Consent in the Decision Making Process: A Final Reflection

As a takeaway from this course, and in deep analysis of the literature, I am left with one vital reflection point that I will carry with me even as this course comes to its conclusion: How essential of a role should the different lenses of consent play in my own decision-making process for myself and others? 

Throughout the course of the semester I have gradually built upon and reflected on my already existing thoughts of this courses central theme of consent. In studying works such as Percival Everett’s “Zulus”, Octavia Butler’s “Clay’s Ark”, and Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One”, I was able to react to each of the authors takes on consent, communicated through the adversities faced by their main characters. Although the stories and each character might have been infinitely different at first glance, looking deeper, the works thematically shared the intention to inspire deep reflection on our society by carrying us through extreme scenarios of violation of consent in fabricated dystopian futures. Through the authors perspectives on consent within our society, they successfully created a plane of self-reflection and shock to their readers. In this plane, I was left questioning my own decision-process, and how each choice has consequences reaching far beyond myself. Thus, through their characters, the authors demanded a new level of self-awareness and change from their audiences, as to prevent any timeline similar to their own visions of a dystopian atrocity.

In analysis of each literary work, it became clear to me that the concept of consent should be an essential part of any decision-making process. In my eighth and ninth blog posts, both titled “The Power of a Decision: What motivates your choices?”, I was able to successfully unpack each of the authors’ goals in expression of their characters strife. Most notably in “Zulus” when Alice Achitophel and Kevin Peters decide just the two of them, to end all human life on earth. What gave them the right as only two people to make a decision for an entire planet? This question was applied again in “Clay’s Ark”, when Blake decided to escape the farm community, and as a consequence spread the “organism” thus threatening a world epidemic. In studying these drastic decisions, it invoked a conversation as to whether or not these acts where consensual or not. In my opinion, each of these decisions were an intense violation of consent as the characters failed to inform others or even consider other individual’s opinions on the matters at hand. Rather, in their positions of power, they made decisions that would affect numerous individuals without consulting any of them. Although these dystopian stories may seem entirely intangible, the ideas that they express are not entirely foreign to our own society. Whether in a position of power as a doctor, politician, professor, etc., these same ideologies that these authors share still apply. Consent by one for a decision that involves the lives of many is wrong. In conclusion, it is essential that when making decisions, we consider all perspectives and individuals involved, because if we don’t it is a violation of their consent. 

Bouncing off of the idea that we must consider the perspectives of all, we come across the chronic issue of viewing other opinions as more important than others. Racism, prejudice, and discrimination are atrocious elements that have plagued our society throughout history. Tapping into this pain and violation of individuals, the authors of each of these literary works expressed that the dehumanization of those who are perceived as different is an intense violation of that individuals or groups consent. Through characters such as Alice Achitophel, and Whitehead’s take on the “skels” as told through his character Mark Spitz, the reader is able to visualize this prejudice in a new light. For example, Alice Achitophel is consistently criticized based on her weight, and outcasted from society. As a consequence of this alienation, Alice fails to be sterilized like all other women, and as a result becomes pregnant. Following Alice through her journey to escape the city and reach a “rebel-base”, we are continuously exposed to the crude and inhumane treatment that Alice receives due to these differences. Whether being ridiculed and aggressively assessed by doctors, or having her entire body be put on display in a glass case, Alice is non-consensually violated throughout the course of the novel. Analyzing Everett’s purpose for Alice Achitophel, it became clear to me that she was a representation of how we treat those who are perceived as different in society. In this reflection, Everett’s message comes at a shock that makes you rethink how you view consent both physically and socially. Alice is both physically and socially abused by her peers. With this malice you are left asking: What gave them the right? And what decisions led up to Alice being treated the way she was? I began to explore these questions in my final blog post titled “The Concept of Consent Analyzed through the Female Character Alice Achitophel”. In questioning the novel, it became apparent that the real-life applications of Everett’s warnings are both tangible and shocking.

These applications are exceptionally evident in the medical field. In Harriet Washington’s “Medical Apartheid” she exposes multiple doctors who abused their power and status as physicians to non-consensually experiment on individuals who they viewed as less than. Whether African American prisoners, women, or etc., the nefarious actions of these doctors remained centralized on one excuse, they failed to acknowledge medical subjects as people worthy of receiving consent, or basic human rights in some drastic cases.  In my eighth blog post, I analyze the horrific studies of Dr. Albert M. Kligman, who performed experiments on the African American prisoners of Holmesburg prison as to gain better knowledge in the field of dermatology. Zoning in specifically on Dr. Kligman, it became clear that often individuals put in positions of power, abuse this power, using others to better themselves no matter what cost to those individuals being used. In this case it was Kligman’s patients and experimental subjects who were being used. In the end, what does this say about our society? Reflecting on the literature, it becomes even clearer that we need to change this pattern of oppressive and selfish behavior in all regards and walks of life.

Delving into another real-life application, we can look closely at the NYC African Burial Grounds, and how they most likely inspired Colson Whitehead in his process of writing “Zone One”. The setting of Whitehead’s novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting of lower-Manhattan, ironically also where the burial grounds are located. The novel is based around a zombie-apocalypse, the characters referring to the dead as “skels”. However, unique to all the other characters, Mark Spitz is able to personify the dead, giving them stories and identities. Rather than just viewing them as less than human, Spitz views the skels as worthy of respect and a story. As a reader you are left questioning how can we possibly connect this to a palpable real-life scenario? Rather than focusing on the fact that the skels are quite literally zombies, if you look at the perspective of the skels just being individuals who have been dehumanized, the bigger picture becomes much more apparent. Thus, Whitehead’s purpose for his work becomes clearer. In my sixth blog post, “The Injustice of Dehumanization of Those Who are Different – Told through the Lense of Colson Whitehead’s Zone One”, I came to the conclusion that Whitehead’s goal was to make us question our own perceptions of individuals. In this contemplation, I was able to come to the fact that all are worthy of identity and rights in both life and death; thus, this historical pattern of disregarding human-lives needs to come to an end. 

Circling back to decision-making, I was able to channel each of these authors works in order to improve my own thought process and reflect on the weight that consent should have on this process. Studying “Zulus” it became clear to me that we should all be more socially aware of our actions, as to prevent characters such as Alice Achitophel’s fate. In my tenth blog post, I state: “What gives someone the right to tell you that how you look and who you are is not okay?”. This question is carried from “Zulus” into “Zone One” as we reflect on Whitehead’s purpose to personify the skels, making a statement about how in history we have repeatedly given individuals no rights in death. This history is portrayed in the African Burial grounds of lower Manhattan, where the bodies of numerous African Americans were found completely unidentified with unmarked graves; thus, given no voice in life or death. A nonconsensual act that reaches far beyond just communication. This type of violation is again portrayed in “Clay’s Ark” when Blake shows zero regard for the consequences of his own actions, allowing the spread of a deadly alien organism worldwide, just so he could do what he desired as a single individual. All of these actions began with a decision. A decision that lacked inclusion of different perspectives, or regard for the lives of others. Whether deciding to end all human life as only two people (Alice Achitophel and Kevin Peters), potentially spreading a deadly organism (Blake), or viewing those who are dead as less than human (characters of “Zone One”), the violation remains the same: those who were not included in a decision but are deeply affected by it are robbed of consent at all angles.  

