ENGL 111: Third Mini-Collaboration

Riley Griffin

During the 2008 housing crisis, banks held worthless investments in subprime mortgages that cost many people their jobs, savings, and homes. Literature often allows people to reflect on how literacy and subsequent interpretations contribute to people’s expulsion. In The Big Short, readers learn about the economic side of the crisis through the explanation of how businesses and the stock market operate. People would sign mortgages without reading the fine print, which sometimes resulted in them facing expulsion all while Wall Street profited. The Turner House provides a more humanistic approach on the situation by showing readers how everyday people were affected by the crisis. Although Lelah gets expelled from her home after she gambles her money away, the Turner family face the possibility of losing their home on Yarrow Street because the mother, Viola, could not pay the mortgage and the value of their home dropped significantly due to the housing crisis. In both texts, people were unaware of the situation and the detrimental effects of the crisis until it was too late. Many people lost their homes, and their families were pushed to the breaking point. In A Mercy, Florens gets expelled numerous times, first from D’Ortega’s plantation and in the end from the Blacksmith’s life. While Florens was viewed as a keen observer, she was prevented from having the tools to read and interpret situations because of how she grew up and living in slavery.

Florens’s ability to read both print and pressure does not prevent her from experiencing expulsion throughout A Mercy. She does not receive the necessary knowledge to understand the world and situations around her. She has been held captive as a slave and understands very little of what life could be outside of captivity because slavery is all she knows. When her mother begs Jacob Vaark to take her, Florens feels abandoned even though her mother was trying to save her from facing the same abuse and rape that she has undergone. However, Florens can only see that her mother chose to send her away and to keep her brother. Florens’s inability to understand why her mother would send her away can be attributed to her unstable and poor childhood. Florens’s mother was never taught at the young age that Florens was. The only reason they learned was that the local Reverend chose to teach even though it was forbidden. Once every seven days Florens and her family learned to read and write thanks to the Reverend. Fortunately, Florens was a quick learner. She was much faster than her mother, and her baby brother was way too young (6). Florens said that “we have sticks to draw through sand, pebbles to shape words on smooth flat rock” (6). Florens had a better understanding of reading and writing than the rest of her family, but unlike her minha mãe, Florens did not have real life experience or knowledge. It is unfortunate that even at the end of A Mercy, the selfless motherly love goes unnoticed by Florens. 

At the end of the novel A Mercy, Florens returned to the Vaark farm after being expelled from the Blacksmith’s home and life. She accidentally broke Malaik’s arm, the Blacksmith’s adopted child, after she became too paranoid. As a result, the Blacksmith dismisses Florens’s apology and forces her to leave. During the dialogue between the Blacksmith and Florens in chapter 9, he tells her that she has become a true slave and says that her “head is empty” and her “body is wild” (166). The Blacksmith makes sure to tell Florens that she could have killed Malaik and that she is “nothing but wilderness” to emphasize her wild nature, isolation tendencies, and barrenness that connect to the wilderness. According to the blacksmith there is “no constraint” and “no mind” with Florens (166). After she returned to the Vaark farm, Florens spent every night carving words into the wooden walls of one of the rooms of the house as a means to explain her narrative. “There is no more room in this room. These words cover the floor” (188). Despite Florens’ hard work and skill, she still gets forcibly expelled. As Florens said “What I read or cipher is useless now. Heads of dogs, garden snakes, all that is pointless. But my way is clear after losing you who I am thinking always as my life and my security from harm, from any who look closely at me only to throw me away” (184). By the end of the novel, Florens came full circle with completing her long journey to the Blacksmith and back entirely barefoot. As a result, her emotional and mental state had been altered significantly due to the combination of the Blacksmith’s rejection of her and her own trauma surrounding abandonment. Florens is no longer the soft and trusting young woman that she once was. After going out into the real world, she gained more insight into the dangers of the world, but that could not stop her from getting expelled. 

When Florens asks the Blacksmith if he can read symbols in the first chapter of the novel, Morrison draws the reader’s attention to the fact that good reading is not a simple task. The emphasis on reading also highlights the link between slavery and suppressing literacy. Literature helps to expand people’s knowledge by opening them up to a wider range of emotions and diversifying the power of words. If people are comfortable reading and understanding, then those people will probably possess a voice to advocate for themselves. In the literature from class, the authors emphasize an understanding of the 2008 housing crisis and incorporate some ideals through their characters and the scenarios. In The Big Short, many CEOs on Wall Street used their power in bad faith to expel folks from their homes in order to gain a profit. Many people may observe what is surrounding them, but they may not necessarily be able to interpret the information or situation. While people should hold themselves accountable, other people who might hold greater wealth, status, influence, and knowledge should not take advantage of the less fortunate. People, therefore, need to be responsible and work in good faith to promote sustainability and community within society and develop strong literacy across all socio-economic levels.

A Mercy mini-collaboration

Isabelle Hoff, Spencer Jurgielewicz, Abigail Kennedy, Ava McCann, Lucky Ni 

In 2008, the global market crash affected several people of different backgrounds. In particular those of certain socio-economic classes were hit harder than others, which included being expelled from their own homes and communities. Those with less information were impacted worse. This lack of information was due to various deceptions, and flat out lies, told by the government and private entities such as Wall Street and the Big Banks. This is not the first time we have seen deception being used at the disadvantage of others for financial gains. Many people lost their homes so that those in power had more land, which they could even sell. Mortgages could be bought and then sold, essentially financially ruining the innocent homeowner. One example goes back to Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House. Set post-World War II, Jim wants to buy a “fixer up” house in Connecticut to build his family’s dream home; however, over the course of the film it is shown that he is caught in a bunch of deceptions and basically clear-cut lies. For example, he pays 5x the going rate per acre. Being a New Yorker and seen as somebody gullible he is charged more simply for being viewed as an outsider. This is a bad faith action as the owner is taking advantage of him and his status to make fast money. After seeing the house, Jim learns he is in more trouble then he knew as the house would need to be torn down. The house would prove to have multiple issues that would only cost him more and more money. Even tearing the house down itself would have its own set of issues. They never received written permission to tear the house down, meaning the Blandings would have to pay the owner’s mortgage back in full. Jim and his family is an example of a privileged upper-middle class family; however, he is still taken advantage of due to where he is from. Certain elements such as status, race, and background might change overtime, but people will always seem to take advantage of those they can. This is seen in other examples as well with a more modern setting.

The Turner House and The Old Man and the Storm both highlight the struggles of individuals of the African-Amercian community being expelled and being caught up in deceptions from insurance companies, local and Federal governments, and even community members as large during harsh economic times either due to environmental factors or socio-political ones. In general, people were also told to trust CDOs and other loaners. They would have high ratings, despite the fact that they were not trustworthy. People would buy CDOs and take out loans that would end up costing them more money than they could ever gain. People worked hard, trying desperately to keep their homes, just like in the Old Man and the Storm, where Mr. Gettridge was desperately working to restore his family home. He did not want to be expelled from his home, and fought to keep it. In A Mercy, Florens does the very same thing; she fights and works for the perceived right to remain.

A Mercy by Toni Morrison is a story of a young enslaved girl who had been repeatedly expelled from many of the things she holds dear. Although Florens is a literate observer, the lack of information given to her created a situation in which she was then forcibly expelled. First, Florens was taken from her mother as a child due to her former master being in so much debt he is forced to give her as payment instead. Taken away from her family, she is forced to start over with a new group of people, new masters, and new surroundings. As time went on, her master, known as sir, passed away and his wife became very ill. Because of this, Florens was given a letter which allowed her to walk freely to the Blacksmith, with whom she was intimate with, in order to retrieve medicine to cure her. On her travels, Florens met a widow and her Daughter Jane. Florens learned that the town was trying to get rid of the two because they thought they were demons. However, Daughter Jane believes that some of the townspeople said she was a demon in order for the rest to expel them from their home. The widow and Daughter Jane speak together and say, “So I know it is Daughter Jane who says how can I prove I am not a demon and it is the Widow who says sssst it is they who will decide. Silence. Silence. Then back and forth they talk. It is the pasture they crave, Mother”(128). This is a prime example of the amount of deception and lies people are willing to do in order to get what they want, in this case, it is their land. This allows the reader to look back to the 2008 housing crisis and show the pressure people may have been under from the big banks and Wall Street. Florens experiences this deception throughout her relationship with the Blacksmith. The reader can see that Florens is very much so in love with the Blacksmith which seems to not be reciprocated as intensely. Throughout their relationship, the Blacksmith had used Florens feelings towards him in order for him to use her body. Lina, one of Florens friends, dislikes the Blacksmith and says, “‘You are one leaf on his tree,’ Florens shook her head, closed her eyes and replied, “No. I am his tree”(71). It is clear that Florens did not see or even want to see the truth that the Blacksmith was taking advantage of her and didn’t actually care for her. Florens was deceived, pressured, and felt lied to by him. By Florens not being able to recognise the signs in her relationship, she let down her guard and was hurt by him. 

