Final Self-Reflective Essay

Bailey Foster/ Dr. Beth McCoy/ English 111-01 / 14 December 2022

Literature is very subjective and can be viewed from many points of view, and some texts can have a similar interpretation around a core concept. King Lear, The Big Short, The Turner House, A Mercy, and Parable of the Sower all have one concept in common; expulsion. This commonality can in turn relate all of these texts to the 2008 housing crisis, and whether the books were written long before or after the crisis; they can all be analyzed in terms of a financial crisis.

“On Sept. 29, 2008, the stock market fell 777.68 points in intraday trading. It was at the time the biggest point drop in history (Investopedia).” This fall in the stock market was due to a bubble bursting that held billions of dollars of worthless investments in subprime mortgages. Many involved in the stock market started to lax the qualifications of getting a mortgage, to the point where many, who had no idea what was going on, were given major mortgages and were not able to pay them back. Even those involved in the fast money-making scheme had no idea what was going on at some points during the building of the bubble, and this, unfortunately, led to many getting expelled from their home that they could never afford in the first place. In The Big Short, Michael Lewis writes, “…Goldman Sachs created a security so opaque and complex that it would remain forever misunderstood by investors and rating agencies…(page 72)” This quote shows that many just went along with Goldman Sachs’s idea with no investigation because it was making money, so there was no point in questioning a system that was so complicated but worked so well. When the system was finally considered though; it was realized why many did not understand the system that was making them millions, because it wasn’t supposed to work. On page 127 of The Big Short it says, “”In the course of trying to figure it out, we realize that there’s a reason why it doesn’t quite make sense to us. It’s because it doesn’t quite make sense.”” All of these events led to what is known as the Great Recession, and the 2008 housing crisis because so many were expelled and left with no place to live. The bursting of the bubble was a monumental event for not only Wall Street and the lower class, but also the U.S. government (who bailed out Wall Street with no consequences because they had to). 

In Parable of the Sower, the community is already in the middle of a financial crisis where basic needs are barely being met. This novel, though written before the 2008 housing crisis, is relevant in terms of topics that are associated with the crisis. There is growing pressure from the outside world that Lauren is worried about. Though some important people in her life do not feel this pressure that she is trying to warn others about. This is like in The Big Short when Dr. Micheal Burry was worried about the longevity and credibility of some tactics that some were using to make quick money. He was subsequently shunned from Wall Street for this. Lauren’s family did not shun her, but they did not heed her warnings and died because of it. Lauren and a few others are expelled from their original home that is Robledo when ‘pyros’ break in and set fire to everything. Though before this happens Lauren’s brother, Keith, leaves on multiple occasions and returns just as much; it is revealed that he joined a group of killing criminals. This is similar to how Lelah in The Turner House gambled an unhealthy amount during times of financial crisis for the Turner family. This compensates for the fact that during times of crisis, financial or not, people can turn to some very bad habits to cope with or counterbalance all the chaos that is going on in one’s life. If the U.S. did not bail out Wall Street when the market crashed; the story that is the Parable of the Sower could have been the reality for many. Little to no food, water, money, or necessities that many take for granted in this day and age. 

This course is all about seeing literature through financial and housing crises, yet it teaches more than just financial terms and the stock market. It teaches one to be able to see literature through lenses that may not be visible to the reader at first glance. GLOBE wants Geneseo students to, “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time” and this course helps students do just that. I had already read King Lear before the start of this semester through the lens of analyzing it based on common core literary devices. I had never seen the play having anything to do with finance, but it became very easy to pick out all the connections to finances and property. For example when Lear divides all of his land between his daughters; this is a great example of liquidity because the land is an easily transferable asset, and Lear easily gives his land to his daughters with just a statement. This quote from Lear, “Nothing will come of nothing…(King Lear, Act 1 Scene 1, line 89)” I had never thought about being important. Though after reflecting on it, it had so much significance in terms of the course as a whole, and how the quote came up every time we read a new text. This practice of looking for examples of financial terms and expulsion in different kinds of texts, over a broad range of topics; has changed how I analyze and look at literary topics from now on. For example, Parable of the Sower could easily be compared to the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 in the sense that both books could be possible futures of the U.S. Another example could be that A Mercy is seen through the context of historical fiction, and young girl forced into slavery, and how she escaped it. Instead, through this class, it was seen how this girl, Florens, was expelled multiple times throughout her life. In the future I might not be looking for housing crises or expulsion, I can now focus on seeing different interpretations of one or more texts.