So, in final reflection, for myself, and for the readers, I ask: How will you change your decision-making process after studying the messages of Everett, Whitehead, and Butler? And how can we improve our society by establishing that all are worthy of a voice and value in decisions that affect them?

The Concept of Consent Analyzed through the Female Character Alice Achitophel

Consent can be analyzed through many different faucets. From the perspective of a woman, consent can mean many things, especially in a society that often tries to tell us what we should and shouldn’t be doing with our own bodies. Analyzing female characters such as Alice Achitophel from “Zulus”, we can unpack this idea through studying the sequence of nonconsensual actions done to her, and how she evolved because of them.  

Everett’s novel begins with a horrendous sexual assault to Alice Achitophel by a stranger. In a violent turn of events, Alice actually becomes impregnated by the man, and this is what begins her entire journey and experience with the rebels and escaping the city to avoid the discovery of her outlawed pregnancy. In Everett’s dystopian future, all women were forced to be sterilized as the nuclear-scarred earth was no longer suitable for continued life, and the pregnancies of women would most likely go extraordinarily wrong due to the high levels of radiation after the war. Yet, due to Alice’s size, she is outcasted and forgotten about in the sterilization process: “She had thought to herself then that the people at the hospital had seen her and knew she was fat and ugly and could see from her file that she was an old maid, probably knew that she had never kept company with a man. They hadn’t called her, and she hadn’t called them, and so she had not become sterilized like every other woman” (Everett 12). Just in this quote alone, we can see how Alice has an intensely negative image of herself, forced upon her by a world that told her she was different; in a way this can be viewed as something that is verbally nonconsensual. What gives someone the right to tell you that how you look and who you are is not okay? Alice is shamed for being different, but in the novel this individuality is what drives her forward through the atrocities that she is about to face. Circling back to the idea of sterilization, we can question as to whether this demanded by law sterilization of women was truly consensual. Did all the women collectively agree to this intense measure to prevent continued life on earth? When Alice becomes pregnant, she is filled with joy at the hope a child could bring to her world, judging off of this excitement we can assume that other women might very well have felt the same. Looking at the novel from this perspective, it can be speculated that Everett is making a statement about consent and women’s rights within the subject.

After Alice is assaulted, she manages to immediately know that she has become pregnant. Rather than processing the assault and focusing on its violence, Alice decides to focus on the child and the hope that it could bring to this barren and melancholy society that she is living in: “Alice Achitophel just stayed a mound of fat on the floor,… now crying and smiling and knowing that she was pregnant” (Everett 12). Alice even goes as far as to call it the “messiah baby” because she feels her child will be able to start a new hopeful age for the survivors of the war: “She began to grow fearful, wondering how she would hide the child, this special child, this Messiah child, yes, say it, just say it, the Messiah child, a little girl, the only success on a failed planet” (Everett 16). Along her journey, Alice is consistently poked and prodded against her will by doctors, and her body is quite literally put on display for everyone to gawk at without any of her consent. Alice had been ridiculed her entire life due to her size, told it was wrong that she looked different from everyone else. Now that she was pregnant, she stood out even more, the only woman left on earth who was not sterilized. Despite all this adversity, Alice managed to keep a positive attitude throughout the entire novel. She was bright eyed and always ready to start a new path that would have purpose, as demonstrated by her efforts to try and work with Geraldine Rigg in the hospital and get in on helping the rebel cause. However, this hope has a deadline as the novel comes to its conclusion.

It is not until the very end that we see Alice give up her last shred of hope. Seeing her partner, Kevin Peters, care nothing for their child’s future is what drives Alice to give up her hope. Alice comes to the conclusion that there shouldn’t be a future if the father of her child can’t even see one for their own child. In the end, Alice and Kevin quite literally end the world, releasing a chemical agent that is to end all human life on earth. Reflecting on this, I asked myself, how is this act any less nonconsensual than the act of forcing all women to become sterilized? Confused by the ending, I was shocked at the conclusion for Alice’s character, and disappointed with her choice to give up on something she deeply believed in just because someone else didn’t share the same perspective.

The Power of a Decision: What motivates your choices? Part 2

Bouncing off my previous Blog Post, I will be continuing the analysis of consent and its role in the decision-making process. Similar to Percival Everett’s “Zulus”, Octavia Butler in “Clay’s Ark” creates a fictional future society where characters are faced with a daunting decision that will deeply affect numerous individuals on a global scale. In “Zulus” it was the choice of whether or not to release a chemical agent ending all human life on earth. In Butler’s “Clay’s Ark”, the characters are faced with the decision of spreading or containing an alien symbiont that has adapted to live inside the human body. Both Everett and Butler, through their characters moral dilemmas, are able to express the importance of consent and the influence that it should have on our decision-making process. 

This type of moral dilemma is clearly demonstrated by the characters living in the microcosm that is the Clay’s Ark ranch. In the novel, the character Eli, a geologist who was a part of the Clay’s Ark mission to the Centauri System, becomes infected with an alien symbiont that merges with human DNA and slightly alters it, giving the infected individuals new abilities and urgent compulsions such as the persistent need to spread the organism to others. In order to manage this compulsion, while still preventing a world-wide epidemic of its infection, Eli creates an isolated, self-sufficient community where the organism can be contained and those infected can live an almost happy life. Additionally, in order to appease the compulsion, Eli sends groups of individuals to gradually capture and take in groups of people, infecting them and thus making them a part of the community. Although the situation is still highly non-consensual, it is Eli’s best effort at preventing world-wide catastrophe while still pleasing the organism. 

Despite Eli’s best efforts however, his system is put to the test when Blake and his daughters are abducted into the community. Blake is a doctor, and the minute he is captured and forced onto the ranch he is persistently motivated to find an escape for his family in order to receive what he believes to be real medical attention, thus risking a world epidemic: “He hoped he could escape them too and get real help. Medical help, finally” (Butler 592). Blake’s grave mistake when making this decision is overestimating his ability to fight the organism’s given compulsion.  Thus, he puts the world in danger just to hold on to a hope that he might be able to save himself and hopefully his children from the organism. Eli and Meda (a fellow resident of the community) continuously urged Blake of the dangers of leaving the ranch and the precaution that it requires. Yet, despite all of the warnings and basic understanding of how the organism works, Blake still makes the decision to escape. In this decision, Blake does what he feels is best for himself, without care of the consequences that it could have on the world around him. It was a decision made in arrogance, as Blake believed that he could study the organism better than Eli ever did.

