Acceptance of Change in Morrison and Dante

In Paradiso, Dante writes the Eagle as a symbol of divine justice as shown through Cantos XVIII through XX. The Eagle, composed of the souls of the just, spells out a message “DILIGITE IUSTITIAM QUI IUDICATIS TERRAM” (Canto 18, 91-93) meaning “Love justice you who rule the earth” (Barolini). Thus, the understanding of social justice on Earth is paralleled with the heavenly imagery of the Eagle as the figure of divine justice. The message is directed at Dante as a command that all must follow the rules of justice. However, as emphasized throughout Canto XIX, the Eagle speaks of God’s plans for divine justice is incomprehensible to all beings, and it would be futile for any man to presume such knowledge. Dante reflects on the idea of how justice can be righteously executed. He uses the fate of the virtuous who had not heard of God as an example (Canto 19, 73-78 ) to which the Eagle replies that all of the inner-workings of justice must be accepted and if God wishes to extend salvation, he will do so. The Eagle can be interpreted as an effigy formed through the words of Gods, and representative of justice in that humans can assume morality through following his spiritual and philosophical practices. 

In Canto XX, there is a direct focus on the Eagle’s eye and the souls that make up the eye to discuss how men were able to enter Heaven despite not following religious practices before their time. This Canto ties all the questions Dante presents, showing that any those who have faith or have the ability to believe in a higher power are shown to be examples of divine redemption, and free of punishment. It is only with the opening of one’s eyes to the will of God that one can learn what is righteous. Dante, in turn, is in search of spiritual fulfillment and through the tracing of movement and the workings of guides, he explores the hierarchy of power within’ the understanding of divine justice and human comprehension of justice. In reading the conversation between the eagle and Dante and the eagle’s recounting of stories of salvation, one can understand how to achieve atonement for their sins either through strict punishment or the belief of God. 

The purpose of the Oven has shifted over the years depending on who it was passed down to. The Oven was multi-purposed, used communally amongst women to make food, a meeting place to talk about what was going on in the town, and a witness to baptisms. The Oven served as a symbol for the community as it “didn’t belong to any one denomination; it belonged to all” (83). The transferring of the Oven from Haven to Ruby brought along with it, many conflicts between men and women. The women in Ruby noted that they secretly despised that it was brought to them instead of necessities like food. The history of the Oven was failed to be passed on as it just sat idly. There is also general confusion leading to arguments about the inscription on the Oven that is important to note. Some interpret the message as, “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” and others believe it is “Be the furrow of His brow” (86). The older men, namely, Reverend Pulliam and Steward, argue that the word ‘beware’ is “an order” (86) straight from God. Thus he makes the connection to the divine world through this inscription. The argument is cut to Dovey’s, the female perspective, who believes that one should only be concerned with the meaning behind the inscription, not the exact words because “specifying it, particularizing it, nailing its meaning down, was futile. The only nailing needing to be done had already taken place. On the Cross” (93). The difference of opinions goes to the men demanding that all must adhere to the traditions set up whereas the women are more satisfied with their belief of God and shaping a new future for themselves. Looking at Canto 19-20 in Dante’s Paradiso, there are connections to ideas of transformation, migration, and knowledge of what is righteous. As the souls of the just leaders and the Eagle says, “Who are you to sit upon the bench, to judge…” (Canto 19, 79-80) because the idea of divine justice and laws on Earth can only be interpreted by God himself. 

Morrison uses the men of Ruby as a cautionary tale of how not to behave according to God’s laws. They say it is God’s authority that commands them not to change the words on the Oven, which is masked with the fear that they will soon lose their hierarchy of power in the community. It is their refusal to accept that the younger generation wants change that ultimately creates a division between these groups. The presence of the Oven is thoroughly embedded in the community and the focus of members in the community. The difference in interpretations between two generations of age and gender reflects a difference in opinion of how society should be run. The older men have been passing down their outdated values hoping to keep their positions of power while the women wish to reinterpret the inscription as a way to communicate their collective and more forward way of thinking. The men of Ruby blame the women for the fall of their society because they believe the women are subverting the words of God and thus, are immoral. The attack on the Convent is, therefore, an attack of the unknown and a perceived evil the women have. 

