Ignorance and its Detriment

When thinking about Toni Morrison’s A Mercy in terms of how noticing things but not having the tools to read/interpret those things and how it works in relation to expelling people from places they call home, I’ve noticed (ha—irony) that the main source of this issue is ignorance, whether it be blind or willful.

One of the most important issues we’ve discussed in class is the 2008 stock market crash, and how it led to people being expelled from their homes; well, wasn’t the main reason people took out those harmful home loans ignorance? The CEOs of these companies that brought down the flourishing economy of Wall Street wanted more money no matter what it took, and the way to get that was by selling more mortgages; who they went to didn’t matter. They were ignorant of the detrimental effects their actions would have on not only the stock market, but the livelihood of people across the nation. In this case, their ignorance was willfull—they chose to ignore what could potentially happen in favor of lining their pockets with more. As for the homeowners who fell for these easy loan schemes, their ignorance was blind. They didn’t have anyone to advise them against the harm these loans could do.

            When it comes to A Mercy, the ignorance of the characters comes down to human nature; to judge one another without knowing the truth. Characters would notice things but have the inability to interpret things from them, therefore they would make snap judgements about people on surface-level observations. I think one of the earliest examples of this was when Florens’s mother didn’t want to subject her to the years of sexual and physical abuse she endured from her master D’Ortega, so she begged Jacob to take Florens to his estate rather than herself. To Florens, this seemed like a betrayal in that she wanted to get rid of her daughter, when in reality she was trying to protect her. But, did Florens interpret that from her mother’s actions? She remained willfully ignorant because she was hurt by her assumption. When Florens recounts her understanding of the moment her mother begged Jacob to take Florens instead of her, the memory is of a kind of dehumanizing transaction rather than a heroic effort to give her daughter a better life. The result of this being Florens’s expulsion from her home with her mother; a direct example of how expulsion and inability to interpret can relate to one another.

            Another point I wanted to emphasize is evidenced by when Lina observes Jacob building a house before he dies, saying his choice to do so is a decision to “kill the trees and replace them with a profane monument to himself”. It is in our nature as humans to judge what we think is immoral or bad, but we also tend to judge what we don’t know. Of course, you can have a stance about the environmental impact of something, however one does not understand the inner workings of someone else’s brain—it could be for a completely different reason than an egotistical monument. The same goes for the stock market crash, and how the wealthy viewed those who were expelled from their homes. They could in no way even begin to understand the situations these people were in, since the higher ups always had more than enough to live comfortably. The CEOs even continued to make millions off their severance pay, despite the financial death sentence they bestowed on the nation.

This reminds me of my statement in my last post, about how The Big Short explained the financial system in a factual, numbers kind of way, but lacked in the humanistic view of the small-scale impact the crisis had on individual people that was emphasized in The Turner House. The way the financially well-off people viewed those devastated by their mistakes was in a Big Short sort of way rather than a Turner House point of view. They couldn’t possibly understand what they were experiencing because they’ve never been in that position; they’re ignorant to the experiences of these people. They may notice it, but they could never interpret the actuality of the situation. And this is exactly how the human nature of judging someone you know nothing about without being able to interpret their reality relates to the expulsion of people from their homes, since we’re unfortunate enough to have a real-life example of the two interacting.

What “The Turner House” Tells Us About 2008 That “The Big Short” Doesn’t

The texts The Turner House and The Big Short are both very effective in telling one perspective of the story of the 2008 financial crisis. However, they’re very different in their story-telling styles and the how they shape our view on the crisis. For example, The Big Short is mostly about the economic side of the crisis, explaining how businesses and the stock market works, while The Turner House gives a more humanistic approach to the situation, showing us how it really affected everyday people. Both are beneficial to read on their own, but having the advantage of reading both gives readers a more well-rounded understanding of the crisis and what it meant in different strokes of life.