Eli and Meda had gone into great detail about the organism and how it is a creature of its own with its own wants and needs. But despite the warnings from individuals who have been fighting the organism’s compulsions for years, Blake still seemingly chooses to do what he wants for himself. However, when we look more closely at what we know about the organism we can also question as to whether Blake’s motivations for leaving the ranch might have been altered by the organism. Especially since the minute he leaves the ranch, he is unable to resist the compulsion, and infects a truck driver immediately after his escape: “I grabbed him, her father said. “I couldn’t help it, couldn’t control it. He smelled so…I couldn’t help it. God, I tore at him like an animal.” So like the blue sleeve, the blood on his hand was not his. He had spread the disease” (Butler 618). In studying the organism, it is clear that it actually alters the human brain. Thus, we can conclude that when Blake made the decision to leave the ranch the decision was not entirely his own. When describing the organism to Blake, Meda had stated: “He said his wife and the other doctor did autopsies on the crew member who died before them. They found little round organisms in the brains of every one of them” (Butler 498). Eli’s wife, who was a doctor, had done all she could with advanced technology to study and stop the spread of the organism, but no methods were effective, and it became clear the organism become infested in your brain.

When we personify the organism to have its own thoughts and motivations, consent and the process of decision making becomes an entirely new and tricky concept to grasp. Was Blake entirely in control of his actions and his thoughts at the end of this novel? Or was it simply the organism pushing him to do what it has wanted all along, to infect the planet.  Looking at it from this perspective, we can compare the characters Blake and Eli and their will power in fighting the organism. Was Eli or Blake more justified in their actions? Begging this question, we have to remember that Blake was captured against his will by Eli and forced to be infected with an organism that he never consented to have. After he survives the infection, Blake is then informed that he is not even allowed to leave the ranch that he has been kidnapped to and he is condemned to give up his other life and create one on the ranch. From Eli’s perspective we can say that he is doing his best to make a bad situation right in the best way he knows how. So, who is truly to blame for all of this nonconsensual action? At the end of the day, it is the organism that we have blame; however, we must not forget that human-will still plays a factor as the organism is not fully in control as demonstrated by Eli and his efforts. In comparison, it can be concluded that Eli was entirely more successful as a character at containing the organism and its compulsions than Blake.

So, through all of this confusion what is Butler trying to communicate to us? The character’s moral dilemmas are intense, and they are faced with a question of should I do what is right for me or right for everyone else? Blake chose to do what he felt was right for him – escaping the ranch. Eli on the other hand chose to do what was right for all, even if the methods were nonconsensual. In defending himself, Eli might argue that creating the ranch was the lesser of two evils – infecting some in order to prevent infecting all. Unfortunately, all of Eli’s efforts to contain the organism are destroyed at the end of the novel by Blake’s decision to escape.

Circling back to “Zulus”, we can look at how Kevin Peter’s decision to end the world had similar motivations to Blake escaping the ranch. Kevin Peters was an intensely cynical character who felt that the post nuclear apocalyptic world had nothing left to offer him or anyone else for that matter; thus, releasing the agent would be a mercy to all humans left living on the barren earth. To Kevin Peters, the choice seemed black and white, the only answer was to end it all. Looking at Blake in “Clay’s Ark” however, it is clear that his decision-making process had become clouded with the underlying motivations of the organism. Although he may have escaped for himself, he still gives in to the organisms urges and infects an individual once he escapes. In conclusion, Butler is communicating to us that consent is a dense and highly complicated idea. Taking these lessons into account, and in studying the decisions of characters such as Eli, Blake, and Kevin Peters, it becomes clear that in order to make a consensual decision, you must consider all angles, motivations, and perspectives.

The Power of a Decision: What motivates your choices?

Decision making is a daily part of our lives. Whether a small decision, or a life-altering one, it is these small choices that determine what our future holds. In Percival Everett’s “Zulus”, the characters are faced with seemingly impossible choices that deeply affect not only themselves but those around them on a global scale. Tying this back to the central idea of this course, we can analyze what Everett is trying to communicate to his readers about consent, and how it should play a deep role in our decision-making process. One of the most tangible real-life examples of this being in medicine, as doctors are constantly faced with the question of is it worth helping one person or a group of individuals at the expense of another. In studying Harriet Washington’s “Medical Apartheid” we see the horrifying truth of what many doctors decided.

At the conclusion of Everett’s “Zulus”, the characters Alice Achitophel and Kevin Peters come across large chemical tanks which hold a gaseous agent designed to spread across the globe and end all human life. In this scenario, the readers are faced with the vastly contrasting personalities of Alice and Kevin, the two characters having dramatically different world views and opinions. In Kevin Peters eyes, pulling that lever will end all the suffering and nonsense that survivors of the war were left to contend with, as he is deeply cynical and feels that this world has nothing left to offer. Alice, on the other hand, the only fertile woman left on this world, is still hopeful that there can be a future for the survivors of the war. Looking at the conversation between the two characters, their opposing worldviews become extraordinarily apparent: “That is the Agent. That’s the gas they never let go. In the middle of the war they made it. It kills only humans…See the people, Alice? They come here to watch the resolve, Alice, to get up and release it…She was dizzy with pain, lost in all that she had heard, her mind coming slowly to understand that her child was not a primary concern or interest. But it was a living, breathing child and she could not let it go and she started to cry” (Everett 243). Alice at the end of this conversation realizes that Kevin does not share the same hopeful dreams for their child, a truly stabbing moment as the readers watch this scene unfold, viewing Alice’s hopeful nature be crushed by her faith in Kevin Peters. In the end, Kevin Peters makes the impossible decision for the both of them, Alice standing beside him with her eyes closed tightly shut: “He looked at her with that same face, that same face which had told her before and was telling her now that it was right and true and good and she put her hand on his atop of the lever. She questioned him with her eyes, then closed them” (Everett 245). 

What gave Alice and Kevin the right? Was it okay that they made this choice to end all human life on earth as only two people in a world of several others? In my opinion, this is an intensely non-consensual act. Looking back on the readings that we have done throughout the semester in Harriet Washington’s “Medical Apartheid”, it is easy to see a parallel between the mindsets of several doctors and Kevin Peters. For example, in chapter ten of “Medical Apartheid”, Washington exposes the abusive and malice experimentation done on Philadelphia’s Holmesburg prisoners by Dr. Albert M. Kligman. The experiments were performed on African American prisoners as to gain a better knowledge on the field of dermatology. But at what cost? Numerous prisoners were left scarred and in deep excruciating pain against their own will. Dr. Kligman even went as far as to induce illness on his patients for his own personal gain: “…Kligman was inducing foot fungus, not treating it, because he saw the opportunity to conduct lucrative experiments upon thousands of captive bodies…” (Washington 249). It is horrifying to see how individuals such as Dr. Kligman were able to justify these actions based on the merits of harming few for the betterment of several others. Although Kevin Peters was most certainly not reaching levels of malice on the scale of Dr. Kligman, there is still something to be said about what Everett is trying to express through his character. Everett is aware of the nonconsensual elements of our society and how sometimes people in powerful positions are able to make life-altering decisions for many even though they are only one person. Dr. Kligman, in a position of power over the prisoners of Holmesburg prison, abused his status and managed to get away with nefarious medical experimentation, just another real- world example of the nonconsensual atrocities that have and still plague our society. 

