As individuals, we all have our own definitions of freedom; however, as we have come to understand more recently, freedom is not up to our own determination as much as we would like. The recent pandemic has come to toy with our concept of freedom as personal liberties, such as visiting a friend or going to a store or even kissing someone goodbye have been stripped away from us without our choosing. Despite orders to isolate coming from good intentions of our government in order to save others and flatten the curve of the coronavirus (and should be listened to), it has caused many, including myself, to reflect upon the individual’s conditions of freedom and the power we have over such. In America, we are lucky enough to have liberty more often than not to do what we would like, however, under that, we are also bound to the law as United States Citizens. As individuals, we may also find our freedom bonded to things, such as student codes of conduct, bills, and contracts with other individuals and companies. Each one of these reinterpreting our means of freedom as these contracts instill trust in us, as well as vice versa, with consequences for both sides when this is broken. When examining the 2008 housing crisis this is made quite clear as these contracts and mortgages were bounded upon trust both by financial definition, but also by the definition of trust as the belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something on both sides. Inevitably, the breaking of such resulted in the loss of freedom and even expulsion from houses or work for some. In connection to A Mercy by Toni Morrison, this connection between documentation and freedom is made quite clear throughout the reading as characters, such as Florens are bounded to contracts determining their individual freedom whether they fully understand or not, just like those in the 2008 housing crisis.
Just as those purchasing mortgages were bounded to these contracts, slave owners such as Jacob Vaark also had formed a contract which bound Florens and her freedom to such, misconstruing her definition of freedom. Florens, who was expelled from her original master at a young age has known no other life than slavery. In this, it is evident that she finds trust within her ownership as it is all she has known and often misconstrues her understanding of freedom in correlation to being owned. This is evident when Florens meets the indentured servants on her journey to go find the Blacksmith, as she states, “They are certain their years of debt are over but the master says no [and sends them to work]…I [Florens] don’t understand why they are sad. Everyone has to work” (46). These servants, just as Florens, are also tied to documentation, however, their bondage comes in the form of debt just as those who found themselves caught up in the 2008 housing crisis. Evidently these indentured servants broke the trust with those whom they owed their debts to, the consequence of this being their freedom being turned in for work on account of their documentation, which aligns quite closely to the narrative of those who had to work their way out of debt in the 2008 housing crisis. Therefore, the major underlying difference between Florens and these indentured servants, being the expulsion from their own freedom. To Florens, “The dog is not free, it is simply waiting to be found,” (82) hinting towards the documents that bind us and expel us from our freedom when this trust is broken. The power the documents have over Floren’s freedom becomes more evident, however, when they are expelled from her possession.
On her way to find the Blacksmith, Florens is given a letter that binds and proves her ownership offering her a sense of security on her journey; however, when this letter is taken away from her she is expelled from the freedom of safety, similar to those in the 2008 housing crisis. On her journey to find the Blacksmith, Florens is given a letter from Rebekka her master that proves her ownership. Despite not knowing what is in the letter as it is sealed, Florens trusts the document as a means for her to go safely from place to place, just as those who purchased mortgages found themselves trusting the documents that allowed them to purchase a home. Floren’s understands the power in which the document holds as, “With the letter, I belong and am lawful. Without it, I am a weak calf abandoned by the herd, a turtle without a shell, a minion with no telltale signs but darkness I am born with, outside, yes, but inside as well and the inside dark is small, feathered and toothy” (135). Therefore when this documentation of her ownership is stripped away at Widow Ealing’s home, she is expelled from her freedom as the letter gave her the ability to move freely from one place to the next. The instability of not being bound to a document causes Floren’s anxiety and expulsion from the comfort found in the letter and trust; “I am shrinking,” Florens states, “I am not the same…Something precious is leaving me. I am a thing apart” (135). Despite the freedom from the documentation of ownership, she does not find trust in the instability of being free from such, just like those who lost their insurances during the economic crisis. Not being bound to safety and freedom by these documents, therefore deconstructing mediations of freedom for both. Just as those during the crisis may have clung onto family or other people for security, Florens attaches herself to the Blacksmith as she is attracted to the freedom he can bring her despite their relationship being another form of documentation that binds her.
Throughout Morrison’s novel, Florens finds herself entranced by the Blacksmith unknowingly binding herself to him as a form of documentation and freedom, despite her belief that her attractiveness is grounded in love and sex. To Florens, the Blacksmith appears as a man above all other, she finds him seductive and allusive. Throughout the novel, she ties her attractiveness to the Blacksmith on accounts of love and eroticism and binds herself to him describing him as, “my shaper and my world as well. It is done. No need to choose” (83). Her relationship to the Blacksmith, therefore, binding her sense of freedom by controlling her actions and her thoughts. Floren’s instills a sense of trust in him on the account of her documentation which in this sense appears in the form of a relationship. Floren’s even sacrifices and expels her sense of freedom in regards to this trust as she quite openly gives up her freedom for him, “I don’t want to be free of you because I am only alive because of you” (82). Floren’s understanding of trust here can be equated to the trust individuals instill in the important documents that keep themselves safe and “free”, such as during the 2008 crisis. Although Florens does not equate her relationship to the Blacksmith as a form of documentation, she is aware of the power he can have for her as a free man. The Blacksmith’s power, therefore, can be equated to those in the economic world who had the power of controlling these documents and the people who signed them; “He had rights, then, and privileges, like Sir. He could marry, own things, travel. Sell his own labor. She should have seen the danger immediately because his arrogance was clear” (53). Without knowing, Florens is attracted to the safety and freedom a relationship with the Blacksmith can give her on the documentation of her relationship. Evidently, when she is expelled from such later in the novel, Florens has to redefine her perception of freedom. She reconnects herself to the wilderness just as those who found themselves in the midst of the crisis had to find a way to reconnect with a new form of freedom without the security of these documents. Toni Morrison’s novel, A Mercy, sheds light upon the power documents, contracts, and relationships have over our freedom, whether it is evident or not. In the novel, Florens is just one of the characters who provide insight into this concept as she attaches her freedom to documentation both knowingly through the contracts that bind her as a slave and also unwillingly through her relationship with the Blacksmith. Just as Florens finds herself in a series of contacts that she instills trust into and that determine her means of freedom, the parallel between those who instilled trust in their contracts during the 2008 economic crisis becomes clear. When this trust is evidently broken both within the novel and with the events of the crisis, expulsion from definitions of personal freedom is a result. The way in which Morrison binds Floren’s freedom to her documentation, therefore, leaves readers to rework their understanding of how our own personal freedoms and the power it has over our expulsion are controlled by such. In our current state, we as individuals are learning to rework our understanding of freedom as the coronavirus has stripped away many of the personal liberties we once had. Many people are learning to rework their lives from the expulsion of security, rework contracts with bills, rent, and health insurance, as well as redefine their means of freedom as we are bound to a new understanding of freedom on the documentation of our government’s orders and the importance of our relationships.