In Toni Morison’s A Mercy, the first page of the passage says, “Another is can you read (3)? She was partially illiterate while a slave Florens is not speaking of a typical form of literacy but instead of the capacity to intercept signs and omens in the natural world. Florens lacks the maturity and experience necessary to exercise restraint in the face of irrational impulses and can’t recognize the potential harm her love for the Blacksmith could cause. Floren continues to be naive in many ways as she accepts the challenges life hands her without understanding why she is subjected to hardship and expulsion regularly. Throughout A Mercy, Morrison draws attention to Florens mother’s absence. Florens feel abandoned because she got abruptly taken away from her original plantation and mother. Florens and the reader can lack the needed framework to understand her mother’s absence without her mother’s point of view. However, readers eventually find out that Florens mother gave her to Jacob Vaark to keep her from being abused. Florens constantly feels her mother’s absence, but she lacks her mother’s perspective, which makes it difficult for her to understand her mother’s love “That is a better dream than a minha mae standing near with her little boy. In those dreams she is always wanting to tell me something. Is stretching her eyes. Is working her mouth. I look away from her” (119). Florens notices that a piece of her life is missing as the absence of her mother is emphasized 

For Florens, her work is for praise and a place to stay. Throughout the story she is constantly worried about not being enough for those around her. This as a result, made her easily open to being deceived. She is described as having a combination of  “defenselessness, eagerness to please and, most of all, a willingness to blame herself for the meanness of others” (179). Florens wants others to like her, for if she is useful and wanted, she will not be forced to leave. She works hard to be around those she loves, and to be what they want her to be. One of the biggest examples being the Blacksmith. When Florens first sees the Blacksmith she is enraptured by him. They spend many nights together, and she falls in love with him. Once he leaves she is consumed by the thought of him, and the fear of never seeing him again. When Rebekka gets sick and asks Florens to go retrieve the Blacksmith, it is no surprise that she jumps upon the opportunity to see him again, no matter the journey she must take she is committed to see him. Florens fights through several hardships on her way, but finally reaches the Blacksmith. In the Blacksmith’s home she reflects on the feelings of safety she has. “Here I am not the one to throw out…No one screams at the sight of me. No one watches my body for how it is unseemly. With you my body is pleasure is safe is belonging. I can never not have you have me” (161). Florens feels like a real person with the Blacksmith. She feels seen, heard, and wanted. These feelings are all Florens wants, and all that she feels she needs. However, the Blacksmith has a child under his care. Malaik, a foundling, is suspicious of Florens, who is entrusted to watch over him while the Blacksmith is away. Malaik reminds Florens of her mother and brother. Florens becomes increasingly paranoid that the Blacksmith will choose him over her, just like her mother. This paranoia boils until Florens ends up accidentally hurting Malaik in an effort to make him be quiet. The Blacksmith arrives at this moment and confronts her, eventually telling her to get out. Despite all of her efforts to be with the Blacksmith (traveling there, helping around the house while he is away, watching over Malaik), Florens is still expelled from his life. 

Another example of Florens being expelled despite her hard work is with Widow Ealing and daughter Jane. Florens had traveled for miles when she came upon the Widow’s home. The Widow took her in, fed her, and allowed her to stay with them. In return, Florens helped around the house, doing minor chores and the dishes. Despite the Ealing’s kindness, when Florens is discovered by the town people she is forced to flee. The people accuse her of being a devil, fearing her darker skin. They inspect her, and treat her with trepidation. When they read the letter carried by Florens, which declared her mission and was signed by Rebekka, they tried to claim that the Devil could write to deceive. Once they finally leave to pray about the letter, Widow Ealing leaves too. It is only Jane and Florens left in the house. Jane helps Florens prepare, and sends her out into the woods. Florens remarks “I walk alone except for the eyes that join me on my journey” (135). Once again she is forced to leave a place of relative safety for her. Despite her efforts to assure the others that she is just as human and good as they are, she is still treated as a devilish threat. Florens is expelled from the kindness of the Ealings, as even the Widow seemed to debate caring for her. Florens is never truly stable in one place, she is moved about from one home to the next. She tries to find her home in people, but due to circumstances, out of her control and in, she will never truly feel at home. This all ties into the concepts of expulsion and deception. She is extorted by numerous individuals either for personal financial gain or even just an idea of holding psychological control. This goes to show deception can come in many forms which Florens witnesses. 

Everyone is responsible, in both reality and in the novel. When it comes to blame, there is not one single person who can hold all of it. Tracing back to reality, those responsible go all the way back to our ancestors. Then to our teachers, family, peers, mentors, and ourselves. Each group has played a hand into what we learn and how we learned it. One non-human entity that is responsible is perhaps the system itself. While there is no legal or moral concept of “an enslaved person or persons” today in 21st century America. However, there are similar institutionalized applications that might keep people tied and or endebted to others. Deception is a way to potentially control peoples financial and social lives through loopholes, extortion, and lies. These all parallel times when slavery was legal going back to the 17th century and people would extort others and control aspects of their lives. Ultimately, Florens and those around her are responsible. Florens sought too hard for the wrong things. Mother worked to protect her, despite her message being lost to Florens. The Blacksmith led Florens on, and did nothing to explain things to her. Jacob and Rebekka did not put much care into teaching her. Lina tried to keep Florens safe no matter what. Sorrow, kept her distance. They all had parts to play in Flornes’ expulsion.

Nina Avallone-Serra, Hailey Bernet, Giovanni Cicoria-Timm, Janiqua Morris, Ronnie Trebing, Riley Weaver

At the very beginning of Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, our protagonist, an enslaved girl named Florens, poses the questions, “Who is responsible?” and “Can you read?” From her journey as an enslaved person who is a keen observer, we know that Florens isn’t only talking about reading words but also about reading symbols and making connections. One of the most significant symbols we see is Florens’s attempt to interpret the dog head she sees emerging from the steam of a boiling kettle, though she cannot understand its meaning. This example introduces course concepts like pressure, and lack of pareidolia, and gives us Florens telling the Blacksmith that not all signs are so easy to read, and many take more time to understand. She describes trying to read all the signs, but feels like she is missing much. This is because in every situation where she is observant, she never has the tools of power and education to fully grasp what is going on and what will happen as a result. Her lack of having the tools to interpret and predict certain things often leads her to face multiple occurrences of expulsion. 

It is hard to fully place blame on those who find themselves expelled when they aren’t given the proper tools to mitigate their outcome. We see this concept present in all of the books we’ve read so far. In King Lear, Lear lacks the tools to interpret which of his daughters truly and genuinely loved him, until it was too late, and he makes the wrong decision that ultimately leads to his expulsion and even his death. In The Big Short, it is easy for Wall Street bankers to place blame on the homeowners by saying it is their fault for neglecting to fully read the agreements they were signing, however, not everyone has access to and resources to achieve financial literacy. Due to their lack of knowledge, they were easily preyed upon by Wall Street lenders who knew better and decided to take advantage of them. Similarly, in Turner House, the Turner family lacked the tools to be able to save their family home from foreclosure or even to find out what forces had jeopardized their family home. This is something we see a lot throughout A Mercy while Florens, an enslaved child, is struggling to grasp concepts and utilize her knowledge as an enslaved individual.

