“To Be or Not to Be the Furrow:” Interpretation and Collaboration in Toni Morrison’s Paradise

Taylor Bramhall, Frances Sharples, Jenna Brace, Sheridan Morgan, Joe Morgan, Hannah Myers, Olive Niccoli, Kya Primm, Dylan Walawender

Dr. Beth McCoy

ENGL 431: Conversations: Toni Morrison’s Trilogy

29 April 2023

“To Be or Not to Be the Furrow:” Interpretation and Collaboration in Toni Morrison’s Paradise

The Eagle of Divine Justice in Dante’s Paradiso appears in the Pilgrim’s progress toward Paradise, informing him of the futility of mankind to interpret God’s intentions for redemption and presenting the reader with the paradoxical presence of the One and the Many. The Eagle’s physical composition reflects this dilemma. The Eagle is composed of a number of souls, with its brow composed of key male figures from history: Trajan, the Roman emperor; the Biblical Hezekiah; the Roman emperor Constantine; William II of Sicily; and Ripheus the Trojan. In the pupil shines King David (“Baptism” Barolini). What baffles the Pilgrim in Canto XIX, however, is not so much the Eagle’s body, but rather the manner in which he speaks; he states, “for I could hear the beak and see it move; / I heard its voice use words like I and Mine / when in conception it was We and Ours” (Par. 19.10-12). Teolinda Barolini cites this perplexing duality as a recurring theme within Paradiso; divinity seems to exist outside and within the self, to be expressed as “the One and the Many– oneness and difference” paradoxically coexisting (“Con-sort” Barolini). The Eagle, then, personifies a collaborative essence that populates Paradise; even as it is a single body, it is likewise multiple, composed of individuals, inhabiting the text as both a living community and a structure made of the many. This collaborative ideology appears in Paradise; however, the Eagle presents a second conversation unpacked in Morrison’s novel: the question of interpretation. 

When Dante expresses confusion about the nature of justice after noticing that two of the inhabitants of the Eagle’s brow– Trajan and Ripheus– are saved pagans, the Eagle responds by saying “Now who are you to sit upon the bench, / to judge events a thousand miles away, / when your own vision spans so brief a space?” (Par. 19.79-81)). This response demonstrates the futility of interpretation within the question of divine justice, that all humans are incapable of judging divine justice. Therefore, while the Eagle as a literary figure directs us toward the paradoxical nature of collaboration within the dialogue of the “One and the Many,” its advice toward Dante calls into question the nature of interpretation in suggesting that it is futile to wholly ascertain or understand the mechanisms of divine justice. This sentiment appears in Morrison’s Paradise, where the conflict around the Oven calls into question this relationship between interpretation and collaboration.

In Toni Morrison’s Paradise, a large brick oven that serves as a community kitchen and gathering place plays a central symbolic role in much the same way as Dante’s Eagle. Originally built by the founders of the town of Haven, the Oven meant so much to its inhabitants that when a majority of the residents decided to move hours away to establish a new town, Ruby, they broke the oven into pieces and carried them with them to be reassembled at the new location. One of the most meaningful features of the Oven was an inscription in its foundation. While most of the phrase remained intact after the move, the crucial first word of the epigraph was lost, and unfortunately forgotten. The question for all Ruby residents then became what that first word, vital to the original intended meaning was. That phrase concluded with “… the Furrow of His Brow,” but whether the first word was “Beware” of “Be” becomes a hotly contested issue that divides the residents along generational lines. The Oven is reminiscent of Dante’s Eagle of Divine Justice in that it is made up of individual bricks that come together to form a unified symbol. The Eagle in Dante’s Paradiso is formed from the souls of just rulers throughout history who assemble themselves into the image, which parallels the fact that the original creators of the Oven put their own souls into the work of making each brick, and lovingly assembled them into a structure that would serve as a cultural and symbolic center for the members of their community. 

Therefore, in Paradise, interpretation and collaboration interact in that the divisive interpretations of the lip of the Oven create pockets of collaboration– within the Convent and the town of Ruby, working toward addressing this division– that create the conflict central to the novel. As such, Morrison could suggest that to build a community, one must allow for the division of multiple interpretations, to acknowledge the pleasures and struggles of the self, and create communication and discussion rather than exclusion. 

In Morrison’s Paradise, the words written on the Oven hold a varying degree of significance for each of those who look upon it. It served as the town’s own divine eagle of justice which became a “shrine the Ruby men revered for its illegible yet prescriptive sign” (Morrison 103). As stated, the debate on what is written across this oven’s lip is divided by a generational line – with some believing the oven’s words to be “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” and others believing it to say “Be the Furrow of His Brow” (Morrison 84, 87). While one functions as a warning to behave and obey under the rule of God, the latter, instead, offers encouragement to be one with God and exist with the same power and freedom. It is a matter of obedience and moral autonomy. As it was originally constructed by Ruby men to restrict the behavior and social engagement of Black women, the Oven promoted an idea of the constraining of womanhood, sexuality, and liberation. Hence, the younger generation finds power in breaking free of the original meaning behind the Oven, such as when Harper Jury explains: “Beware means ‘Look out. The power is mine. Get used to it.’ ‘Be’ means you putting Him aside and you the power” (Morrison 87). These interpretations show the divide between devotion to harmful tradition and the desire to be the flames within the Oven to break free from that institution and reclaim it as their own. The diverging interpretations arise once the audience recognizes how rigid the original phrase was: “The twins believed it was when he discovered how narrow the path of righteousness could be that their grandfather chose the words for the Oven’s lip” (Morrison 14). The phrase was made with one person’s interpretation of righteousness, and thus it would be impossible to recreate. Even if the citizens of Ruby were able to write the same phrase, there is no way of knowing if their interpretation of righteousness was the same as the originators. Perhaps if an effort was put forth into mending the world broken by rejection, denial, and escapism from ecological damages, a real and true world of ‘wonder’ would not be as forlorn as previously thought – and rather, a glimpse of what could be. Audiences can work to identify with the plight of the Ruby citizens if they consider the recent pandemic. While we were all immersed in the pandemic at the same time, no two experiences were the same, and thus it would be impossible to define the general “pandemic experience.” 

The Oven might similarly be interpreted as a symbol of righteousness that, in many ways, holds the community together. Though character relationships and much of the novel’s plot spurs from the division in how the town interprets the Oven’s message, the physical presence of the Oven insists upon an aligned value of the townspeople; the prevailing nature of this symbol is clear, too, in moments of the text that suggest disagreement, but, in between the lines, offer clarity on the town of Ruby’s strongest principles. In interrupting a disagreement between Deacon Morgan and Sargeant Person, Richard Misner interjects, “‘Whoa, whoa!…Brothers. Sisters. We called this meeting in God’s own house to try and find—’ ‘One of His houses,’ snarled Sargeant. ‘All right, one of His houses. But whichever one, He demands respect from those who are in it. Am I right or am I right?’” (84). In this moment of tension between town members, there is still a wholly united goal of respect for a higher power.

The interpretation around the Oven’s message initiates collaborative efforts that become earthly in the divine “resurrection” of Connie, as well. The openness of “…the Furrow of His Brow” mobilizes the collaboration entangled with discussing texts even as it fuels the conflict in Ruby given its refusal to be categorized (Morrison 93). This amorphous perspective compels readers to reject the binary of God as separate from the self that lies at the heart of the conflict over the Oven’s lip; rather, it suggests both can exist in “oneness and difference” (“Con-sort” Barolini). Therefore, we can read the interpretation of “…the Furrow of His Brow” as a calling on Ruby to participate in collaboration as though the ellipsis begs for dialogue, for communal engagement. 

Connie, by the end of the novel, embodies this dynamic as she both becomes and engages with divinity. Connie undergoes a resurrection late in the novel after turning to drink and isolation to cope with the death of Mother and the hurt she feels after her past romance; Morrison writes, “She has the features of Connie…but they are sculpted somehow.” Moreover, she embodies an impenetrable sense of power, stating ““I call myself Concolata Sosa. If you want to be here you do what I say. Eat how I say. Sleep when I say. And I will teach you what you are hungry for” (262). This transformation renders the interpretative message of “…the Furrow of His Brow” into physical form, as Connie calls upon the divinity within herself she communes with “the One and the Many,” and community and collaboration thus manifest from the relationship between the self and the Other, between “oneness and difference,” in communion rather than division.

These religious tones continuously propel the collaboration and community represented in Paradise in all settings of the novel. In Ruby, Misner’s perspective, and the spiritual influence that his character represents within the novel, continues to define the narrative of collaboration in the town. The division Misner discusses appears in the fraught conversation between himself and Pat, a character who records and deeply influences family and connection in Ruby. Pat and Misner’s tense correspondence during the practice for the Christmas play further entrenches this conflict in the spiritual, featuring interruptions in their conversation with explicit Christian references. As Pat reflects on their conversation later in her section, we receive more background into how this divided interpretation intersects with the town’s collaboration on building community and stability in Ruby’s future: “It wasn’t God’s brow to be feared. It was his own, their own. Is that why ‘Be the Furrow of His Brow’ drove them crazy? … Did they really believe that no one died in Ruby?” (217) The question of how this division impacts the future of Ruby is another example of how collaboration acts as an attempt at reconciliation in the town’s moral and religious distress. 

With Connie as the initiator of the Convent’s healing, the community she creates becomes stronger, as if Morrison suggests that interpretation interacts with collaboration to create both division and community around caring for each other. Connie insists that the women lay naked on the floor, where she paints outlines around each woman’s body. As the women do this, there is a feeling that the “accusations to the dead and long gone are undone by murmurs of love” (Morrison 264). Moreover, the women paint the empty space of their bodies. This acts as a physical expression of both the women’s hurts, grief, and vulnerability as well as love, and acts as the way in which Connie facilitates self-love. Thus, with “Consolata in charge, like a new and revised Reverend Mother, feeding them bloodless food and water alone to quench their thirst, they altered. They had to be reminded of the moving bodies they wear” (265). As a result, both Connie and the Convent become a physical image of the “One and the Many,” for through the development of their ability to love themselves through expressions of grief and acceptance, they engage in an act of collaboration built on the refusal to divide. They mobilize healing, community-building, and collaboration; but this stems from the openness of the interpretation of the Oven’s message as “…the Furrow of His Brow.” 

Collaboration, however, does not always indicate a wholly cooperative or positively aligned philosophy or approach to action; there are many times throughout Paradise where the town is divided in perspective, seen most coherently in town meetings and moments of tension between different members of the community. Richard Misner, as a leader and character of spiritual influence, described an element of this divided consciousness in questioning the state and nature of Ruby halfway through the book:

“What was it about this town, these people, that enraged him? They were different from other communities in only a couple of ways: beauty and isolation…When he arrived he thought their flaws were normal; their disagreements ordinary…Or used to be. Now, it seemed, the glacial wariness they once confined to strangers more and more was directed toward each other” (160-161).

Misner’s acknowledgement of the division of Ruby is significant; just as the Oven defines the spirituality of the town, Misner tracks how disagreement about the Oven’s wisdom impacts how collaboration functions in the town. Where Ruby was once a tight-knit community that protected and nurtured its residents, there is here an allusion to what collaboration, or the growth and evolution of Ruby as a haven or paradise of sorts, means in the overall context of the novel.

In her novels, Morrison presents her protagonists in insulated environments, relearning how to interact with the wider world in a manner that encourages them to open up their minds and their hearts. As these characters embark on their journeys, we do so alongside them; we, as readers, writers, and interpreters of text, are told to challenge the ways that Morrison’s characters confront their own concepts of collaboration, imploring us to ask the question: how can we defy these notions and foster a positive environment of collaboration? Collaboration is a seemingly straightforward process, however it contains a host of nuances that when successfully implemented, can lead to a fruitful bounty of shared skills and knowledge. In order to gain this wealth of knowledge, one must first know the components that are vital to a positive collaboration. Considering that one of the most commonly used environments for collaboration is the workplace, it is fitting that the most prominent are the eight competencies highlighted in the NACE Competencies for a Career-Ready Workforce, all of which play a role in orchestrating a successful collaboration. While each competency is essential, two competencies that play larger roles are communication and critical thinking. Of the two, communication is the more obviously essential element, for after all, if there is no communication, how can one collaborate in the first place? NACE defines communication as “clearly and effectively [exchanging] information, ideas, facts, and information with persons inside and outside of an organization.” Communication should always be the first step in a collaboration, as it gives each group member the opportunity to throw out their initial ideas before coming to a collective agreement on how to proceed. That being said, just as collaboration is not a stagnant process, neither are the competencies; they should be revisited throughout the process to ensure that the group does not lose track of their common goal. In terms of critical thinking, this refers to the ability to “identify and respond to needs based upon an understanding of situational context and logical analysis of relevant information.” Due to the emphasis on understanding and logic, critical thinking plays a large role in the problem solving element of a collaboration. Even if the group that is working together does not have any issues with each other, there may come a point where a roadblock appears that impedes their progress. The ability to use one’s judgment fairly and gather information from diverse sources also play a role in the success of the critical thinking aspect of a positive collaboration. Once again, it is important to reiterate that despite the remaining competencies not being mentioned, they still hold an equal weight in the collaborative process, and it is necessary for each member of said process to uphold them. In fact, each and every one of these skills was used in the making of this essay! Even though the group may not progress through the process explicitly naming each competency as it is completed, perhaps it has reached the point where each burgeoning literary scholar’s individual consciousness has melded into a collective pelago, where all ideas can be unleashed and accepted, losing the chains that bind them to land and taking the form of lovely, interesting conversations that guide the way into the unknown. 

We need look no further than the three collaborative essays we have written for this course to see how valuable collaboration can be when attempting to interpret complex ideas, texts, or principles. We do not simply vote on who has the best interpretation and put our names to it, rather through conversation we create entirely new ways of interpreting a text as ideas bounce off of one mind to another, are captured, altered, and released again back into the group for further revision. The final product is an essay that could not exist without the input of each of the group members. As the product of a collective of people with diverse viewpoints who have worked together to create and support a common thesis, these papers possess an authority that simply could not result from the work of any of the co-authors working alone.

Collaborative interpretation is the process by which nearly all of our values, laws, belief systems, even our identities have come into being. Is it always wrong to kill another human being? How do we distribute governmental resources? What is gender? While these are broad and varied questions, the way that we have often answered them as a society is through collaborative interpretation. At scale, reaching a consensus on these types of issues is much more difficult than the preceding example of our work in the classroom this semester; however, Paradise contains the idea that our ability to continue to peacefully coexist as members of a community depends on our capacity not to be torn apart when generational, or any other differences, make consensus difficult. No one in Ruby knew for sure if the inscription on the oven was commanding them to “Be” or “Beware” “the Furrow of His Brow” and the reality was that it was impossible to know which was correct. What did have very real consequences was how the residents handled their disagreement. The oven was meant as a tangible symbol of unity, a place where the community could come together to share food and strengthen relationships. It was a cultural center where people had positive interactions with one another. For us, that center has been the classroom, but as we move beyond that, and into the broader world we would do well to recognize the value of conversation and collaboration and to remember that we are at our best when we truly listen to and genuinely seek to understand one another.

Works Cited

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 19: Injustice On The Banks Of The Indus.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2014. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-19/

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 20: Baptism In Troy.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2014. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-20/

Dante Alighieri. Paradiso. Translated by Mark Musa, Penguin Classics, 1985. 

Morrison, Toni. Paradise. Alfred A. Knopf Inc, 1998. 

Birds of a Feather

Shauna Blochwitz, Isabelle Covert, Hailey Cullen, Madolley Donzo, Genesis Flores, Meghan Havens, Laryssa Olsen, Emily Loper

Justice and virtue are human traits, just the same as injustice and immorality, and are rife with human complexities. Dante Alighieri’s Paradiso discusses justice and virtue as holy, based in immutable divinity that means human conceptions of justice come secondary to the divine conception of the term. “Individual souls composing the eagle have finished singing, the eagle tells the Pilgrim to watch its eye closely as it points out six famous souls who were champions of justice on earth” (Canto XX). As demonstrated in this quote, Dante the Poet depicts divine justice as portrayed by the Divine Eagle of Justice, composed of multiple paragons of virtue, who combine to create a being that is representative of God and Their justice. The Eagle’s curved eyebrow has five stars following the curve, each star representing a man, and the eye representing David (see the iconic illustration from Mark Musa’s edition of Paradiso). The men who make up the eye and brow of the Eagle were all men of power; kings and emperors whose accomplishments included being rulers, prophets, poets, representatives of justice who punished wrongdoers, and who lived holy lives dedicated to God and Their will. The Eagle speaks to Dante the Pilgrim, “‘You men who live on earth, be slow to judge, for even we who see God face to face still do not know the list of His elect, but we find this defect of ours a joy, since in this good perfected is our good; for whatsoever God wills we will too’” (Canto XX).