Firstly, The Turner House sheds light on the personal, real-life experiences of families expelled from their homes during the crisis; a perspective that The Big Short didn’t emphasize. Viola, the mother of thirteen and a widow, faces a myriad of hardships which prevent her from paying the mortgage on the beloved Turner home, which in turn means she must give it up and vacate with her family. Not only does it give us a real-life example of what the crisis did to families, but it also emphasizes the relationships of the family members and the dynamics between each one while at the same time expressing their own narratives as individuals. The children’s father Francis, for example, struggled with addiction. That was part of his own individual story, but it affected the children and his wife Viola in terms of their relationships with one another. It also, of course, affected the characters individually. Everyone in the novel’s interactions with one another shaped their individual identities in one way or another; one action could create a ripple effect. As a young couple, Viola and Francis had moved to Detroit in the 1940’s with their newborn son, Cha-Cha. With intricate details and description, Flournoy illustrates the different stages of life in the Turner home; violence, labor disputes, economic depression, but also fun, loving, and joyous times. 

These details of the story are important because it gives perspective to the parts of the story that The Big Short didn’t cover. The main aim of the book was to help the reader understand the business side of things, giving examples and diagrams of how the financial system works. What it lacked was a humanistic, real-life example of what all of this meant on a small-scale, individual level. Most of the themes discussed were about the system as a whole, and what it meant in terms of numbers. Big figures such as “hundreds of thousands of homes affected” were thrown around, but it was never really dissected as to what that really meant for just one of those homes. One of those individual families whose whole lives revolved around their home being the epicenter of their lives, bringing everyone together and keeping them safe. And when one loses that, when families are expelled from their homes, it can be life-altering and change things from financial instability all the way to shifting familial relationships. One quote that describes this very well to me is when Angela Flourney said:

“Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time. On frigid winter nights, young mothers walk their fussy babies from room to room, learning where the rooms catch drafts and where the floorboards creak. In the warm damp of summer, fathers sit on porches, sometimes worried and often tired but comforted by the fact that a roof is up there providing shelter. Children smudge up walls with dirty hand prints, find nooks to hide their particular treasure, or hide themselves if need be. We live and die in houses, dream of getting back to houses, take great care in considering who will inherit the houses when we’re gone.”

To many people, a house is more than just a house. It’s a home, with immense sentimental value to the people who spend most of their lives in it. This is why the story told in The Turner House is so important when learning about the financial crisis; it wasn’t all just about financial instability and losing money.

One term that comes to mind when discussing The Turner House is sonder – the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. When talking about the housing market and foreclosures and expulsion in a broad, general sense, you don’t think about the families individually affected by such things. But the novel gives the reader a sense of sonder that we don’t get from reading the analytical approach of The Big Short. There are a plethora of things included in The Turner House that weren’t expressed in The Big Short, and that’s why it’s so beneficial for people who’re interested in learning about it view it from all angles, really taking time to understand what these large figures and fancy terms meant in an everyday sense.

Essay #1

In William Shakespeare’s classic work King Lear, there are a multitude of ways you can connect modern day ideas with the concepts Shakespeare incorporates into his stories. Nearly all of his are works littered with analogies and metaphors that could be picked apart and analyzed to death, but the real evidence of his genius is in the fact that you can relate relevant terms in things such as business and finance to a theatre drama. Two of the most prevalent terms that can be traced back into King Lear is “liquid” and “swap”; both of which will be discussed and expanded on in this essay in relation to the engagement of expulsion, a key concept, that Shakespeare expresses in the work.