These findings help us as readers create a unique interpretation of the 2008 housing crisis. In The Big Short and The Turner House specifically, Florens’ situation brings to light a common theme about weaponized ignorance. In each of these books, Wall Street entities purposefully withheld information from those whom they wanted to take advantage of. The Turner family did not understand why the value of their family home had suddenly plummeted, and just about everyone besides our main cast of characters in The Big Short failed to understand any of the workings that contributed to the crash, even if the aforementioned in both books could recognize the significance of their situations. 

Throughout A Mercy, Florens’s enslavement presents a barrier, not only to the vague symbolism she reads but also to real-life scenarios. Within the novel, Florens thinks to herself, “They are certain their years of debt are over but the master says no. He sends them away, north, to another place, a tannery, for more years. I don’t understand why they are sad. Everyone has to work.” (pg 46). This shows how Florens isn’t fully knowledgeable of the concepts of slavery and indentured servitude versus freedom, despite, or perhaps because of her status as an enslaved person. Another good example of this concept can be found on page 81, where Florens confesses her failure to understand “free and not free” and even experiences trepidation when faced with the “looseness” that Florens identifies as the feeling of freedom. The pattern of expulsion Florens notices also contributes to Florens’ unintentional ignorance, the routine upheavals in her life stunting her ability to comprehend the full meaning of various images and experiences she encounters. Florens outlines this pattern on page 160, “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. The second time it is a pointing screaming little girl hiding behind her mother and clinging to her skirts. Both times are full of danger and I am expel.” Though this child-like reading of social cues can be attributed to the lack of parental presence she experienced growing up, it inadvertently led to failure to prevent these repeated expulsions moving into adulthood.

The ability to read not only literature but behavioral scenarios within a society is so important, especially when the society in which one inhabits is inherently against those of lower status. For Florens, this meant the inability to understand enslavement and the concept of freedom outside of it. She didn’t have time to educate herself on these things as she was busy focusing on her ability to survive. The blacksmith, on the other hand, was able to spend time in his freedom learning the ways of free will and individuality. Individuality happens when people feel safe and secure. Florens felt neither of these things, between the constant expulsion and the lack of paternal care she had growing up. The only life she knew was filled with danger and unknown futures, so why would she work to make something for herself in a time of such uncertainty? This leads to the bigger picture of education as a powerful tool. Education isn’t only about learning how to read and write, but it also involves being knowledgeable and aware. There’s a reason why people say knowledge is power; Florens always could notice things and patterns, but she often lacked the education and knowledge to put the pieces of the puzzle together. This shines a light on the bigger picture of people being purposefully kept uneducated and unaware of the potential they hold, because if their true abilities are kept hidden and they lack resources to take advantage of these, then they don’t know what they are missing out on. This is why the blacksmith was disgusted at how Florens was carrying herself over him; he wanted her to be her own person and start living for herself and not other people. Unfortunately, this mindset plagued enslaved persons during slavery and it was essential to keep enslaved persons uneducated because it also kept them powerless. Today, this notion has maneuvered out of slavery and transformed its way into other parts of everyday life. As a result, minorities and people of the lower class often lack the education and tools needed to fully prosper which often leads to them being taken advantage of.  We see the parallels between enslaved life for Florens in 1690, and how minorities and lower-class people today find themselves experiencing a similar kind of “enslavement” because they are prevented from having the tools to read and interpret things.

The Apocalypse and Garden Eggs: Ripe for Interpretation

In Nigeria, garden eggs are what Americans know as eggplants. They are cooked in many Nigerian dishes. Yet, it is garden eggs in their raw form which are most relevant to the “apocalyptic” novel Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor. Instead of being a delicious component of a meal, these raw garden eggs are harbingers of the end of the humanity Lagoon’s characters had known—but they are not harbingers of the apocalypse. 

I want to take my definition of the word “apocalypse” from Andrew Santana Kaplan’s article, “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought,” which analyzes the potential for an apocalypse which ends the all-consuming modern system of whiteness. According to Santana Kaplan: 

“Blackness…is the messianic remnant of modernity. This means that following Paul’s model of being a slave to the Messiah today calls for contemplating the unthinkable: “being” a slave to Blackness—that is, “being” a slave to the Slave of modernity. This does not amount to raising the Black to a sovereign position, but instead entails “abolishing sovereignty” altogether (Sexton 9, as cited in Kaplan Santana 78).

Sovereignty here indicates a system of power in which one group restricts the autonomy of the other. An apocalypse is, therefore, not simply change. Instead, it must totally reverse the social order, defying all forms of power so that systems of sovereignty can be destroyed rather than living on in another form. While Santana Kaplan is writing in order to address the idea of the Black messianic, an idea which is specific to the overturn of whiteness, I want to expand their understanding of the messianic to an interpretation of Lagoon. That is to say, I want to consider whether or not Lagoon is an apocalyptic novel based on whether sovereignty is overturned within it. 

After Ayodele, the extraterrestrial ambassador to Earth, sacrifices herself, her essence causes everyone in Lagos to develop a craving for raw garden eggs. This change is unprecedented, as the extraterrestrials usually only alter people in order to give them what they want, if they are not acting defensively. A craving for garden eggs is so characteristic of the extraterrestrials, as they have different tastes from humans, yet is such a mundane trait to pass onto them. However, the fact that people develop this craving reveals the fact that humans fundamentally do not control the impact of the extraterrestrial visitation. They are not in control save for when they start attacking—they are changing due to the extraterrestrials whether they want to or not. They are therefore rapidly losing sovereignty. One might assume that this loss of human sovereignty, and therefore the disruption of known order, is indicative of an apocalypse beginning within the novel.

However, even though humans are losing sovereignty, sovereignty is not abolished, but rather replaced. While the extraterrestrials state that they are “guests who wish to become citizens,” and attempt to use their power without hierarchy or dominion by giving people what they want, they are also becoming political actors (Okorafor 111). Ayodele tells the people of Lagos that “We come to bring you together and refuel your future” (Okorafor 113). The extraterrestrials do so by usurping extant human power, such as that of the president, healing him and conferring with him. Of course, the healed man remains in power rather than dying and leaving a power vacuum in his wake. He uses his resurrected position to declare that the Nigerian people should accept the extraterrestrial influence, and that he will be working alongside them for the sake of the country being “powerful again” (Okorafor 272). It seems that rather than abolishing sovereignty, the extraterrestrials are willing to reinforce it alongside the president.

In this course, titled Black Apocalyptic Fiction, we are reading about various forms of the apocalypse as they are imagined by human authors. These apocalypses generally explore ways of thinking about power. The contradiction between the extraterrestrials’ good intentions and their sovereignty suggests that the audience question the nature of the change in our world. The extraterrestrials are kind, and they change Lagos drastically, but even they become entwined with the human concept of sovereignty. Even post-visitation, there is still a clear political hierarchy, one which is now more inhuman than non-existent. Even when our world fundamentally changes due to a force beyond human control, it is difficult to remove sovereignty from even a fundamentally altered world.

Third Mini-Collaboration

Mia Stout, Mairead Wilsch, Annie Urig, India Roundtree, Myah Dombroski, Ryan Trebing

In the novel A Mercy, we begin with seeing a young girl in 1690 being expelled from her home. From the loss of his ship, a man named Jacob is seeking to not part with his losses. As a trade for this, D’Ortega trades the slave Jacob’s choice. Jacob wanted to take the healthy woman standing with her children, but D’Ortenga wouldn’t allow it. The woman offered up her daughter instead, which was likely to protect her and give her a better life than what she’d have had if she’d stayed. After this Florens, the young girl traded by her own mother was traumatized. And she is repeatedly faced with expulsion throughout the novel after this. No matter where she had finally felt safe or at home, she was forced out. This process is much like the 2008 Recession, where homeowners that could never afford houses, finally were able to purchase them. But, they were forced out of where they’d felt safe. The people of 2008 were expelled from their homes and faced many challenges after the crash, much like Florens was expelled from her home and faced many challenging experiences as a result of her expulsion. 