In contrast to the Eagle in Paradiso representing divine justice that rewards those who are righteous, Dante uses serpents in Inferno to execute justice by punishing sinners. In Canto XXV, there is a six-foot snake that ingests two sinners as a punishment, becoming one with their bodies. “It [serpent] gripped his belly with its middle feet, and with its forefeet grappled his two arms; and then it sank its teeth in both his cheeks … No ivy ever gripped a tree so fast as when that horrifying monster clasped and intertwined the other’s limbs with its” (Canto XXV). Dante’s exploration of justice with the serpent originates from the idea that those who sin deserve to physically become the monsters they were in life. While the snake and Eagle both portray a divine justice, one comes from a place of upholding peace and acting in God’s Will, while the other originates from a compulsive nature to bring harm to those who have dealt harm to others. Dante faces questions about what is just and good from a human perspective, but the representatives of God, like the Eagle, reinforce that God’s justice is final and constant, and does not consider the human conception of what is just or unjust, and that it is difficult, if not impossible, for humans to conceptualize the will of God.

In Toni Morrison’s Paradise, the Oven had been built in the town of Haven by the ancestors of Ruby’s inhabitants to demonstrate community and communal living. During this time, “Haven people brought the kill to the Oven and stayed…to gossip, complain, roar with laughter and drink walking coffee” (Morrison 15). The Oven was the center point for them in Haven. It brought the families together and gave them a sense of belonging. However, the Oven lost its usage when the community in Haven was no longer flourishing, and they were forced to find a new space. Members of Haven un-bricked the Oven, packed it into trucks, and carried it on their journey to find a new home. Settling in Ruby, they re-bricked the oven as the women watched, feeling resentment for the space taken up by these bricks; space that could’ve held supplies and other necessities. The women of Ruby didn’t need the Oven; they didn’t have any use for it. There was no need to lug food there to cook because they now had cookstoves in their kitchens.

At the beginning of resettlement, the Oven was a space for baptisms. Ruby people would head toward it to “embrace [and] congratulate one another” after baptisms, but this purpose became obsolete as the Churches invested in indoor pools and vessels to perform baptisms (Morrison 103). “A utility became a shrine” (Morrison 103). The older generation—especially Deek and Steward—revered the oven because it was something that their grandfathers had put together. The newer generation, however, used it as a place to hang out. Throughout the book, they could be seen lounging around the Oven, talking and laughing. Prior to the events in Paradise, it is presumed that one of the younger people drew a fist on the Oven, which is supposed to demonstrate a new way of thinking; one where they are beckoning modernization and autonomy. However, this defamation of the Oven leads to a large disagreement between the members of Ruby and ties into the uproar that ensues, ending with the men raiding the Convent, a mansion outside of Ruby full of strange women. The men that conduct a hostile takeover of the Convent meet at the Oven to discuss their plans, demonstrating that while the Oven doesn’t have many purposes left, it remains a meeting place. They spend most of the night gathering themselves, eating food, and talking strategy. Once they’ve convinced themselves that this is the right way to handle things, they leave the Oven to remain the symbol that it has become; representing something different to everyone that lives in Ruby.

In Paradise, the Oven is an important, central object for those living in Ruby. For them, it stands for everything their ancestors went through to survive and thrive in this place. That includes values, like respecting authority and being willing to do whatever it takes, and the strength of the community, which is shown in the entire community using the Oven for various things. The shape of the Oven, however, is eerily similar to the shape of the Eye and Brow of the Divine Eagle of Justice—which is interesting, because community-based justice was also a founding value of Ruby. The Oven is “round as a head, deep as desire,” and was built by the founding families using bricks (Morrison 6). It also has an “iron plate five feet by two” which they “set… at the base of the Oven’s mouth” (Morrison 7). These values are encapsulated in the inscription on that iron lip, parallel to the Brow of the Eagle, the truth of which the townspeople do not agree on: either “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” or “Be the Furrow of His Brow.” This argument, split mainly along generational lines, follows deeper conflict in how to run the town now that they’re not struggling to survive and for the most part well-off: do they keep the extreme values and expectations or loosen them?

Ruby’s residents find themselves divergent on their recollection and interpretation of the words inscribed on the oven’s lip. The older generations of Ruby claim it read “Beware the Furrow of His Brow,” while the younger generations want to give it new life with the phrase “Be the Furrow of His Brow.” The oven, initially a uniting symbol among the townspeople, is now representative of intergenerational conflict that will affect the future history of Ruby. Reverend Pulliam claims, “‘Beware the Furrow of his Brow.’ That’s what it says clear as daylight. That’s not a suggestion; that’s an order!,” asserting their power in the hierarchy of Ruby as the founders of this utopian society to which the younger generations must adhere to (Morrison 86). This interpretation has a heavy air of authority, attempting to instill a sense of control over the youngsters. Conversely, those opposed to the oven’s motto as “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” suggest that the phrasing should reflect ownership over their futures, not being God themselves but instead acting as an extension of his power, “Yes, sir, but we are obeying Him,’ said Destry. ‘If we follow His commandments, we’ll be His voice, His retribution”’ (Morrison 87). Rather than being the power, the younger generation would prefer to use the power of the divine, forging their own path free of the dictatorial control of Ruby.

Confronted with an unfinished inscription, “…the Furrow of His Brow,” the older and younger generations enter into an intergenerational conflict surrounding the excessive desire of the elders to maintain the traditions of the past, while the younger generations recognize that this no longer serves their community. One of the main arguments made by those collected in the younger generation is the necessary outlook for the group as a whole claiming: “‘It’s our history too, sir. Not just yours’” (Morrison 86). Whereas, the older generation is intending to maintain their power by threatening the newer generations, “Harper Jury silenced him. ‘It says ‘Beware.’ Not ‘Be.’ Beware means ‘Look out. The power is mine. Get used to it’” (Morrison 86). Just as the oven and its inscription becomes a symbol of controversy among the community, the older generations come to compare the betrayal of the younger generations to that of a snake with malevolent intentions to their cause. Giving the older generation the last word, Steward Morgan issues this chilling threat, “‘If you, any one of you, ignore, change, take away, or add to the words in the mouth of that Oven, I will blow your head off just like you was a hood-eye snake”’ (Morrison 87). This conflict parallels how Dante the Poet views sinners as serpents, being betrayed by their own as the residents of Ruby clash amongst themselves.

Rather than carrying physical power, the descendants of the founding families exude symbolic power, radiating superiority based on their names and their interpretations of the events that led to the town’s formation. Up until now, the Oven had been a staple in the community, serving a multitude of purposes. Now, the Oven is viewed as an artifact by those that have never seen it in use: “Minus the baptisms the oven had no real value. What was needed back in the Haven’s early days had never been needed in Ruby” (Morrison 103). This fact has controlled the narrative, leading to the older generations reflecting on the religious and historical value of the Oven in their formative years and the younger generations refusing to conform based on outdated principles. As seen in Dante’s Paradiso, the Divine Eagle of Justice is representative of uniformity and peace, aligning with the values of the older generations. Its antithesis is the snake, but as a symbol, an eagle carrying a snake represents great change. This hints at the possibility of collaboration between the older and younger generations to resolve this great conflict.

Dante and Morrison both write about coming to terms with power and the various forms it takes, both in actionable and symbolic power. This is demonstrated in the symbol of the Oven representing the real power of the people of Ruby. The ability to tell when someone or something is actually powerful versus just a mirage is a valuable and important skill, as the individual and collective need to recognize their own power and know they can stand up to false representations, like the younger generation of Ruby. By the end of the novel, after ambushing the Convent and killing and driving out its residents, the young people of Ruby seem to come to a consensus as to what the words on the Oven should be: replacing “Be the Furrow of His Brow” or “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” with “We Are the Furrow of His Brow” (Morrison 298). This change seems to suggest that rather than aspiring to be God’s “justice” and “voice” by obeying Him and His commandments, the younger members of the community now feel that they are all of these things, whether they want to be or not (Morrison 87). They seem to realize that being an “instrument” of God without any choice in the matter means doing things that may not always be pleasing to enact, and that they may not always agree with (Morrison 87). Being “His retribution” means serving justice in ways that may not be comfortable or seem fair, yet the town of Ruby as a collective needs to because of the role they have taken as their own Eagle of Divine Justice (Morrison 87). While not exactly creating a compromise to decide on the words on the Oven, the older members of the community seem to agree with the phrase written by the youth only after they attack the Convent and see what that act did to the community as a whole.

The men of Ruby are dealing with the fallout of their actions, of doing things that they felt they were entitled to do because of their perceived connection to God and his justice. In other words, the older generation supports the words on the Oven essentially by talking about how they have already proven they “are the Furrow of His Brow,” whereas the younger generation is in the process of proving this statement true by trying to maintain that culture of taking action. It is due to this slight difference of interpretation of the words on the Oven, and the actions taken based on this phrase, that the town of Ruby is experiencing a shift. One is able to understand how collaboration does not necessarily mean complete agreement; since there is a difference of interpretation, but agreement on what the words on the Oven should be, the collaboration gets muddled when courses of action are taken. Essentially, “progress” can not be experienced exclusively, it can only be achieved alongside minor “setbacks.” The perceived “progress” of their collaboration only happened in the aftermath of an attack on extricated members of the community, this “setback” creating a change in opinion and causing the townspeople to feel that they are in agreement with one another.

As prevalent as these issues of power and justice are in the town of Ruby, these kinds of issues are just as prevalent and numerous in the world today. As politics, law, and society seem to be losing all the values that have been so important for generations (like collaboration, community, and caring for others), it’s important for people to keep in mind where real power and real justice lie. The power of community and the collective cannot be overplayed; banding together to seek justice for each other is one of the most important roles we have as individuals in our society. If we can collaborate with one another on the issues we all see, there is a good chance we can start to remedy them. This is something that was discussed by Dante in the middle ages, and by Toni Morrison in the twentieth century; this has and will always be discussed because these issues seem to persist as long as we do. The stakes in the novel Paradise may seem high for this issue, but the stakes are truly much higher. With systemic issues such as violence and discrimination against women and people of color that are built into governmental institutions, the only way we can combat them is by banding together as a community and fighting for each other, and that is the only way justice can truly be achieved.

In English 431, we have had the opportunity to practice the skills of collaborating and caring for each other and our learning as a collective. As this group in particular, we have collaborated on three essays, each time learning more about how to work through our differences in interpretations of the literature we’ve read, give each other feedback with care, and produce insightful ideas that we would not be able to realize on our own. Through this process of collaboration and interpretation, we develop both individual and collective power. We develop our individual power within the group by strengthening our ability to voice our own interpretations and question each other’s interpretations (with care of course). More importantly, we develop our power as a collective by sharing our ideas and coming up with a final product that is more than anything we could create by ourselves. In this way, we are able to use the power we have achieved through our essay collaborations to take the first steps across the threshold into a more collaborative community that works to address systemic issues.

Violence and Care – ENGL 111

Saidiya Hartman’s contention that “care is the antidote to violence” and Davina Ward’s counterclaim that “violence can exist as care” are in sharp contrast to each other. Reflecting on my comprehension with the course’s central issues and questions leads me to agree with Ward that care is not the antidote to violence and rather that violence can exist as care. ThinkING through everything that I have comprehended in this course is what led me to side with Ward’s claim. This is as course material such as the book “Zone One” and our focus on Hurricane Katrina, notably the documentary “When the Levees Broke,” demonstrates examples of how violence can exist as care. 

The book “Zone One”  by Colson Whitehead  provides an explanation for violence existing as care. This book tells the story of a plague that completely destroyed society. The novel uses the terms “skels” and “stragglers” to describe those who contracted the illness and became zombies. The skels are robust and harm as soon as they see you, whereas stragglers don’t pose any instantaneous dangers.  Mark Spitz, the main character of Zone One, works as a “sweeper”, and the duty of the sweepers is to kill skels and stragglers. As skels and stragglers are deemed a danger to civilization, sweepers commit an act of violence and kill them in an effort to save their society that they care for from these dangerous creatures. This is an illustration of violence existing in the act of care that I learned from the course. This example from “Zone One” connects to Ward’s assertion of violence existing as an act of care in regard to the armed group roaming the streets of their area, seeking for and firing at potential threats following Katrina. Moreover, Ward’s states, “one would be hard-pressed to suggest that the thought of protecting one’s community against threats is a bad thing”. Both of these examples demonstrate violence existing as care as an effort to protect communities against harm.

“Zone One”  by Colson Whitehead demonstrated another example that I learned from the course of violence existing as care in regard to “kill fields”. Whitehead stated, “word first arrived with the new survivors stumbling through the camp gates with their extravagant tales of meadows and mall parking lots brimming with the fallen dead” (pg 135). As explained in the quote, kill fields are full of dead individuals who died in meadows and mall parking lots. Whitehead stated, “the plague had finally, inevitably exhausted what the human body could endure…There was a limit to the depredations, and that meant a limit the devastation” (pg 136). The survivors gained comfort from the dead bodies in the kill fields that the epidemic was dying down. This is a representation of how survivors saw the violence of the plague, which caused people in the kill fields to die, as an act of caring for a hopeful end to their devastation. This example further connects to Ward’s claim that  violence can exist as care. 

In class we watched When the Levees Broke, a documentary by Spike Lee, which showed the heartbreaking devastation that Hurricane Katrina inflicted in New Orleans, Louisiana. The documentary showed that a large number individuals were looking for shelter from Hurricane Katrina, and were told to go to the New Orleans Morial Convention Center.  However, the center was exceedingly over populated, and the shortage of food, water, and medicine caused even more misery. Hurricane victims were led to believe they would receive care at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center, but they instead encountered a lack of food, water, and medicine as well as an overcrowded atmosphere which demonstrates violence in an act of furthering their misery. Therefore, this is a further example from this course where I learned that violence exists as care. Continuing, Ward demonstrates an example of violence existing as care in regard to Hurricane Katrina as well from the film “Welcome to New Orleans”. My example connects to Ward’s example of Malik Rahim who created a health clinic and provided medical care controlled by non-medical personnel who ended up committing acts of violence against those whom they intended to assist. Ward stated “in a very bittersweet way, the clinic was doing an injustice and therefore, in attempting to provide care to people who needed it they were also performing a violence against them”. Both examples demonstrate an attempt to give care to Hurricane Katrina victims which resulted in violence.

“Zone One”  by Colson Whitehead portrayed another illustration of violence existing as care in regard to the love interest between the two characters, Mark and Mim. Whitehead stated, “it was the healthiest relationship he’d ever had, and not because they had a lot in common, such as a need for food, water, and fire”. This demonstrates trauma leading to a strong bond as Mark experienced the healthiest relationship of his life during a zombie pandemic. Moreover, Whitehead stated, “in the time before the flood, Mark Spitz had a habit of making his girlfriends into things that were less than human”.  Therefore, I interpreted that a violent plague caused Mark to appreciate the significance of relationships and to have a newfound appreciation and care for other people. This book demonstrates a violent setting of an apocalypse leading Mark to care immensely for Mim and develop a very strong bond with her.

