“Hear a tua mãe”

Throughout Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, the absence of Florens’s mother is heavily emphasized. This absence is noticed by multiple characters in the novel, not just Florens. Through Florens’s narration, the perspectives of other characters such as Jacob Vaark, and the presence of other mother/daughter relationships, Morrison draws attention to the absence of Florens’s mother. Florens feels abandoned—she is separated from her mother and her original plantation with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Without her mother’s perspective, neither readers nor Florens have the necessary tool to interpret her mother’s absence. However, readers eventually learn that her mother offered her to Jacob Vaark to prevent Florens from being raped; therefore, Florens has her mother’s love all along. While Florens constantly notices the absence of her mother, she does not have her mother’s perspective; without this perspective, Florens is unable to interpret her mother’s love.

Florens is surrounded by maternal figures, but her own mother remains absent. Seeing other mother/daughter relationships calls attention to this absence, both for Florens and for readers. Jacob chooses to take Florens to his plantation because “Rebekka would welcome a child around the place” (Morrison 30). Jacob knows that Florens cannot replace their late daughter Patrician, but he hopes that “Rebekka would be eager to have her” (Morrison 37). Just as Florens cannot replace Patrician, Rebekka cannot replace Florens’s mother. Therefore, the circumstances under which Jacob brings Florens to his plantation calls attention to the removal of Florens from her mother as well as the absence of Florens’s mother in her life.

The absence of her mother is also emphasized by the introduction of the mother/daughter relationship between Widow Ealing and Daughter Jane. When Florens is with Widow Ealing and Daughter Jane, she notices her mother’s absence more frequently than she does in the rest of the novel. For example, she narrates: “If my mother is not dead she can be teaching me these things” (Morrison 129). This passage shows that Florens notices that she lacks her mother’s presence, while Daughter Jane does not. Moreover, after spending more time with the mother/daughter duo, Florens ponders: “I am a weak calf abandon by the herd, a turtle without shell, a minion with no telltale signs but a darkness I am born with, outside, yes, but inside as well and the inside dark is small, feathered and toothy. Is that what my mother knows? Why she chooses me to live without?” (Morrison 135-136). Florens notices that a piece of her life is missing and that it creates an internal darkness; the missing piece is her mother’s love which she so desperately craves.

Like Florens, Jacob also does not think that Florens has her mother’s love. Jacob thinks that by telling him to take Florens, her mother is “throwing away” Florens (Morrison 39). Since Jacob himself was orphaned at a young age, he projects his own abandonment onto Florens: “ “he continue[s] to feel a disturbing pulse of pity for orphans and strays […]. he [finds] it hard to refuse when called on to rescue an unmoored, unwanted child” (Morrison 38). He further implies Florens’s lack of her mother’s love when Morrison writes that “he [knows] there [is] no good place in the world for waifs and whelps other than the generosity of strangers” (37). Florens is not an orphan, and her mother did not abandon her without reason; however, without Florens’s mother’s perspective, Florens and readers are led to believe Jacob’s perspective—that Florens mother does not love her.

In the final section of the novel, Morrison shows the reader that Florens has her mother’s love all along, even though Florens constantly notices her absence. Through this section, readers learn the true reason that her mother gave her to Jacob: “To be female in [D’Ortega’s] place is to be an open wound that cannot heal” (Morrison 191). Florens’s mother is a survivor of sexual abuse, and fears that Florens will suffer the same fate if she remains on D’Ortega’s plantation. Florens’s mother’s perspective shows that “Breasts provide the pleasure more than simpler things. [Florens’s] are rising too soon and are becoming irritated by the cloth covering [her] little girl chest” (Morrison 190). Her mother sees the men on the plantation lustfully looking at Florens’s growing breasts, yet she notices that Jacob looks at Florens for a different reason; her mother says “[t]here is no protection but there is difference. […]. I said you. Take you, my daughter. Because I saw the tall man see you as a human child” (Morrison 195). Since Jacob does not look at Florens as a sexual object, her mother hopes that she will be safer at Jacob’s plantation than at D’Ortega’s. Without her mother’s perspective, Florens cannot know that her mother was trying to save her, or that her mother refers to her as “my love” (Morrison 190). Therefore, Florens lacks the tool to interpret her mother’s love; she just knows that her mother is absent.