In the 2008 housing crisis, people were expelled from their homes just like Florens from A Mercy. Even though she can read both print and pressure just like the victims of the 2008 crisis that didn’t stop Wall Street (in Florens case anywhere she lived) from being kicked out of their homes. When it comes to the homeowners their “protection” from the world was stolen from right underneath them. Whereas Florens had a different kind of protection. ”Let me show you my letter” (pg 131). The one thing that gave Florens legal protection was her letter. The homeowner’s protection was the contract that they signed when buying a house but that was ripped from them after Wall Street claimed it was their “misfortune”. Wall Street continuously blamed homeowners for their expulsion but in reality, it was the companies that were managing the home who were at fault. This links to A Mercy when the blacksmith aggressively blamed Florens for the incident with Malaik. One person that holds power and money in A Mercy is D’Ortega. He is the replica of Wall Street. He’s the reason that Florens was expelled from her first home. Florens’ interpretation skills and her expulsion can be compared to the fact that during the 2008 Housing Crisis, the home expulsions never stopped for anyone’s literacy or viewpoint on the situation. Just as Florens’ intellect and insight never saved her from being expelled, the intellect and insight of those who were expelled from jobs or homes in 2008 didn’t prevent the expulsion itself. 

A Mercy is full of examples of Florens interpreting and reading, both literally and figuratively. We learn early on in the book that Florens was taught to read and write by Reverend Father. “Once every seven days we learn to read and write… He has two books and a slate. We have sticks to draw through sand, pebbles to shape words on smooth flat rock.” (Page 6). This shows us early on that being able to read and write is important to Florens’ character. Another literal example of Florens reading is on page 131 when Florens is one of only two people in the room able to read the letter from her Mistress. “Everyone including Daughter Jane who rises from her bed stares at the markings upside down and it is clear only the man is lettered.” At the end of the book, we get a final example of Florens being able to read and write when she writes her story down in one of the rooms of Jacob’s house. “If you are live or ever you heal you will have to bend down to read my telling… I stop telling only when the lamp burns down.” (185). In addition to reading actual words, there are many instances of Florens interpreting situations and the world around her. Throughout the story her narration interprets others’ feelings and thoughts, portraying to the reader the type of environment and emotions she is facing. “A woman comes to me and says stand up. I do and she takes my cloak from my shoulders. Then my wooden shoes. She walks away. Reverend Father turns a pale red color when he returns and learns what happens…Finally, he takes rags, strips of sailcloth lying about, and wraps my feet. Now I am knowing that, unlike Senhor, priests are unloved here. A sailor spits into the sea when Reverend Father asks him for help. Reverend Father is the only kind man I ever see.”(8) This indicates how Florens is interpreting her surroundings and feels a sense of resentment by the people in the town when she and the Reverend arrive, she then “reads” the people they interact with. A common trend of Florens point of view is these examples of sharing other people’s reactions and emotions used as a form of protection after being expelled by her mother but soon changes once she is expelled by the Blacksmith. Once being expelled by the two people she trusted most, a minha mãe and the Blacksmith, we see a change in the narration where she breaks down the wall of protection. “My face absent in blue water you find only to crush it? Now I am living the dying inside. No. Not again. Not ever. Feathers lifting, I unfold. The claws scratch and scratch until the hammer is in my hand”(167). It is wise to say that after the Blacksmiths’ expulsion a change occurred in Florens, she realized that she deserved more than the treatment she has received thus far and almost has this sense of empowerment over her, promising herself that she will not be expelled again. The farm also notices this change in her, concerned for the girl they see walking up the road when returning from the Blacksmith’s home. “Strangest was Florens. The docile creature they knew had turned feral. When they saw her stomping down the road two days after the smithy had visited Mistress’ sickbed and gone, they were slow to recognize her as a living person” (171-72). This character shift may have come as a surprise, but after interpreting the stories of others, it is a nice change of pace to read more about her growth. 

Florens is forcibly expelled repeatedly even though she is one of the rare slaves who has been taught to read and write. First, she was expelled by her mother, and the main memory she remembers from this experience is her mother “holding the little boy’s hand.” (8) At the Widow Ealing home, where she eats and tells the widow and her daughter Jane of her errand, the townspeople come to judge Judy’s innocence, Florens is seen by the group and thought to be evil. “This has happened twice before. The first time it is me peeking around my mother’s dress hoping for her hand that is only for the little boy. The second time it is a pointing, screaming little girl hiding behind her mother and clinging to her skirts. Both times are full of danger and I am expelled.” When going to find the Blacksmith so that he can help save Rebekka’s life, the protection letter Mistress Rebekka Vaark has written for her does not give her safe passage as it is taken from her at Widow Ealing’s home. Expelled from the protection the letter gave her, exposed to the world, and traveling to find the Blacksmith, she travels on. Once she gets to the Blacksmith’s home she sees a young boy, Malaik, who is being taken care of by the Blacksmith.  She thinks, “ I worry as the boy sleeps closer to you. How you offer and he owns your finger. As if he is your future. Not me.” (136) She is asked to stay and care for Malaik while the Blacksmith is gone. She scares Malaik, who hides and screams, as she tries to grab him to calm him down she accidentally breaks his arm. The Blacksmith returns and sees the incident. She tries to explain that she is not trying to harm him, but the Blacksmith will not hear her words. She says, “I am trying to stop him. That is why I pulled his arm” (139).  The Blacksmith immediately expels her as she realizes he has chosen the boy.  “I am lost because your shout is not my name. Not me. Malaik. You shout Malaik.” The Blacksmith tells her, “ you are a slave”.  Your head is empty and your body is wild. (141) As she is being expelled he states, “Own yourself woman, and leave us be.” (141). The Blacksmith is above Florens in status even though they are both people of color, and feels close to him but can’t build a real connection because of that as he will still see her as below him, this shows expulsion from a community/support system. “Nothing but wilderness.  No constraint. No mind.” (166). This indicates it is often found easier to push her away than to keep her, despite how much she’s helping. She isn’t a nice, quiet, polite lady, and so she often gets expelled because of this. All of the examples of expulsion are not directly Floren’s fault, even though the people expelling her want her to feel that it is. While by the end of the novel she shares her story through wood carvings in one of the house’s rooms, hoping for the Blacksmith to read it, while the reader never finds out if he does. 

In conclusion, A Mercy shows that interpretation is only a part of survival. Although Florens is an incredibly talented observer, and it is an integral part of her personality, she continues to be expelled; by her mother, Rebekka, by the Blacksmith, and by Widow and Daughter Jane. This book serves the purpose of proving that some things will happen, despite fighting against them. This can also tie back to the 2008 crisis, and the fact that victims of the housing and job crisis continued to be expelled, despite their knowledge of the situation. However, interpretation is still important. Florens is not only able to interpret the world around her, but also interpret herself, and her own worth, which brings her own perception of herself down. “Something precious is leaving me. I am a thing apart. With the letter, I belong and am lawful. Without it, 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.” (135). It is made clear throughout the book that Florens is not responsible for her own expulsion, a theme which carries through both A Mercy and the 2008 crisis. Florens is representative of the world around her at the time the book takes place. She is not valued as much as she should be, and for this reason is subject to more danger than those with more power, like Jacob or Rebekka. Similar to this, victims of the 2008 crisis were at the hands of bigger corporations and Wall Street. The “puppet masters” of the 2008 housing crisis blamed said victims rather than taking accountability for their actions. “They look at you and forget about me”(135). Although this is said in A Mercy when Daughter Jane feels relief that Florens takes the attention off of her accusation of being a demon, we can relate it to how Wall Street blamed their poverty-stricken customers and communities of color as a way to take the heat off themselves and avoid the consequences they may face.  Both Florens and the victims of the 2008 crisis show that expulsion is often not at the fault of the expelled. 

