Ignorance and its Detriment

When thinking about Toni Morrison’s A Mercy in terms of how noticing things but not having the tools to read/interpret those things and how it works in relation to expelling people from places they call home, I’ve noticed (ha—irony) that the main source of this issue is ignorance, whether it be blind or willful.

One of the most important issues we’ve discussed in class is the 2008 stock market crash, and how it led to people being expelled from their homes; well, wasn’t the main reason people took out those harmful home loans ignorance? The CEOs of these companies that brought down the flourishing economy of Wall Street wanted more money no matter what it took, and the way to get that was by selling more mortgages; who they went to didn’t matter. They were ignorant of the detrimental effects their actions would have on not only the stock market, but the livelihood of people across the nation. In this case, their ignorance was willfull—they chose to ignore what could potentially happen in favor of lining their pockets with more. As for the homeowners who fell for these easy loan schemes, their ignorance was blind. They didn’t have anyone to advise them against the harm these loans could do.

            When it comes to A Mercy, the ignorance of the characters comes down to human nature; to judge one another without knowing the truth. Characters would notice things but have the inability to interpret things from them, therefore they would make snap judgements about people on surface-level observations. I think one of the earliest examples of this was when Florens’s mother didn’t want to subject her to the years of sexual and physical abuse she endured from her master D’Ortega, so she begged Jacob to take Florens to his estate rather than herself. To Florens, this seemed like a betrayal in that she wanted to get rid of her daughter, when in reality she was trying to protect her. But, did Florens interpret that from her mother’s actions? She remained willfully ignorant because she was hurt by her assumption. When Florens recounts her understanding of the moment her mother begged Jacob to take Florens instead of her, the memory is of a kind of dehumanizing transaction rather than a heroic effort to give her daughter a better life. The result of this being Florens’s expulsion from her home with her mother; a direct example of how expulsion and inability to interpret can relate to one another.

            Another point I wanted to emphasize is evidenced by when Lina observes Jacob building a house before he dies, saying his choice to do so is a decision to “kill the trees and replace them with a profane monument to himself”. It is in our nature as humans to judge what we think is immoral or bad, but we also tend to judge what we don’t know. Of course, you can have a stance about the environmental impact of something, however one does not understand the inner workings of someone else’s brain—it could be for a completely different reason than an egotistical monument. The same goes for the stock market crash, and how the wealthy viewed those who were expelled from their homes. They could in no way even begin to understand the situations these people were in, since the higher ups always had more than enough to live comfortably. The CEOs even continued to make millions off their severance pay, despite the financial death sentence they bestowed on the nation.

This reminds me of my statement in my last post, about how The Big Short explained the financial system in a factual, numbers kind of way, but lacked in the humanistic view of the small-scale impact the crisis had on individual people that was emphasized in The Turner House. The way the financially well-off people viewed those devastated by their mistakes was in a Big Short sort of way rather than a Turner House point of view. They couldn’t possibly understand what they were experiencing because they’ve never been in that position; they’re ignorant to the experiences of these people. They may notice it, but they could never interpret the actuality of the situation. And this is exactly how the human nature of judging someone you know nothing about without being able to interpret their reality relates to the expulsion of people from their homes, since we’re unfortunate enough to have a real-life example of the two interacting.

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