As Everett concludes his novel, you are left uneasy and dissatisfied with the journey that you were just dragged along, as in the end, nothing was accomplished. However, the takeaway of “Zulus” is not the conclusion of the story arc. Rather, it is the collective reflection on human nature as we follow the evolution of a population left shell-shocked after a nuclear catastrophe. With a deadline to the population, Everett paints a scene that strips away all the distraction of an innovating world. His characters are left only with survivors and how they treat one another – and the results are shocking, yet not entirely foreign to what we experience in the real world today. The novel leaves you to question all of the above, and that in conclusion was Everett’s purpose.

The Power of Words

What is the true power of words? They string together our stories and can be exhibited in the form of names to give us identities. The innumerable diction of the human languages speaks volumes to our complexity as a species. In novels such as “Zulus” by Percival Everett and “Zone One” by Colson Whitehead, we see this deep love and appreciation for language and words as both authors use them to assert their points pertaining to the larger themes within their writing.

In Everett’s “Zulus”, he masterfully crafts phrases and plays on words to deliver the theme of the absurdities and hypocritical nature of his post-apocalyptic world, and thus mankind. Alice Achitophel’s drive to bring and support life to an already barren world is both ironic and hopeful in the melancholiest sense. Her hopeful character juxtaposed by her lover, Kevin Peters who is deeply cynical and hopeless when it comes to the future. To express these absurdities Everett often misspelled words: “…realx and let things happen as they would…” (Everett 153). Why does he choose to do this? Reading and rereading the novel it becomes clear that by misspelling the words of our known language, Everett is creating modifications of his own to change the language and thus give the word an entirely different portrayal. By creating his own spin on such a common word “relax”, he is showing us how we can and are constantly evolving as humans, whether physically or linguistically. Delving deeper into this, we can analyze Everett’s choice to write “Zulus” from A-Z, a purposeful narration as Alice Achitophel is the one retelling her story within the book, her only line of sight being the alphabet with her ever-conscious mind even after human extinction. After the world ends, it is ironic that Alice is still able to evolve, changing the story slowly word by word, phrase by phrase; it is these small misspelled words that show this gradual evolution of both the novel and Alice Achitophel herself, as they are one and the same. 

Everett additionally uses several Latin phrases to display his themes, most notably: “And the words, scrawled and printed. GIKICKIGWEJUG MUTATO NOMINE” (Everett 212). “Mutato nomine” is a part of the Latin phrase “mutato nomine de te fabula narratur” which translates to with the name changed, the story applies to you. A flexible phrase as it can be applied to several elements within both “Zulus” and “Zone One”.  In “Zulus”, Alice Achitophel is urged to obtain a fake identity in order to work with Geraldine Rigg in the hospital and help the supposed “rebels”. Alice Achitophel takes on the name of a deceased infant, Esther: “We find a baby that died, get the name and go to the Bureau of Records… They’ll know she’s dead. No one will know…Births and deaths are not cross-referenced. And who would have time to care anyway?” (Everett 171). This lack of acknowledgment and care of death record keeping can be compared to the dehumanization of the skels in Whitehead’s “Zone One”. The skels were not kept record of and no one felt that it was even important enough to bother. In Everett’s post-apocalyptic world, human life is seen to have a deadline, as there are no children left to be born and those who are left on the barren-earth are there simply just to die. The skels similarly have no future, no life to look forward to, as they are aimless and purposeless just as the characters are in “Zulus”. A fact that Alice Achitophel comes head to head with when her and Kevin Peters decided to release the chemical agent. This is why it is so deeply ironic that Alice goes through such measures to change her identity and thus life to try and make a world long past saving, a better place.

Bridging the Latin phrase to Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One” we can take a closer look at the naming of the novel’s main character “Mark Spitz”. Mark Spitz is the name of an Olympic swimmer from the 1970s, yet Whitehead’s main character in a post-apocalyptic world is purposely given this name. This “renaming” of individuals (both Alice and Mark) demonstrates the complexity of a name and the weight that it bears on our own identities. Just as the words in our languages are innumerable so are the individuals that these words pertain too. This concept of being “innumerable” is applied in Whitehead’s diction throughout his novel. Whiteheads vocabulary is so ridiculously expansive that you find yourself holding open a dictionary throughout your entire experience reading the novel just to understand the plot. Whitehead is so meticulous with his complicated word choice that he even utilizes words such as “defenestration” which literally means “the act of throwing something or someone out of a window”. It is with this absurd use of language that Whitehead makes his point within the novel not to forget the stories of the skels and thus those who are often disregarded. By using these uncommon words, Whiteheads brings them to the spotlight making the point that all words and thus individuals deserve to be acknowledged and known, and maybe even understood. Tying this back to “Zulus” we can compare Everett’s sarcastic use of language with Whitehead’s indirect complexity and purpose to his novel’s diction.

Both Percival Everett and Colson Whitehead expertly craft their prose to display deep and insightful themes that leave you questioning several aspects about society. It is with their love for language and cleverness that the reader is able to play a game of “catch” as they read their works, grasping at each clue and bread crumb that is left to analyze the bigger picture. Both “Zulus” andZone One” take place in post-apocalyptic settings as to invoke that things need to change in order to prevent the realities that these characters are living through. It is with carefully weaved language that the reader is able to digest and truly learn from the stories told by these authors; thus, the true power of words.

The Injustice in Dehumanization of Those Perceived as Different – Analyzing Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One” By Ashley Boccio

What is the true importance of a name? Does the ambiance of a name define who we are or where we originated?  In novels such as “Zone One”, by Colson Whitehead, we see the clear loss of humanity and origin through the personification of the “Skels”, better known as the infected-undead. In a post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden world, Whitehead explores the depth of names and their importance for an individual’s essence, thus exploiting a highly tangible and consistent nefarious pattern in our own society. Those who are viewed as different, or less than human because of these differences, are often disregarded and forgotten in both life and death; robbed of their basic human rights, based solely on another’s perception of who they are.

Whitehead’s main character, ironically re-named “Mark Spitz” after the Olympic swimmer, is able to personify the dead, perceiving them as people rather than “things”. Unlike the disconnected demeanor of most survivors towards the Skels, Mark Spitz continuously tries to lasso the Skels back to their pre-apocalyptic lives. Focusing on observations such as hairstyles, clothing, and place of work, Spitz is able to piece together a narrative of his own making for the Skel’s last experience alive and who they might have been. Through this action, Spitz shows genuine human sympathy and connection to the Skels, honoring them in his own way. In our first interaction with the Skels in the novel, we see Spitz’s constant attempt to link the dead back to the humanity they left behind:

“The youngest one wore its hair in a style popularized by a sitcom…The bushy eyebrows, the whisper of a mustache — it was hard to avoid recognizing in this one his sixth-grade English teacher, Miss Alcott…He’d always had a soft spot got Miss Alcott…This one was probably the first infected…Just another day at the office when she gets bit by some New York whacko while loading up on spring mix at the corner deli’s Salad Lounge. Full of plague but unaware…She returns to her cubicle the next day because she hadn’t taken a sick day in years. Then the transformation…It happened every so often that he recognized something in these monsters, they looked like someone he had known or loved” (Whitehead 17-19).