Many taking this class was only four to eight years old and probably have very little recollection of the event occurring unless their family was a victim of being expelled during this time. I was only four and had no idea this major event occurred until I took economics. My family has never moved in my entire life, but I have known that my family has struggled financially through the years. I had asked my Father about the 2008 housing crisis and if we were affected by it over Thanksgiving break because I was just so curious. He said that we were not directly because we had already bought our current home with a mortgage for a better part of a decade before the market even crashed. Then he explained that he and my Mother worked very hard to get their credit scores back to a better number because they had made some bad choices before they bought our current home. He further explained that we probably have a smaller home and we could have had a bigger mortgage, but they did not want to risk their credit score if they were unable to pay it back. I know that I was not affected by the Great Recession, and other than that I know no one that was affected by it. I am very grateful for that. I am excited to go home for the intersession so that I can talk with my former high school economics teacher about all that I know about the 2008 housing crisis, and have riveting discussions with him to further understand its impact.

Third Mini-Collaboration

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

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

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

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

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

Mini Collaboration #2

Ryan Trebing, Ronnie Trebing, Bailey Foster, Aviana Freece, Riley Weaver, Armaan Garcha 

The Big Short by Micheal Lewis focuses on the events leading up to, surrounding, and consequences of the 2008 housing crisis. The pivotal characters involved are the “higher-ups” in corporations and sneaky CEOs on Wall Street. 

Although The Big Short sheds light on the housing crisis and the financial aspects that go into it, it is missing the real life consequences and the effects it had on people in the financial lower classes. 

One of the key points that is missing in The Big Short would be the discussion of minorities and the effects it had on the community. Minorities, essentially people of color, made up most of the lower financial class. Banks manipulated and took advantage of this group of people without discussing the long term effects of their actions: “…How do you make poor people feel wealthy when their wages are stagnant? You give them cheap loans.” (Lewis, page 14). This quote shows how the banks were giving mortgage loans to the people who could not afford them. They would do this just to cash in big money and become rich. The lower class people of color lost everything after this. The bankers did this because they did not care for this group, all they wanted to do was to make money as fast as possible. “In early October 2008, after the U.S. government had stepped in to say it would, in effect, absorb all the losses in the financial system and prevent any big Wall Street firm from failing…” (Lewis page 247). This quote shows that the “higher-ups” in the financial district of New York City faced no real consequences when their fast money making scheme failed. The U.S. government was there to dime them out when they needed to face the reality of their situation; but they never did, and still have not paid.  

    The Big Short tells about the housing boom that caused banks to give out even more mortgages. They even gave them to people who had no jobs, no income, and no assistance. The lenders were not verifying that the people borrowing the money to buy the house could afford to pay it back. Wall street investments institutions were borrowing heavily to invest in them. This causes them to inflate their value. The lenders offered adjustable mortgage rates that started out very low. People thought they might be able to afford these mortgage rates. Then as the housing market got saturated with too many homes for sale the real estate prices of homes dropped dramatically. People defaulted on their loans and these products became worthless causing a bursting housing bubble and a collapsing Wall Street. The Financial institutions were cut to make profits, even if they had to take advantage of the poor. Borrowers were at first told that they would be able to pay off their loan at a low rate, but this conversation isn’t real. It was a teaser, just to get them to sign up. Subprime loans ended up with high interest rates. The Turner House family went through his experience with their family home. The value of their home went from 40,000 dollars, which they still owned, to the actual market value at that time which was only 4,000 dollars. The Big Short never really went into this whole “Ponzi scheme”. This affected the poor families and their lives.Then as the housing market got saturated with too many homes for sale the real estate prices of homes dropped dramatically. These bankers were mostly concerned in making a lot of money really fast and dishonestly. In The Turner House the real life consequences and damage that Wall Street did is apparent through the unpayable loans and mortgages. For example on page 77 it reads, “The banks are being extra predatory right now. I saw it on the news. They know people can’t pay their mortgages, they knew it when they gave them the loans or let them refinance, but they refuse to renegotiate.” The banks did not care for the lower class people whatsoever. All they wanted was money and this was a great way to take advantage of someone who wasn’t able to do anything about it. The banks would do anything to get the money back that these people owed. “Basically, because you know how these banks are, running through your whole family tree trying to get their money…” (Flournoy page 66). The quote shows how in real life the banks would go through family ties in some cases to get the money they wanted. Some people even resorted to gambling to try and pay off the ridiculous loans and mortgages. Lelah is a prime example of this; even though her gambling was not necessarily related to paying off the family home mortgage, she still suffered the same consequences as a chronic gambler. The Turner House did shed light on situations that The Big Short did not cover or even think about. 

The relevance of these situations and books are prevalent because the consequences of the 2008 housing crisis are still connected to current day 2022 society and economics. People are still suffering and trying to survive from paying mortgages and loans over 10 years ago, while Wall Street still thrives with no accountability of the damages they have done. We see this happening all over the world today in many ways. For example in the Oneida area there are many casinos that are enablers for people with financial issues, possibly still trying to recover from issues caused by the housing crisis. Also COVID-19 not only had an affect on people’s health, it also had an affect on peoples economic situations. At the time of quarantine, a lot of jobs were forcibly shut down and lost, making people lose money and unable to afford basic needs. With this lack of money it can be imagined that it was even harder to pay off loans putting people further into debt. This affects many people’s lives and it will continue to do so in the incoming years.