florens’s lack of her mother’s love when Morrison writes that “he [knows] there [is] no good place in the world for waifs and whelps other than the generosity of strangers” (37). Florens is not an orphan, and her mother did not abandon her without reason; however, without Florens’s mother’s perspective, Florens and readers are led to believe Jacob’s perspective—that Florens mother does not love her.

In the final section of the novel, Morrison shows the reader that Florens has her mother’s love all along, even though Florens constantly notices her absence. Through this section, readers learn the true reason that her mother gave her to Jacob: “To be female in [D’Ortega’s] place is to be an open wound that cannot heal” (Morrison 191). Florens’s mother is a survivor of sexual abuse, and fears that Florens will suffer the same fate if she remains on D’Ortega’s plantation. Florens’s mother’s perspective shows that “Breasts provide the pleasure more than simpler things. [Florens’s] are rising too soon and are becoming irritated by the cloth covering [her] little girl chest” (Morrison 190). Her mother sees the men on the plantation lustfully looking at Florens’s growing breasts, yet she notices that Jacob looks at Florens for a different reason; her mother says “[t]here is no protection but there is difference. […]. I said you. Take you, my daughter. Because I saw the tall man see you as a human child” (Morrison 195). Since Jacob does not look at Florens as a sexual object, her mother hopes that she will be safer at Jacob’s plantation than at D’Ortega’s. Without her mother’s perspective, Florens cannot know that her mother was trying to save her, or that her mother refers to her as “my love” (Morrison 190). Therefore, Florens lacks the tool to interpret her mother’s love; she just knows that her mother is absent.

Florens undergoes expulsion when she is removed from her mother, but without her mother’s perspective she cannot understand the reason that she was expulsed. Like many people who undergo expulsion, she was seemingly removed from her home and her mother without any warning or any reason. Confusion works as a force for expulsion since without the proper tools to understand their expulsion, people who have been expulsed cannot change their situation. Florens’s confusion makes her unable to understand her situation; she sees examples of motherly love, yet cannot know if her own mother loves her. Without her mother’s point of view, she has to blindly trust that her mother does love her and that there is a reason behind her expulsion. She longs to understand and to talk to her mother, but her mother is absent. Her desire to talk to her mother can be seen when Florens narrates: “There is no more room in this room. These words cover the floor. From now you will stand to hear me. […]. My arms ache but I have to tell you this. I cannot tell it to anyone but you. […]. Sudden I am remembering. You won’t read my telling” (Morrison 188). This longing emphasizes her mother’s absence in her life, and shows how badly Florens wants her mother’s perspective in order to better understand her situation. Her mother’s perspective is the only tool that can help her understand the reason behind her expulsion—that she has her mother’s love all along.

From the final section of A Mercy, readers can see that Florens has her mother’s love all along. Florens, due to the absence of her mother, does not have her mother’s perspective; therefore, she lacks the necessary tool to interpret her expulsion and her mother’s love. Florens’s mother pleads “In the dust where my heart will remain each night and every day until you understand what I know and long to tell you” (Morrison 195-196). She wants Florens to understand that she allowed Florens to be expulsed in order to prevent a life full of rape and sexual assault. The novel ends with the powerful phrase “[h]ear a tua mãe” which, when translated, means “hear your mother” (Morrison 196). This line emphasizes how powerful of a tool Florens’s mother’s perspective is. Although Florens and readers notice the absence of Florens’s mother, her perspective is the only tool that can be used to help Florens understand that motherly love is the reason behind her expulsion. If only she could hear her mother, she would be able to understand.

Experience As a Tool

When I originally sat down to map out my thinking for our class’s essay regarding Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, I really struggled. To pull some vocabulary from the prompt, I felt as if I wasn’t noticing anything closely enough to construct a strong essay, so I decided to wait, give myself some time, and read what other classmates were thinking in their essays. Thankfully, the decision to see what my peers were writing about proved successful, as my classmates are truly brilliant and were able to offer avenues I hadn’t yet considered.  

As I was scrolling through my peers’ work, a specific quote caught my attention. In the beginning of Emily Tsoi’s essay, she used the following Dionne Brand quote: “My job is to notice, and to notice that you can notice.” Using this quote was an inventive idea and ultimately led me to my own essay topic. (Thank you Emily!) I noticed Emily’s use of the Brand quote because it had been an epigraph to Dr. McCoy’s African American Literature class that we both happened to take last year. Emily’s choice to use this quote showed just how recursive things can be in our day to day, semester to semester, and year to year lives.