It was challenging to think through the tension created both Hartman and Ward’s assertions. However, I ultimately strengthened through thinkING  through both of these statements, as well as by thinking through class content that taught me that violence can exist as care. Before writing this essay I thought to myself, is there a right assertion to chose? What if I chose the wrong claim? I realized that there was no “wrong claim” and that this essay was an opportunity for me to look back and think about what we did this semester, and what meaning I could make of what we did.  The meaning I have taken away from the course’s central issues and questions as well as the material I provided in this essay led me to conclude that violence can exist as care,

The Tip of the Typhoon: Telling the Story of Typhoon Tip in the Digital Age

Written By: Maris Breaton, Amber Ellis, Grace Lorenz, Hailey Bernet, Sydney Close, Tyara Oliver, Billy Noel

Typhoon Tip, also dubbed Typhoon Warling by Filipino meteorologists, began in the South Pacific, originating from a low-pressure monsoon trough on October 4th, 1979.  The monsoon trough is located in the West Pacific Ocean, between the Philippines and the Marshall Islands stretching through the Caroline Islands. Tip was originally rendered small by Tropical Storm Roger, sucking up the strong flow of waters close to the equator. Tip was to the southeast of Roger, near the Pohnpei state of Micronesia. Even with these initially unfavorable conditions and a relatively slow development, Tip could not be stopped from forming. The typhoon originated as a tropical depression that steadily morphed into a Tropical Storm before eventually being classified as a typhoon on October 9th. The conditions of Typhoon Tip quickly escalated and by October 11th, Tip was classified as a super typhoon.  With winds and rain spanning almost half as large in diameter as the continental United States, Super Typhoon Tip set a world record for the largest tropical cyclone (Science and Society). Tip continued to get stronger over the Western Pacific and reached peak intensity on October 12th. The central pressure of the typhoon at this point was among the lowest pressures associated with tropical cyclones. Tip’s circulation patterns were some of the largest on record with 1,380 miles in diameter. After its peak as a super typhoon, Typhoon Tip gradually weakened but continued raging as a typhoon for several days as it carried on moving in a western–northwestern direction. Typhoon Tip continued to weaken and shrink as it curved toward the northeast on October 17th. Two days later on October 19th, Typhoon Tip came into contact with the Japanese island of Honshu where it quickly started to decline, then becoming extratropical over northern Honshu in just a few hours. The last observation of Tip was near the Aleutian islands of Alaska around October 22nd, 1979. 

Throughout October of 1979, Tip’s storms and winds impacted several nations, taking the lives of nearly a hundred people, leaving thousands homeless, and causing several millions of dollars in damage. Before eventually making landfall, Tip passed over the Philippines, where several ships were grounded or sunk and their crews were no doubt traumatized by these encounters at sea. Initially passing over Guam on October 9th and still identified as a tropical storm, Tip poured down heavy rainfall, causing over $1.6 million in damages and showing no signs of slowing down. Growing in force, Tip continued churning and rained down on the Philippines on October 13th. Between October 13th and 19th, Tip trailed northwestward up “Typhoon alley” and caused massive damage to the fishing industries of Okinawa and other islands of the East China Sea. The flooding, rains, and storm surge cost over 22,000 homes in Japan alone. More than 600 triggered landslides there likewise played a part in the overall damage wrought. It marked the most devastating storm to Japan in a period of 13 years. 

The typhoon’s damages in Japan are the most documented, particularly those caused at the US Marine Base on Honshu, Camp Fuji. Fuel was released from fuel farm stores due to high-level winds disconnecting fuel attachment hoses and the rains eroding a retaining wall, spilling 5000 gallons of fuel–massive fires began near American military housing after the heaters ignited the spilled fuel.  Over 600 mudslides and 22000 flooded homes in Japan left 11,000 people homeless. In a camp of American Marines at Mount Fuji, 13 marines were killed. The total cost of Japanese loss was not officially tracked, but several million dollars of damage are estimated. The Philippines were also impacted by the typhoon however not as severely as Japan was. The typhoon caused heavy rainfall in the Philippines because of the rainbands it created. Guam also received heavy rainfall as a result of Typhoon Tip. China was also impacted when a Chinese freighter with a crew of 46 was split and sunk, luckily all 46 members of the crew were rescued. Other places such as Alaska, the Korean Peninsula, and Russia were impacted by Typhoon Tip but little to no information can be found on these impacts. The invisibility of economic hard numbers crystallizes the erasure of pacific impact and the inaccessibility to reliable statistics about the Pacific region in American-centric media. The name wasn’t retired because it was not deemed to have catastrophic enough consequences– we question how that could be said about consequences which are not reliably or consistently tracked. Amanda Delaney, a meteorologist who reflected on Typhoon Tip when writing about Super Typhoon Haiyan writes: “typically hurricane reconnaissance planes do not investigate typhoons in the Western Pacific however, with this system [Typhoon Tip] being close to the U.S. Air Force bases in Guam and Japan, investigating was permitted at the time” (Delaney). Evidently, Tip demonstrated that US hurricane reconnaissance was, to at least some degree, dependent on American lives.

Though no immediate art from the wake of the Typhoon was able to be observed, there seems to be an emergence of creative expression based on Typhoon Tip in the 2010s and 20s. The art that has emerged takes the story of Tip and uses it in different ways. In some retellings, the artist takes Tip’s story and uses their own creative liberty to change some of the details to suit the character that is supposed to embody the Typhoon, hence making Tip’s story their own. In a way this art is turning Tip into a surrogate, a substitute. Tip is being used as a vessel to tell and deliver the story they want to. Seeing people who take a disaster and make it their own can sometimes make you ask yourself whether it is morally acceptable and right. If you did not experience it, if it did not impact you, is it okay to claim something that negatively impacted many people as your own? One of the artists we found named HurakaYoshi took to humanizing the storm and making it a character of their own. Something interesting that we saw was that the person who made the art seemed to know it could be seen as offensive since they left this disclaimer in their description, “My characters are based on real life tropical cyclones. This is not meant to offend or disrespect people who were affected by these storms.” Whether one should or shouldn’t take offense to this form of expression, is an inner debate that might not have a definitive answer and will be perceived differently by each individual who comes across it. These creative expressions of Tip also seem to work to turn the typhoon into an effigy, Tip is being used as the model for these expressions. In “Echoes of the Bone”, the effigy is described as a skill that allows for performance to produce memory through surrogation (Joseph Roach). This description aligns with the art created from Typhoon Tip because creating this art is a performance that helps keep the memory of Tip alive and people are using Tip as a surrogate for what they want to express. 

Not all art based on this storm invoices this kind of moral debate, however. There are some other artists who retell Tip’s story word for word in video form in order to inform more people about the course the Typhoon took and the destruction it caused in its wake. There wasn’t only artforms that expressed the story of Tip, but instead on that was dedicated to the remembrance of certain individuals. The Marine camp at Mount Fuji, where 13 Americans lost their lives due to fires from the storm, produced a stone memorial and yearly tradition to commemorate the American lives lost during Tip. This memorial is observed annually on the anniversary of the Typhoon making landfall in Japan and serves to emphasize the impact of Warling (Filipino name given to Tip) on American lives while simultaneously undercutting the fact that these marines were on foreign soil, populating someone else’s land– who also experienced loss. Instead, this hyper-American response immortalizes Americans on someone else’s shores, explicating the ever-American desire to somehow claim land. The memorials set up for the marines that lost their lives while completely ignoring the Japanese people living there that also lost their lives and loved ones is an example of the way many Americans view their lives as more valuable than the lives of people living in foreign countries.

1st Marine Division > Units > 5TH MARINE REGT > 2nd Battalion 4th ...

In considering Typhoon Tip/Warling, it is important to remember that though this is referred to as “the most closely documented storm”, that is referring to the physical storm itself rather than its human impact. What was deemed worthy of monitoring was the storm and its course, which reveals our human preoccupation with a desire to possess or dominate nature through knowledge over care for other human beings. There is not a consistent human death or economic damage toll– many of the sources which we referred to would either give varying numbers of victims and some affected areas did not have an economic impact at all.  Had a storm of this capacity hit the United States or one of its territories, there would have been an extreme amount of care taken in precise and consistent numbers reported– be that for vanity or performance of care, we could not say. The memorial erected in Japan to honor the loss of those American lives  crystallizes the American-centric view on not just this storm, but global meteorological events. Inability to track down even a consistent death toll or economic damage total for every island hit seems to hone in on a sincere lack of interest by other countries in either rebuilding or merely genuinely understanding the human impact of the storm. We had some difficulty in tracking down art made as a response to this disaster, which serves to incorporate the course concepts of “forgetting” and “performance”. Surely this Typhoon was not forgotten, but there was a lack of care in preserving artistic responses to the storm, which in turn, serve the purpose of forgetting. In the digital era, there is much easier access to photographs, songs, and other art made by professionals and amateurs alike. In 1979, the digitization age had not yet had its advent and it seems that much from that time relating to this storm was never digitized. Without those archives, it is difficult to explore empathy with the people who survived Tip, and we have to consider that there is much archival information that we do not have access to.

The Cataclysmic Impact of Typhoon Tembin (Vinta) on the Philippines

Written by: Noe Stephens, Victor Leon-Melendez, Elizabeth Gambino, Katlin McNeil, Audrey Smeaton, and Aidan Lewis

When it comes to this course there is an understanding that tropical storms affect more than just the geographic landscape within the area it affects, but also the individuals living in those surrounding areas. Once a tropical storm hits, the storm rips through the area showing the cracks that are already formed within the foundation, exposing the institutional gaps and breaks that affect the people more when a tragedy happens. As we have learned through the major effects of Hurricane Katrina on the people there becomes an understanding that there is always more to a story than what is initially thought of. No matter what impact the journals, articles, and images taken of the storm have, there is a bigger impact on those affected that has yet to be seen. People in different regions of the world are exposed to different understandings of what a tropical storm does and means to them, starting at the very beginning of how to name a tropical storm. 

In the article What is the difference between a hurricane and a typhoon?, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states, “Typhoons and hurricanes are both forms of tropical cyclones”. Tropical depressions are the weakest tropical cyclones, and if a depression strengthens to the point where its strongest sustained winds hit 39 miles per hour, it develops into a tropical storm. When a tropical cyclone hits a sustained wind speed of 74 miles per hour or above it is categorized as a hurricane, typhoon, or tropical cyclone, depending on its origin. In the case of Typhoon Tembin, the peak wind speeds were recorded at a peak of 80 miles per hour. Despite the intensity of the associated wind, the term “tropical cyclone” is used throughout the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. The name “hurricane”, however, is used in the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific, whereas the term “typhoon” is used in the Northwest Pacific for the same kind of storm. Therefore, the sole distinction between a hurricane and a typhoon is the location of the storm.

Typhoon Tembin, also known as Typhoon Vinta in the Philippines, was a tropical storm that affected the Philippines and surrounding areas in 2017. Typhoon Tembin began on December 20th and ended on December 26th, as it reached a maximum of a low-end category 2 Typhoon with the winds reaching 80 miles per hour. The storm hit landfall on December 22nd, but the warning of the storm was announced on December 16th as it was designated as a weak tropical depression which formed into a tropical storm on December 20th moving in the direction of the South China Sea. Typhoon Tembin first made landfall by hitting the island of Mindanao, and then hitting the islands of Balabac and Palawan on December 23rd within the Philippines. Typhoon Tembin quickly weakened once it hit landfall as there were exacerbated circumstances nearby with the winter monsoon happening. Typhoon Tembin eventually emitted on December 26th, taking 266 lives in total.

Affected places are listed as Philippines which is a connection of islands, Vietnam which is the southernmost Asian country, the Malay Peninsula, and Palau which is a small island west of the Philippines. First making landfall in the island of Mindanao in the Philippines and moving West towards the island of Palawan. The regions that were affected the most were the highlands and mountains across northern Mindanao and southern Palawan. Flash flooding and heavy rainfall caused the rivers to reach past their banks and spill into the roadways and small towns found within the collection of islands. Finding this information was difficult based on regions rather than the usage of the overall idea of the Philippines as a whole being hit by the Typhoon. The storm is mostly reported as affecting the country itself, however it only really touched the Southernmost island Mindanao and the western most island Palawan. 

Pink: Mindanao

Blue: Palawan

Although the archipelago is a large collection of islands, it is important to note the islands that were most affected in order to provide necessary context as well as provide proper representation to the affected areas for humanitarian efforts. As far as western representation of this disaster goes, it tends to homogenize the region despite many of its places having a very diverse identity, despite being grouped as the “The Philippines”. Because the Philippines is a collection of islands, each island holds a very unique sense of identity that coincides with their Filipino identity. So the lack of proper representation of the affected areas not only inhibits care and humanitarian efforts, but also perpetuates the idea that all Filipino people and cultures are the same and misrepresents entire communities. Saying that Typhoon Tembin affected the Philippines is similar to saying Hurricane Katrina affected the United States. Despite the statements being true, they inaccurately represent those who were most affected. 

Typhoon Tembin had catastrophic effects on Mindanao and Palawan. Part of what made this Typhoon so catastrophic was that it occurred right after the occurrence of another storm: Tropical Storm Kai-Tak. According to the Republic of Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, 42 million dollars USD worth of damage was caused by the storm in total. As Dakin Andone and Chieu Luu relay in their article Typhoon Tembin: Flash floods, landslides kill over 100, the category 2 storm was responsible for the casualties of more than 200 people and the displacement of 70,000 individuals from their homes. Of the provinces affected by the storm, the Mindanao province of Lanao del Norte was affected the most by the storm. Several cities were placed in states of calamity. Jay Zabanal and Diana Lat highlight in their article Palawan under state of calamity in ‘Vinta’ aftermath how the city of Barangay Mangsee had 80 percent of its infrastructure damaged by the storm with 200 homes being destroyed. The storm likely affected this region in other ways that are not as obvious as well. The storm took place right before Christmas and most likely resulted in a decrease in tourism that may have helped these countries to recuperate their losses in the wake of the storm. 

One could look at the destruction of Typhoon Tembin as insignificant in the grand scheme of storms. As mentioned in the article Tropical Storm Tembin Death Toll Reaches 200 in Philippines, the deadliest storm to affect the region was Typhoon Haiyan which killed nearly 8,000 people which is much greater than the more than 200 killed by Tembin. However, the destruction caused by a storm is never insignificant to those who experience them. For those reading at home, the destruction of Typhoon Tembin is simply a couple of numbers. For those who experienced the storm, it was a life changing event. 

Although we have many statistics on the event, the true extent of the impact of the typhoon has been muddled by a couple of factors. For example, although we have a statistic on the number of casualties of the event, we can never truly know how these casualties affected the people around them. Many lost family members, friends, and children; although we know $42 million dollars worth of damage was caused by the typhoon, we do not know the long term effects of this destruction on the people who were affected by the storm. The effects of the storm were not simply just statistics; yet, it is impossible to fully comprehend the interpersonal struggles of everyone who was affected by the storm. Thus, we cannot truly ever quantify the extent of the typhoon’s impact. 

Another factor that unfortunately muddles our understanding of the impact of the storm is negligence. Typhoon Tembin is a prime example of how human negligence can exacerbate the problems that are caused by storms. One such example is the events surrounding the sinking of a ferry off the coast of the province Quezon in the Philippines. As Agence France-Presse mentions in their article Search for ferry accident survivors continues, 5 dead, a 206 ton ferry was tipped over during the storm, leading to the deaths of at least five people. However, this number could be much larger as Filipino ferries have had an extensive history of overloading their passengers far past their designated carrying capacity. When disasters involving these ferries occur, these problems can become quickly exacerbated. Ferry officials stated that only 251 passengers were on the 286-capacity ferry; however, at the time of France-Presse’s article, 252 passengers had been rescued from the disaster, meaning that there were likely many more people on the ferry then initially stated. As mentioned earlier, overbearing ships with passengers is a common practice in the Philippines. Because of this, the Philippines has had a history of tragic maritime disasters, especially in months leading up to Christmas, such as in the case of Typhoon Tembin, as during the holiday season, higher levels of tourism provide a higher demand for ferries, leading to likely even more overcrowding on ships. One such example described by France-Presse is a collision that occurred in 1987 between the ferry MV Dona Paz with an oil tanker leading to the deaths of over 4,000 individuals. This, like Typhoon Tembin, occurred during the holiday season, leading to the exacerbation of the problem and more individuals being affected.  We are unable to fully grasp the gravity and effect of the tipping of the ferry as the negligence of others has caused many of the stories of others to become completely lost over time. Many will not know the fates of their loved ones as a result of this negligence. 

Art is an expression of creativity that comes in many different forms, taking place in images, written script, and both monumental figures and statues. Art is particularly difficult to define because what some may view as art, others may find less than extraordinary. In our research of Typhoon Tembin, we found little to no evidence whatsoever of physical structures or memorials that honored the victims of this storm. We found ourselves questioning the reasoning behind why no memorial was ever built for those that either survived the storm or died during the storm such as those built in the aftermath of Katrina for example. Our minds wandered into thoughts of if these areas lack the resources to create such memorials in the first place, or if monuments are not as culturally appropriate in this region as they are in the United States. 

The following pictures show the effects of Typhoon Tembin through each stage of the tropical storm: before, during, and after. Each stage highlighted the tragedy and reality of what a low-grade category 2 typhoon does to the people and an area once it hits landfall.