It is impossible that Spitz could have ever possibly known this much detail just by observing the Skels, yet it brings him comfort to give each of them a narrative before he puts them to rest. Holding on to their given fiction stories, Spitz is able to keep the Skel’s alive in sentiment, not forgetting who they could have been. In stark comparison, Spitz’s friend Gary, is able to disregard the past lives and experiences of the Skels, viewing them merely as walking objects, dead of all memory, emotion, and thus humanity: 

“Gary didn’t have much sympathy for the dead, a.k.a. the “squares,” the “suckers,” and the “saps” … Gary made no such distinction…they were equally detestable…Gary was unmoved (referring to the narratives Spitz often tried to give the Skels)”. (Whitehead 30-31).

The names and stories of the dead are innumerable, yet they have no connections left to their past-selves other than the very flesh left on their undead bones. All wealth, social class, and human connections of the past world are left null and void after the sweep of death that ran across the world. As we travel through this chaotic novel it is impossible not to ponder what Whitehead is trying to express to his audience and what he had in mind when creating characters such as Mark Spitz and Gary, and their predicaments. 

Delving into the given setting of lower Manhattan, we can look closely at the real-life African Burial Grounds found on Broadway and what their significance might have been to Whitehead when writing his novel. Underneath the streets of lower Manhattan there is an enormous grave of unnamed African Americans, who were buried after living a life in enslavement. The bodies uncovered had no names or grave markers, given zero recognition of the lives they lived, forgotten by a world that refused to view them as equals due to perceived differences. Their bodies were carelessly thrown into the ground, without the decent sense of celebrating their human lives. This evident lack of empathy can be compared to how some of Whitehead’s characters, such as Gary, viewed the Skel’s. It can be inferred that Whitehead is making a statement about this dark part of our human history through his horrific depiction of the Skel’s and how they are portrayed and treated. Just as the undead are innumerable and nameless, so where the slaves of our past society. Whether given numbers, or false names, these individuals and the Skel’s were not given the human commonality of names, as they were viewed as unworthy of a name’s stature and connection to social status. The injustice done to these individuals in both life and death is astonishing, and Whitehead is making us acknowledge the truth and existence of this injustice through his narrative. Whitehead’s character Mark Spitz is depicted constantly attempting to piece together the narratives of the dead, showing respect for the lives that they might have lived. In NYC, we have tried this same idea by building a polished memorial to those buried beneath the city, their lives not to be forgotten in death. The memorial is marked with a map of the world, and symbols of all different religions and spiritualities. Through these visuals, the architects were able to express unity of people of all cultures in life and death. As part of the memorial there stands a teepee like structure, carved out of polished stone. Standing within this structure, a passenger is able to reflect and look onto the memorial. Just as the architects intended, the memorial invokes recognition and reflection of the dead. Whitehead shared similar goals to these architects when writing his novel “Zone One”, making us question how we perceive differences in individuals, and how we weigh an individual’s humanity and character.

Another tangible example of this continued human pattern of dehumanization can be depicted by the mass of unmarked graves of asylum patients found under the Mississippi Health Center. Similar to both the slaves of the African Burial Ground and the Skel’s of Whitehead’s novel, those who were perceived as “mentally insane” were often cast aside and robbed of their basic human rights; excluded from the world and forced to be forgotten. Mental illness was seen as a disdainful and taboo affliction in the past, and often individuals were dropped off at these hellish institutions to never be contacted or spoken of again. Despite the false social perceptions, these individuals were still people with emotions, memories and so on. Yet, we still failed to recognize the humanity in these people, because society told us they were unworthy. Whitehead’s character Mark Spitz breaks through the surface of this pattern and is able to dive deep into the lives of those forgotten, not forgetting their humanity. As Spitz treads through the waters of the zombie apocalypse, he succeeds in holding on to the human decency of recognizing the dead. 

By creating the graphic imagery of the “Skel’s” Whitehead begs this question in a very direct matter, making us question our own perceptions of our world and the people in it. In conclusion, we are all worthy of a name and origin story, and this pattern of disregarding human-lives needs to come to an end.

It’s Time for Us to View the Person Rather than the Data: Percival Everett’s “Zulus” and Ben Chapman’s Food Science Studies Viewed Under the Magnifying Glass of Consent By Ashley Boccio

The idea of informed consent, and whether or not it is being administered, is a complex concept that is constantly adapting to society’s ever advancing expectations. As a result, researchers and physicians are continuously evolving their methods of obtaining consent from their subjects in order to better communicate the risks and situations that they are going to be a part of. In a class skype conversation with Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist and researcher, he shared a specific instance in which a research-subject felt that he had not been fully informed of the elements involved in an experiment. Due to the subject’s lack of medical background, he was alarmed when informed after the fact that he was in contact with a “non-pathogenic” bacterium. Chapman, who is well-educated in the medical field, was aware that “non-pathogenic” means a bacterium is harmless to be in contact with. However, the subject was unaware of this definition, and in response acted with anger due to his lack of knowledge on the subject. This enraged response was triggered by the fact that the subject was a caretaker for an individual with M.S.; in being so, he consistently needed to be cautious of the germs that he could bring home in order to avoid putting his family member in harm. In light of this situation, Chapman became aware that he needed to change and review the way he received consent from the participants in his study, and additionally needed to work on making sure the subjects fully understood all parts of the experiment, not leaving any elements up for interpretation. 

            Looking at Ben Chapman’s process in dealing with his research subjects, it is easy to create a parallel to Alice Achitophel’s experience with the rebels in Percival Everett’s “Zulus”. Alice lives in a dystopian, post-nuclear war society, where it is no longer legal to have children. As a result, all women are forced to be sterilized. However, Alice manages to fall through the cracks, failing to be sterilized. In a violent sequence of events, Alice is impregnated against her will, left hopeless and unsure of how to hide her pregnancy from the world (since it is outlawed). Due to these circumstances, Alice places all her trust in the so-called “rebels” and she flees her home to reach a rebel-base outside of the city. Fleeing the city, Alice is unaware of the true intentions that these rebels have for her and her unborn child – yet naively she blindly follows Theodore Theodore and Lucinda Knotes (known rebels) to the base. There are several occasions where Alice is treated like an object/data specimen rather than an actual living human-being, most memorably when she is first examined by the physicians of the base to determine whether or not she is actually pregnant:

“Alice Achitophel leaned back, the lanky man taking her legs and raising them onto the table. The woman unlaced her shoes and removed them while another doctor switched on the examination lamp and rolled it to the foot of the table. The doctors all stepped back, fanning the air and saying “Oh, my. Oh, my” …  her (Alice’s) words went unnoticed, unheard and the doctors continued to make a fuss about how bad she smelled, and one even conjectured that her malodorous condition was a side effect of her pregnancy… “It’s just this woman is filthy…”…They put Alice Achitophel’s naked feet into the holders and stood between her legs, moaning and complaining even more loudly…it was no longer funny and she began to cry out loud, but, like her words, her sobs went without note” (Everett 89-90).