Florens undergoes expulsion when she is removed from her mother, but without her mother’s perspective she cannot understand the reason that she was expulsed. Like many people who undergo expulsion, she was seemingly removed from her home and her mother without any warning or any reason. Confusion works as a force for expulsion since without the proper tools to understand their expulsion, people who have been expulsed cannot change their situation. Florens’s confusion makes her unable to understand her situation; she sees examples of motherly love, yet cannot know if her own mother loves her. Without her mother’s point of view, she has to blindly trust that her mother does love her and that there is a reason behind her expulsion. She longs to understand and to talk to her mother, but her mother is absent. Her desire to talk to her mother can be seen when Florens narrates: “There is no more room in this room. These words cover the floor. From now you will stand to hear me. […]. My arms ache but I have to tell you this. I cannot tell it to anyone but you. […]. Sudden I am remembering. You won’t read my telling” (Morrison 188). This longing emphasizes her mother’s absence in her life, and shows how badly Florens wants her mother’s perspective in order to better understand her situation. Her mother’s perspective is the only tool that can help her understand the reason behind her expulsion—that she has her mother’s love all along.

From the final section of A Mercy, readers can see that Florens has her mother’s love all along. Florens, due to the absence of her mother, does not have her mother’s perspective; therefore, she lacks the necessary tool to interpret her expulsion and her mother’s love. Florens’s mother pleads “In the dust where my heart will remain each night and every day until you understand what I know and long to tell you” (Morrison 195-196). She wants Florens to understand that she allowed Florens to be expulsed in order to prevent a life full of rape and sexual assault. The novel ends with the powerful phrase “[h]ear a tua mãe” which, when translated, means “hear your mother” (Morrison 196). This line emphasizes how powerful of a tool Florens’s mother’s perspective is. Although Florens and readers notice the absence of Florens’s mother, her perspective is the only tool that can be used to help Florens understand that motherly love is the reason behind her expulsion. If only she could hear her mother, she would be able to understand.

Addiction and Human Interconnection

Since humans are inherently interconnected, one person’s addiction, whether it be to a substance or to something else, affects other people. Merriam-Webster defines addiction as “a strong inclination to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly.” In The Turner House, the various addictions of Turner family members affect other members of the family; however, the addictions of the risk-taking investors and brokers in The Big Short affect the entire economy of the United States. While Angela Flournoy in The Turner House, directly acknowledges addiction and the effects of addiction on individuals, Michael Lewis only indirectly mentions addiction in The Big Short. A direct acknowledgment of addiction, and the effects of addiction, is missing. Therefore, while The Big Short and The Turner House both tell stories of the financial crisis, The Big Short masks the effects of addiction on individuals which The Turner House illuminates.

The Big Short takes a subtle and indirect approach to discuss addiction. Addiction is primarily discussed, and largely dismissed, through the frequent use of the word “obsession.” Lewis describes a group of investors for whom “the trade became an obsession” (106). The use of the word “obsession” seems to suggest, and largely gloss over, a gambling addiction. While this gambling addiction extends far beyond an average poker table, the effects are also much greater; however, Lewis never directly addresses the effects of these large-scale addictions on individuals and dismisses addiction as “obsession.”

The only individual person that Lewis suggests has an addiction is Michael Burry, yet he still never directly calls it an addiction. Within the first paragraph of introducing Burry, Lewis refers to Burry’s “new obsession” (26). He later clarifies that Burry’s “lifelong obsession [is] the inner workings of the stock market.” and that he “dragged his obsession along with him through high school, college, and medical school” (35-36). Lewis’s focus on Burry’s “obsession” shows that Burry is addicted to the stock market, even though Lewis never directly calls it an addiction. Instead, Lewis suggests that this addiction to the stock market is due to Burry’s Asperger’s syndrome: “it explain[s] an awful lot about what he did for a living and how he did it” (183). By implying that Burry’s addiction is due to Asperger’s, Lewis further masks the effects of addiction on individuals and the part that these addictions played in the economic crash. Unlike Lewis’s negligible attention to addiction and the effects of addiction on individuals, Flourney sheds light on the effects of addiction on both the addicts and their families. 