The image shown above is a satellite image taken by NASA of Typhoon Tembin before it reached a category 2 storm. Those who were affected by the storm may view this as a time before their lives changed, and may believe that this image holds more value than others that weren’t affected. Depending on the viewer’s perspective, images like this can sway in different ways and be either insulting, or life affirming. One way that this can be insulting is that it can be purchased as a framed image disrespecting the people who were affected by the storm if they themselves purchase it if they weren’t personally affected by the storm. This picture can be purchased on Fine Art America for only $59.99 compared to the catastrophic damage of a whopping $42 million in damage. This is both insulting to the victims and survivors as they themselves don’t get the proceeds from the picture being sold online as they are the ones dealing with the tragedy of the typhoon. Previously in this class we were shown a children’s bouncy house called the Tot-tanic. One way that this can be affirming to those affected by the storm is giving people the ability to look back at the storm that they themselves survived. They could regain a sense of pride within themselves for surviving a typhoon


During catastrophic events, photographers often capture images that hold value not only to those affected, but to those that view them as well. The image shown above, we believe, is a great example of this. It does a great job at portraying what these families had to go through to get to safety. As we mentioned earlier, flooding caused the destruction of many of the homes of these victims. In the background of this photo you can see a dog actively trying to swim to safety, and the people in front of them trying to save themselves as well. Although it is hard not to turn around and save their animals, these were the difficult decisions that people were forced to make: whether or not they were to save themselves or their loved ones. This creates a feeling of survivors’ guilt after the fact, which relates to the course concept of not only death but survival that we talked about earlier in the course.    


This image does a great job at demonstrating the physical destruction that Tembin was at fault for. Looking closely at the image, you can see people standing against the side of the bridge staring off into the abyss of the disaster. This makes us question, what were they thinking while looking at these damages? These people have suffered greatly from the loss of their homes and other large properties as well. This also goes to show that not all pieces of art have to portray the same message of positivity. The lasting effects of Tembin will be longer than many would want, as it takes months and even years to rebuild a city, community, and family after a great loss. A city might be able to rebuild a bridge in a few months with the proper resources when given, but a family has to deal for the rest of their lives with the trauma of losing their homes, families, and control within the situation. The lasting impact of the typhoon is more personal than geographical to the landscape as it scars the minds and hearts of the people within the storm. 

The process of researching a holistic chronology, magnitude of carnage, as well as individual stories of lives intimately affected, plays an imperative role in understanding and properly relaying the victims of the tragedy’s suffering and sacrifice. Learning about how the typhoon gruesomely coalesced into its staggering, devastating form, for instance, serves to evoke empathy into those who were directly subjected to its catastrophe. Discovering intricate details on how its colossal destructivity developed into a cohesive form helps us to understand the terror residents close to the storm may have been gripped by. Being forced to confront the life-jeopardizing prospects of such a colossal destructive force like Typhoon Vinta only accentuates the feeling of inescapable dread and lack of agency. It also provides a perspective into the diligence and attentiveness of which assistance, or an absence of assistance, were extended to these victims. Performing fastidious research into areas impacted and inundated by the typhoon ensures the strife of every victim is meaningfully recognized. It additionally permits for ample reflection over what precisely a “place” would be in this context. Are certain locations or local establishments and institutions often overlooked or conscripted under a ubiquitous umbrella of victimization as a result of this broad term? Delving into questions such as this was just one of several examples where the information gathering process precipitated ample rich, insightful discussions into the multifaceted significances this storm’s tragedy consequently offered. Enlightening ourselves with and analyzing the diversified breadth of adversity these typhoon victims were bombarded becomes evident as one looks at the comprehensive product. Because of our discovery of personal stories of persistent plight and expenditure of quality of life coming into fruition from this calamitous storm, like the specific tragedy transpiring on the ferry, we are provided a chance to help relieve these victims of conscription by a media branch with a sole agenda of accentuating the tragedy for the sake of spectacle, attention, and profit. We strove to fulfill this relief by scrutinizing given information from sources with a ubiquitous influence over the media we consume, like sites and reports from the U.S, as well as more personal interviews and primary accounts of the devastation. As a result of this project we were afforded ample opportunity to highlight the malleable scope under which tragedies can be observed and interpreted depending on how determined one is to attempt to immerse oneself and fathom a tragedy in a comprehensive, empathetic lens. This also spurred a plethora of discussion regarding how the amorphousness of an art medium allows for victims of these tragedies to exercise their agency and flourishing creativity to seize control over the consequent tumult of emotions and grief they may be experiencing. They’re provided a medium to highlight these tragedies and absorb the holistic discord it has inflicted upon their own personal world at a pace palatable and unique to them. By composing a multifaceted chronological narrative for this project, we work to inspire others to recognize the sprawling severity of these tragedies beyond a commercial spectacle, giving the victims of these tragedies an opportunity to breach out of a potential process of commodification or supernumerary conscription imposed upon them as a result of being pummeled by this storm. Perhaps others will now take their diligence to fervently research tragedies and elevate these victims’, these people’s, suffering beyond a mere statistic.

Cyclones Idai and Kenneth: Strength Through Adversity

by Jordyn Stinar, Kevin Malone, Benjamin Cook, Eleanor Walker, Emily McIntosh, and Leah Beecher

The beginning of our research began with a group discussion regarding the research we have found about several cyclones and typhoons. Interestingly enough, each of the researched storms were all regarded as “the deadliest” for the region it touched. After our discussion, we decided to focus our expenditure of energy on a cyclone known as Cyclone Idai which was the deadliest Cyclone that has hit Africa. The origins of Cyclone Idai began March 3rd, 2019 as a “tropical disturbance” in the Mozambique channel which is located between Mozambique and Madagascar. Storms that are located in this area don’t typically strengthen; however due to the nature of the warm waters, Cyclone Idai did get stronger. At this time the cyclone was regarded as Tropical Depression 11 (meaning it was the 11th tropical depression). A tropical depression according to NASA is “formed when a low pressure area is accompanied by thunderstorms that produce a circular wind flow with maximum sustained winds below 39 mph” (NASA). The difference between a tropical storm and a tropical depression is that a tropical storm occurs when the cyclonic circulation becomes more organized with maximum sustained wind gusts between 39 and 73 mph. As the storm got nearer to the African coast on March 5th, it caused heavy rains in Mozambique and Malawi, which resulted in severe flooding in these areas. Over the next few days this storm maintained its status as Tropical Depression 11 as it made its way over land. However, something interesting occurred in which Tropical Depression 11 “performed a counterclockwise loop near the border of Malawi and Mozambique, before turning eastward and re-emerging into the Mozambique Channel, early on March 9th”(Wikipedia). This fact was something that intrigued us as a group because we weren’t quite sure what this meteorological terminology meant. Upon further research it simply just meant the pathway of the tropical storm changed. Tropical Depression 11 continued through March 11th, and on March 14th, Tropical Depression 11 turned into Tropical Cyclone Idai. This cyclone made landfall near Beira, Mozambique as a Category 2 storm, with winds exceeding 105 mph on March 14th (World Vision).

After many prayers by the affected citizens, the storm dissipated March 21st. Between that time to the 27th, governments and humanitarian aid began their response procedures with life-saving relief supplies to the affected areas which included family-sized tents, blankets, mosquito nets, as well as clean food and water. After a week of rescuers looking for survivors, the Mozambique government decided to call off the search for survivors. Personally intrigued as to why the government decided to call off the search for survivors, I researched information but couldn’t find too much information regarding the situation. It’s baffling to our group that this call was made so soon as more time could’ve been spent helping the affected citizens. As a group we considered what the implications could possibly be in the staggering difference of numbers of confirmed people killed from Cyclone Idai: 1,593 versus the number missing, i.e. presumed dead: 2,262. In our initial investigation of cyclones and typhoons the number of confirmed deaths usually exceeds the number of those missing. However, in this natural disaster the opposite was true. Roughly, forty percent more people were confirmed missing, than confirmed dead. A quick overview of the social structure of Mozambique reveals that within the country’s rural population tribal lines and allegiances are still honored. Every nation has its social structure which is reflected, though not always spoken of, in direct policy. In fact, “Most Mozambicans see themselves primarily as members of their ethnic group, and only marginally as members of the nation” (Study.com). Our group theorized that this lack of national cohesiveness may account for the seemingly premature hault of search and rescue and the high number of missing persons.

Through our research on Cyclone Idai, our group discovered that six weeks later, another devastating cyclone known as Cyclone Kenneth had hit the same region. This would be the first time in history that two strong tropical storms have hit the same region. Cyclone Kenneth originated “north of Madagascar and the Mozambique Channel. Fed by warm ocean temperatures, it strengthened from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm in the 24 hours ahead of making landfall [on Pemba, Mozambique] April 25” (World Vision). This double event of storms affected many areas including but not limited to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. 

The Republic of Mozambique is located in southeastern Africa with a coast on the Indian ocean. Mozambique is home to around 32 million people who are predominantly Bantu.The Bantu people are not a homogeneous group but rather refers to a language group. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “approximately 85 million speakers of the more than 500 distinct languages”, and Mozambique is just one country of many that the Bantus call home. Although Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975, there is still a strong trading relationship between the two countries. Mozambique is quite rich in natural resources, especially with its coastline. The country as a whole is still quite underdeveloped with two thirds of the nation living in poverty. Although the majority of people in Mozambique are Christian, the second largest religious following are traditional African faiths. 

The cyclone’s impact on the people of Mozambique started when a meteorological office in the area issued a weather alert beginning three days before the storm. The alert warned people in high risk areas to evacuate. According to an article written by Internet Geography, many people in rural areas that were suggested to evacuate either did not listen to the warnings or didn’t receive them in the first place (sec. 3). Flooding and heavy rain hit the country hard. According to Internet Geography, 90% of the coastal city Beira was destroyed, along with a year’s worth of crops. Thousands of people were left without necessary resources such as clean water, food, plumbing, and shelter. Outbreaks of cholera were sweeping through those affected by the storm. There were more than 4,000 confirmed cases and seven fatalities by April 10th. Women and girls can encounter a different kind of post-clones suffering. Mothers had to travel to find work, leaving young children to take on a more parental role and leading them to drop out of school. “Mozambique is a source, transit, and, to a lesser extent, destination country for men, women and children who are trafficked into forced labor and sexual slavery”, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Persons report. “Children are often forced to work in sectors such as farming and mining. Women and girls are often lured to cities in Mozambique or South Africa with promises of employment, only to be sold into domestic or sexual servitude. Furthermore,  “post-disaster trafficking has become common in developing nations as an increase in extreme events caused by global warming leaves the already poor even more vulnerable. Mozambique is already among the top 10 countries in the world with the highest rates of child marriage – around 48 percent of girls are married before 18,” said Anne Hoff, Plan International’s Country Director in Mozambique. “We do know that when there is a drought and there is a lack of food, we tend to see an increase in early marriages. There is a high risk it could happen as the crops have been destroyed and it will be very difficult for people to recover.” “Children in Mozambique are among the most deprived children in the world. According to the 2017 census children constitute more than half of the 28 million population. It is estimated that 6.1 million households are headed by children (12-14 years). There are about 2 million orphans and vulnerable children. Only 47% of students complete primary school. This figure is higher for girls due to school based sexual harassment and abuse, early pregnancy, high rates of early marriage, and the lack of gender sensitive sanitation facilities at schools” concludes Hoff. 

            In short, when there is  a combined high rate of both poverty and a high population of children, natural disasters only exacerbate the victimizing of children. Recalling the work, Echo in the Bones by Joseph Roach, he drew this conclusion, “because it appears to make available a human super abundance for mutual assimilation and at this promising yet dangerous juncture catastrophe may re emerge from memory in the shape of a wish”. The cynical observer could conclude that an excess of poor, rural, orphaned children in a country with dire economic problems, is a human traffickers dream come true. And these children will not find many advocates. 

The Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked nation located in southeastern Africa bordering Mozambique. Zimbabwe was previously known as Rhodesia, an unrecognized successor of British rule, which maintained a government that was predominantly white. After a 15 year civil war, the republic was recognized as independent. Unfortunately Zimbabwe is fraught with political instability even into the present day. Zimbabwe also suffers economically, with hyperinflation being an everyday reality for the majority of Zimbabweans. According to Macrotrends, “Zimbabwe poverty rate for 2019 was 85.00%” , highlights how unprepared both the government and people of Zimbabwe were for both cyclones. 

Oxfam, an independent charitable organization, lists responses and good practices for hundreds of Zimbabwe locals who were affected by the storm. The organization informed people that “Locals and outsiders worked closely together to respond to the catastrophe. Their responses covered a wide range of activities, including: counseling and psychological support, casework and child protection support, orphan care, and family tracing; food and non-food item distribution…; dedicated investment of long working hours in the field and in meetings by local civil servants; educational assistance to children, including establishing safe spaces; health, HIV and AIDS, and water, sanitation and hygiene responses.” The organization also observed a general empathy from the public towards survivors of the cyclone including proactive distribution of medicine to help cholera and measles outbreaks. 

The Republic of Malawi is another landlocked country within southeastern Africa. Malawi was previously a British colony, gaining independence in 1966. The Bantu people also call Malawi home as well other ethnic groups such as the Chewa, Tumbuka, Lomwe, and the Yao. Most Malawians are Christian with over ⅘ of the nation being a part of the faith. According to The World Bank, the majority of Malawi’s economy is agrarian, “which employs over 80% of the population”, unfortunately agriculture is at risk to extreme climates such as in the case of Cyclone Idai and Kenneth. According to information from concern.net, Malawi was experiencing a year of drought before Cyclone Idai hit the area. Similar to Mozambique and Zimbabwe, Malawi was heavily affected by flooding following Idai and Kenneth, hurting almost 1 million people (Humanitarian Coalition) About 94% of households in Nsanje and approximately 70% of households in Mangochi, a main city and a township in Malawi respectively, were affected (concern.net). Widespread flooding washed out bridges, roads, and homes, rising waters destroyed dams, second landfall took 2 hydroelectric power plants offline, left 125,382 people homeless, 577 injured, 60 dead. The storms also took a toll on sanitation facilities. With the spread of disease being such a large issue, and causing more deaths even with the cyclones passing, it became the main goal for humanitarian organizations to fix. The UNICEF website says that its clinics have provided healthcare to over 30,000 people.

One year later Cyclone Idai and the following Cyclone Kenneth are continuing to shape people’s lives. As of March 2020, over 100,000 people are still living in shelters and 16.7 million people across the region are faced with food insecurity. Just a few months after Idai and Kenneth first hit Mozambique in March and April 2019, resettlement sites were overwhelmed by more heavy rain and flooding, destroying 3,676 shelters. Idai’s environmental impact on farmland including flooding is making replanting crops more difficult still. 

With all of this devastation, people need a way to express what they have been through. Artistic expressions coming in the wake of tragic events is not a strange or new occurrence. Often traumatic events can be the catalyst for some of the most beautiful and thought-provoking art pieces. Art is not just something created by high level artisans, art can be seen as any form of creative expression, by anyone of any skill level. The artistic pieces that came in the wake of cyclonic storm Idai are no exception, we found extremely moving pieces created by both untrained artists and professionals. In fact, we found that one of the most moving art pieces was created by a child.

At first glance one might disregard the piece as just being a crude child’s drawing, but when you look further into the piece it really becomes an insightful look at the way children viewed the storm. First of all, the drawing is entirely black, white, blue, and red. These colors do a great job illustrating how little color there seems to be. The whole setting looks extremely dreary, it shows the awful conditions his home was reduced to, his house looking to be half blue and half torn down black and gray. Then on top of the dreary background, the use of red creates a striking contrast that shows how brutal the storm was. The red is used to show the blood on a decapitated woman. This depiction of the decapitation and of his destroyed home bring forward the idea of effigy. This drawing is a sort of model depicting reality that might have some cathartic effect for the artist. It is a horrific and brutal depiction of the storm’s aftermath and is only more moving because of the artist being a child. This piece is helpful in showing the way that storms in Mozambique affect the local population. Mozambique is no stranger to cyclones and powerful storms, and this art piece helps show the way that the storms affect the people from a very young age. The storms come so frequently and hit so hard that the people’s lives and personalities are shaped from them. Another point that illustrates this comes from a painting depicting a satellite view of Cyclone Idai.