Third Mini-Collaboration

Faith Griffin, Aviana Freece, Bailey Foster, Mackenzie Gillen, Piper Cluff

Throughout this course, we have been given the opportunity to read and interpret texts that range from different time periods, each of which show a common theme of the housing crisis. Specifically, being expelled from one’s home has been a pattern in each book. Some of the texts include, King Lear, The Big Short, and A Mercy along with a few others. In each of these books, characters have had the ability to read and interpret texts but in the end were harmed by those who acted in bad faith. To begin, in King Lear, Lear is looking to divide his land for his daughters. He asks them to show how much they love him and that will determine his decision on who gets land. Two of the daughters acted in bad faith and lied to Lear about how much they love him. His other daughter Cordelia was honest about how much she loved him. He misinterpreted her response as her not loving him as much as the other daughters. With the two daughters acting in bad faith, they are rewarded with the land that was originally Cordelia’s, and in the end had Lear expelled from the land he gifted. Even though Lear can physically read, he interpreted and read the daughter’s responses wrong which ultimately led to his expulsion. To continue, in The Big Short, many people were given contracts to sign from banks and CEOS for mortgages. Although these citizens can read, they did not believe that these big corporations would act in bad faith and provide them with contracts with terms they did not understand. This is demonstrated on page 367, “We took them through our trade but I’m pretty sure they didn’t understand it.” These CEOs and banks knew they were acting in bad faith but had no issue in doing so which in the end resulted in an abundance of people being expelled from their homes. The latest text we read in class was A Mercy which led us through a story of an enslaved girl named Florens. We saw many patterns throughout her time in the book of being expelled by those she trusted.

It is known that Florens can physically read in the book A Mercy, but often misinterprets and misreads social situations throughout the story which results in her expulsion by those she loves the most. During the time period the story takes place, very few enslaved people had the physical ability to read, but the Reverend Father teaches Florens, her mother and brother how to read and write even though he is not allowed to do so. Florens mentions this when she says, “The Reverend Father tells us that. Once every seven days we learn to read and write” (pg 6). This quote shows that Florens can physically read, even better than her mother, yet she is unable to read situations. One example of this is shown within the first few pages of the book. Chapter 1 begins in Florens’ point of view of a significant moment in her life. At a young age, Florens recalls a situation where Jacob is given the option of choosing any enslaved person on D’Ortega’s farm. He first points to Florens’ mother but then her mother says, “Take the girl, she says, my daughter, she says” (pg 8). This is the first experience in Florens’ life where she has been expelled by someone. Throughout Florens’ life, we see that she believes her mother gave her away as she thinks she did not care for her. She is unable to read the real reason as to why her Mother offered Florens. In reality, a minha mãe was protecting Florens from the abuse she once experienced in her life. 

Another person who was important and close to Florens that ended up expelling her in the end was the Blacksmith. When Florens was living on Jacob’s land, we come to find out that she and the Blacksmith have a romantic relationship. She speaks of him throughout the book and shares how much he really means to her. When her Mistress Rebekka falls ill, she was sent to find the Blacksmith to gain his help. At her arrival, she was entrusted by the Blacksmith to watch a young boy, named Malaik, that was with him at the time. She finds him as competition for the Blacksmith’s attention and love. Florens ends up having an altercation with Malaik where she breaks his arm; the Blacksmith returns home and is appalled by Florens’ actions. He reacts by saying, “Own yourself, woman, and leave us be. You could have killed this child” (page 166). As shown Florens is once again expelled by someone that she trusted and even loved. Florens returns home to Jacob’s new estate and then begins to write her story on the walls in hopes that the Blacksmith will one day read it. While Florens is writing she states, “These words cover the floor… I am holding light in one hand and carving letters with the other. My arms ache but I have to tell you this”(pg 188). This whole situation surrounding the Blacksmith, being expelled again, and writing on the walls reinforces the concept that Florens can read and write, but cannot read social situations which often leads to her expulsion. 

The book A Mercy is one example of text that shifted our understanding and viewpoint of the 2008 housing crisis. We can see that a story written in a setting from hundreds of years ago with fictional characters relates back to the housing crisis of 2008. Florens represent those who were affected by the housing crisis. Even though Florens had the physical ability to read and interpret text, she was unable to read and understand specific situations that ultimately ended in her being expelled more than once, just like those who were expelled by the 2008 housing crisis. During that time period, many people signed contracts and mortgages not knowing what lies in the fine print. These people were able to physically read but did not understand and interpret how people would offer contracts to them in bad faith, so they did not understand the severity of the situation. One article we read in class shows a situation where a, “Baltimore resident says he missed in the fine print was that by accepting the cash, he was granting the company, MV Realty of Maryland, LLC, the long-term exclusive right to list his modest Park Heights row home. If he sells with someone else, he stands to owe the company thousands of dollars.” This quote shows how one of many people who were unfortunately reeled into contracts that they could never understand on their own; the consequences of this were pricey. We can see that oftentimes, we put our trust and good faith in people, just like Florens did, but may end up being left cleaning up the messes by those who worked in bad faith. This course has taught us that as college students, we have to be careful and read the fine prints. Many times, we are given assignments, tests and rubrics that we may skim over in the syllabus, but in the end if we don’t read these closely, we may be put in a situation where we receive a bad grade. 

Garden Eggs: A Nutritiously Bitter and Apocalyptic Snacc ™

By: Lidabel Guzman Avila, Adelia Callear, Kendall Cruise, Madolley Donzo, Marlee Fancet, Kya Primm, and Nicholas Parks

Praised for its nutritional benefits and bitter taste, the garden egg, an eggplant variation predominantly grown in West African countries, is known as a ‘super-fruit,’ aiding in the consumption of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. The fruit—sometimes perceived vegetable—assists in the digestion of food and protection of cells from damage, due to all of its valuable minerals. Heavily grown in Nigeria, it has acquired  both an agricultural and cultural significance to the country’s inhabitants. The fruit is especially unique to Lagos, Nigeria, adding to people’s sense of national pride and togetherness because the city is a significant centerpiece to the country. Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon actualizes this dignified sense of community in Lagos, Nigeria, both through people’s connection to the garden eggs, and the city’s collective experiences with extraterrestrial beings that suddenly find themselves in the country in the 21st century.  The coming of these ‘aliens’ catalyzes several series of events in the novel, where people, communities, and values seem to be sacrificed for the sake of different people’s peace during this apocalyptic instance. Apocalypse, as defined by Andrew Santana Kaplan, “primarily means to uncover, it shows that the world needs to end because it is cast in error,” (Kaplan 81). Here, Kaplan emphasizes that world-ending efforts are not only necessary, but inevitable in a lot of cases. They argue that occurrences of apocalypse—on individual and grand scales—happen over the course of people’s lives constantly, especially the lives of marginalized people. Okorafor’s Lagoon explores how needed these endings are, why they might occur, and how deserving people are of their super-fruit garden eggs at the end of these apocalypses.

The garden egg, by name, seems to suggest a type of poultry product, though in actuality, it is a plant species. Raw, the garden egg, also recognized as a type of eggplant, can be perceived as a vegetable because of its bitter taste, when in actuality, it is a fruit. The perceived deception of this taste and the general belief that fruits are meant to be sweet-tasting connects to the actual experience of the aliens, who do find garden eggs sweet, purely because of their status as a fruit. In a sense, the aliens take things just as they are defined to be, as they are experiencing things like tasting a fruit for the first time, without the social connotations that what typically classifies as fruit is much sweeter than garden eggs. So, when Ayodele gives up her life and her mist spreads to all people in the country (and seemingly beyond, too), many people sense the taste of garden eggs and the experience of one man is described through the lines, “He reached into his bag and brought out one of the smaller garden eggs he’d just purchased. He’d been hungry for them for hours” and “No one noticed as he bit it like it was the sweetest mango and continued on this way” (Okorafor 284). Many people now perceive the taste of garden eggs, especially when they’re raw, to be much sweeter than before.