            The idea of liquidity in the play is abundant throughout most, if not all, of the characters. In terms of finance, it is officially defined as “The availability of liquid assets to a market or company”. However, in a more general sense, it is used to describe something free-flowing, easily manipulated, and for lack of a better word, not solid; in substance, principle, or anything else. In King Lear, we see evidence of liquidity in many of the characters, but one of the easiest to spot is in King Lear himself. When Lear tries to test is daughters to see which one loves him the most, he tries to decide which one would offer him the most in terms of servants by flip flopping his loyalty to whoever offered him the most men to stay with them. This ends up backfiring on him severely, ending with them allowing him no men and expelling him from their respective castles, but it goes to show how easily his favor was manipulated between daughters by who would offer him the best deal. Lear’s identity is also very liquid, because its touched upon time and time again in the play that he doesn’t “know himself” and that his sense of self is ever changing. One quote that stuck out to me concerning this is “Who is it that can tell me who I am?”. Lear is literally asking someone to tell him who he is because he has no semblance of himself or his identity.

Another example is seen in Gloucester, whose gullibility in what Edmund tells him about his brother Edgar is planning is also very liquid. He believes, without question, that his son Edgar is planning to kill him just because Edmund told him so and set him up to make it seem as if he were telling the truth. The fact that he could be so easily swayed means that his belief in things is very liquid and he doesn’t need much to be proven before he can be convinced of something. Expulsion in its general sense in this play can also be very liquid, since characters can be expelled but then redeemed later on in the work fairly easily, such as King Lear’s favor for his daughter Cordelia after he had originally expelled her from his home for not lying to him and saying she loved him the most. His original anger when casting out his daughter was expressed in his statement of, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is To have a thankless child!”, which is to say that he feels betrayed by Cordelia’s lack of gratitude after providing her with many things throughout her life.

“Swap” can be defined as “an act of exchanging one thing for another”. One of the most abundant ways we see this throughout King Lear is a swap of power between characters. One of the biggest one is the swap of power between Lear and his daughters. In the beginning, we see that Lear has power by expelling Cordelia out of his castle; however, later on it is his daughters Regan and Goneril that are doing the expelling of their father after he seeks refuge with them but gets too greedy about having more men and servants than he needs. When asked why he needs them, his response is “O, reason not the need!”, meaning that he doesn’t need them, but he wants them; which is what separates humans from beasts. Because of this expulsion, however, it allows Lear to gain perspective about necessity vs want when he is forced to brave the storm and see how it is those who aren’t as fortunate as him are forced to live. One quote that sticks out to me about his self-reflection is “The art of our necessities is strange, That can make vile things precious”. By this he means that when you have an abundance of something without a need for it, you don’t appreciate it. However, when you need something and don’t have it, it can make you appreciate the things you DO have and consider them precious, even if in reality they’re “vile”.

Another prime example of swapping in King Lear is the swap of the positions of Edmund and Edgar. Edmund is the bastard child of Gloucester while Edgar is legitimate, so he’s always been viewed (and felt) like a second-class citizen compared to Edgar. However, when Edmund convinces Gloucester that Edgar is planning to kill him, his trust shifts over to favor Edmund for warning him and to distrust his legitimate son since he thinks he has ill intentions. When Gloucester believes that Edgar is sneaking around and trying to plot against him, the quote “Time shall unfold what plaited cunning hides” comes to mind, because though he believes that Edgar is trying to be cunning and that time will reveal his sinister plans, it is really Edmund’s ill intent that is revealed in the end and for which he is killed. Another important thing to consider about the term “swap” is that it usually implies consent of both parties to trade something, however in this context it is achieved through expulsion and is only wanted by one person while the other is left with nothing.

Both “liquidity” and “swapping” have very apparent roles in Shakespeare’s work, and their interaction with the idea of expulsion makes them all the more interesting and effective. In regards to liquidity, expulsion itself in this play is very liquid since it happens to multiple characters but is also reversible for some. For swapping, it’s achieved through expulsion rather than through a consensual exchange of goods like it is normally implied to be. Lear’s famous quote “nothing will come of nothing” is proven untrue, as many things have stemmed from what started as nothing, such as the effects Shakespeare’s work has had on our world to this very day which started as mere ideas in his head. In any case, the concepts in King Lear are relevant to even the furthest stretch of modern-day terms, which is what makes many of Shakespeare’s works such timeless examples of literary genius.