Part of what makes this piece a perfect example of how the storms affect people’s culture is through a quote from the artist, Richard McDowell “The visual appeal of radar imagery illustrates the beauty in destruction.” The idea of finding beauty in destruction is a mindset that some people must have to develop when a storm hits. Much of the art that has come in the wake of Idai other than drawings and paintings is poetry. Near the beginning of Cyclone Idai-The Poem, by Masimba Mukichi, it says “Yes we’re grieving, yes we’re hurting.” Then by the end of the poem it goes on to say ”Woohoo you’ll never defeat us, the human race, the cream of the crop. What kill us make us stronger, we’ll strike back with a vengeance.” This is a very powerful change. Clearly the poem is acknowledging the severity of the sadness and destruction that Idai brought, however it ends with hope. Mukichi is spreading a message of hope, that there is no way to give up, that the storm will never fully destroy them and they will rebuild. This message invokes the concept of the dirge and the second line, popular in New Orleans culture. This concept is found in nearly every poem we found in reference to Cyclone Idai. From Beyond Cyclone Idai by Onesmus “Out of these troubled waters up you shall rise, every tragedy gives birth to blessings in disguise, as dark clouds disappear, a rainbow fills out the skies.” This again has a hopeful message that invokes the dirge and the second line. There is an acknowledgement of the tragedy, but also a hope and celebration of the future, out of the tragedy. The concept dirge and the second line do a great job explaining the resilience of the people of Mozambique and all areas affected by Cyclone Idai. The people there have been subject to numerous cyclonic storms that have destroyed their homes, but yet they persevere. Every time the world tries to knock them down, they get right back up. Cyclone Idai and other cyclonic storms played a huge role in shaping the lives and culture of the people of Mozambique and surrounding areas.

In our research of how to gauge the impact of Cyclone Idai we found an amazingly exhaustive document titled Mozambique Cyclone Idai: Post Disaster Needs Assessment. Here is its introduction:

The post-disaster assessment was conducted under the leadership of the Government, through the Post- Cyclone Idai Cabinet for Reconstruction, and supported by a global partnership that included the World Bank, the United Nations System and the European Union (EU), using the internationally recognized Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) methodology. This assessment counted on the participation of more than one hundred government staff members from all affected regions, who participated in the training program on the use of this methodology. 

This was compiled in May of 2019; quite soon, considering Idai hit the mainland on March 11th, 2019. One the last day of our group collaborating we noted that we were each having a difficult time finding anything substantial information about the state of Mozambique presently. Our discussion noted how once the “headline grabbing” news of Cyclone Idai passed, any casual searching for information on the Mozambique people proved fruitless. The future of these countries are much like Dido’s Lament, “Remember me, but ah forget my fate”, in the sense that the world looked upon southeastern African and showed them support when the cyclones initially hit but now the world has forgotten the people of Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. The world has forgotten how the people of these countries suffered and continue to do so due to the long lasting effects of the cyclones. Through experiencing so many tropical storms, the culture and identity of these people have been shaped in a unique way. Much like how a cyclone follows a path, the support for these countries have also tapered off and has come to its end as well. Their resilience is admirable, they’re constantly rebuilding and fighting against nature and the government in the ways that have hurt them. But regardless of what they face they persevere. The World could learn so much from these countries and the people in them as they have gained so much strength through the adversity faced.

Cyclone Fani: Never Ending Storm

By Meredith Amodie, Audrey Bilello, Emily Fasulo, Natalie Houston, Victoria Loveless, Katherine Lyons, Mia Mascaro

Learning about the culture of India includes not only learning about their government or their cuisine, but their art. Indian art takes the form of numerous different themes and styles. One crucial inspiration for most Indian artists, however, is their religion of Hinduism. These beautiful art works demonstrated people and life around them in beautiful color and detail. Raghurajpur, a village out of the district of Puri, holds approximately 500 Chitrakar artists. These pattachitra painters are highly creative and meticulous, creating unique works which they bring to life with color and precision. Each of the households in this village holds one skilled Chitrakar. Pattachitra is a very traditional style of art, being painted on objects such as scrolls, palm leaves, paper, etc. It is well known for holding intricate details that bring mythological folktales to life. Indian Art started to boost the economy during the decade of the 90’s, artists from various fields started to represent a variety of art styles. New and unheard of genres of art were brought to surface by artist Devajyoti Ray, who introduced “Pseudorealism”. Pseudorealism was a completely original style of art which was entirely developed on Indian soil. This period following the storm led to a rebirth of art in Indian culture and how it impacted the community. When the slate is wiped clean, it is time to start fresh. 

Pattachitra map painting of a Puri Temple by Oshida artist in 1880 (Map Academy)

In terms of a rebirth, they are planned for much more than we typically expect.  Beyond the religious symbolism, the government has a responsibility to play a role in preparing and reacting to the storm. Governments can respond to natural disasters in two ways. They can emphasize disaster relief or try to prevent disasters in the first place (NY Times). Due to the cyclone that hit Odisha in 1999, the government was prepared to the best of their abilities for cyclone Fani. Since 1999, Odisha’s governments, with help from the World Bank and India’s federal government, built an impressive disaster response machinery, including a State Disaster Management Authority. Government agencies developed a system for disseminating timely information, critical for timely evacuations. They have created a large number of cyclone shelters, expanding the number from 21 in 1999 to about 900 shelters in 2019. This abundance of shelters ensured that everyone who could be threatened by a cyclone was within 1.5 miles of a shelter. About 15,000 school buildings have been constructed or retrofitted to serve as temporary shelters (Dolšak and Prakash). The Odisha’s government compared to the United States government was much more prepared when a disaster hit. Hurricane Kartina was a category 5 hurricane that hit the coastal areas of the Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, including the city of New Orleans on August 29th, 2005 (Weather). An hour before the hurricane hit New Orleans, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who administers the system of levees and floodwalls in and around New Orleans, received a report that the levees of the 17th Street Canal, the city’s largest drainage canal, had been breached. However, the levee failures weren’t a complete surprise. For many years before Hurricane Katrina, emergency officials, scientists, and journalists had been worrying about what could happen if a major hurricane were to hit New Orleans (History). This goes to show that the aftermath of Hurricane Kartina didn’t have to be so devastating if the United States government took accountability and listened to the emergency officials, scientists, and journalists and checked the levees prior to a major storm hitting. The Odisha’s government and the United States government played different roles during their individual disasters.

The formation of Cyclone Fani began on April 26th, 2019, in the Indian Ocean, where it was originally labeled as a tropical storm; this storm was due to extreme global warming, as well as depressions that developed in the Bay of Bengal. The storm made landfall early Friday, May 3rd, with winds equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane. Since the Odisha cyclone hit in 1999, India has implemented updated and secure protocols for disaster relief. These protocols helped aid them in evacuating and protecting people during Cyclone Fani. Due to India’s effective meteorological department, they were able to accurately depict when Cyclon Fani was going to hit and at what magnitude. This department allowed the government to be aware of the severity of the storm as soon as possible. “Roughly 2.6 million text messages were sent to locals in clear language before cyclone Fani hit, keeping those potentially affected alert. Regular press briefings were made by officials to update people of the approaching cyclone. People were repeatedly advised over all forms of media not to panic and given clear do and don’ts” (Quartz). Clear communication was key to India’s record-breaking evacuation, 1.2 million people were evacuated in just two days. In addition, these people were not just evacuated and left to fend for themselves, seven thousand kitchens and nine thousand shelters were made available overnight for survivors. Although Cyclone Fani was proving to be very powerful, the control the UNDRR (the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) had over the disaster relief was able to minimize the damages and casualties of the storm. 

Odisha was the most severely impacted region of India when the Fani Cyclone made landfall there. The storm caused significant damage and fatalities in Bangladesh before moving to other states of India. (Dhyani). The storm caused deaths, the devastation of houses, and the flooding of towns and villages as it unleashed rainfall and winds with gusts of up to 130 mph (Cyclone Fani damage, loss, and needs assessment).  Conditions became more favorable for Fani on April 30th. Once the Fani Cyclone made landfall, strong aftereffects were noted in several Indian states. Odisha was the state most severely damaged, with a total estimated cost of 120 billion rupees (about $460 million USD). Homes, governmental structures, religious sites, and educational facilities have all been destroyed by this enormous hurricane. In India there were 508,467 homes affected. 189,095 kutcha (temporary houses) were damaged in Puri. Over 13,000 dwellings in Bangladesh were demolished or damaged. Major effects on the farming, fishing, and agricultural industries included destroyed crops, missing or dead animals, lost fishing boats, and lost fishing nets. In India, about 38 million livestock, mostly poultry, were killed. The main coconut industry in India is located along the shore, and trees were uprooted from their roots. (Cyclone Fani). Damage to Puri’s most famous temple, Jagannath Temple, necessitated repairs that cost over 51 million rupees ($630,000 USD). In addition to endangering the animals’ lives, this terrible disaster also seriously damaged the ecosystem. The state of Andhra Pradesh suffered a loss of over 586.2 million rupees ($620,000 USD) despite not experiencing such severity. The government of India, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has provided the Fani-affected states subsidies of more than ten billion rupees ($120 million USD) (Dhyani). 

During cyclone Fani, government authorities in Odisha, along India’s eastern flank, hardly stood still. They warned people of what was coming, they deployed everything they had: 2.6 million text messages, 43,000 volunteers, nearly 1,000 emergency workers, television commercials, coastal sirens, buses, police officers, and public address systems blaring the same message on a loop, in local language, in very clear terms: “A cyclone is coming. Get to the shelters” (NY Times). Odisha evacuated about 1.4 million people to more than 900 of their cyclone shelters, in a timely way. Only about 70 people died which was a fraction of those at risk. Its efforts have drawn international praise (Dolšak and Prakash). India’s coast guard and navy deployed ships and helicopters for relief and rescue operations on Friday. Air force units and the army are also on standby in vulnerable states (CNN). The Odisha’s government took as much control as possible while the cyclone was striking their home. Whereas when Hurricane Kartina hit New Orleans, many people were outraged at the slow rate it took the federal government to meet the needs of the people affected by the storm. 

Multiple sources have suggested that Cyclone Fani is one of the worst cyclones to ever hit throughout history.  Perhaps this assessment comes from the damages that resulted on the land, perhaps it is based on the number of casualties, maybe it is based solely on their understanding of classification and wind speeds. To the typical person, a cyclone that reached the same classification of a Category 4 hurricane would rightfully be ranked as one of the “worst” cyclones to ever hit landfall.  However, we offer an alternative dilemma for folks to consider in terms of a cyclone’s effect.  Looking beyond the title of “third worst cyclone” to exist in our current history we are met with the serious ramifications of a government that properly provided for their citizens to the best of their abilities, but still being unable to protect the land from the continuous rage that the coastal regions will fall victim to.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change and the warming of the water does not tell us that there will be more tropical cyclones, but rather the worry is that the cyclones that occur will now be more intense, so areas that have come accustomed to certain storm warnings and effects, will be met with new challenges for their families, homes, and businesses (Nat India).  This means that before the country and districts are able to begin rebuilding, more cyclones will continue to hit with the same strength, forcing people to reconsider their plan of action and where they are living.  Not to mention, the effects on the climate specifically surrounding India comes from the industrialization of the land from foreign entities.  The coastal affects the country is currently facing comes from a line of capitalists using India for their resources, but then leaving them to fend for themselves in times  of need, such as Cyclone Fani. Similarly, although an unexpected disaster, the people of India were given less than a year to rebuild their lives from the rubble before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After countries continued to put quarantines in place, many Indian citizens found themselves not having  a home to quarantine in.  This resulted in many Indian citizens getting the virus and fighting against the virus while trying to keep others safe. Yet, similarly to when the cyclone hit, once the government was able to begin finding a solution for the people, it was never withheld.  As of October 21st, 2021 India had administered its billionth dose of the Covid vaccine, continuing to strengthen the country (The Enterprise).  From the rise of Covid the country has still been hit with the typical number of cyclones they expect every year, only now with higher winds, more expected damage, as well as the concern of catching a virus while remaining in the shelters the government has in place.  To describe Cyclone Fani as one of the worst cyclones we have seen as a society does not seem fair for a multitude of reasons, however, it could be argued that Cyclone Fani began a chain of damages that would be continuously tested by illness, weather, economics, and whatever else continues to be thrown at India. 

While it is understood that the government played a tremendous role in taking care of the people of India throughout these trying times, there is always an after for each individual person and the country as a whole. With some many different districts affected, it was clear that international support would be required in the aftermath of the storm. This led to the typical suspects making their way to towns and cities that are experiencing loss, devastation, and memories that can not be fixed with one group of paramedics or religious groups coming to aid them with food and shelter. World Vision was one of many responders to come and help with recovery efforts, however, this comes with the cost of Christian missionaries coming to towns and cities whose local religion is different from theirs (World Vision). These missionaries come offering clothes and food, but ultimately stay in order to spread their messages and understandings of God. This allows for the further justification that “God has a plan” and this storm was simply a part of the plan, losing your home, losing your art is a part of this plan. Insult is only added to injury when the further implications are added that COVID struck there and because of the storms damage, as opposed to other countries opening their arms and continuing to support India, they were treated as expendable, simply because they could not protect themselves from the virus as a result of the storm. And more importantly, the world did not stop and wait for India to recover. The world turned, storms formed, and the people tried to move on, build houses, come to terms with deaths, come to terms with a potential plague all while being told by outsiders that this was “God’s plan” for them.  The people of India, especially those of smaller districts and towns still continue to suffer from the effects of Cyclone Fani. 

This Damage, Loss, and Needs Assessment (DLNA) of the Cyclone Fani in Odisha was conducted between 24 May and 4 June 2019 by Government of Odisha in collaboration with the United Nations, World Bank, and ADB (Prevention Web). After cyclone Fani, the Odisha government announced financial assistance for families that were affected and relief packages (Outlook India). Their government’s priority was to assist the people affected and then fix up their state from the aftermath of cyclone Fani. After Hurricane Katrina hit, officials, even including President George W. Bush, seemed unaware of just how bad things were down in New Orleans. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took days to establish operations in New Orleans, and even then did not seem to have a sound plan of action (History). Only a week and a half after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the FEMA Director Michael Brown resigned. And it took two weeks for the president to make his first appearance down in New Orleans (Politico). It was upsetting to see how unprepared the United States government was when Katrina hit considering all the factors that they were well aware of before the hurricane. Some factors include being made aware of the hurricane days in advance, the poor structure of the levees, and more than half the city being below sea level. Although Cyclone Fani and Hurricane Katrina were extremely different events, both governments acted differently before, during, and after. 

“A woman of Raghurajpur village shows her artwork that was damaged in the cyclone in Puri.” (The Hindu)

The storm’s aftermath revealed the defacing of the village of Raghurajpur. The once-established and alluring artistic village that drew in tourism with its priceless Patachitra paintings was left devastated.  One article explaining the aftermath of the storm states, “Raghurajpur, home of Odisha’s famous Pattachitra art, is a village ruined, priceless pieces of art washed away by the cyclone that stormed through the state on May 3. Just four coconut trees standing upright after the storm that was, still strong and unbending, quite like the people of this famed crafts village, despairing but resilient as they come to terms with the destruction Cyclone Fani left in its wake” (NationalHerald).  The tourism in this village supported the artist’s livelihoods; as this was destroyed it could have been easy for them to become disheartened, yet they were accepting of the damage of the storm and tried to remain optimistic. This hope of reestablishing, however, only lasted a brief time before a global pandemic struck. COVID-19 had vast damaging impacts, but the restriction of travel was one that caused further injury to the village of Raghurajpur. The conjunction of Cyclone Fani’s aftermath and COVID-19 caused the historical art pieces to be destroyed and forgotten, and the prestige of the artistic village was left overlooked in the wake. 

Catastrophes are often remembered through art; whether it be through literature, paintings, sculptures, performances, or other expressive works. Cyclone Fani was a sardonic storm as it destroyed art and then led to the creation of more art in the storm’s remembrance. Even though priceless Patachitra paintings and countless cultural artistic pieces were destroyed by the storm and COVID-19 ceased global tourism to the village, the people of Raghurajpur were determined to remember these catastrophes and rebuild their village’s historic reputation. One effort to renovate and remember is through Odisha’s Sand Art Festival. This is an annual festival that draws artists from all over the country to participate in the construction of elaborate sand art.  Through this art form, people of diverse backgrounds have expressed meaningful themes, some of which include remembering Cyclone Fani and its impacts. The remembrance of this tragic storm through art paired with the rise of tourism brought in by the festival has helped the artists of Raghurajpur overcome the damage suffered from the storm and pandemic. 

