Finding Freedom in Bondage: How we Instill Trust in Documentation

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.

Liquidity of Narratives

In light of the recent Coronavirus pandemic, we as a society have been forced to look upon the structure of a narrative. Going into this global crisis, we may understand that we are dealing with a historical and global narrative that will be told by historians and future generations. Alongside this narrative, however, we all also have our own individual narratives. I believe that what we are seeing today allows us to better understand the complexities of narratives, their beginnings, and endings and how they work together. Similar to what is going on today, the narratives of those affected during the 2008 crisis also had a greater global complexity playing into the individual narratives, intertwining and flowing like water.  I believe that the readings of both The Turner House by Angela Flournoy and The Big Short by Michael Lewis pair well as both sides of the narratives are covered.  The Turner House offers more insight into the individual narratives of those affected by the 2008 housing crisis which is something that The Big Short struggles with. The individual narratives humanize the crisis, but alongside The Big Short, it also allows us to see how the actions we are so quick to demonize in the world of business, occur on a smaller individual scale. With both narratives working side by side we can see how these narratives are quite similar, despite their scale and it is arguable that without the pairing of these two narratives a well-rounded perspective of the crisis is lost.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis offers readers the narratives of Wall Street’s head honchos and insight into what led to the 2008 economic crash, offering a perspective to a narrative many of us don’t usually have access to. Although the reader is offered insight into the perspectives of those who were at the frontline of the events leading up to the crisis, much of the narrative can also feel distant to the reader still. This is created by the way the book is written. As discussed in class, Michael Lewis’ book mirrors the way a novel would read, but also reads like a textbook. This is where the narrative gets tricky and confusing, pushing the reader further away from the global narrative of the crisis as the reader may find themselves caught up in the financial terms. Although this may push readers further from understanding the global narrative, it actually allows the reader to connect to the narrative as it becomes clear that those in the business world don’t even understand it themselves. As Eisman states at one point, “I didn’t know what the fuck was in the things…No one knew what in them…it was all the pieces of shit we’d already shorted wrapped up together, into a portfolio” (Lewis 116). Once the reader comes to terms with this fact, the line separating the global narrative from the individual narrative becomes blurred allowing for more insight into the actions of those at the frontline. However, once inside the global narrative,  we begin to demonize the actions of those at the forefront.

The attraction towards risk and moral hazard is something readers of The Big Short are so quickly to criminalize in the global narrative. In The Big Short, the attraction towards risk comes to the forefront of the narrative as those interpreting the narrative begin to question the morale associated with the risk. As Eisman put it, “‘It made me feel good that there was such inefficiency to this market….I saw how sausage was made in the economy and it was really freaky” (Lewis 16). We can equate these business actions to moral hazard as a moral hazard is defined as a lack of incentive to guard against risk where one is protected from consequence. This is exactly what the big businesses were doing in the selling and buying of CDOs. We are therefore so quick to demonize these actions and equate these risks to moral hazard which led to the stock market crash of 2008. This comes largely as a result of knowing the forthcoming of the individual narrative, as a consequence of the global narrative; however, The Turner House allows us to see the correlation between these narratives, not that one caused the other, but that the individual narrative is much more similar to the global narrative. 

 Flournoy’s novel essentially liquifies the narrative of The Big Short by humanizing the actions of those of Wall Street into her character’s similar addictions to mirror the actions of those at the forefront of the economic crisis. Through the characterization of Lelah, the demonization of risk and moral hazard comes to a more personable level as Lelah attempts to overcome her gambling problem. The addiction Lelah feels to her gambling problem, therefore mimicking the addiction of those selling CDOs as, “It was about knowing what to do intuitively, and thinking about one thing only, the possibility of winning, the possibility of walking away the victor, finally” (Flournoy 49). The risk that we see Lelah so attracted to is similar to the risk of those involved in the negotiations leading to the crash. Just as Lelah can’t see the coin’s monetary value and the money she is losing, on a larger scale those in big business do not understand the lives they are messing with. Despite it being on a drastically larger scale, the readers can connect the thrill of risk to humanize the people we were so quick to demonize in the first narrative.  The reader also sees how the impact of Lelah’s gambling life plays into her relationships, as her daughter disowns her, her love life failing, and she loses her home. All these results, therefore, mirror possible realities for those affected during the crisis. The narrative offered in The Turner House, therefore, allows the reader insight into some of the individual narratives of the 2008 crisis, but also allows connection on a much larger scale, thus allowing the stories to flow together and pair well. 

Although the narrative of The Turner House sheds light upon personal and individual narratives of the 2008 crisis, there is much more to be understood when The Big Short is paired with it. Just like anything, there are two sides to every story, just as there are two narratives when it comes to global events. The first narrative is the one that we all see as a society which is seen in The Big Short, but there is also an individual narrative that each person faces which is seen in The Turner House. When we focus on the individual narratives, however, we can see the fluidity and connections between the greater global narrative and the individual narrative itself. This is the connection that can, therefore, be made between the narratives of The Big Short and The Turner House, humanizing the global narrative by the individual. In connection with the recent pandemic, we may want to apply this concept as we see how the coronavirus rewrites our current narrative globally but also impacts us closely. By examing them both, however, we can see how these narratives work hand in hand and through both narratives, we can trace the beginnings of the pandemic and also plan to have the two narratives flow together for an end. 