This division led to violence as there will always be blame placed on one group as a result of disagreement and shame. The men place shame on the women because they do not comply with their apparent knowledge of God’s will. Thus, the men are the ones subverting this idea of “Paradise” by making it so that only those who follow their own idea of righteousness can stay in their community and those who oppose it are excluded and subsequently, attacked. Morrison draws attention to this divide and criticizes those stuck in their ways and the hesitations people have in changing history. By drawing attention to interpretive disagreement, she urges readers to have discussions about the text and more importantly, that being fixated on one interpretation can lead to the destruction of society. She asserts that no one group should be stuck in their own beliefs, but rather celebrate a collaboration of opinions and diversity. Like in her previous novel, Jazz, Morrison welcomes readers to “remake” the story and be open to self-improvement. Paradise asks us to consider all interpretations, to envision a society that rejects exclusion. 

Paradise’s appropriation of Paradiso ties together what Dr. McCoy has been telling us all semester- to think, unpack, and consider the both/and. As a student, collaboration surrounds and makes up our college community. In this class particularly, collaboration directly affects our work by building discussion and deeper thinking. Despite the switch to remote learning, this collaboration has not been lost and as expressed by many in the weekly chat, has been beneficial to many, including myself. Living through this pandemic has been difficult as everyone is experiencing different levels of stress, tragedy, and uncertainty. I remember saying at the start of the semester was that our lives are non-linear, and that applies now more than ever. No one could have ever anticipated the severity of this crisis or how it would affect the lives of every person around the world, but it is these challenges that will shape us and show how we can show tolerance during this time. My future has been made uncertain because of this pandemic and I am sure many of us are feeling this sentiment. Our acceptance of this change and our willingness to adapt did not come easy, but given the circumstances, it is a responsibility that must be shouldered by everyone. 

Exploring Sin in “Jazz” and “Purgatorio”

By: Alice Chen, James Bonn, Allison Flanagan, Margaret Hall, Mya Nazaire, Rickie Strong, Helen Warfle

This paper will explore Toni Morrison’s Jazz through the lens of Dante’s Purgatorio in terms of mapping through time and space. Mount Purgatory is clearly divided into layers based around the seven deadly sins. The bottom starts with antepurgatory, and then progresses through sins based on how each sin distorts love, ending with excessive love and the sin of lust. Sinners must move up through the levels, purging themselves of sin. Similarly, in Jazz, the characters move up and down the island of Manhattan, mimicking the social and emotional journey of their own struggles towards recognizing the origin of their sins and what it takes to achieve true morality. Furthermore, Joe Trace goes through his own evolutions, of which there are seven. Based on these similarities, we hypothesize that, if Beloved is the suffering due from a sin one has committed, then Jazz is the acknowledgement of the source of said sin and letting it go. 

As we discussed in class, the mapping of Manhattan is complex and filled with intricate markings of neighborhoods, which can be traced to fulfill a social-emotional story within Joe and Violet’s narrative. The story of Jazz is non-linear, working through the emotional turmoil of Joe having committed a crime of passion, Violet disfiguring the dead woman, and back again to events that led up to it. In living through the sins they have committed for love, they are able to overcome their domestic struggles and reunite stronger at the end. Morrison uses the idea of movement in stages – with the physical movement of the characters up and down Manhattan, the temporal movement of the narration, and the emotional movement and evolution of characters like Joe – to mirror the levels of Purgatory and Dante’s own search for freedom from sin. The most important line in Purgatorio, according to Dr. Herzman, is “May it please you to welcome him – he goes in search of freedom” (Canto I lines 70-71). This idea of freedom, from sin and the tendencies that cause us to sin, is also found in Jazz through Joe’s transformations in his sinful love of Dorcas and in Violet’s search for fulfillment. Ultimately, we see Felice as a Beatrice figure, leading Joe and Violet to freedom, and this is the culmination of our analysis of Jazz as a mirror of Purgatorio

We believe this is an important study for several reasons, especially as it applies during this time of quarantine. First, through the idea of excessive love and having that which we love excessively, being taken away, we have noticed that, in our own individual experiences, made us realize that what we need and what we want are very different. Second, the idea that community can arise in unexpected ways, as we see in the friendships throughout Jazz, is significant in this time of social distancing. And finally, in collaborating across time and space on this essay, the act of reading and thinkING together is a form of self-improvement, much as Purgatorio and Jazz encourage us to do.