Sand art created by Sudarsan Pattnaik at Odisha’s 2021 Sand Art Festival (ZeeNews)

There is a sense of irony in using a Sand Art festival to remember the catastrophe of Cyclone Fani. Sand is a volatile medium that can be moved and changed unpredictably; it can easily be washed away and the shape it once held can be forgotten. Odisha’s Sand Art Festival uses sand as the medium of art through which diverse and talented artists create their works, often which portray a theme of remembering Cyclone Fani. It is almost paradoxical that a medium so unstable is used in artwork that remembers the tragic storm that ultimately “washed away” a very well-known artist village. One example of this was demonstrated prior to Cyclone Fani when artist Sudarsan Pattnaik created a sculpture that warned individuals to stay safe and remain calm. This artwork could serve as an effigy for the volatility of sand, as it was created prior to a storm that was about to wash the sand art away. 

Sand Art created by Sudarsan Pattnaik prior to Cyclone Fani in 2019 (TimesNow)

We acknowledge that sometimes, when a tragedy hits close to home, we tend to only care about it since it directly impacts our own lives, our families, our country, etc. Likewise, we realize that other countries provide aid on a worldwide scale, but it’s not always clear whether they do so out of genuine concern or to project a positive image. We may also look at how other nations serve their citizens, such as the contrast between India’s response to Cyclone Fani and the United States’ response to Hurricane Katrina. As a society we have denounced cyclones to being a “lesser” level of storm, but as we continue to deal with the consequences of global warming we are forced to look at, not only how we categorize storms, but how we move past the damages. The news of Cyclone Fani barely hit the American News organizations and those that it had impacted, wrote only one or two paragraphs on wind speeds and death tolls. Storms are more than the place they hit in our ranking system and the amount of people they take away from us. The lack of knowledge on Cyclone Fani, the fact there are still people in India today that are without a home because of the storm matters. The ethnocentrist tells tales of Katrina and its devastation. The horror that resulted from the storm is undeniable, but just because Hurricane Katrina negatively impacted us, does not mean we immediately lose the ability to be empathetic towards other countries when they struggle in the wake and aftermath of storms. Despite the tragedies that many faced as a result of Cyclone Fani and then COVID-19 striking immediately after, their prayers of rebuilding did not go unanswered. The Odisha’s Sand Art Festival was not only used to remember the tragic storm, but was also successful in drawing in tourists from all around the world to participate in the creation of sand art, or to observe the beautiful and meaningful artwork. This helped many of the local artists as tourism supported their income, and furthermore helped return the prestige of the artistic village. 

Cycling Up the Mountain: A Journey to Redemption

By Isabelle Covert, Meghan Havens, Shauna Blochwitz, Genesis Flores, Laryssa Olsen, Emily Loper, Madolley Donzo, Hailey Cullen

On their journey that began in Hell, Dante the Pilgrim, and his guide Virgil, reach the island of Purgatory, “where man’s soul goes to purify itself / and become worthy to ascend to Heaven” as lines 5-6 of Canto I of Purgatorio read. Purgatory is defined by the Seven Sins of Purgation, where sinners must expel their vices that have trapped them there, “where souls who wasted time must pay with time” as Dante describes in Canto XXIII line 84. As Dante encounters the shades on his ascent through Seven Terraces, he himself must purge the defined offense in order to keep along his journey. While Dante seamlessly travels without frequent delays, the shades must rely on their own strength against the sins, as well as the memories which they’ve left among the living whose prayers move them through Purgatory Proper towards Paradise.

Arriving at the Gluttony terrace, Dante encounters a long-deceased friend, Forese Donati, who speaks of his ascension thanks to the prayers of his wife, Nella, from the earthly plane. “‘It was her pious prayers and her laments / that raised me from the slope where souls must wait, / and set me free from all the other rounds”’ (Canto XXIII). With Virgil at his side, Dante is able to fast-track the sins of Purgatory, and expresses his surprise that Forese is one who has spent so little time but has gotten so far. It is well known amongst the shades that they are limited to traveling only when the sun shines upon them, and Dante is instructed by Cato of Utica who says, “‘When you are ready to begin to scale / the mountainside, do not come back this way; / the rising sun will show you where to climb”’ (Canto I). Unlike the souls who are confined by the cycles of day and night, Dante is able to move freely, manipulating the laws of Purgatory. As they leave Cato, he leaves Virgil with one final instruction: to bind a reed around Dante’s waist. The reed will represent Dante’s successful purgation of each sin that he comes across. Upon completion of the first sin, Virgil exclaims, “‘Oh, miracle!’ When he pulled out the reed, / immediately a second humble plant / sprang up from where the first one had been picked” (Canto I). This is a symbol of Dante’s necessary humility going forward, in harsh contrast to the self-confidence he emanated throughout Inferno.

The novel Jazz by Toni Morrison explores the movement of its characters in a journey toward atonement and redemption, both through the characters’ emotional progression and their physical progression through the island of Manhattan and what this means in relation to the island of Purgatory.

The novel Jazz by Toni Morrison explores the movement of its characters in a journey toward atonement and redemption, both through the characters’ emotional progression and their physical progression through the island of Manhattan and what this means in relation to the island of Purgatory. 

The novel establishes very clearly the general area in which Violet and Joe live in: Harlem, more specifically, on Lenox Ave. Despite having a somewhat deceptively positive sounding name, it is a neighborhood that has a “tarnished” reputation. Harlem is in uptown Manhattan, where most, if not all, of the Black and other marginalized groups live. Which in turn means that all the white people live in downtown Manhattan. That being said, it is very interesting to note when looking at a map of Manhattan, the downtown area has far more neighborhoods and distinctions, whereas uptown Manhattan has bigger and fewer neighborhoods. This causes the Black people uptown to travel downtown for work, because that is where it is easier for them to get jobs and make more money, compared to the jobs uptown. As they traveled downtown during the day, the white people traveled uptown at night for entertainment. Essentially, one group travels out of their neighborhood out of necessity, while the other does so for pleasure. 

In the characters’ emotional journey through Jazz, and thus Purgatory, the novel represents this journey in part through the representation of rest. In Purgatorio, the souls cannot move up the mountain during the night, only being able to progress during the day. This is demonstrated by Joe and Violet, as in the beginning of the novel they are both hung up on Dorcas, who can be qualified as representative of their sins: Joe for the affair and the violence that led to her death, and Violet for her envy and attempted violence against the dead girl. This obsession with Dorcas causes both Violet and Joe to frequently lose sleep, alternately getting up “two or three times during the night” to stare at her picture in their living room (Morrison 12). As the novel progresses and Felice, Dorcas’ best friend, helps guide Joe and Violet through their grief and into their atonement, the couple is finally better able to rest: “Because of Joe’s work—Violet’s too—and other things as well, they have stopped night sleeping—exchanging that waste of time for short naps whenever the body insists, and were not surprised by how good they felt” (Morrison 223). This is exemplative of their growth throughout the novel, as Joe and Violet have symbolically moved through their Purgatory as they have each wept and atoned for their past sins. 

Morrison’s use of cycling, in the character’s movements around the city, their arcs, and the narrative structure of the book itself, recapitulates Dante’s cycles in Purgatorio. Progress in Jazz is much more fluid than in Purgatorio, where it seems very static. Morrison’s notions of Justice are based more in humanity than divinity, therefore sin and punishment are more ambiguous and forgiving.

While Morrison’s Jazz and Dante the Poet’s Purgatorio both discuss the journey that sinners take to paradise as they confront their past vices and attempt to make amends for their sins, the physical embodiment that represents purgatory in Jazz follows a different set of rules from that of Purgatory. In Purgatorio, people who have been damned to Hell can’t ever make it out of Hell. They are forced to stay there for the rest of their existence, suffering with no end, while those in Purgatory can reflect and atone for their sins as they make their journey to paradise. In Morrison’s novel however, the characters aren’t banned from entering the City—which seems to represent Purgatory. They have free reign to move there and settle down; to make a life for themselves that differs from where they were before. Though it isn’t explicitly stated that where Violet and Joe lived before moving to Manhattan was a Hell of its own making, readers can infer that it was Hell in comparison to the City. In Virginia, Black people were being run out of communities by white people, they weren’t making as much money and working laborious tasks, and always had to move around for work. However, the City offered so much potential: “The money to be earned for doing light work … got you in a day more money than any of them had earned in one whole harvest …. there were streets where colored people owned all the stores … steel cars sped down the streets … and if you saved up … you could get one and drive as long as there was road” (Morrison 106). Looking at Jazz as the second novel in Morrison’s trilogy following Beloved, which also indicates a movement from Hell to Purgatory, allows readers to take note of parallels amongst the duology. Beloved, which takes place in the South and deals with the horrors of enslavement, can certainly be regarded as Hell, and Morrison’s decision to situate the characters of Jazz  in the North years after enslavement ended suggests a movement away from Hell and through Purgatory. For Violet and Joe, the City offered so much that living in Virginia––living in the South in general––didn’t. So when they finally decided to leave what was considered to be their Hell, they weren’t stopped, unlike Dante and Virgil who were questioned by Cato in Canto I about their “escape from the eternal prison.”

In Jazz, the characters are granted more fluidity throughout Manhattan every day, going from Lenox Ave to other parts of Manhattan. Alice Manfred, Dorcas’s aunt, lives in Harlem, but finds herself traveling down through Manhattan during the day to work in the garment district as a seamstress, and then back up home when the day is done. Joe also travels throughout Manhattan for two reasons: to sell his products, and to find Dorcas. In the various flashbacks that showcase Joe as a cosmetic salesman, he is very put together, kind enough that people let him into their homes, and can sell things without being pushy or overtly rude. However, toward the end of the novel Joe is described as more manic as he searches all over the island of Manhattan for Dorcas. As he makes his way through the City to the party, he is no longer the Joe Trace that readers are introduced to. Unlike these two characters, Violet doesn’t really travel through Manhattan; her work as a beautician does take her from household to household, but she usually does hair around Harlem. If we put their behaviors in terms of Purgatory, Violet is stagnant in the lower levels of Purgatory, where she grapples with the difference between the Violet she used to be, the one she is now, and the one she longs to be. Joe and Alice, on the other hand, move through Purgatory by their own rights but somehow seem to come back to their vices by the end of the day:  the former, his dalliances with Dorcas, and  the latter, her strict, watchful demeanor. By the end of the novel, Alice has moved out of the City—left Purgatory—in search of her own form of paradise in Springfield, while Joe and Violet stay in the City and watch it morph into what they imagine paradise to be. Jazz concludes with Violet and Joe making their way up and down the City from “125th Street and across Seventh Avenue…tak[ing] the train all the way to 42nd Street… [to] idle along 72nd Street,” without having to worry about their sins and content with their lives. This mirrors the end of Purgatorio, where Dante is entering the final kingdom: Paradise, and embarking on the last part of his journey. 

The journey and the cycles of nighttime and rest shift throughout Jazz from the beginning to the end of the narrative. By the end of the novel, Joe and Violet no longer rest at night, which indicates that they no longer are in Purgatory and have moved on, presumably to Paradise. This choice to neglect rest could be seen as an attempt to atone or repent for what happened to Dorcas and what happened between Dorcas and Joe. A lot of the sin happening in Jazz happened under the night sky, when the souls on Mount Purgatory could not work on purging themselves of their sin. In the same way, Joe and Dorcas would meet up “when the sun sinks” (Morrison 59).  Joe, when searching for Dorcas with his pistol in tow, was under the guide of the sun. However, when she had been shot and was dying, it was night. The sin was committed at night, but the consequences would be faced in the light of day. 

The very structure of the novel Jazz reflects the cycling up and down in the city and the day and night cycle, following a cycle of time that goes from the past, to the present, to predicting what will happen, and this cycle repeats several times throughout the novel. The structure also cycles through the characters and each of their stories, histories, and perspectives. Through the course of the novel, we see Violet’s personal and family past, Joe’s past (going back to his maybe-mother, Wild), and Alice and Dorcas’s past. Similarly, in Purgatorio, the narrator cycles back and forth between the present as Dante the Poet, who is retelling his journey as the Pilgrim. There also are sections of insight from several characters, which seem almost suspended in time. In the same way, the book starts by talking about the ‘incident’ between Joe and Dorcas, and what happens or will happen later: “ … and that’s how that scandalizing threesome on Lenox Avenue began. What turned out different was who shot whom” (Morrison 6).  It ends on this same note, a little unsure and a little incorrect, but at the same moment in the narrative as what was referenced in the first chapter. 

Like her recapitulation of Purgatorio through how the characters travel through the city and day and night cycles, Morrison also appears to portray versions of Dante the Poet’s characters with her characters in Jazz, illustrating the cyclical violence that Black women often face. In Canto XXX of Purgatorio, Dante the Pilgrim and his mentor and guide, Virgil, are traveling through Purgatory when they encounter Beatrice, who emerges as part of a grandiose procession on the top of Mount Purgatory. Dante the Pilgrim is struck by powerful emotions, as he loved Beatrice in his boyhood years. When he turns to tell Virgil of the “‘ancient flame,’” however, Virgil is nowhere to be found because he is unable to journey forward out of Purgatory with Dante the Pilgrim towards Paradise. Beatrice thus replaces Virgil as Dante the Pilgrim’s guide. Virgil’s absence engenders tears from Dante the Pilgrim and his sorrows are only augmented by Beatrice, who chastises him for straying to other women after she died. 

Joe, who was unfaithful to Violet by having an affair with Dorcas, is reminiscent of Dante the Pilgrim’s straying from Beatrice. Additionally, Joe is consistently characterized as weeping “‘all day and all night,’” about his murder of Dorcas, which is similar to Dante the Pilgrim’s crying (Morrison 205). Dorcas, because she is murdered by Joe, cannot move forward with her life, like how Virgil is stuck in Purgatory and cannot move forward with Dante the Pilgrim. Felice is akin to Beatrice because she enters into Joe and Violet’s life once Dorcas dies, as Beatrice enters Dante the Pilgrim’s life once Virgil disappears. The book narrator notes that Felice, Joe, and Violet look like the “mirror image” of Dorcas, Joe, and Violet (Morrison 221).

Morrison, however, flips the original narrative presented by Dante the Poet with these three characters, by having Felice rebuke Dorcas instead of Joe. When she visits Violet and Joe, Felice tells the couple that Dorcas ‘“let herself die’” (Morrison 209). After she was shot by Joe, Dorcas refused to be taken to the emergency room or let anyone call the police, according to Felice. Felice emphasizes to Joe that Dorcas was manipulative and cold. Felice’s attempt to seemingly absolve Joe from at least some of his guilt and her anger towards Dorcas is a sharp contrast to Beatrice’s anger and admonishment towards Dante the Pilgrim in Purgatorio. Morrison’s decision to have Felice upbraid Dorcas instead of Joe underscores the victimization that Black women faced and continue to face in America. Dorcas has been killed by her lover and her own best friend is unable to give her sympathy. Dante the Pilgrim is forced to confront his sins thanks to Beatrice, but Joe gets to be consoled by Felice. In addition, the narrator commenting about the Felice springing into Dorcas’s place among  Joe and Violet is evocative of the cycle of the reed springing up in place of a reed that has just been plucked in Canto I of Purgatorio. This further emphasizes the cyclical nature of Black women being victimized and not receiving justice. In this way, the characters’ interactions and cyclical traveling throughout the City reimagines the cycles in Dante the Poet’s Purgatorio, demonstrating the repetitive struggles that Black people, especially Black women, face. 

A necessary part of any recapitulation of Dante’s Purgatorio is leaving behind a companion or guide. There is so much leaving behind in Jazz – Dorcas is left behind when Joe and Violet find their paradise, Alice is left behind by Dorcas as she grows up and starts rebelling against Alice’s teachings, and the narrator of the novel is left behind when we, the readers, finish and put down the novel. This book, in a way, leaves the reader behind in our absolute want for some sort of justice for Dorcas. She is killed in cold blood, and she is blamed and condemned and missed, but she is not avenged; she does not get the justice that we readers feel she deserves. This is all too reminiscent of the treatment of violence against women of color in America and around the world.