Defining Liquid

Liquid has the ability to drive individuals to madness on account of the inferred power it gives the owner. In the famous tragedy, King Lear, by William Shakespeare, the control over liquid leads the characters to their own demise. Despite the financial definition of liquid, each character within Shakespeare’s play redefines what they determine as liquid. For some of the characters, liquid can be aligned more closely to the denotation of the meaning, as a form of inheritance or power. For other characters, trust and love are defined as a form of liquid. All the characters in King Lear act on the obtainment of liquid, therefore functioning as the driving force of Shakespeare’s play. This leads to a series of swapping within the play in order to obtain their best potential for liquid. Throughout the play, almost all the characters find themselves a victim of expulsion on account of swapping whether it be of power, roles, or even ideologies. Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear is therefore arguably driven by each character’s various desires for liquidity causing them to freely swap roles on the account of being expelled or wish to expel others. 

Driven by his expulsion, Edmund in King Lear is motivated to banish his brother and swap roles in order to obtain his father’s inheritance and power which he defines as liquid. Born as a bastard, Edmund is marked as an illegitimate child by his father Gloucester. The inevitable means of expulsion this places on him strips any ability for him to obtain liquid from his father. Edmund’s older brother, Edgar, thus inheriting all their father has to offer, further expelling Edmund from his family. In this case, the obtainment of liquid also defines each character’s intrinsic value, causing Edmund to come up with a devious plan in response to expulsion. As a result of his expulsion from inheritance and his family, Edmund, therefore, wishes to swap roles with his brother to gain trust (both monetary and relationally) from his father. He claims, “Well then,/ Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land/  Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund/ As to th’ legitimate…Edmund the base/ Shall [top] th’legitimate. I grow, I prosper./ Now, gods stand up for the bastards!” (1.2, 31). As a result of Edmund’s fraudulent behavior and his father’s fear of losing his own liquidity (which is defined by his successor), Gloucester swaps his trust from Edgar to Edmund without hesitation, expelling his firstborn and switching the roles between the two brothers. Edgar, who previously has had everything, is driven to madness by the lack of liquidity which previously offered him intrinsic value. It can be argued that the swapping between Edgar and Edmund’s expulsion on account of liquidity, also has the power to control their emotional response which leads to their demise as Edmund also drives expulsion for other character’s indirectly within the play.

The daughters of King Lear also experience the swapping of roles throughout the play, as they attempt to gain their best potential at obtaining liquid; however, the daughters not only find themselves being expelled from their father, but also from each other.  In Act One of King Lear, Cordelia finds herself a victim of exile. This is due to her promise to equally both love her father and her husband, love acting as her definition of liquid. Despite the rationality of her proposal, Goneril and Regan prove themselves more loyal to their father allowing for his dues and respect to be attributed to them, leading Cordelia to expulsion. Although the older sisters can be viewed as acting fraudulently, Lear defines his liquid by trust and loyalty which Cordelia does not prove. After expelling her states, “I loved her most and thought to set my rest/ On her kind nursery…So be my grave my peace, as here I give/ Her father’s heart from her,” (1.1,15) liquid, therefore, driving his actions. Later in the play, Cordelia’s expulsion is swapped with her sisters after they expel Lear and Cordelia proves her loyalty to her father. As a result, the eldest daughters who earnestly expelled Lear, become subject to expulsion from their father. Their own intentions swap as well as they expel each other, in pursuit of Edmund’s love which presents itself as liquid. The two women thus find themselves swapping roles with Cordelia, expelled from everyone including each other. Similarly to Edmund’s love being their form of liquid, King Lear also redefines the term liquid.

King Lear also experiences expulsion which swaps his understanding of liquid assets, defined by both his possessions and daughters’ trust. Due to his position in society, King Lear has control over various different forms of liquid, including servants and property, but the trust he instills in his daughters is also one of his forms of liquidity. This is evident not only with Cordelia but also with Regan and Goneril. When his two eldest daughters deny him his servants from residing with him, they disrespect King Lear’s understanding of trust and strip him of his liquid in various different ways. As a result, King Lear is expelled from his daughters’ homes and he is left with no liquid. While expelled from his home, King Lear comes to an epiphany about the meaning of liquid as he comforts the Fool who is stuck in the storm with him, “Poor Fool and knave, I have one part in my heart/ That’s sorry yet for thee” (3.1, 131). King Lear comes to the discovery that not all men have the same liquid advantages as himself and he finds himself pitying those who have also been expelled. In King Lear’s epiphany and swapping of understanding, the term liquid becomes literal as the rain acts as a symbol of rebirth for King Lear’s new perspective on liquid. It can be argued that the liquid trust of his daughters is, therefore, more important to King Lear than his personal possessions. This is proven when Cordelia returns to her father and proves her trust, causing King Lear to swap the respect he has for his daughters on the account of liquid. After her death, his last moments are spent in despair over the loss of his liquid which is now defined by his love for Cordelia. 

The definitions of liquid connote differently than its denotation for each character within Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear. For some liquidity is a form of power and inheritance, but for other character’s liquidity can be defined by trust and love. Liquid within King Lear, therefore, can be defined as anything the characters deem important or have intrinsic value for one’s self. The value placed on liquid, therefore, causes a series of swapping between these liquid assets as well as the characters’ roles, specifically in relation to expulsion. Liquid, therefore, acts as the driving force of plot in King Lear, motivating characters to act out in wish to obtain their best possible advantages; however, it is liquid and the actions that occur as a result that lead the characters to their own demise and expulsion from the real world.