Shadows and Sinners

As it was pointed out in our introduction to Dante, there are a staggering number of subtle parallels between Dante’s trilogy and Morrison’s. The one that currently holds the most interest for me, and I will be exploring it here, is the presence of ombras/shades. In Inferno, Dante’s Pilgrim encounters ombras, souls in Hell who have sinned, thus condemning themselves to the afterlife there. As a class, we came to the consensus that these souls had each “done individual things” causing their eternal punishment. It implies a kind of agency. Being trapped in Hell didn’t just happen to them. Continue reading “Shadows and Sinners”

Following Her Name

On Wednesday, Dr. Beth reawakened an idea that had interested me at the start of the novel: the significance of Lina’s name in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy. We learn that while she was taken to live with Presbyterians, Lina was given an anglicized name. As readers, we never learn what her birth name had been. However, we do know that “they named her Messalina, just in case, but shortened it to Lina to signal a sliver of hope” (55). This follows from the death of Lina’s people, what is presumed to be the “black death.” According to the Presbyterians, it was “merely the first sign of His displeasure” (55). Already, then, Lina is accompanied by a negative aura, because she is Other. Continue reading “Following Her Name”

Flesh and Souls

When Dr. McCoy gave the suggestion for us to look into this topic, I immediately knew I was going to do so regardless of whether or not I wrote it as a blog post. For a while now, flesh has been a recurring topic in my writing, and as a Creative Writing major it’s something I am still exploring through fiction and poetry. However, I have not looked at it through the lens of slavery, which I will try here and now to do.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word flesh comes from the Old English flæsc, meaning “meat, muscular parts of animal bodies; body (as opposed to soul).” Looking at this root, I am drawn to the emphasis on physical body “as opposed to soul,” as though merely an empty casing. Here, I’d like to draw a connection to the setting of this word within Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, in which the word is spoken within a religious colony. Souls would have been of particular concern for the inhabitants of such a place. In regards to slavery, this reading would have a particular significance, as the enslaved persons are being viewed by the slave owners as “commodities” and less than human.

I would then like to draw our attention to the character Jacob who speaks the line “Flesh is not my commodity” in the second chapter. While Jacob regards himself as morally upright and looks down upon the plantation owner D’Ortega’s lavish lifestyle, does his using this term provide us the reading that he may not view the enslaved as full human beings, but rather as bodies lacking a soul? If so, is he then as morally upright as he so thinks?