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Expulsion: Who Gets to Make the Choice?

            Expulsion is worth thinking about. The novel A Mercy, by Toni Morrison, encourages much thought about the forces of expulsion, the position of individuals in relation to their available choices, how those choices impact individuals beyond what may be initially thought possible, and how important it is to think through situations that potentially involve the movement of human beings. The novel explores many different characters who are effectively orphaned because of expulsion, but the central focus of the text revolves around Florens and her expulsion from her mother. As we tease out the different reasons for this and Florens’ interpretation of those reasons, we see how these decisions can alter a life greatly, for better or worse.

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Affectionate Bears and Hostile Humans

“Why do you knock me away without certainty of what is true?” 

— Toni Morrison 

In the beginning of Toni Morrison’s novel, A Mercy, I witnessed the first act of expulsion that takes place in the novel when Florens is uprooted from the life she knew with her mother, her minha mãe, and is used to pay off an outstanding debt. At this point, Florens is young and according to Lina, from the state of her teeth is only seven or eight when she is brought to her new home (11). That being said, Floren’s memory of her expulsion is tainted with the memory of her mother begging: “Please, Senhor. Not Me. Take her. Take my daughter” (37). As I continued to follow Florens’s growth, it became clear that this first memory of being given up by her mother seems to amplify the vulnerabilities and fears that begin to develop as her attachment to the blacksmith grows fonder and leads to another form of expulsion later on in the novel. 

While A Mercy does not follow a linear narrative in terms of time structure, I often found myself returning to the text at various points in the novel to discern character intentions and events that were initially confusing. For example, when I returned to the page that Florens talks about being lettered, I stumbled across the profound observation that the blacksmith makes to Florens about the interactions between bears and humans: “They will approach, run to us to love and play which we misread and give back fear and anger” (11, emphasis added). I will admit that when I first engaged with Florens’ retelling of the blacksmith’s observation, I was a bit confused. That being said, I underlined the phrase “which we misread” and continued reading the novel, pushing this image of an affectionate bear and a hostile human at the back of my mind. 

That is until Florens shares the details of her long anticipated reunion with the blacksmith and I am again reminded of the affectionate bear. Upon her immediate arrival, Florens notes: “I lose the fear that I may never again in this world know the sight of your welcoming smile or taste the sugar of your shoulder as you take me in your arms” but once she learns that she must be left behind because of Malaik, Florens shrinks into a younger version of herself. She even points out that this
happens twice before: “the first time it is me peering around my mother’s dress hoping for her hand that is only for her little boy… Both times are full of danger and I am expel” (174-175). It is evident that Florens is threatened by the young boy and worries that his existence places her at a disadvantage, “As if he is your future. Not me.” It is clear that Florens has become possessive over the blacksmith and seeks to monopolise on both his love and affection, and Malaik’s presence prevents her from doing this. Yet, in this particular scene I am not reminded of the affectionate bear, but rather the frightened girl hiding behind her minha mãe’s skirt before being handed over to a strange man, I am reminded of the first instance I am introduced to Florens’s vulnerability and I am surprised that her fear of abandonment has hardened her and in turn, makes her a threat to young Malaik. 

In our canvas discussion about the blacksmith’s reaction to seeing young Malaik on the floor and Florens’s observation that he is not “there when it [the blood] comes, so how do you know I am the reason? Why do you knock me away without certainty of what is true?” (183), Dr. Beth McCoy asked the following question: “@Molly and Sandy: definite expulsion. Given his *reading* of the situation that even Florens says isn’t wrong, are you prepared to defend the harming of a child (a classic Morrison trap for her readers).” While it is agreed that any act of violence towards a child is unforgivable, it also becomes clear that the blacksmith shares in that same position when he does exactly what Florens’s fears and expels her from his home, choosing the boy over her. Nonetheless, Florens’s response to the blacksmith’s outburst is significant because it depicts how she copes with being expelled from his presence, a place she was so eager to call her home: “Are you meaning I am nothing to you? That I have no consequence in your world?” (185). While these questions are directed at the blacksmith, I can’t help wonder if Florens is also thinking of her mother. 