The significance of garden eggs within Lagoon appears small, but in reality they pose a deeper connection between the human population and the extraterrestrials. Garden eggs are named after their resemblance to something else and are connected to the earth. They hold nutrition and a tasteful bitterness that makes them desirable and regarded highly above other foods mentioned within the book. Their nature is similar to how the aliens can resemble anything and are seemingly connected by one larger unit; they hold much more advanced technology and want to bring this innovative progression to the Nigerian population. Garden egg contains “egg” in the name, however, it is a plant and not a typical “egg” that we would think of; Ayodele is an alien, but she is just as much an alien as anyone else in Lagos, especially after her foggy departure and absorption into everyone, as seen through the peoples’ cravings for garden eggs afterwards. Within the novel as Ayodele died, she stated, “We are a collective. Every part of us, every tiny universe within us is conscious. I am we, I am we…You’ll all be a bit…alien.” (Okorafor 268). They are all connected within the larger picture of society as a whole, which the Lagos people find very hard to accept as they view the incoming of these foreign people as an impending doom that will end their own society. Rather, the actuality is that the aliens desire to improve the society they come to cohabit. Garden eggs are not represented effectively by the connotations of their name, just as Ayodele and the aliens are represented ineffectively by the name “alien” as they are no longer aliens to the humans of Lagos. Both find homes within Nigeria and improve the life of the present inhabitants. Garden eggs are in a way katechon–‘the restrainer [that] holds back the end of the world’ as described by The Nomos of the Earth in Kaplan’s essay–yet opposingly a catalyst for the apocalypse where we see them play a metaphorical role as a white flag raised in addition to the object that spurs the chaos for the rest of Nigeria as they become included in the context of the “apocalyptic” situation.

This “apocalyptic” situation, for Lagosians and other Nigerians alike, presents itself as the arrival of Ayodele and her people. Upon their introduction, there is an uncovering of corruption, during Ayodele’s discussion to “bring [them] together and refuel [their] future. Your land is full of a fuel that is tearing you apart…We are here to nurture your world.” Ayodele made it clear to the Lagosians that their corruption was preventing their country from prospering with the resources they possessed. While the connotation of her desire to ‘nurture the Lagosians’ would be to help them stop corruption, following the release of the fog, we came to realize that Ayoldele was actually referring to the literal meaning of her phrase. Ayodele had intended to literally stop their corruption through the spreading of garden eggs, aka a superfruit. Rather than allowing themselves to heed the warnings and understand the preachings of Ayodele, the people of Lagos set out to kill and destroy anyone they deem aliens, turning their back on family and friends alike. Fisayo, one of the witnesses of the oncoming apocalypse––Ayodele walking out of the water––, decides that “Lagos is hopeless” and begins killing people she deems unsafe. While this is happening, the people who were surrounding Adaora’s home, awaiting Anthony’s free performance, loot televisions, computers, and anything else they can get their hands on because despite the impending end of what they once knew to be Nigeria, they find themselves needing to commit these acts of corruption. Even the Area boys in the streets near Bar Beach find themselves running around with machetes, assaulting people, stealing cars, and allowing their base needs to take root in whatever is happening. This ‘uncovering’ that Ayodele has alluded to––the idea that her people aren’t creating the chaos taking over Nigeria, but only exposing it––is the basis of the apocalypse in Nigeria. The aliens believe that Nigeria’s old way of living, that the corruption plaguing them needs to be exhibited before it can be abolished. 

With that being said, the fog, with its “faint tomatoey scent of…garden eggs” is seemingly the end of what we consider Nigeria’s apocalypse to be. After Ayodele’s sacrifice, not only was “everyone in Lagos craving garden eggs,” but a calmness had blanketed them. Once the screens of televisions and phones flashed on for the second time, many Nigerians listened attentively to the message presented by the president. A message stating that “Last night, Lagos burned. But like a phoenix, it will rise from ashes–a greater creature than ever before.” This is the end of corruption in Nigeria. The end of their oil mining efforts. The end of the pollution of their home. And the beginning of a “transitional shift.” For this momentous point in Nigerian history marks a new way of life for every citizen of Nigeria. They now carry a bit of alien-ness in every one of them, allowing them to see through their base needs and proceed toward the progress of a better Nigeria. But with this revelation to the rest of the world, with the president’s nationalistic pride within his speech, many other countries find themselves jealous of what Nigeria is experiencing, signifying a universal apocalypse. “Other people in other parts of the world…agreed…Lagos is a cancer…[they] wish to cut…out before it spreads.”  This fear of what is happening in Nigeria––specifically Lagos––has caused people around the world to notice the unrest occurring around them and now, the only option is for them to stop Nigeria from succeeding in their collaboration with the aliens or it will mean the end for their own nations. It is an uncovering to the rest of the world. A show of how they will fall as Nigeria rises. And an end to what they once knew to be the world they lived in.

Returning to Santana Kaplan’s definition of the apocalypse and its ability to uncover this sentiment rings true in relation to the aliens within the body of this novel. Before the aliens arrived in Lagos, the oil companies had been allowed to run rampant and corrupt government officials had continued to allow it to occur. This then harmed the natural world of Lagos, “They [oil companies] brought the stench of dryness, then they brought the noise and made the world bleed black ooze that left poison rainbows on the water’s surface” (Okorafor 3). The aliens sought to correct this corruption by changing the composition of the water around Lagos to make it more beneficial for the creatures who lived in the waters, even if that made it more harmful to humans, since the water is the home of the animals while the land is the home of the humans. The aliens then bring new technology that can help buffer the losses in the economy due to the ceasing of the oil companies as directed by the President after the leaders of Nigeria and the aliens meet and compromise. These ideas of uncovering, aliens, and the garden eggs come together to merge in the real world towards our interpretation of the aliens in the book being symbolic of immigrants/refugees in our world as supported by statements like the one Ayodele makes when addressing the public at large saying, “‘…We are guests who wish to become citizens…here.” (Okorafor 111). 

The real life connotations of this book come from its ability to teach humanity as a whole the importance of learning from one another. . This is just as the change in perspectives of the garden eggs, which were once colloquially thought of as bitter-tasting “vegetables,” but after Ayodele’s sacrifice, they begin to taste like sweet fruit to the people of Lagos. This shows how welcoming in new ideas of others from the outside—in regard to foods, ideals, or policies—into the body of the country/space they are now inhabiting can result in a shift in the perspectives of those who already lived there. The defamiliarization of their views could be one that makes the country they all collectively inhabit more enjoyable, like in the way the aliens made the natural world of Nigeria healthier and the taste of the garden egg sweeter: the perfect treat after an accumulation of apocalyptic events.

The Façade of Apocalypse

Makayla Garrison, Jenna McFarland, Marisa Greaney, Sage Kearney, Lauryn Bennett, Katie Lyons, McKinley Skala

In Nnedi Okorafor’s novel, Lagoon, the ‘aliens’ play multiple roles in Lagos, Nigeria.  To some, depending on the perspective , their roles were carried out negatively to some characters and positively to others. The ‘aliens’ act as a form of katechon, despite the chaos that has erupted from their arrival. Humans have created their own problems, while the aliens just want to coexist with them. The existence of the ‘aliens’ almost prevents them from spiraling into total apocalypse despite the fact that they have been viewed as, and treated, very negatively throughout the book. They have not acted evil of their own volition, but mostly in response to the evil done to them by humans. When they witness something horrific done by humans, they step in to rectify their evil

The definition of ‘alien’ does not have any negative denotations, though society gives this word a negative connotation.  If we used ‘alien’  according to its denotative meaning, then it would just simply mean someone different from a foreign place, which would also connote change. Most often alien is a term used to describe immigrants or those from one country seeking to gain entry into another one. In this novel, the connotation of aliens being from outer space, or extraterrestrial, is used more prominently. This is a topic that has become highly politicized as there is much stigma surrounding people who are different and from another place seeking entry into a different nation. These same negative feelings connect to the way the people in Lagoon react to the water people arriving, as they simply desire to coexist with humans. They have never declared any negative intentions. Humans in the novel begin to react negatively and spiral into chaos as a reaction, but it stems from their own bad faith as the water people have not done anything harmful to humans when they first arrived. 