Morrison’s depiction of cyclical violence towards Black women and representation of justice in a more fluid way than Dante the Poet represents Purgatorio challenges us as readers and students, helping us to further our progress in our college education and the Geneseo Learning Outcomes for a Baccalaureate Education (GLOBE). We apply the “Critical Thinking” GLOBE outcome by examining the complexities of justice and sin in the real world. When thinking about what sin is and what is necessary to receive justice for a sin committed, we practice critically analyzing important and age-old human ideas. We also work on the “Global Awareness and Engagement” learning outcome by thinking about how Black women are historically marginalized and exposed to violence, which reveals power relations within American society. In tackling these issues and working towards the GLOBE outcomes, we have the opportunity to take what we have learned and use it to strive for a more equitable and just world for all. 

In making the book itself the narrator of this novel, Morrison makes us as readers really think about who has the power in the writing and the reading of a novel. Of course, the author has some power in how their book is read, but truly, it’s the readers who build the realities of what is happening in the narrative. In Jazz, however, there’s another player: the book itself, separate from who composed it or who is reading it. It makes us realize that the physical book has a bigger impact on the story than we as readers usually give it credit for. This mirrors the cyclical violence, silencing, and lack of justice that women of color struggle with and fight against almost universally. In this book’s lack of justice, Jazz makes us critically think about the stories we aren’t seeing and the justice that doesn’t get dispensed. 

“Make Me, Remake Me”: The Mapping of Purgatory and Morrison’s Treatment of Love and Healing

Taylor Bramhall, Frances Sharples, Jenna Brace, Sheridan Morgan, Joe Morgan, Hanah Myers, Olive Niccoli, Kya Primm, Dylan Walawender

Dr. Beth McCoy

ENGL 431: Conversations: Toni Morrison’s Trilogy

1 April 2023

“Make Me, Remake Me”: The Mapping of Purgatory and Morrison’s Treatment of Love and Healing

Dante’s Purgatorio revolves around movement, and unlike the Inferno from which the Pilgrim and Virgil  emerge, or the Paradisio the former aspires to, Mount Purgatorio is not an eternal destination for any soul; instead, it provides those not yet pure enough to enter paradise an opportunity to cleanse themselves of their sins and move steadily, slowly, towards a position in heaven. Geographically, it is the inversion of the Inferno—a series of spiraling terraces, narrowing as they rise, leading souls in need of purgation from Ante-purgatory, where the excommunicated begin their climb to the mountain’s summit where they enter paradise. Here the pilgrim finds seven terraces, each corresponding to a different sin. The sins responsible for depositing a soul at any given level are further grouped under one of three types of failed love: misdirected, deficient, or excessive. The proud, envious, and wrathful are housed in the first three terraces of misdirected love. The fourth terrace is for the slothful and falls under the distinction of deficient love. Excessive love is the final grouping where the avaricious and prodigal populate the fifth terrace, the gluttonous the sixth, and the lustful fill the seventh (Musa).

In Dante’s recounting of his journey through the terraces of Purgatory, the reader is brought along through the many trials, obstacles, and figures that they meet; similarly, the prose of Toni Morrison sweeps us up into the journeys of each character in her novel, Jazz. The journeys of Joe—a man stuck in a loveless marriage who murders his teenage mistress—and his wife Violet are tumultuous and inspire much of the movement within the novel. Morrison projects many of these movements onto Dante’s map of Purgatory, connecting Joe and the other characters to their experiences with Dante’s different categories of failed love. This connection can be seen clearly even in comparing the physical layouts of Purgatory and Manhattan. The significance of Jazz’s geography and layout is not lost on its characters; the narrator states, “All you have to do is heed the design—the way it’s laid out for you, considerate, mindful of where you want to go and what you might need tomorrow” (Morrison 9). In Dante’s Purgatorio, souls moving through Purgatory can move more quickly if they are prayed for by the living—a notion that plays an integral role in the movement and abilities of each character in Jazz.

As Morrison maps not only the setting but physical movement of each character through Manhattan and the various settings where the major plot points of the novel play out, the reader is reminded again and again of the geography of Mount Purgatory, where excessive love is situated at the very top, with deficient and misdirected love following, respectively. This movement is paramount to the novel’s plot and is referenced constantly; Morrison connects Joe and Violet to this movement in their desires and goals as they establish themselves in the city as a young couple and the narrator observes the many tribulations their marriage faces after this move. Morrison tracks Violet’s desires in her relationship with Joe by first establishing that the couple moved to the city to live toward the top of Manhattan, where excessive love is situated: “Up there, in that part of the City—which is the part they came for—the right tune whistled in a doorway or lifting up from the circles and grooves of a record can change the weather. From freezing to hot to cool” (51).

Of course, the entirety of Jazz cannot, and is not, related only to the landscape of excessive love. Violet, who possesses misdirected love for Joe but receives deficient love in response, finds that she “can’t find a place where [she] can just sit down,” mirroring Dante’s pilgrim hood as she talks to Alice about the messy aftermath of Dorcas’ death. At the end of the novel, however, when these relationships have reached a resolution, there is peace in the presence of rest and stillness; Joe and Violet “walk down 125th Street and across Seventh Avenue and if they get tired they sit down and rest on any stoop they want to and talk weather and youthful misbehavior to the woman leaning on the sill of the first-floor window” (223).

As Joe and Violet’s relationship parallels the three levels of Purgatory, Morrison utilizes the mapping of Dante’s Purgatorio as a means of evoking and tracing the development of healing, to provide a narrative engine for atonement necessary to love. 

Misdirected love defines the first level of Purgatory. There are two dynamics of love: love for the wrong subject and a lack of sharing. Teodolinda Barolini notes that the sinners seeking purgation experience love for the wrong object, and a lack of sharing between lovers (Barolini “Visible Speech,” “Eyes”). This dynamic defines both the beginning of Jazz and of Joe and Violet’s struggles as a couple. 

Morrison embeds this design within Joe and Violet’s relationship early in the novel. Violet’s attempt at cutting Dorcas’ face during her funeral evokes both envy and wrath as a physical expression of pain toward Joe’s affair and the insufficiency she feels toward herself following Joe’s infidelity. After Joe murdered Dorcas, a distance forms between him and Violet, and she “decided to love—well, find out about—the eighteen-year-old.” She learned everything she could about the girl, going so far as to learn her favorite dances, and try to mimic them (Morrison 5-7). Wrath ultimately dominates Violet’s feelings. 

Joe and Violet’s feelings of sadness and rage—respectively—exemplify the lack of sharing and the misdirection of love. This is clear in their competing desires to look at Dorcas’ portrait. At night, both stare at Dorcas’ portrait on their mantel; Joe feels lonesome, regretful, and hungry without Dorcas, whereas Violet sees the girl as “an inward face…You are there, it says, because I am looking at you…not only is she losing Joe to a dead girl, but she wonders if she isn’t falling in love with her too” (Morrison 12, 15). Both Joe and Violet misdirect their love toward the dead Dorcas, and thus fail to engage with the harms both hold within themselves. Violet, especially, both envies and adopts Dorcas’s traits, expressing anger, envy, pride, and love toward the girl’s portrait by calling her self-centered. These feelings stem from the lack of sharing Dante touches on. 

At the core of both the affair and Joe and Violet’s faltering relationship is a failure to engage in the empathy that eases the Pilgrim’s movement through Purgatory. Joe in particular fails to engage with Violet emotionally, and performs the original act of misdirection. Joe notes that: “In 1925, we all had it made. Then Violet began sleeping with a doll in her arms… Make me know a loneliness I never could imagine” (Morrison 129). Though he acknowledges the way he has harmed Violet, Joe reveals, yet fails to notice, that his behavior created the conditions for misdirection. He fails to nurture Violet and to understand why she has performed—in his eyes—her own form of misdirection by sleeping with a doll. Instead, he retreats from and abandons her, feeling lonely and envious towards the doll. He then carries this misdirection further, eliciting an affair with Dorcas, whom he saw as a Paradisiac retreat from his wife (Morrison 133). In other words, Joe’s failure to reach out to Violet and share their sorrow and feelings, to find out why she slept with the doll and make steps toward healing their love, drives both the affair with Dorcas and the manifestations of wrath, pride, and envy that Violet exhibits at the beginning of the novel. Violet navigates the terraces of misdirected love as she feels envy, wrath, and a damaged pride after Joe’s affair; however, Joe performed the original misdirection by shifting his love toward Dorcas (the “wrong object”) and failing to nurture and engage with Violet. 

As the misdirected nature of the love between Violet and Joe fades, it morphs into something different: deficient love. The lack of love between the couple at this time in their lives stems from not only a lack of communication, but a failure at providing the love that each needs. Near the start of Jazz, one of Violet’s clients brings up Dorcas, inquiring about Joe and how he is handling his grief. Based on the bleak nature of Violet’s response, the client comments, “Can’t rival the dead for love. Lose every time” (Morrison 15). Here lies the root of Joe and Violet’s miscommunication, and why they are feeling a lack of love—when someone dies, especially someone as young as Dorcas, the mourner may put the deceased on a pedestal. Joe and Violet do just that with the “ghost” of Dorcas impeding their ability to love. When Violet learns of the death of Dorcas, she lashes out, desperately trying to recapture the love of her husband whose affections are no longer returned. On the other hand, Joe retreats into himself; when Joe met Dorcas, the love he once possessed for Violet reemerged with a vengeance, and now that she is dead, this love no longer has a tether. The weight of society’s pity for him can’t fill the void of the love that was lost, leaving Joe to stew in these tangled emotions. Where times of grief and death can cause relationship bonds to strengthen, Joe and Violet’s lack of communication comes across as selfish; instead of providing one another a shoulder to lean on, they are seemingly competing for whose romantic plight inspires the most sympathy, creating deficiency in their relationship. 

Dante touches on the topic of grief’s relationship to  love during an encounter with his old friend Forese Donati. When he first comes across his friend, Dante’s first instinct is to say, “‘When death was on your face, I wept,’ I said, ‘and now the grief I feel is just as great, seeing your face so piteously disfigured’” (Purgatory XXIII, 55-57). While Dante seems to express remorse for the state of his friend, it should be noted that the purpose of his journey is not to sympathize, but to see how his sins in life have either helped or hindered his ability to escape Purgatory. Forese’s wife, Nella, praying for him up on Earth is the only form of communication they have access to, and in doing so she is helping him ascend to Paradise. This is a stark contrast to the relationship between Joe and Violet, because they have not yet realized that the only way to reach Paradise is if they first reach out to each other. With the trajectory of their relationship correlating with the climb up Purgatory, their relationship eventually reaches a state of deficiency. Morrison foreshadowed this from the moment Joe and Violet entered the city—as they arrive, the narrator observes “they love that part of themselves so much they forget what loving other people was like—if they ever knew, that is” (Morrison 33). Deficient love hinges on an absence of love; by saying Joe and Violet will forget how to love other people, the narrator foretells the demise of their relationship. In other words, the city is Purgatory, and Joe and Violet have been there for so long that they not only have forgotten how to love, but what it feels like. When they must show love for each other, they are unable to, and the deficiency of that relationship causes them to lash out, driving Joe’s affair and subsequent killing of Dorcas or Violet’s attempt to disfigure her corpse, in order to recapture the love that became deficient.

The last variation of love, and perhaps the most prominent within Jazz, is excessive love—something that consumes both Joe and Violet in their obsessive behavior towards the deceased Dorcas. Joe, finding his love for Violet has died, admits it has “fade[d] or scab[bed] over” before he finds love elsewhere, in the young Dorcas (Morrison 29). Joe is clouded by his own judgment as he mistakes the sexual desire he felt for his lover as a connection as deep as the one he has with Violet. This desire consumes him , as “that girl had been his necessary thing for three months of nights” (Morrsison 28). He relies on her, allows her to consume him, and yearns to consume all of her in return. When their affair ended,  Joe “shot the girl … [and] cried all day” (Morrison 4). His excessive love and obsession for her drives him to kill out of gluttony and lust. If he could not own her, he could not find contentment with her life continuing. This excessive love consumes Violet as well, in her obsession with knowing who the woman was that her husband allegedly loved more than her. Violet knows not the personality that Dorcas had nor who she was, truly, and thereafter relies on the persona “she invented for [Dorcus] based on careful investigations” (Morrison 28). Dorcas is both her enemy and her deepest inner desire for self. She yearns to become the woman her husband desired so deeply – so much so that “the girl’s memory [becomes] a sickness in the house—everywhere and nowhere” (Morrison 28). This excessive love consumes the couple. Both Violet and Joe even create a shrine to Dorcas in the center of their home, as Morrison states “One particular thing the aunt showed her, and eventually let Violet keep for a few weeks, was a picture of the girl’s face. Not smiling, but alive at least and very bold. Violet had the nerve to put it on the fireplace mantel in her own parlor and both she and Joe looked at it in bewilderment” (Morrison 6). Joe is driven by his sexual desire for Dorcus to pursue her and then kill her to “keep the feeling going” while Violet keeps this feeling going through her obsession with knowing who Dorcas was and why she deserved Joe’s love more than she  (Morrison 3). Both allow this excessive love to break them down – but it is in their collective grief afterwards that binds them back together, broken, yet bonded.

In light of their troubled past, their reconciliation came as a shock to even the narrator: “I was sure one would kill the other. I waited for it so I could describe it…busy, they were, busy being original, complicated, changeable—human” (Morrison 220). Despite what we were told at the beginning of the novel, both the audience and the narrator discover that the couple does not endure another tragedy. Instead, Morrison demonstrates the upward movement and healing of the couple, mirroring Purgatory. While Joe and Violet endured an emotional detachment for a majority of the novel, the narrator reveals that the couple has reached a sort of reconciliation: “A lot of time, though, they stay at home figuring things out, telling each other those little personal stories they like to hear” (Morrison 223). Unlike the times when Joe would cling to Dorcas for emotional validation, here, the audience recognizes that Joe and Violet broke the cycle of emotional neglect within a marital relationship, and thus returned to a love they built in previous years—not excessive, but devoted.

It’s hard, as students, not to get caught in the whirlwind of ideas, emotions, experiences, and explorations that follow us through our schooling. Students within the educational system continuously go through progression and regression of emotions for the educational system in their own unique and individualistic pathways. Similarly, Joe and Violet’s progression to paradise is not the same, though it leads them to the same ending. It’s often expected that the order in which students go throughout their first 20+ years is to: finish elementary, go to middle school, high school, and then go to college, but  people rarely make it that far.  There are different phases everyone goes through to get to their own paradise, whatever that may be. Joe and Violet went through experiences of misdirected, deficient and excessive love just as students have their own experiences; as this causes a nonlinear progression through education, there is an adjacent experience of self-discovery, and a movement toward achieving self-love. Ultimately, this self-discovery is what may divert a student’s education from the conventional path. When students experience these emotions, they are experiencing them in many different phases and ways that are not in an exclusive order.

Misdirected love manifests differently depending on the person. Joe and Violet experienced it through instances of Violet’s jealousy and Joe’s affair. This can appear in a student’s relationship with school. Personal experiences show that there are envious feelings towards other fellow students in scenarios of comparison, as Violet does with Dorcas. This is not a permanent feeling, though it can feel long–lasting. In times where students see people that are achieving things greater than their personal achievements, envy and wrath follow, and build the base for their self-love to falter. 

Students may then feel deficient love.  Just as Joe and Violet struggle to maintain the love they once had, in a lot of students’ later careers, especially in college, it can become easy for them to avoid the work that they need to do for school or even going to class. They are becoming less involved in their education and then may direct their attention to other things like partying, or drugs, or other social pursuits. The distractions create a sense of deficiency, not only in the work they perform and the rest needed to do that work, but in themselves, as the turbulent newness of college creates unsteady perceptions of the self. 

The last path through Purgatory, excessive love, can be manifested in student’s lives. Students may take up too much talking time within class, and are desperate to be heard and in turn can take away from another student. Higher education as an institution may feel greedy and hungry for wealth.. Students are expected to pay upwards of thousands of dollars for a resource, such as a degree, that feels valuable to their futures and thus the self they are becoming.. The financial aid and support from the government is limited and selective so a majority may not get what they need to cover their education. Some will not make their way out, just like Dorcas.

Thus, as Violet and Joe move through their own formation of Purgatory, experience misdirection, deficiency, and excessiveness in their relationship– and its struggles– we as students encounter a similar movement in our relationship to ourselves. We feel the misdirection of depending on school for self-worth, the deficiency apparent in the distractions we formulate or the dependency we place on schooling, and the excessiveness of taking up a space in our obsession for an academic system that itself is gluttonous for wealth. We engage with these levels, navigating our emerging adulthood, and try to construct perceptions of our identity that best fulfill the inherent need to love ourselves. Just as Morrison utilizes Purgatorio as a structural engine to build a process for healing, we– as students, as new adults, as humans– engage in a similar journey toward finding love for ourselves. 