The language that Morrison uses in her novel often challenges me, as a reader, to consider exactly what is being said and how it is conveyed. Particularly in the chapter where Florens is expelled from the blacksmith’s home, I am looped back to part of the blacksmith’s phrase, “They will approach, run to us to love and play which we misread and give back fear and anger” (11, emphasis added) or in other words, which we misinterpret. On that note, it seems significant that Morrison gives Florens’s mother the last word of the novel, as an attempt to offer a correction to Florens’s interpretation of her first expulsion: “I said you. Take you, my daughter. Because I saw the tall man see you as a human child, not pieces of eight” (214). Even in her confession, she points out that Florens is regarded as a “human child,” and again I am left thinking of the earlier sign that Morrison gives us in the opening chapter about affectionate bears, hostile humans, and misread interactions.

Forced Trust

In October 2018, I signed my first lease. It consisted of five-ish pages and very small font. It also included terms I didn’t know and things I have yet to comprehend. I also knew already that the landlord had a very bad reputation. Regardless, I signed the lease, understanding it to the best of my ability, and put faith in the landlord that he would not completely screw us over. I didn’t have a better option for where to live during my senior year at Geneseo. I signed this lease as a college-educated, English as my primary language, with parents who read over and co-signed the lease person. Even with all of those attributes, I still had to trust that my landlord created a lease that was at least mostly fair, especially regarding the intricacies that I did not understand. Every day, people are signing documents and making promises that they do not fully understand, and these things that they do not understand can be the reason they find themselves owing more money, being removed from their homes, and/or owning something that is essentially worthless. We hear it all the time: “Why don’t they teach students how to do taxes in school? Why don’t they teach them about credit and loans? Why don’t they teach them about mortgages and leases?” This information is not common knowledge but everyone sees them. Why aren’t they common knowledge? The lack of this knowledge forces us to give other people the upper hand in these high-risk deals.

In A Mercy by Toni Morrison, Florens, a slave, is traveling alone on a quest from Rebekka, her master. She carries around a sealed letter from Rebekka with her in case she is stopped and questioned. Florens trusts Rebekka and knows that the letter will help her. She trusts that what Rebekka wrote is enough. When it comes to paperwork and official documents that we do not understand, we need to place our trust in someone who knows more than we do. We need to trust their knowledge and their overall goodness that we will be okay. Yet, we need to worry about whether they may not be right or whether they may not care about what happens to us at all. As a slave, Florens has no true reason to trust Rebekka or any white person. She was born into slavery where her master sold her to Jacob to fill a debt, separating her from her mother and brother. During their time, Rebekka slowly built a relationship with Florens. Florens does not have absolute trust in Rebekka but trusts her enough to not open the letter and have faith that the letter will keep her safe need be. When she was stopped by law enforcement, Florens had to trust Rebekka’s letter. She had no better option. If the letter had not been enough, in addition to the full body search she had to endure, Florens would have been detained and punished for it.

Similarly, most people are forced to trust their banks for loans and mortgages. They are forced to trust their reality agents for advice on buying/selling. There are people at banks and reality agents who want the best for their customers, but there are also people who do not. It is not uncommon for people to be discriminated against by the people they are forced to trust in these deals. It is not fair, but there are typically no better options if someone wants a place to call home. Even if you own your home, the paperwork involving insurance, deeds, and upkeep of the house are overwhelming. There is a forced trust in these people, especially if you are not fluent in English and confrontational characteristically. If the terms were not clear on the lease or mortgage, or the wording was purposefully deceitful, expulsion is probable. Suddenly, the person you were forced to trust is uprooting you for a reason you did not know was likely. Another likely situation is that the price you believed to be paying is actually much more and you cannot afford it.

Some people have the privilege of not having to stress too much about these intricacies and whether they can trust the knowledgeable person. Some people can only hope that the person they have to trust will not be working against them. During this time of COVID-19 and increasingly high rates of unemployment, people once again have to trust things they do not fully understand, while also hoping and trusting that we will support each other during these times. We are so lucky to have the internet and so many resources to help us understand and adapt. It is amazing how many people I have seen, using their resources, help support others during this time, whether it is making PPE, donating money, or providing guides for people who need financial or health support. Yet, there are a large amount of unhelpful, incorrect, or irrelevant resources out these. Luckily, checking sources for legitimacy is something still taught at schools. Regardless, not everyone checks these resources’ credibility which creates a new issue of people who act knowledgeable about these complicated works who are actually just spreading falsities. In A Mercy, Florens was forced to trust Rebekka and Rebekka’s letter supported what she told Florens. Currently, people are forced to trust those more knowledgeable than them regarding housing specificities, but they are not always supported by these people.