Protection and Expulsion in “A Mercy”

Like some of my peers in this class have expressed, I struggled with finding an appropriate topic for this prompt. Only after rereading the novel to strengthen my understanding of the characters, looking through my peers’ work, and thinkING about the unspoken forces that cause expulsion, which Professor McCoy has encouraged us to do all semester, was I able to slow down and consider the ideas of “both/and.” As I was re-reading the novel, I was struck by a similar theme from another class (ENGL 424: Toni Morrison Trilogy) I am taking with Professor McCoy. This idea of motherly love and sacrifice within the context of slavery is a heavy topic we discussed in class while reading Beloved and keeps reoccurring to me while reading this novel. In both novels, many outsiders looking into the story may be quick to judge their actions as evil/immortal, unable to interpret the pain a mother endures and why they might do the things they do in order to protect their child.

In Morrison’s A Mercy, both Jacob Vaark and Floren are displayed as characters who are unable to interpret the heart-wrenching exchanges between the slave owner and the enslaved. Jacob notices D’Ortega’s unusual interest in keeping Floren’s mother and suspects something more sinister is going on within the home considering that many slave owners sexually abuse enslaved women, but does not have the tools to do more than to pick someone because he “desperately wanted this business over” (24). While Jacob initially hesitates to take in the young daughter, his self-interest in monetary gain supersedes his moral standards despite acknowledging that slave trading is “the most wretched business” (26). We can see Jacob trying to distance himself from the slave trading business and the D’Ortega family, despite engaging and benefiting from the institutions of slavery, which expelled a child from her family and home.

Florens, as a young child, notices the events that led to her displacement but is unable to understand why her mother would give her up, assuming that favoritism is in play. Floren’s own trauma and memory of her mother is expressed by the end of the first chapter and she interprets the interaction between her mother and Jacob as her choosing her baby brother over her. This feeling of abandonment and betrayal is expressed by her describing the moment as her mother, “saying something important [to me], but holding the little boy’s hand” (8). The mother’s life is tainted by the pains of being a slave and Jacob, who is in a position of power, is unable to understand why Floren’s mother would voluntarily ask for her daughter to be shipped away far from home. He makes the assumption that her mother is trying to save herself by offering up Florens when in reality, it is the opposite. He misunderstands the forces that would cause a mother to abandon her child, while Florens is too young to understand that the prolonged abuse her mother endured forced her to expel Florens from her care. 

As readers, we can understand and justify Floren’s mother and her actions as wanting to give her daughter a better life despite the realities of being a slave. As we have discussed in class before, it is also important to look at the expelling of children from families/ homes in a more modern sense. There have been multiple cases on the news in which mothers have been jailed for enrolling their children in different school districts in order to get them better access to education. Despite knowing that it is forbidden to do so in a legal sense, a mother’s desire to protect and provide a better life for their child is a “crime” that occurs today. Financial instability and corporate greed will always be factors in controlling and destabilizing families and it is only with recognizing and amending those forces can these bubbles burst. 

A House Doomed to Fall

In The Big Short, Michael Lewis provides an investigative approach to explaining the involvement of those in Wall Street and the implications of fraudulent behavior that caused the 2008 financial crisis. The story leaves off with an uncertainty as to how everyday people would be affected by the crisis. The Turner House gives a much deeper insight into the lives of a family that were personally touched by the crisis. Having a background knowledge of the members involved, financial concepts such as home mortgages, defaulting, and short selling made understanding The Turner House much smoother of a transition. From understanding the incentives that caused major players to profit off the housing bubble to the story of a family who were expelled from their home as a result of the actions from those who benefited off loss. After the implosion of the bubble, we realized just how big the crash was. It was the cause of many bankers’ decisions and a lack of concern for the lower and middle class. The Turner House shines a light on how the crisis affected the lives of everyday people that The Big Short does not. 

