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.

Florens spends the entire novel feeling an extreme sense of detachment and abandonment from her mother, which motivates most of her actions and led to what Willard ponders as a “defenselessness, eagerness to please and, most of all, a willingness to blame herself for the meanness of others” (Morrison 179). This characterization of Florens is correlated to the initial act that set the story in motion—her mother begging for her to be taken from her. The novel closes with a discussion on how Florens’ mother was attempting to get Florens out of an environment that was frequented by sexual abuse from D’Ortega and his men, but Florens cannot understand this, as she was seven or eight years old at the time (Morrison 6). The act of Mr. Vaark taking Florens is indeed the “mercy” that the novel is named for directly (Morrison 195), yet it plagues Florens in such a way that it becomes her goal to make up for her percieved unwantedness, ultimately ruining her chances of being with the blacksmith, as she fears that his orphaned boy Malaik is loved more than she is by the blacksmith.

The groundwork has been laid, now how does this situation prompt thought about the forces that expel people form what they call home? The very notion of expulsion is surrounded with connotations of moving a human being against their own will from one place to another. Something worthy of note here: there is nothing inherent in the definiton of expulsion that necessitates that the moving is from an objectively better place to an objectively worse place, though it seems likely that that would be the case, as we probably already reside in the best place we can reside in, making any external expulsion a force that usually sends us down to a worse place. In Florens’ case, the opposite is true. Unfortunately, she fails to see this reality within the confines of the novel. Florens is sent out of a sexually abusive environment to be on Mr. Vaark’s farm, whom her mother thinks of, at least in her first impression, in a more positive light than D’Ortega. She sees that “there was no animal in his heart. He never looked at me the way Senhor does. He did not want” (Morrison 191). Quick note: yes, the last sentence is complete despite the conventions of citation leaving me with what looks like an incomplete sentence. Part of Morrison’s genius is her compelling narration from characters who have imperfect understandings of formal English, yet they often narrate with more clarity and beauty than the other characters ever could. Florens’ mother was correct in her observation, but even she noted that she could not guarantee protection, but at least Mr. Vaark would be different (Morrison 195), further demonstrating her desire to give her daughter a better chance at a life with less sexual abuse than she herself had endured.

There is something to be said for Florens’ point of view as well. Even though her life has less sexual abuse than her mothers’, Florens herself did not get to make that choice, nor did she understand it when it was made. The decision scarred Florens, further demonstrating how the decision did not necessarily protect her, it just set her on a different path—which her mother deemed better than the alternative. These thoughts have led me to question, in a broad sense, who exactly is the “expeller”? What are their intentions?

In drastic transition, I want to bring this post to the 2008 housing crisis. As is consistent with the understanding of expulsion laid out earlier, most of the world was expelled from a good situation down into a bad one at the hand of those who did not have the best intentions. The feeling of not being able to make the decision to move, but needing to move anyways is traumatizing, especially when the promise was that the individual or family would be able to live in their new, nice home for generations on what appeared to be a stable mortgage. These forces of expulsion came out of the greed of financial advisors who had figured out how to bet against a system that could not even comprehend how disastrous the loans they were handing out were, which was explained further in the documentary Inside Job, directed by Charles Ferguson. Thus, the “expellor” here was the nature of peoples homes and livelihoods being collateral damage to financial advisors who had the most money, protection, and power over the worldwide economy. In this sense, expulsion certainly was not the goal of what the financial advisors were doing. They simply wanted to make money, and as a result they did not think about the vaster side effects of their hazardous practices. In contrast, Florens’ mother only thought about her daughter’s living situation, and made the best decision she believed she could given the circumstances.

So did this novel help me to think about the forces that work to expel people? Absolutely. Why should we care? An awareness about the multi-faceted issue of expulsion is probably the only way to make sure that we as a society mitigate the negative effects of it. Those who deal with money and homes need to be aware of the moral hazards of their greed, as their collective decisions have devastating side effects. On a personal level, it is important to think about agency and availability of choices when we evaluate our decisions and those of others—as Florens failed to see how her mother was able to get Florens out of an abusive situation. While slavery is no longer legal, the effects are still great in number. There are still individuals who control many aspects about the lives of others through financial domination. I don’t want to directly relate slavery to impossible mortgages, but the idea of ownership and potential for expulsion against the will of the individual who signs the contract is certainly evident.

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