By showing the emotions and inner workings of individuals and their families, The Turner House presents addiction in a way that is far more direct than in The Big Short; this presentation directly shows the effects of addiction on individual people and their families. Flournoy very clearly shows the specific addictions of every member of the Turner family:

There was Francis, who Alice had called an alcoholic […]. There was Lonnie, […] he had dabbled in heroin as young as thirteen and was clearly still on something […] at the age of fifty-three. Troy […] was obsessed with success […]. There was Marlene, and with her Viola Turner herself, not really hurting anyone with their obsession […] they were downright absorbed with the flea market stall […]. There was [Tina], not a Turner by blood, but thirty years rubbed off on people. He felt a pinprick of guilt calling Tina’s church involvement an addiction, but that’s how he thought of it. Now here was Francey standing before him, obsessed with nutrition and vegetarianism and kitchen gadgets. […]. Maybe Cha-Cha himself was addicted to being in charge of the family, or going to therapy with Alice, or even this revived idea of a haint. (Flournoy 85)

Through this passage, Flournoy shows the various addictions of many different people which stands in stark contrast to Lewis’s ignoration of the investors’ addictions. In addition to showing the addictions of the Turner family, Flournoy continues to directly display the effects of addiction on individuals and their families. 

One example of the effects of addiction on individuals and their families is Flournoy’s depiction of Lelah, a gambling addict: “What folks [say] about idle hands and the devil [is] true for Lelah; busyness [is] her best defense against the urge to fondle those chips” (96). Through this passage, Flournoy directly addresses one way that Lelah’s addiction affects her daily life—she needs to constantly keep herself busy. Flournoy also shows the devastating effects of Lelah’s gambling addiction on her life when she gets suspended without pay for borrowing money from her coworkers, and when she gets evicted from her home (45). 

In addition to the effects of addiction on Lelah’s own life, Flournoy shows the effects of Lelah’s addiction on her family members. Lelah needs money, so she searches through the basement of Viola’s house for things to sell. She eventually sells “things that weren’t hers, maybe for a lot less than they were worth” (104). If her siblings were to return for their Asian-style dagger or gold earrings, they would not find them. Lelah sold these things without her siblings’ consent, in order to finance her addiction. Flournoy presents a complete description of Lelah’s gambling addiction, giving addiction a specific face and allowing readers to feel a human connection. Therefore, The Turner House sheds light on what is missing in The Big Short because while The Big Short and The Turner House discuss many of the same concepts, The Turner House personifies these concepts in a way that The Big Short does not.

The Big Short does not emphasize the devastating effects on addiction on individuals; it does, however, indirectly show what happens when individuals in positions of power are addicted to risk-taking and the effects of that risk-taking on the U.S. economy as a whole. On the other hand, The Turner House shows not only the effects of addiction on individuals and families that are struggling with addiction, but also the economic effects of the U.S. economy on these individuals and these families. The addiction of the risk-takers in The Big Short alter the lives of the people in The Turner House, who have addictions of their own. A major difference between both narratives is that the addicts in The Big Short do not take any accountability for the consequences of their addictions, even though the extent of the damage caused by their addictions is far greater than any member of the Turner family. Due to human interconnectedness, one person’s addiction inevitably affects the lives of others. This is a concept that is made extremely clear in The Turner House, yet is mostly neglected in The Big Short. By giving readers a more direct insight into the effects of addiction on individuals and their families, The Turner House allows readers to feel more human compassion. Lewis fails to hold the investors accountable for their addiction, and the effects of their addiction on their families and the entire U.S. economy. On the other hand, Flournoy clearly and directly illuminates the effects of addiction on addicts and the families of addicts, and also shows the devastating effects of the investors’ and brokers’ addictions that Lewis masks. Therefore, The Turner House sheds light on what is missing in The Big Short: a direct acknowledgment of addiction and its effects.

Lear’s Transactional Loyalty

Depending on the context, the words ‘liquid’ and ‘swap’ can have varying meanings. On dictionary.com, liquid is defined as “flowing like water” and swap is defined as “to make an exchange”. These definitions explain the most common conversational meanings of these terms; however, both liquid and swap have different meanings in the financial world. According to Investopedia, liquidity is defined as “the degree to which an asset or security can be quickly bought or sold in the market at a price reflecting its intrinsic value” and swap is defined as “a derivative contract through which two parties exchange the cash flows or liabilities from two different financial instruments”. William Shakespeare’s King Lear uses both the conversational and transactional definitions of these words, especially surrounding King Lear’s notion of loyalty. In King Lear, loyalty is treated as liquid, both in its way of flowing between characters and its function as an asset that can be used or misused in a swap between parties.