Works Cited

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 10: Visible Speech.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2014. digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-10/

—. “Purgatorio 13: Eyes Sewn Shut.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2014. digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-13/

Dante Alighieri. Purgatorio. Translated by Mark Musa, Penguin Classics, 1985. 

Morrison, Toni. Jazz. Vintage, 1992. 

Love in All Its Terrible Forms: 

Throughlines in Toni Morrison’s Trilogy and Dante’s Divine Commedia

Aubrey Ouderkirk, Mar Leeman, Kathleen McCarey, Kyra Drannbauer, Cheyanne Carney, Mia Donaldson, Owen Vincent, Rachel Cohen, Marie Naudus

In Dante’s Purgatorio, once Dante the Pilgrim has escaped from Hell with Virgil, he enters the Island of Purgatory. The island is broken up into three sections, consisting of seven total terraces of purgation. These three sections of Purgatory Proper revolve around three variations of love: Misdirected Love, Deficient Love, and Excessive Love. Movement in Purgatory is only permitted upward, and shades climbing up the mountain of Purgatory to ultimately reach Paradise. Once a soul enters the Gate of Purgatory, they enter into the zone of Misdirected Love, which consists of three of the seven terraces. These three terraces, in order, are The Proud, The Envious, and The Wrathful. Continuing the climb, Deficient Love holds only one terrace, The Slothful. The third section, containing the final three terraces, is Excessive Love, holding The Avaricious and Prodigal, The Gluttonous, and The Lustful. A soul cannot move upwards through Purgatory without purgation; repenting for their sins in life until they are free of sin and ready to enter Paradise. This upward movement through purgation is similar to the movements of Joe Trace through Manhattan and his own forms of purgation in Toni Morrison’s Jazz

The map of Manhattan can be compared to the Island of Purgatory; notably, the shape of Mount Purgatory mirrors the map of Manhattan quite well. The borough of Manhattan is broken into various neighborhoods, and in our class discussions it was noted how many maps of Manhattan left out Harlem and East Harlem, which sit above the Upper West and Upper East Sides respectively. Harlem and East Harlem were frequently left off traditional maps due to their high populations of Black residents. Throughout the novel, Joe moves from these predominantly Black neighborhoods in uptown Manhattan, down through the borough, and back home to uptown. The way that Joe has to move down through the boroughs mimics the pattern of movement through Purgatory. In order to move up Mount Purgatory, shades can only move during the day and can only move up the mountain faster if loved ones pray for them, much like how Joe receives forgiveness and support in various forms from his loved ones in order to move up his own Mount Purgatory. As Joe moves throughout Manhattan, mapping Purgatory onto the city and drawing parallels between Jazz and Purgatorio helps the reader understand how Joe’s movements emphasize his growth as a character and his movement towards Paradise at the end of the novel. Joe moves through intense stages of love, jealousy, and repentance in order to receive the forgiveness he needs from himself and Violet to move forward in his life, in love, and in the search for his Paradise.

Joe undergoes some of the most dramatic and violent growth of all the characters in the novel, and movement up Mount Purgatory can be mapped onto both his actions and his physical movement through Manhattan. Joe’s connection to Purgatory is first reflected in his seven changes throughout his life before he meets Dorcas; the number seven is repeated several times in Dante’s Purgatorio. Mount Purgatory consists of seven terraces, each of which correlate to one of the seven deadly sins. Souls have seven letter P’s carved into their forehead by an angel when they enter, and a letter is removed for each sin they purge and terrace they pass. Each of Joe’s seven changes represent the purgation of a vice, and they directly follow the order of the terraces of Mount Purgatory. According to Joe: “The first time [I changed] was when I named my own self, since nobody did it for me, since nobody knew what it could or should have been” (Morrison 123). The first terrace of Purgatory purges the sin of pride, and Joe’s decision to name himself frees him from his pride. By choosing his own name and therefore his own identity, he separates himself from a sense of pride that could come from the name and from his parents, who left him as a baby with another family. The second time that Joe claims he changes is when he is taught to hunt and track as a young man. He and his adoptive brother, Victory, are selected by a very skilled local hunter as an apprentice, and this selection satisfies a need in Joe for a father figure in his life. A lack of a father figure was a significant source of envy for Joe as a child and young man, and having someone in that role purges Joe of his envy, directly mapping to the progression of the terraces of Mount Purgatory. With each of his subsequent changes, Joe moves higher up the mountain and closer to paradise. 

The seventh and final time that Joe changes is when he purges the penultimate sin of excessive love: lust. In order to free himself from his sin, and in jealousy, Joe kills Dorcas, the object of his lust. Dorcas provides another parallel between Joe and Dante the Pilgrim, since both characters meet the object of their affections at the peak of their own version of Mount Purgatory. In Canto XXXII, Dante meets Beatrice, a woman he loved in life. Dante says that “My lady, you know all my needs, and how to satisfy them perfectly” (29-30). This sentiment echoes how Joe feels about Dorcas, as he says that he is so enthralled by Dorcas that he feels like a new man: “I couldn’t talk to anyone but Dorcas, and I told her things I hadn’t even told myself. With her I was fresh, new again” (Morrison 123). While Joe ultimately purges his sin of lust by killing Dorcas, unlike Dante in Purgatorio, the parallels between Jazz and Purgatorio in movement and purgation establish Joe’s growth as a character as his movement up his own Mount Purgatory. 

Joe’s movement—both physical and emotional—also imprints onto the people around him, namely the women in his life. Many of his marital problems with Violet stem from her decision not to have children, though both she and Joe are fond of them; “They liked children. Loved them even. Especially Joe, who had a way with them” (Morrison 107). Violet herself is not a mother in the traditional sense of the word, rather caring mainly for her birds before Joe’s attack on Dorcas. After, she falls into a deep depression, losing what little lust for life she had, moving through her days mechanically instead of making herself confront her emotions. Before she leaves for Dorcas’ funeral, she lets her birds out of their cages, setting them free onto the streets of New York City. They all leave almost immediately, with the exception of her most beloved pet, the parrot. Violet doted on the animal to such an extent that Joe becomes jealous. In fact, it refuses to leave for many days before it disappears; “She tried not to look at him as she paced the rooms, but the parrot saw her and squawked a weak ‘Love you’ through the pane” (Morrison 92). Joe’s jealousy is the most dangerous emotion one could feel; it is more destructive than his lust and his manifestation of love.

Joe consistently exhibits jealousy from a young age. When confronted with his own adoption by his brother, he remarks: “‘they got to pick me out. From all of you all, they got to pick me.’” His conflicting emotions concerning Violet do not inspire jealousy, at least not in the beginning of their marriage. He meets Violet, marks her as a life partner, but he doesn’t seem to love her, not in the way he becomes enamored with the idea of Dorcas later on. He notes that he doesn’t blame Violet for loving him, but his hesitancy to become open with another person means that their relationship is inherently static. While Violet and Joe grow apart, they fall into a rhythm he quickly becomes discontent with. Dorcas is someone revolutionary to him, or at the very least the idea of her. When she rejects him, he protests to himself, arguing, “I know you didn’t mean those things you said to me. After I found you and got you to come back to our room one more time. What you said I know you didn’t mean. It hurt, though” (Morrison 132). Joe cannot accept that perhaps Dorcas doesn’t have the same stakes and goals in their relationship, so he hunts her. Why wouldn’t he, if it worked with Violet? Joe is actively pursuing the girl he loves, a goal he insists isn’t harmful. He justifies, “she might think it’s jealousy, but I’m a mild man… she’ll be all alone. She’ll turn to me. She will hold out her hand, walk toward me in ugly shoes, but her face is clean and I am proud of her” (Morrison 183). Dorcas, however, has not chosen Joe in this way, and doesn’t react how he wishes. He stalks her to a party, and becomes confused when he observes her with a boy her age. We don’t see Joe’s perspective on this scene, however, but rather Dorcas’. Dorcas, as she dies, thinks, “he’s here. Oh, look. God. He’s crying. Am I falling? Why am I falling?” (Morrison 192).

Joe’s major sacrifice is not even his own, but rather an attack on his teenage lover. He loses someone he loves, but he has no right to steal Dorcas’ life from her. In Dorcas’ case, Joe’s emotions—his jealousy, his frustration with Violet, his listlessness—and subsequent action—murder—have fatal consequences. Dorcas acts explicitly as a guide for Joe, but at the expense of her own agency and, ultimately, her physical form; where Joe can repent because he remains alive, Dorcas’ capacity for repentance is stripped from her as a consequence of Joe’s emotional disarray. This is another significant way in which Dorcas can be seen as analogous to Virgil in Purgatorio; both Virgil and Dorcas served as guides for repenting characters, yet neither of them receive the ability to live or repent themselves, providing more throughlines between Jazz and Purgatorio. When Joe reflects on his relationship with Dorcas, he acknowledges the betrayal he enacted against Violet, and that he viewed Dorcas as an object that incited significant and necessary change in his life:  “I didn’t fall in love, I rose in it. I saw you and made up my mind. My mind. And I made up my mind to follow you too… I talk about being new seven times before I met you” (Morrison 135). This connection is, in Joe’s estimation, remarkable and physical, to such an extent that he sees it as a form of religion: 

“‘I looked at your knees but I didn’t touch. I told you again that you were the reason Adam ate the apple and its core. That when he left Eden, he left a rich man. Not only did he have Eve, but he had the taste of the first apple in the world in his mouth for the rest of his life… You looked at me then like you knew me, and I thought it really was Eden, and I couldn’t take your eyes in because I was loving the hoof marks on your cheeks” (Morrison 133).

 Joe needs a Virgil-esque guide to show him the way up and out of Purgatory, but he romanticizes Dorcas into a twisted form of a guide to the point of objectifying her. Since he can no longer see Dorcas as a guide to follow up and out of Purgatory, he finally sees her as the thing pulling him down, and decides to kill her. In conversation with Dante, both Dorcas and Violet parallel the figure of Beatrice; Joe abandons Dorcas and continues living, but he also betrays her in life through infidelity, much like Joe and Violet. And, like Dante, Joe is initially listless without his source of guidance: “Strange as it was, people finally got used to him, wiping his face and nose with an engineer’s red handkerchief while he sat month after month by the window without view or on the stoop, first in the snow and later in the sun” (Morrison 118); “We found ourselves without Virgil… All the delights around me, which were lost / by our first mother, could not keep my cheeks, / once washed with dew, from being stained with tears” (XXX: 49-54). While Joe undergoes guidance and, eventually, repentance through his highly physical relationship with Dorcas (as a misguided response to his wife’s plight), this trajectory relies on his stealing Dorcas’ life and body: ““Somewhere in Springfield only the teeth were left. Maybe the skull, maybe not… No lips to share with the woman she had shared them with. No fingers to lift her hips as he had lifted others. Just the teeth exposed now, nothing like the smile that had made her say, ‘Choose.’ And he did” (Morrison 86). In Beatrice’s words: “‘Still, so that you may truly feel the shame / of all your sins—so that, another time, / you will be stronger when the Sirens sing— / master your feelings, listen to my words, / and you shall learn just how my buried flesh was meant to guide you in another way’” (XXXI: 43-48). When Joe chooses to uphold his relationship with Dorcas, seeing it as a source of physical and spiritual guidance, he also chooses to neglect his relationship with Violet and, ultimately, chooses to deprive his guide of her own body. This action is the ultimate form of love-driven betrayal, and thus requires a great deal of repentance: “‘penitence poured forth in guilty tears’” (XXX: 145). The purgation of lust-driven violence fulfills the requirements of the final terrace of Purgatory, allowing Joe to move out of Purgatory and into Paradise. 

Joe’s emotions, specifically within his intimate relationships, can be related to Dante’s three different types of love—misguided, deficient, and excessive. Morrison uses love as a throughline in both Beloved and Jazz to show how each can affect relationships for the better or for worse. Jazz opens with neighbors talking about Joe’s actions, driven by misguided love. Joe and Dorcas’ relationship falls into Dante’s misguided love, particularly the all consuming nature of Joe’s adoration and lust. This also ties into the idea of excessive love, where Joe simultaneously makes consistently poor decisions and justifies them to himself. Dante perhaps expresses this best when he writes, “now you understand / how much my love for you burns deep in me, / when I forget about our emptiness / and deal with shadows as with solid things.” (XXI: 133-136). Joe’s relationship with Dorcas inherently harms his marriage, with his love for Dorcas being that which eclipses much of his emotions for Violet. His affair that takes place within the shadows feels much more tangible to him than the life he’s actively worked to build. He thinks to Dorcas; “Just for you. Anything just for you. To bite down hard, chew up the core and have the taste of red apple skin to carry around for the rest of my life” (Morrison 134). Therefore, the most logical conclusion for his character is either to fully repent or exit the story altogether. He chooses the former, although it is unclear if this is for his own sake or for Violet’s. Much like Dante chooses to embark on his journey through Mount Purgatory, so too does Joe decide to repair his relationship with his wife. He’s certainly not perfect by any means, but “the will to rise, alone, proves purity:/once freed, it takes possession of the soul/and wills the soul to change its company” (XXI, 61-63). Joe Trace must choose his own path of love to follow. 

As Dante enters the level of Deficient Love, Cacciaguida, Dante’s great-great-great grandfather, explains the extent of loss Dante will encounter on his journey through exile:  “You shall leave everything you love most dearly: / this is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first. / You are to know the bitter taste of each others’ bread, how salty it is, and know/how hard a path it is for one who goes/descending and ascending others’ stairs” (XVII: 55-60). Dante must first experience extreme loss before he gets to experience Excessive Love, the third level of love within Purgatory. Much like Dante, Joe Trace has to understand the gravity of his choice of “descending and ascending others’ stairs” (XVII: 60). As Dante moves through the three levels of love, Joe does as well; ascending and descending the staircase of all the relationships he feeds into: falling in love with Dorcas and then murdering her, marrying Violet and then cheating on her, causing Violet to fight for him in his relationship and in turn, the “bitter taste” of making her turn into “Violent”. The parallel between Joe Trace and Sethe within Beloved lies within Sethe’s relationship with Denver; Denver longs for love she will never receive from Sethe, as she is too focused on putting all of her love into Beloved. Denver and Violet both long for love from someone unwilling to give it to them, instead having Joe Trace and Sethe “descend and ascend” other staircases that benefit their own needs. Sethe is continuously “descending and ascending” the staircase within 124, experiencing the different levels of love through her relationships with Paul D, Denver, and Beloved: Paul D represents Misguided Love with his longing for a child of his own, Sethe represents Deficient Love in her relationship with Denver by neglecting her needs in order to give her attention to Beloved, and Beloved receiving the unrequited love from Sethe represents Excessive Love.

Love itself serves as the throughline throughout Morrison’s trilogy. Sethe, from Beloved, shows all three types of love with the people around her. Her relationship with Paul D is misguided, as they are involved for the wrong reasons. They channel all of their energy into reflecting on the past and Sweet Home, building a bond based on trauma. Eventually, Paul D wants to have a child with Sethe to fulfill his need to have some kind of ownership over her. His intentions are selfish and eventually Morrison will show that misguided love is not sustainable as their relationship comes crashing down. Sethe’s love encompassing Beloved can be seen as excessive; it drains her. Sethe is quite literally obsessed with Beloved and starts to neglect her day to day life and her motherly obligation to Denver. Similar to Dante’s deficient love, this then forces Denver to begin fending for herself. Much like Joe and Violet, Sethe ignores the love she already has in pursuit of another, less satisfying relationship, one that inevitably ends in tragedy.

By drawing connections between Jazz, Purgatorio and ultimately, Beloved and Inferno, we are learning how to “join the conversation,” as noted in the course syllabus. As most of us don’t have any experience with Dante, and often more limited experience with Morrison’s work, it can feel incredibly daunting to make bold assertions across cherished and respected texts. Embarking upon complicated analysis as budding scholars requires boldness, but also discussion; working with texts in conversation with one another also necessitates that we converse with one another. This sharpens skills not only in textual analysis, but with synthesizing varying ideas within a large group. We found ourselves presented with a huge number of ideas—after all, each reader will glean something slightly different from a given text.