Angela Flourney’s The Turner House follows how the financial crisis parallels multiple ongoing personal crises in each individual’s life. The diminishing status of Detroit during the time of the financial crisis is evident throughout the novel. Viola and Francis moved into Yarrow Street in a booming suburb, celebrating the start of a family. At the time of the crisis, those dreams were crushed. Violet owed forty thousand despite the house being valued at only four thousand dollars. The actions of corruption and greed are clear even to the family as they talk about short-selling the house. Netti says “We sell it today and in ten years Donald Trump or somebody will buy it, build a townhouse, and sell it to some white folks for two hundred grand..” They want nothing but to keep the home that they have grown up. While reading The Big Short, it was clear that the cause and effects of the financial crisis were disastrous. After reading The Turner House, we are left with nothing but sympathy and anger for those who have been on the other end of the corruption. 

As someone from New York City, you can still see unrest between the “everyday people” and those who work in finance. Occupy Wall Street is a movement that started on September 17, 2011. I went to high school in the financial district and was able to witness the yearly protest against economic inequality. There was and always will be a power dynamic that is shifted towards those on top. It is of most importance to hold members of the upper class accountable and share a conversation about social/economic inequality.

Familial Expulsion

When looking at the terms ‘liquid’ and ‘swap’ within the context of King Lear, it can be defined as the free flowing nature of trust and the exchange of one thing for another. There is both trust being very liquid and swapped from one person to another. Expulsion, the act of forcing someone out, plays a major role with almost all characters in the play. Fathers, in particular, are very quick to expel their own children on a dime and the realization of their mistake is discovered too late. 

 It becomes clear that King Lear’s conditional love towards those closest to him are as fluid as water. As readers witness King Lear’s decline into madness, he exchanges the intangible such as love for the tangible such as his assets. Goneril and Reagan’s profession of love is liquid in that it is smooth and flows directly to Lear’s head. Corderlia, on the other hand, refuses to engage in the swapping of words for property. It may be clear to others such as Kent that Cordelia is acting morally, but Lear is figuratively blinded by fake niceties. Not surprisingly, Kent is also expelled and stripped of his partnership with Lear. Goneril and Reagan’s false declaration of love is rewarded by fifty percent of the kingdom. Despite Cordelia’s sincerity, her inability to express the flattery that Lear so craves causes her to be expelled from Lear’s life and access to his property. Lear quickly jumps from one daughter to another hoping for an ounce of love they once declared upon him, but receiving nothing. Initially, Goneril and Reagan both play into the idea of expelling their father by dumping him onto each other before standing together to expel him for the last time. Notably, the scene where Lear is screaming at the sky as he bathes in the storm is the precise moment in which it dawns on him that he has swapped everything for nothing. The daughters that he placed all his liquid trust in, gave him nothing but pain in return. The raging storm not only symbolizes the division between the kingdom, but also the harsh treatment of his daughters who have both expelled him. 

There is also a unique place for swapping illegitimate for legitimate. Lear blindly falls for Goneril and Reagan’s manipulation and in turn, casts Cordelia aside. Although all daughters are legitimate in the natural sense, it is the illegitimate intentions of the other two daughters that are trusted. Lear fails to see that the child he saw as villain is actually the most loyal, while the daughters he gives everything to are the ones actively plotting against him. Similarity, Gloucester’s falls for the same trickery. Edmund, who was a societal outcast because of his illegitimate status, goes to great lengths to expel the legitimate son. Edmund’s intentions are unambiguous from the start and his status matches up to his intentions. His plot to become the next heir plays out well into the play as he is able to band Gloucester and Edgar against each other. It is only when Gloucester is physically blinded and expelled from the castle, it is finally revealed that he placed his trust in the wrong son. Gloucester says, “I have no way and therefore want no eyes. I stumbled when I saw” (4.1.19). Here Gloucester’s trust flows into Edgar, the son that he mistakenly expels. He states that he was more blind with his sight than without it because he was unable to see through the deceit. Both Lear and Gloucester are expelled from their ranking in society and the homes of the ones they once trusted. It is the swapping of one child for another that leads to faulty expulsion. 

The concept of expelling family is never-ending in King Lear. Both King Lear and Gloucester engage in expelling others and are soon expelled themselves. It is only when it is done to them that they realize their mistakes. Once again, the idea of liquidity or flowing trust comes back as King Lear reunites with Cordelia and begs for her forgiveness. A similar ending is found with Gloucester when he places all his trust into Poor Tom because he has lost both his sons. The ending of the play leaves me wondering how deceit and trickery would play out if both King Lear and Gloucester were not so quick to expel their own children.