 In this intensely uncomfortable scene, we witness Alice being treated like an animal, wrestled and ridiculed as if she cannot even feel or understand. It is evident that the rebel doctor’s only concern was for Alice’s unborn child, not Alice herself; viewing her as merely a “vessel” that was to deliver the miracle child. As described by Ben Chapman, this is often a flaw in human-subject based studies, as researchers can often become single minded when looking at their subjects, viewing them merely as data on paper rather than actual people with emotions and connections. This fact is at the crux of what causes Ben Chapman’s incident with the subject who becomes infuriated due to miscommunication and lack of understanding. Responding to the situation, Chapman consults the board of his study, and urges that they change the consent/information papers given to the subjects at the beginning of the study. Unfortunately for Alice, the rebel doctors do not share Chapman’s immense concern with obtaining consent and informing his subjects. As a result, Alice is consistently ignored, and her valid questions and concerns are brushed aside, as they are meaningless in the grand scheme of what the rebels plan to do with Alice’s child, a plan that is kept completely secret from Alice herself.

Chapman goes into great detail when describing his method of research, which involves withholding specific information from the subjects in order to remove bias from the study. This method of study is extremely relevant to Alice Achitophel’s situation as Alice is constantly tragically uninformed about the events she is about to endure. This lack of information, and naivety at times in Alice’s case, is what leads to an extreme series of events were Alice’s body ends up encased in a glass box for the world to observe and gawk at like a scientific specimen. This act of being encased in glass reveals Alice’s true worth to the individuals in the rebel base. Rather than treating Alice like a person (where it is the custom to bury the dead), they instead encase her in glass to be observed by all:

“She was in her body, in the Flesh House, set down to just stare at the walls of her insides, at the petrified organs frozen in mid fester…There was so much light, more light than any daytime offered, shining on her and making everything  all to clear too see.. She hoped she would fill the cube with her salty tears and drown her vision away from the view, but she could even live as a severed head, so she would not drown” (Everett 85).

 This is all done horrifically without Alice’s consent. Delving deeper, it is imperative that we discuss how Everett fully attacks and quite literally “explodes” the entire conception of consent by having Alice be ever aware and conscious of what is done to her body, whether she is alive or dead. Although Alice’s body is scattered in pieces after her unnatural, self-explosive birth, her head somehow manages to remain intact. In a nightmarish depiction, it becomes evident that Alice’s head still remains conscious despite being completely decapitated from her exploded body; Alice is able to perceive and interpret everything that is occurring around her, yet she is unable to respond or make remarks to defend herself. This graphic and surreal situation creates a vivid visual of lack of consent that is truly terrifying. Alice is very conscious about the wrongs being done to her, and assaults against her body, yet she is forever unable to consent to or help her situation, never being put to rest.

In discussion, we can compare this situation to the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks. After her passing due to a rapid cancer, without her or her family’s consent, doctors began using Henrietta Lacks’ ever-reproducing cells for research and medical experimentation. This real-life situation can be compared to Alice’s ever living conscience even after death, her soul never really being put to rest. Looking at it from this perspective, it is impossible not to question the ethics involved with the continued usage of the cells of Henrietta Lacks’ even after her death, her DNA forever living through scientific experimentation without her true consent; just as Alice is forever conscience, left in a deserted world with only the memories and facts that she learned over the course of her lifetime, from A-Z.

How is it that we as a society are so able to put aside an individual, and demean them for our own gain, despite the consequences to that individual or those connected to them? This pattern of non-consensual doings has been repeated throughout time, so much so that several authors, such as Percival Everett, have incorporated these violations into their own literary works. Although “Zulus” is a surreal fiction novel, its concepts and issues can be compared to several tangible real-life situations such as the immortal cells of Henrietta lacks, and even the research studies of Ben Chapman. Just as Chapman recognized that something needed to be improved and changed in his own studies, it is important that we as a society learn to recognize when we need to evolve. Thus, breaking the pattern of seeing merely zeros and ones, when we should be viewing a living human being, with thoughts, emotions, and a free will.

The Deep Effects of Racism and Prejudice on the Body and Mind Analyzed through Toni Morrison’s Characters in “Home”: Part 2- Cee By Ashley Boccio

To continue the idea of character development and growth from my last post, we will be analyzing Morrison’s character Cee, a young, and naive woman at the start of the novel “Home”. When Cee’s brother Frank leaves for the war, for the first time in Cee’s life she is left facing the world without her older brother by her side protecting her. As a consequence, Cee finds herself in a life altering situation working as an assistant to a private practice, experiment-oriented doctor. As the reader follows Cee through her time with the job, it is clear off the bat that there is something incredibly wrong with the situation that she is about to insert herself into. However, Cee as a character is entirely oblivious to the red flags as she comes across them, innocent in not knowing the clear malice they foreshadow. This incident circles back to Cee and Franks shared denial and oblivious nature towards malevolent situations, as discussed in my previous post regarding the burial of a murdered man, blanketed with the imagery of horses.

To truly understand Cee, it is important that we delve deeply into chapter four of Morrison’s novel, where we follow Cee through the process of being interviewed and starting at her new job with the doctor. As Cee makes indicative observations, it is painful to watch as she processes these observations incorrectly, failing to recognize them as dangerous. For example, in Cee’s first weeks at the job, she begins to notice different aspects of the house such as the doctor’s extensive library:

“Now she examined the medical books closely, running her finger over some of the titles: Out of Night. Must be a mystery, she thought. Then The Passing of the Great Race, and next to it, Heredity, Race and Society” (Morrison 65).

Each of these books contain ideologies pertaining to white supremacy, and belief in superior genetics; ideologies that inspired Hitler’s “aryan race”. Anyone who is familiar with these texts would be strikingly alarmed by their proud appearance in a library of a home due to the horrifying opinions and studies that the books contain. Additionally, being that Cee is African American, the display of these books should have been perceived as dangerous and hostile. However, Cee is completely unaware of the harsh, racist ideas described in the texts due to her lack of education in the subjects, and instead she views the library as a representation of the doctor’s extensive knowledge. In Harriet Washington’s, Medical Apartheid, she specifically discusses in chapter six the dangers of scientific theory and the influence that it has on public social opinions. This ties in perfectly with Morrison’s Home as we become aware of the books that are present in the doctor’s home. Washington goes into great detail about how these rogue “scientific theories” were being used as justifications for the horrendous mal treatment and prejudice towards individuals based on the man-made construct of race: “But scientific theory was beginning to trump other philosophies. Scientific theories of racial inferiority had strongly informed the entire nation’s medical perception of African Americans as befitted of slavery, if only because few scientists outside the South troubled themselves to investigate” (Washington 145). In Home, the doctor uses Cee’s perceived “race” and social status to justify his experimentation on her all in the name of science. Morrison successfully displays the dangers of perceived “higher intellectual” thought, as many times these studies were heavily opinionated and just looking for any reason to push down non-whites. Washington uses Dr. Josiah Nott as an example, and his scientific paper on his theory about mulattoes and their standing in the social hierarchy: “The Mulatto A Hybrid – Probable Extermination Of The Two Races if Whites And Blacks Are Allowed to Intermarry” (Washington 145).