When comparing perceptions, generally adults and children have different and sometimes conflicting views of situations. Children are inherently good. They don’t have reason to fear the worst until they have been taught to do so, either by upbringing or experience. In the context of the novel, as the aliens arrive, the children view it positively and are eager to welcome these new beings, “Kola squealed with glee and exclaimed, ‘This is the happiest night of my life!’” (Okorafor, 180). Kola is eager to interact and meet these beings because they are new and exciting. Her reaction contrasts with the way many of the adults are either scared or condemn their presence without prior justification. The way that stigma is placed on aspects of society and that the humans have overreacted to the arrival of these aliens is highlighted throughout the children’s reactions, because they have not given any reason to suspect harm. Adults have already lived through countless harmful and deceitful experiences, so they already have reasons to doubt strangers (especially aliens, especially so given the negative connotation of the word). Adults do not have the innocent and trusting minds that they once had when they were children themselves. It takes time to trust in strangers whereas children start with trust and develop suspicions and doubts with time. When Ayodele proved who she was to the president and his advisors, “the soldiers guarding the president dropped their guns, the wives screamed, and one of his advisor’s fainted. The pilot fell to his knees and began to vomit. The president watched with wide eyes” (Okorafor, 217). These adults of such high status and power reacted in ways that resembled the actions of an infant. They cried, vomited, ran, and shied away from Ayodele as they immediately perceived her as a threat to themselves and the human race. The president managed to bring himself together as he knew he had a major role to play in the bringing together of Nigeria and Ayodele’s people. 

From each character introduced in Lagoon, the reader is able to clearly determine whether that character deems the alien emergence as an invasion or an arrival of the city of Lagos. For example, Fisayo believed Ayodele’s intentions were to take over Nigeria. Fisayo believed, “the alien woman had hijacked her phone. She was speaking about taking over Nigeria. Fissayo shut her phone … This was the rapture, the apocalypse, the end.” (Okorafor, 129). Ayodele was merely announcing the arrival of her people and was emphasizing their wish to coexist with the people of Nigeria. Fisayo came to this conclusion simply because there was a foreign individual on her phone announcing their sudden arrival. She reacted negatively based on pre-existing notions of aliens and what their arrival has been interpreted as based on stigma and negative representations. Fisayo’s blind fear caused her to instill fear and panic in those around her, particularly with her sign: “Repent. Lagos will never be destroyed” and her split-second killings of innocent Lagosians. Many other Lagosians initially reacted in a similar way to Fisayo, and sought to rid their city of these trespassers with whatever means necessary. People automatically believed these otherworldly creatures as invaders of Lagos and intended to cause harm to its citizens, but they have only communicated that they wish to live in harmony with humans. Ayodele announces to the world, “In less than twenty-four hours, I have seen love, hate, greed, ambition, and obsession among you … I have seen compassion, love, hope, sadness, insecurity, art, intelligence, ingenuity, corruption, curiosity, and violence. This is life. We love life” (Okorafor, 112). From the short time that Ayodele has been on Earth, she has witnessed all of these concepts in action. Ayodele realized that humans are intense, emotional beings and are constantly acting in their own self-interest. Humans took on the idea of us versus everyone else to get through this time of stress and the unknown. Humans protected themselves and their loved ones and left everyone else to fend for themselves. She has viewed all the good and bad, and despite the bad, still did not wish to cause harm to the people of Lagos. Humans have not recognized this as they cannot see past her existence as someone foreign and unknown.

The human reaction to the alien arrival showed their true nature; they took the arrival of the aliens as a reason to go off the rails and cause mass destruction, and stigma against the arrival of something new and different from them. Even when they had the opportunity to show their humanity in this situation, they rather showed selfishness and betrayal. Although the alien arrival did spark this behavior, the humans showed that they were always capable of this violence because there was nothing forcing them to react in this way. They have proven to be the actual evil despite their fear, “He could almost smell her. Peasant he thought. Rubbish. Filth. But he would take her money” (Okorafor, 59). Father Oke is a prime example of the problem of judgment, greed, and overall evil within society before the presence of the water people had even become widely known. Multiple other examples also protrude throughout the book with the discourse among the 419 hackers, the plan of Moziz and Philo to steal Ayodele, and the area boys aiming to provide nothing but torment to the surrounding area. There was already so much negativity pent up, that the humans used the arrival of this new species to unleash it all, “Agu understood that they were angry at Lagos, angry at Nigeria, angry at the world. The alien invasion was just an excuse to let it all out” (Okorafor, 173). Agu presents this sentence in a way that seems to almost justify their actions, due to their anger at the world, but humans also created the problems that curated such frustration. The refusal to change even went as far as to be rooted within the government, “When had the Nigerian government and military done anything for its people?” As soon as the opportunity presented itself, the humans took advantage of what they perceived as the apocalypse to steal objects, harm others, and basically do what they wanted while they had the chance. They used this opportunity for bad, rather than good. The president even reveals this in his broadcasted speech to Nigeria, “We tore at our own flesh last night, as we have done many times in the past. Now, as we hurt from the pain and loss, let our minds clear. And see” (Okorafor, 277). It was not the aliens who burned buildings, destroyed cars, beat people, and wreaked havoc in the streets of Lagos; it was human beings. The president urges the people of Nigeria to open their eyes and set aside their internal perceptions to make room for change and the betterment of their country. The evil of the humans generates strong contrast between their actions and the actual good that the arrival of this new species has presented. Ayodele sought to heal a human child, despite the fact that she had bee greatly harmed. Not only this, but others of the same species were able to change the mindset of people who were previously very comfortable with harming others for their own gain, “But this woke me up. The coming of Ijele. I am not being melodramatic and I am not crazy. And I am not out of danger. But I will never practice fraud again. Never. I swear” (Okorafor 199). They have no reason to be kind to the society that has been nothing but malicious and skeptical towards them, but still aim to protect humans nevertheless.

Throughout Lagoon we see many instances of humans eager to cause destruction and harm without thinking twice. These actions highlight the way that humanity has already had a problem to be solved, and that the aliens have brought no real harm to them. In fact, they have  mostly had a positive impact on the lives of many who have interacted with them throughout the book. If anything, the aliens themselves are the katechontic force preventing them from spiraling totally out of control. Whenever something truly threatens the humans, the aliens would step in and save them. The actions that the humans had taken during the first instance of stress, when the aliens landed off the coast of Bar Beach, the Nigerian Government had instantly assumed the worst. This skepticism carried on throughout the novel within the country despite the fact that they had not overtly caused any real harm to humans. When the situation turned out to be much more intense, but not dangerous, than initially expected, Lagos erupted into chaos. Many took advantage of that chaos to cause more harm than the aliens had ever intended.  These actions can reflect more broadly on the hesitation of humans to accept good change. The same applies to both extraterrestrial aliens, and the aliens that deal with foreigners traveling between nations. Humans apply the same evil both ways. 

Garden Eggs or Apocalyptic Easter Eggs?

Savannah Burley, Hallie Edic, Iris Kahris, Kathleen McCarey, Marie Naudus

Nnedi Okorafor’s novel, Lagoon, takes place in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Okorafor blends many Nigerian traditions into her work and makes the setting a key focal point in the narrative. In the novel, garden eggs are mentioned frequently and come to be an integral piece of the conclusion. Garden eggs are a type of eggplant popular in African countries. Additionally, “garden egg is used as a less expensive meat substitute because its spongy texture allows it to absorb other flavors, similar to meat” (Mangan). The garden egg is significant to many African cultures, it is often shared at special events and given as gifts as they represent fertility, friendship, respect and are a sign of a welcoming community. When Adaora is trying to make her new extraterrestrial friend, Ayodele, feel welcomed in her home, she discovers that her new companion enjoys garden eggs specifically. Adaora notes how “Ayodele had eaten every scrap of food Adaora placed before her… commenting the entire time how enjoyable it all was” (38). When Adaora questions Ayodele about if the food was satisfactory, Ayodele specifically notes her pleasure in consuming the garden eggs. In later scenes, Ayodele can be found enjoying the vegetable. In mid conversation, Adaora describes how Ayodele was “happily munching on a garden egg” (42). Ayodele is new to culture in Lagos, but already is attached to the local cuisine. The garden eggs in the novel first operate as a way for Ayodele and Adaora to grow their friendship and later are used as a way to show how the novel operates under the terms of apocalyptic fiction.

