Freedom is an abstract force, applicable in different facets of life. “Being Free” is something America has always prided itself on since the Revolutionary War when America won independence from Great Britain. Freedom is a privilege that many individuals come to America to find. However, during the 2008 housing crisis, many Americans got a glimpse of what it was like to lose some of that freedom. Americans were financially suffocating from their mortgages that failed them as the housing market crashed. After reading A Mercy by Toni Morrison, I was able to see a different perspective of freedom; the perspective of a young girl, Florens, who was born enslaved and traded off away from her mother at a young age to work on a farm. For the purposes of this essay I will focus on Florens’ views on freedom as well as the lack of freedom Americans experienced during the housing market crash. Freedom is a privilege that can be seen clearly for some people, but not clearly for everyone. A Mercy’s emphasis on Florens noticing freedom but not having the ability to interpret it is something that has helped me to better understand how expulsion occurs and especially what happened during the 2008 housing crisis.
Freedom is defined by the Oxford dictionary as, “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” The definition is more complex than it appears. Pharrell Williams released a music video in 2015 called Freedom, the music video displays powerful images and videos that demonstrate the presence and lack thereof, of freedom in the world. It demonstrates freedom in a different way that helped me to conceptualize it, however for those who have never experienced freedom, or those who have been enslaved their whole lives like Florens, freedom is not a force that can be easily interpreted, conceptualized, or even understood.
Florens experiences a form of freedom for the first time when she is sent off by her mistress, Rebekka, to get the blacksmith who can supposedly cure Rebekka of her illnesses. As Florens leaves the farm and goes off into the wilderness alone she is scared but also excited as she is in love with the blacksmith, who is free, and considers him to be her protection, and her “home”. Morrison demonstrates this confusion of emotions for Florens about freedom writing from Florens’ point of view, “I am a little scare of this looseness. Is that how free feels? I don’t like it. I don’t want to be free of you because I am live only with you.” When Florens finally arrives at the blacksmith’s home she discovers she is not alone with him there, but he has taken on the responsibility to watch over a young boy, Malaik, because his father has passed away. Florens stays at the blacksmith’s home where she is comfortable as the blacksmith rides back to the farm to heal Rebekka. Upon the blacksmith’s return home he finds Florens and Malaik in an altercation in which Florens has popped Malaik’s arm out of its socket in an attempt to stop him from crying. It is in this moment that Florens is expelled, from her protection, and essentially her home, at least the home in which she felt free. The blacksmith tells Florens she has become a slave in that her “head is empty” and her “body is wild”. All at once, Florens’ only sense of freedom is depleted as she is sent back to the farm. Florens does not make this decision, however, the blacksmith makes this decision for her because he is free and Florens is not. The blacksmith has power over Florens so he can expel her from his life as he pleases. The power dynamic between Florens and the blacksmith is not unique to this situation. In fact, power dynamics have always played a large role in expulsion and the determination of freedom.
During the 2008 housing market crash similar power dynamics came into play between banks, wall street firms, and homeowners. As the mortgages of these homeowners were bundled together creating toxic assets, they were sold over and over again. Homeowners still had to pay off their mortgages to the banks, and these big wall street investors were betting against the mortgage market, hoping they would fail. The homeowners, although they may have noticed that their mortgages were being sold time and time again, were unable to do anything about it. Homeowners during this time had their freedom stripped from them by banks and wall street investors in that they were indebted to them through their mortgage payments.
Freedom, and who determines your own freedom, has everything to do with expulsion. One typically does not expel themself, and during the housing crisis many homeowners lost their homes, and had their lives turned upside down because of decisions made by large wall street firms and banks. Those in power, or those who have power over you as an individual determine your freedom. The theme of noticing something but not having the tools to interpret it also largely applies to freedom, Florens who was enslaved was unable to grasp this idea of freedom. Florens noticed freedom among her slave owners, sir and mistress, along with the blacksmith. While Florens thought she would be safe with the blacksmith, she was expelled by him because of her lack of freedom. Homeowners noticed their mortgages being bundled and sold several times but were not free to do anything about it which, for many of them, led to the expulsion from their homes.
Now in 2020 the world is experiencing a health pandemic, COVID-19, and Americans are being asked to do their part by self-isolating, social distancing, and staying home. The government is currently limiting our freedom for the overall health and safety of the country by mandating us to stay home. Due to the mandates on staying home however, there are people being expelled from their jobs as companies can no longer afford to keep them without business. It makes you think, how will Americans react to a piece of their freedom being taken away from them? What will the outcome be of Americans feeling deprived of a piece of their freedom? Hopefully, the answer is that this deprivation of freedom will weaken the effects of COVID-19, letting Americans return to work. On the other hand, it could also lead to another large economic downfall that could affect our country in years to come.