It is important to recognize that it is not Cee’s fault that she is naive to these warning signs; circumstantially Cee was truly deceived and manipulated into trusting a home that should have been viewed as a hell house. Her deceivers had specifically been looking for poor, young women, like Cee, that would be naive and unaware of the nonconsensual malice that the job entailed. Cee had been strategically interviewed in a manner that displayed her lack of education, making her a perfect candidate for the doctor’s plans: “Did you graduate from high school? No ma’am… Count? Oh, yes. I even worked a cash register one. Honey, that’s not what I asked you. I can count, ma’am. You may not need to…” (Morrison 59-60). Cee is at a complete disadvantage due to her lack of education, something she even recognizes as she states “How small, how useless was her schooling, she thought, and promised herself she would find the time to read about and understand “eugenics.” This was a good safe place she knew…” (Morrison 65). In this statement alone it is evident how deeply her employers have trapped her in their snare, making Cee trust them entirely. The doctor can be viewed as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, and Cee at this moment only sees the docile, gentle sheep (the beautiful home, the good paying job, the benefits), rather than the monstrous truth (the doctor is going to non-consensually experiment on Cee). 

Circling back to Cee’s observations, it is important to note that Cee is cunning enough to recognize the pattern of the type of people who have had this job in the past, yet she fails to puzzle together why this pattern is present and dangerous: “Her admiration for the doctor grew even more when she noticed how many more poor people – women and girls especially – he helped” (Morrison 64). Cee views this pattern as a representation of the doctor’s kind, giving nature rather than as a warning, and thus another layer is added to the doctor’s deceptively “sheepish” appearance.

Lastly, at the conclusion of chapter four, Cee engages in a truly stomach turning conversation with Sarah, a long term worker of the house. In this ominous scene, Cee is depicted sharing a melon with Sarah, and as they “split the melon,” Sarah repeatedly references that this melon must be female, and why the females are most desirable. As she continues to personify the melon as female, Sarah gives a low-chuckle laugh insinuating that she knows what is going to happen to Cee: “Sarah slid a long, sharp knife from a drawer, and with intense anticipation of the pleasure to come, and cut the girl in two” (Morrison 66). And with this concluding line, the reader is able to assume the reason Frank has received word that Cee is ill, and at the edge of life and death.

After receiving this information, Frank does everything in his power to get to Cee, taking long train rides, staying in strangers homes and so on. When Frank finally reaches Cee, she is in the doctors home, barely conscious and excessively bleeding from her female organs. The Doctor had been consistently drugging Cee and cutting her open bit by bit to perform ungodly experiments. Frank lifts up Cee and rushes her back to their childhood home, where she is delivered to the strong, elderly black woman of the community, who are versed in their own version of the healing process. These women through tough love, and hard work heal Cee both physically and emotionally from the experience that she has just endeavoured. As they rebuild her physical strength, they toughen up her psyche as well: one of the women Ethel even exclaims to Cee, “Don’t let Lenore or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no evil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world”( Morrison 126). Through this healing of the body and mind Cee is finally shown as maturing and independent in character, no longer susceptible to her previous naiveties. As stated by Ethel, “First the bleeding…Next the infection….Then repair” (Morrison 121). Cee begins to truly recognize and accept what had happened to her, and in doing so, she uses this deep pain for personal growth and repair.

As the novel comes to a conclusion, we follow Frank and Cee as they go to bury the man they witnessed as children be improperly buried and hidden from the world. Together the siblings gain closure on the events of their life thus far, accepting the pain, and ultimately conquering it to continue on with their lives.  As they put these bones from their childhood to rest, Cee and Frank stand together under a tree when Cee states: “Come on, brother. Let’s go home” (Morrison 146). This closing line is significant in the fact that Cee is now leading Frank, rather than vice versa. This statement solidifies Cee’s new found strength and independence as a character as she comes full circle at the second burial of this man. 

The Deep Effects of Racism and Prejudice on the Body and Mind Analyzed through Toni Morrison’s Character in “Home”: Part 1- Frank

By Ashley Boccio

In Toni Morrison’s novel “Home” she develops flawed characters, Frank and Cee, that are thrown into situations that dynamically change them at their core. At the end of the novel, each of these characters are able to achieve an impressive level of growth and personal development. In this analysis of Frank and Cee, it is important to discuss the circular nature in which Morrison sets up the prose in her novel, strategically having her characters begin and end physically in the same location, yet emotionally they are entirely changed. One of the largest elements of the novel that incites this character growth, is the intense racism and prejudice that Frank and Cee have to endure. During this time period in America (1930s), it is impossible not to recognize the deep scars of racism and prejudice on society, and how they affected millions of hard working Americans. 

The novel opens up with a romanticized scene of horses freely galloping in a field, told from the perspective of Frank. Although the language used to describe the horses is beautiful, there are clear violent undertones to the entire scene, the beauty and violence perfectly foiling one another to represent the clear emotional coping that both Cee and Frank are developing. The truth of the memory is that young Frank and Cee had stumbled upon something incredibly gruesome and in doing so, they create this beautiful image of horses galloping in a field to deter their minds from what they are actually seeing; the burial of a man who has just been murdered. Frank states, “I really forgot about the burial. I only remembered the horses. They were so beautiful. So brutal. And they stood like men” (Morrison 5). This opening scene is only the beginning to Frank and Cee’s growth from self denial and naivety. 

To begin this analysis we will take a closer look at Frank. Frank is an overprotective brother to Cee, and a veteran of the Korean War. After facing several horrors and losing his childhood friend Mike in the war, Frank is expected to come back to the states and learn to adapt to the society that he had left behind when entering the war. In returning, Frank recognizes that there is an entirely new front to fight on his home turf, racism and prejudice. We are introduced to Frank as he is frantically escaping a mental hospital, gathering only his army uniform and service medal. The first individual he stumbles upon following his escape is a kind reverend named John Locke. After Frank explains his situation, John Locke exclaims to Frank, “You lucky, Mr. Money. They sell a lot of bodies out of there” (Morrison 12). Here we are reintroduced to the dark motif of improper burial in Morrison’s novel. Diving deeper into this scene, it opens up the conversation that healthcare for people of color during this time period was almost entirely avoided as improper practice, experimentation, and lack of consent plagued the field of medicine. Frank had  most likely been found drunk and aggravated, and rather than caring for the lost veteran or considering his struggle with returning from the war, the police throw him into a “nuthouse” to be isolated from society. In 1963, we see one of the first retaliations of segregation in healthcare with the Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital case. Inspired by Brown v. Board of Education, the Simkins case is successful in finally legally recognizing the unlawful violation of unequal healthcare, that has caused generations of colored individuals to still fear medicine to this day. These obstacles that Frank has to face on a daily basis are in his mind worse than any hell he faced in Korea. Morrison is masterful at threading in these instances of racism through gruesome scenes that are witnessed through Frank’s perspective. For example, when Frank is on a train ride to get to Cee, he witnesses a couple of color get physically assaulted by a group of individuals and thrown off the train. In this scene it is important to note that it is Frank’s first run-in with the ghost-like “zoot-suit man” who is symbolic of the hard memories Frank has suppressed. Coming full circle, the zoot-suit man repairs at the end of the novel as Franks reaches acceptance and closure with himself and Cee.