Our Black Apocalyptic Fiction class is centered around novels that connect to apocalyptic ideas. When examining how Lagoon fits into this category, it is important to first define apocalypse. Commonly, apocalypses are defined as, “an event involving destruction or damage on an awesome or catastrophic scale.” However, in relation to this course, our class has defined an apocalypse as the complete, final destruction of the world. In the novel, multiple characters discuss the events that are happening around Ayodele as the apocalypse. When Fisayo witnesses the video of Ayodele addressing the Lagos community, she thinks: “this is the rapture, the apocalypse, the end” (129). Fisayo cannot wrap her mind around what is happening and assumes that it is the sign that the world is coming to an end. However, Agu has a differing way of comprehending the event. When his cousin questions him about whether he thinks “‘this is the end of days,’” Agu responds with a hard “‘no’” (151). Despite whether or not the characters view the events as apocalyptic, the clear destruction of the city, alien invasion, riots, and monsters coming to the surface, it is clear that this novel falls under the genre of apocalyptic fiction.

 By the end of Lagoon, it is clear that garden eggs become a crucial part of the plot and can connect directly to how the novel operates under the genre of apocalyptic fiction. Our class discussion, which defines apocalypse as the destruction of a world, can fit into the novel by the way in which Ayodele’s death brings about a vast change in the civilians of Lagos, destroying their notions of the original world and creating something new. When Ayodele is dying in Adaora’s arms, the alien musters the strength to speak to her friend: “‘You people need help on the outside but also within… I will go within… Adaora… let go of me’” (268). Ayodele enacts change in the world that Adaora knows. She relates how they will “‘all be a bit… alien’” before she slowly dies, using her final breath to state simply: “‘Garden eggs. Nothing better’” (268). Ayodele dies thinking of a happy moment: eating garden eggs. Garden eggs have made a great impact on her and connect her to her friend, Adaora, who shared the vegetable with her originally. After Ayodele’s death, Adaora notes “a faint tomatoey scent of… garden eggs” and was “overcome with a craving for garden eggs” (269). Ayodele’s spirit enters into all the people of Lagos, forever becoming a part of them. In this sense, Ayodele can be seen at the katechon for the apocalypse. The katechon withholds the apocalypse and has positive connotations. In the Andrew Santana Kaplan article, “Notes Towards (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought,” Kaplan defines the katechon as “the restrainer [that] holds back the end of the world” (80). It is Ayodele’s mission to stop the destruction she sees happening in Lagos. Lagos needs change due to the people and government destroying themselves. With this understanding, the thing that is destroying the world is not the aliens like would be commonly thought, but the Lagos government and people themselves. Ayodele sees the way in which the people of Lagos are destroying themselves, and in order to put a stop to this destruction, she places a piece of her soul into each individual in the city. Adaora credits Ayodele and her people “‘being catalysts of change. Wherever they go, they bring change’” (158). Adaora views Ayodele as the positive force she claims to be. By entering into the people of Lagos, Ayodele is using her last efforts to help, as she says, on the outside and within. 

The events that took place in Lagoon connect to the idea of apocalyptic fiction and strengthens our understanding of what it means to be in a class called Black Apocalyptic Fiction. Lagoon shares many common themes with the previous books we have read thus far in the class. Similar to Wild Seed and the characters of Anyanwu and Doro, the characters in Lagoon also share god-like powers. Anthony, Agu, and Adaora all possess powers that differentiate them from common people, which is the reason Ayodele chooses them as the three people who are swallowed by the sea. In this sense, while Ayodele deems herself the ambassador, Anthony, Agu, and Adaora become almost prophets. These three are chosen to announce the upcoming apocalypse, whether or not they view the matter as apocalyptic or not. Ayodele’s ability to transform into other people and animals are also shared with Wild Seed’s Anyanwu. Connecting the novel to other novels we have seen in this class helps to strengthen the understanding of how Lagoon can be read through the lens of an apocalyptic work of fiction.

Works Cited

Mangan, Author(s): Frank. “Garden Egg.” WorldCrops, 27 Jan. 2017, https://worldcrops.org/crops/garden-egg.  

Okorafor, Nnedi. Lagoon. Saga Press, 2016

Santana Kaplan, Andrew. “Notes Towards (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought.” The Comparist, vol. 43, Oct. 2019

Sule, Fati. “The Bittersweet Wonders Of The Nigerian Garden Eggs!” https://jd-publishing.com/the-bittersweet-wonders-of-the-nigerian-garden-eggs

Connotation and Denotation in the World of Pym

Hallie Edic and Katherine Lyons

The definition of denotation is the literal meaning of a word whereas the meaning of connotation is the feeling or idea that a word summons for the reader. In other words, denotation is the literal meaning while connotation is the feeling given to certain words by the world around it. The Word homework, for example, refers to work that you do outside of school which is the denotation; This word has a negative connotation for people because that is the feeling the word gives them.

This tension between denotation and connotation can be seen at the end of Pym when Garth, Chris, and Pym come across the land where the people are waving to them. The denotation of this scene is literally that they are pulling up to shore while the people on land are waving towards their boat. The connotation from this scene is what will let the reader know whether the ending of this novel was a good or a bad thing. One example of connotation at work is how the audience chooses to see the ending. Do they see the ending as happy or almost spine chilling? One reader of this novel could see the people waving towards the boat as welcoming the men to their land with open arms. Perhaps they are ready to welcome their new visitors happily and supply them with whatever they may need. On the other hand, the people waving could be a sign of warning or danger. Perhaps the waving is the people’s indication for the men to turn their boat away and not come any closer to the land. The waving could be the people’s method of telling the men on the ship that they are not welcome and they should not proceed. These two different readings of the end of the novel can change the entire finale of the work. Did Chris and Garth luck out and find people who were willing to help them after their long and crazy voyage or could they be sailing into their own death? The lack of any clear words or connotations by Johnson allows for there to be multiple different readings of the finale of Pym and does not offer a clear answer to readers as to how the men’s story concludes. This sort of idea may indicate that Johnson has a somewhat neutral take on the world. Maybe Johnson or Jaynes sees the world as being interpreted by each person around them differently. That saying that not there are endings in the world that can be left open to interpretation by the people who witnessed or experienced it. There is no one true definition of what happened at the end of the novel and everything in life is very similar to that idea as well: there is no one correct way to interpret something that happened.

In the closing scene of PYM Jaynes, Garth and Pym were the only people remaining after the snow monsters realized that sausage nose was actually Garth, they began to attack which led to an earthquake causing everybody to be killed besides the remaining three. This could have been predicted that these characters would survive due to the fact that they played a very big role in the story and were of most importance.  At the end people are waving from a distance on the land, but the readers are never told what type of emotion these waves were emanating; this gives the readers a chance to interpret this however they feel appropriate. Due to the fact that these people had been on this continent with no connection to the outside world this can lead the readers to believe that the people were relieved to see that the group who went on an expedition to Antarctica were still alive. There were not many details in the book that could lead the readers to believe that the people would be waving them away telling them to go back from where they just got freedom, but if the reader were to dig deeper and start thinking there could be alternative connotations for these waves. For instance if there was a bigger threat to them back at home like the government the people waving could be protecting them from legal trouble. Also the people could have been booing and wishing them back to the icy land because they had discovered supernatural creatures, and most people are scared of things that are non-human which could explain them wanting the group to stay as far away as possible from civilization. Perhaps the author used the word wave because it was nothing more than that but because there is no explanation the ending can be interpreted however the reader wants it to be. 

When looking at how this scene fits into the book as a whole, it can change the reading of the novel as well. Was everything the group did for nothing? Did they find Tsalal like they set out to and are they being welcomed by the people there or did they end up taking an extended journey to their death? At the end of the day, everything lies in how the reader decides to interpret it. Again, does the reader see their arrival in Tsalal as welcoming or as a warning of imminent danger if the men choose to come any closer to the land? Considering these people have never met Garth and Chris, and considering how poorly the snow creatures treated the humans when they intruded on their land, it is hard to believe that the people of Tsalal would be welcoming the men onto their land. It is more likely that the people are telling the men not to come towards their land and to keep sailing unless they are luring the men in in an attempt to enslave them just as the Tekelians did when the group stumbled upon their cave.