Loyalty becomes liquid because it flows freely, like water, from character to character throughout the course of the play. This liquidity of loyalty can be seen through Lear’s ever-changing relationships with his daughters. In the beginning of the play, Lear is most loyal to Cordelia as he “love[s] her most” (1.1.137); however, this loyalty is quickly lost when Cordelia refuses to flatter him. Within the first scene of the play, Lear abandons his loyalty for Cordelia in favor of Regan and Goneril. As loyalty flows between characters, it becomes an asset.

Even though loyalty cannot be directly converted into cash, it can be bought and sold for a price. Lear wants consistent loyalty, but he does not remain consistent in his own loyalty. This inconsistency of loyalty relates to Lear’s idea that “[n]othing will come of nothing” because since Lear does not give consistent loyalty, he does not get loyalty in return (1.1.99). Instead, Regan and Goneril abuse Lear’s nature by feigning loyalty to Lear for their own gain. In return for their loyalty, Lear gives them land. This transaction shows that loyalty functions as a liquid asset that can be swapped.

The transactions between Regan, Goneril, and Lear shows that love, even when fraudulent, can be exchanged for loyalty. When love is exchanged for loyalty, Regan, Goneril, and Lear partake in a swap; however, since Regan and Goneril’s love—or at least the extent of it—is dishonest, Lear is being misled at his own detriment. In this particular example of a swap, Lear does not totally consent to the terms of the swap. Yet, later in the play, Lear initiates another swap with Regan and Goneril.

In Act 2, Lear attempts to exchange loyalty for personal and financial gain. He attempts to negotiate with Regan and Goneril to determine which of his daughters will allow him to keep the most of his men. To keep his men is a sign of loyalty to Lear, so whichever daughter will allow him to keep the most men will receive loyalty in return. Initially, Goneril offers Lear to keep half of his men, and Regan suggests that he only keep “five-and-twenty” (2.4.285). As Lear attempts to negotiate with his daughters, the number of men that they will allow him to keep diminishes. At this point, Lear’s loyalty to his daughters, and their loyalty to him, diminishes as well. Just as loyalty can be swapped for personal and financial gain, a lack of loyalty can be exchanged for expulsion.

Due to his liquid loyalty and the swaps of loyalty that Lear makes with his daughters, he eventually is expelled into the storm. When Lear’s liquid loyalty is misplaced and subsequently lost, it is replaced with another liquid in the form of rain. The rain and the flood symbolize Lear’s loss of his liquid assets, as he is now homeless in the storm. Lear’s expulsion forces him to rethink his actions previous to being cast out in the storm. He realizes that he has been disloyal to his people, and as he experiences “what wretches feel” he acknowledges that he should have taken better care of the homeless while he was king, since they have no protection from storms (3.4.39). In spite of Lear’s insanity, he manages to look beyond his own past privilege and supernumerary wealth. Lear’s self-reflection is one of his human responses to his expulsion.

Lear’s self-reflection continues when his liquid loyalty once again flows back to Cordelia. He asks Cordelia for forgiveness which he hopes to swap for the return of mutual loyalty between himself and his daughter. Lear’s expulsion made him realize that Cordelia has been his most loyal daughter all along. His loyalty, like the tides of ocean, “ebb and flow by th’ moon” (5.3.20). Although the constant swapping of his liquid-like loyalty Lear lost all of his liquid assets, yet he regains the loyalty of his only truly loyal daughter.

Overall, in King Lear Shakespeare uses both the conversational and transactional definitions of ‘liquid’ and ‘swap’ to emphasize the nature of King Lear’s loyalty. Throughout the play, loyalty flows between characters and can be used as a commodity to achieve personal and financial gain. Loyalty is used and abused in transactional exchanges between parties, and is treated as both an asset and a liability. Due to his temporarily misplaced loyalty, Lear swaps his liquid financial assets for the liquidity of rain once he is expulsed; the liquidity of his loyalty is his fatal flaw. Through his expulsion, however, Lear is able to self-reflect upon his past mistakes and realize who he should have been loyal to all along.