Throughout the semester of English 111, we focused our attention mainly on the causes and effects of the 2008 global financial crisis. Our readings of William Shakespeare’s King Lear, Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, and, most recently, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower all tied back to the 2008 crisis. In some cases, like The Big Short and The Turner House, the novels were about the financial crisis, and it was just a matter of analyzing them. However, in King Lear, A Mercy, and Parable of the Sower, it was not a matter of reading about a subject, but rather interpreting a separate setting and plot and comparing it back to the events of the 2008 financial crisis.
The 2008 financial crisis had its roots when there began to be an increase in subprime mortgages. A subprime mortgage is a mortgage targeted at a borrower with less-than-perfect credit and savings. Because of the increase in subprime mortgages and at-risk borrowers, there began to be an increase in consumer debt. The increasing amount of debt caused the financial markets to begin to crash. As time went on, big banks began converting to holding companies instead of investment banks. It’s entirely possible that, had the responsible parties taken action earlier on to fix the mistakes of giving subprime mortgages to at-risk borrowers, the recession could have been minimized or entirely avoided. But, since the companies weren’t worried about their own well-being, they didn’t take action to change the outcome of the situation. This is seen in Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, in which Lewis follows the story of higher-up businessmen who are not only evading the struggle of the 2008 crisis but benefiting from the struggles of the lower class. Upper-level traders learned that something was going to go wrong with the subprime mortgage market, but chose to keep this information to themselves so that they can benefit afterward. Eventually, after the subprime mortgage bubble has burst and the dust settles on the situation, they have all financially benefited.
Parable of the Sower, our most recent read, is told through the journal of our protagonist, Lauren Olamina. The setting is the fictional town of Robledo, California in 2024, in a time where climate change and inflation have worsened so extremely that water is barely affordable to the general public, and many people have been forced to resort to living on the street, committing robberies and murders in order to stay alive. Lauren and her family are lucky enough to live in a gated community, with a handful of other families who she’s known her entire life. Things begin to go downhill with the death of her brother after he leaves the community, and then the disappearance of her father. Then, criminals from outside the community break down the gate, burn down the houses, and kill everyone they can. Thanks to quick thinking and a survival pack that she had stowed away in her closet, Lauren survives and begins the journey on the road. Accompanied at first by Zahra and Harry, two other survivors from her neighborhood, Lauren begins to attract others to join their group traveling north. Eventually, their group, which has reached thirteen people, reach land that one of the group members, Bankole, owns in the northern part of California. They all start a settlement together, called Acorn, which centers around Earthseed, a religion that Lauren has been crafting for years and that everyone else in the group is interested in.
There are many parts of Parable of the Sower which can be tied back to the 2008 financial crisis, as well as some of the key terms that we’ve been collecting and discussing over the semester. A huge part of Parable of the Sower is the consequences of increased inflation, and who it has affected. In Sower, inflation has made it so that innocent people and families are living with minimal water and supplies, or buying water from unsafe sources. This is an example of moral hazard, a term that was defined early in the semester as “the risk that an individual or organization will act irresponsibly or recklessly if protected or exempt from the consequences of an action.” (Dictionary.com). The government in Sower is more focused on how things are going with space travel than dealing with the well-being of the people. “Christopher Charles Morpeth Donner is our new President–President-elect. So what are we in for? Donner has already said that as soon as possible after his inauguration next year, he’ll begin to dismantle the “wasteful, pointless unnecessary” moon and Mars programs.” (Butler, 27). Because Donner is wealthy and privileged, he doesn’t have to worry about life on the streets and is willing to prioritize other issues first because it doesn’t affect him directly. This relates to the moral hazard which was present in the 2008 financial crisis. Members of the government and the upper 1% weren’t focused on helping those who were in poverty because the situation didn’t directly affect them.
Something else which connects the events of Sower to the 2008 financial crisis is the idea of trust. According to our class definition, trust is “believing that a person will do what they say they will.” In the 2008 financial crisis, the subprime mortgage borrowers had trust in the companies that had given them the mortgages. Their trust ended up falling through, and they were led into debt because of the poor mortgages they had been given. In Parable of the Sower, Lauren has to have an insane amount of trust in those around her. Because of the unsafe situation that she’s living in, especially after the destruction of her gated community, she has to choose who to trust. There is always a huge risk for her trust to fall through since there are so many people with bad intentions. Like the at-risk borrowers who had put their trust in their lenders, Lauren had to put her trust in the people and environment around her.
Throughout the semester, everything else we’ve read tied into the 2008 financial crisis, like Parable of the Sower tied into it. It was important to my understanding of the course and the 2008 financial crisis that I keep on top of the reading and coursework. Although there were some instances where I struggled with keeping up with the reading, I did my best throughout the semester to keep up with the reading and participate in the in-class discussions. I particularly found difficulty with The Turner House and found myself falling a bit behind the class schedule. As the Turner family was struggling with falling behind on payments on the family home and facing the threat of eviction, I was struggling with falling behind on my responsibility and facing a complete lack of understanding and success. While I did finish the book, it still demonstrated a low point in my semester when it came to my reading progress. After The Turner House, I gained the knowledge that it was worth it to take extra time to complete the reading so that I could adequately participate in the conversations and reading quizzes.
By the time we reached Parable of the Sower, I had about ten weeks’ worth of experience in the class, and I fully understood the workload required to really succeed. Because of this, I kept on top of the reading for Parable of the Sower and kept the themes of the course in mind when reading. I was able to really find success, and I actually really enjoyed the book. I also found this success with A Mercy. King Lear and The Big Short were difficult for me to read, but I was still able to make it through them. It really wasn’t until A Mercy that I really realized how much easier the course was if I had an understanding of the reading. This contributed to my success in the semester and helped me to achieve my best work in the course. Overall, I feel that I experienced real growth throughout the semester in this course. There was space provided for me to learn the importance of keeping on track with the course, and also the importance of advocating for myself when I lack an understanding of something. There’s a good chance that I would have achieved success earlier in the semester if I had voiced my concern while we were reading King Lear or The Big Short. I learned that it’s important to speak up when I am struggling so that I can succeed and really have an opportunity to learn, instead of spending my energy trying to make it through books that I didn’t understand.
In the 2008 financial crisis, subprime mortgage borrowers were suffering in silence. The subprime mortgage lenders never accepted blame as things began to go downhill and therefore kept the at-risk borrowers in the dark. Because of this, borrowers suffered in silence and often had no choice but to pin their issues on themselves and their own wrongdoings and poor credit, while, the whole time, the blame should have been pinned on the lenders. In this past semester, I let myself stay confused rather than stepping forward and asking for help when I needed it. Because of this, it seemed easier to tell myself that I didn’t understand the course, rather than tell myself that I needed to reach out and ask for help. As the borrowers needed only to learn more about their situation to shift the blame from themselves and realize that their hardship wasn’t their fault, it only took a moment of understanding for me to realize that I could have been successful throughout the whole semester if I had shifted the blame from myself and reached out for help.