Where we truly see Frank’s growth is in his own personal thoughts and realizations about himself. Morrison works in Frank’s personal thoughts into the plot by inserting every other chapter a diary entry of Frank’s, giving the reader a tid-bit of Franks inner-self. One of Frank’s most striking entries is when he opens up about a young child he encountered in Korea. In this entry, Frank tells us a story about a child who would sneak into their camp daily to take food from their trash. However, one day Frank witnesses the murder of this child, as she is shot in the head. It is clear that this scene had deeply affected Frank, scarring him emotionally, yet we don’t learn till later why he is so deeply affected. Circling back to this scene Morrison inserts an entry of Franks that reveals what had truly occurred in Korea. Frank finally admits to himself that he was the one that shot the child, and he is the one that let the child inappropriately touch him. This brings Frank feelings of deep shame and disgust with himself. However, Frank being able to admit what had actually happened is the first sign of his tremendous growth as a character. Going back to the scene with the horses, Frank had always pushed off bad memories in his mind and replaced them with others to distract himself from the hard truth. Yet here Frank is finally able to admit to himself what had actually happened, and face it head on.

To conclude the novel, Morrison has Frank and Cee go back to the site where they had seen the horses. There they finally accept what they had actually seen. As they dig up the body of the murdered man, they stand in silence both knowing what needs to be done. Together they collect the bones of the man and wrap him gently in a blanket to be buried with a head stone to mark his grave. A proper, humane burial to bring peace to the dead, and in doing so bringing peace to Frank and Cee. As the man is being buried, the zoot-suit man reappears, “…a small man in a funny suit swinging a watch chain. And grinning” (Morrison 144), completing his symbolic purpose in the novel. In my opinion, the zoot-suit man is the ghost of the man who Frank and Cee had watched be improperly buried as kids, his presence staying with Frank (on the train for example) until he can finally be put to rest, as demonstrated through the ghosts clear happiness at the site of this burial. As the “zoot-suit man”  is put to rest, so is Frank’s conscience, representing his indisputable growth as a character.

To be continued in my next post, I will be discussing Cee, and her development as a character in Morrison’s novel “Home.

Delving into the Truth on Today’s Social Constructs: Race, Consent, and Prejudice

By Ashley Boccio

When we look at ourselves and each other, whether we like to admit it or not, we tend to categorize and create groups based on image. For example, when you first meet an individual you may notice if they are blonde, brunette, or ginger. A harmless observation, yet this recognition of difference almost always goes beyond just hair color. Delving into the concept of “race”, a human made ideology not based in biology, we often use stereotypes to unfairly group individuals and make initial judgements on their character. Throughout history, various groups have been persecuted, exploited, enslaved, and ridiculed based solely on race. With this unfair judgement there comes an unwarranted justification for horrific acts without consent or reason. This conversation opens up the platform to the question: how can we learn from our mistakes and atrocities of the past to better ourselves as a society in the future? Although the past may be grim, it is important to dive into the truth on what really happened in order to better understand today’s social dynamic and how if affects our progress today. My personal goal for this course is to learn about and discuss these overarching ideas of consent, race, and prejudice, so I am able to recognize their place in modern society.

To channel our discussion, we can begin with looking at the medical field, and it’s history with the social constructs of race and consent. In Harriet Washington’s book, “Medical Apartheid”, she fearlessly exploits the medical field for their atrocities with involuntary medical experimentation on African Americans. This forced experimentation had gone largely undiscussed for decades and was avoided by almost all in the profession. In reading her work, it is evident as to why a majority of African Americans today have an innate fear and distrust for the medical field; often referred to as “iatrophobia”. In Washington’s initial introduction, a line that truly stuck out to me occurred between her and a colleague. In this conversation her coworkers states: “Girl, black people don’t get organs; they give organs.” A statement that sent chills down my spine, helping me to recognize the gut-wrenching fear and stigma that has followed an entire profession. It is evident that there is a large disconnect based in fear between medicine and an entire group of people. A sad truth, as the medical field can be used as a force of good and healing, and should not be feared in modern society. Even Washington makes it entirely clear that she herself is an admirer of the medical field and the profession, stating that she remains to have full faith in the field and its ability to change and progress for the better: “I am an admirer of medicine, and when not working alongside physicians in hospitals, I have spent decades profiling, describing, and analyzing medical advances and the remarkable people who have made them.” However, despite her love for the field, Washington strongly believes that the stories of these abused individuals need to be heard in order to prevent anything of such horrific scale from reoccurring in the future, even if it means exploiting various medical studies of the past. In doing so it is her goal to break down the barriers between African Americans and the American health-care system in order to benefit both parties in the future. Washington’s take on breaking down the dark under shadow of racism in the medical field is pertinent to the larger discussions being brought in under this courses epigraph.

Book cover to Harriet Washington’s exploitation

In conversation about consent it is impossible not to look at Washington’s exploitation of the infamous “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” of 1932. The study is known for its barbaric practice and experimentation on young African American woman used to gain further information in the gynecological field. These women against their will were subject to surgeries that mutilated their bodies and caused them excruciating pain, all in the name of medical research. Due solely to their race, these individuals were pushed down in society, and never given opportunities to educate themselves or have a fighting chance at being able to escape studies of this nature; their bodies repeatedly subject to tests without their consent, or knowledge of what was going to be done to them. Even in today’s society, it remains a prevalent issue as to what women can and can’t do with their bodies. Consent, and lack of it, has been a large overarching theme throughout history, and it is clear that its discussion is essential to recognizing and breaking down its negative effects on society today.

Cartoon Displayed in the Newspaper regarding the Tuskegee medical studies

Why is it that in our past we have allowed different groups of people to be subject to such horrendous treatment just based on a construct that we ourselves have created? And how can we possibly learn from this? In this course I hope to find the answers to these questions as we read different sources and discuss these difficult subjects. In Geraldine Heng’s book “The Invention of Race in the Middle Ages” he states, “So tenacious has been scientific racism’s account of race, with its entrenchment of high modernist racism…”. A great conclusion to our discussion as it en-captures the hard truth that racism, lack of consent, and prejudice have been the under-belly of our society for thousands of years. It is essential that we can recognize its darkness in order to remove it from our modern dialect and practice. When looking at today’s society it is important to frame our thinking as Washington has in her book. Although there are several horrors, in these horrors there are lessons to be learned. And that’s where I believe this course’s heart lies: in delving into the grit in order to understand how to work towards a brighter future. We can’t expect to change for the better as a society if we do not even know everything we need to re-evaluate and change.