Riley Griffin: ENGL 111 – Final Self-Reflective Essay

Throughout the semester, the concept of expulsion occurred multiple times within the different literatures. While the 2008 housing crisis began with cheap credit and relaxed mortgage lending, the economic crisis became a predominant global issue that cost many people their livelihoods. According to Investopedia, Singh Manoj shared that the housing bubble burst due to immense pressure, leaving banks with worthless investments in subprime mortgages. Additionally, Singh mentioned that the Great Recession followed the crisis and cost many people their jobs, their savings, and even their homes. The housing crisis and moral hazard revealed the significance of expulsion, especially for the middle class. While learning about specific key concepts in the course, we can see how working in bad faith results from a lack of accountability or trust within oneself or in an organization. 

In The Big Short, Michael Lewis focuses on the 2008 global market crash and highlights the factors that lead up to said crash. The text explores the lives of the people who were involved, which mainly includes the individuals and CEOs on Wall Street. Throughout the book, readers are able to identify with the people who were taken advantage of because similarly enough, no one had a clear idea about the mortgage crisis. It was explained that “the more egregious the rating agencies’ mistakes, the bigger the opportunity for the Wall Street trading desks”, and “Eisman and his partners knew none of this” (Lewis 101). The evidence provided refers to the professionals’ lack of knowledge of their effect on society and within the businesses. If these professionals were unaware of what happened on Wall Street, then how was the public supposed to understand and make sense of all this? According to Lewis, the book conveys how CEOs on Wall Street made decisions that affected the rest of the population. Ignorance was a contributing factor to the lack of accountability shown with the members on Wall Street. This theme portrays how the companies and investors saw the general public as inferiors. Many people were expelled from their homes due to the businessmen’s careless behavior towards their clients. The Big Short exemplified a moral hazard because the banks knew it was risky to loan a surplus amount of money to people with the knowledge that they would not get the money back. They felt that with their power and protection by the US government, that they could not be hurt. This thinking, however, explains how the economic structure at that time was similar to a ticking time bomb, in that it would all eventually explode and lead to chaos. The book identifies that CEOs were caught short-selling mortgages on Wall Street in order to personally benefit and gain wealth from others’ downfalls. “The CEOs of every major Wall Street firm were also on the wrong end of the gamble. All of them, without exception, either ran their public corporations into bankruptcy or were saved from bankruptcy by the United States government. They all got rich, too” (Lewis 256). This quote conveys the fraudulent and toxic practices that some companies emulated. No one stepped up and tried to prevent or help minimize the effects of the economic crisis. People were left vulnerable to these mortgages and were blindly allowing the banks and powerful officials to influence their decisions. After reading this book, I found a deeper understanding of the housing crisis and how it fits into a society that I am now a part of. It was only 14 years ago that this housing crisis occurred, and people who were my current age are now having to understand mortgages for themselves and share their stories to prevent a future global financial crisis.   

As Michael Lewis provided specific commentary regarding the housing crisis, Octavia E. Butler focused on the aftermath of the economic crisis in the early 2020s with her novel Parable of the Sower. Even though the novel was written well in advance from the 2008 housing crisis, Butler’s work connects to the economic issue by explaining how the unaffordability of housing placed pressure and financial restraints on people who owned homes. As explained throughout the novel with the displacement of Lauren and her other neighbors, the housing crisis also led to an increase in homelessness. “There are too many poor people–illiterate, jobless, homeless, without decent sanitation or clean water” (Butler 53). The novel follows fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina, a young African American woman who suffers from hyperempathy. Lauren can often feel the pain of others around her as hyperempathy is a debilitating sensitivity to other people’s emotions. Lauren can be seen as someone who has lived through feeling out of place her whole life. Lauren spoke about learning how to take a lot of pain without falling apart. However, as she rode past some poor people, she “couldn’t help seeing–collecting–some of their general misery”, which made her feel much worse (11). While Lauren lives in a gated community with her father who is a preacher, their vulnerability to the outside world allows for the overwhelming social issues to lead to expulsion. As explained in the novel, there was both the spread of a cholera drug and the constant threat of tornadoes in the South, along with a blizzard in the Midwest and a measles epidemic on the East Coast (53). Lauren believed that they must take action in order to prepare for the worst in the coming future. Lauren insists that life in the neighborhood is not sustainable, and that one day people will “blast the gate open” (55). The economic and social instability is prevalent in today’s time, as people recover from a pandemic and now encounter inflation. Although there is societal instability, the novel warns readers that the uncertainty and inequality can intensify in the near future. 

Parable of the Sower highlights that most houses in the gated community were overcrowded with people. The overcrowded homes were a result of expulsion and homelessness. Throughout the novel, readers see an increase in violent attacks and deaths within the gated community that connect to the “junkies” and “crazies” who live in the real world beyond the gate. After three year old Amy was shot dead, an undeniable truth was revealed. Lauren said that Amy’s death is a wake-up call to the fate of the rest of the neighborhood. “Amy was the first of us to be killed like that. She won’t be the last” (Butler 53). The community began to fall apart and become destroyed as a result of the rise in incidents. While Lauren and others wanted to escape, they had nowhere to go as they could not afford to move out. Lauren is self-sufficient, as she believes that nothing will save the neighborhood except themselves. She wants to learn everything she can while she still can because she finds that “we learn to survive” (60). Even at such a young age, Lauren is a fighter as she said “I intend to survive” (58). She often questions the world around her and her curiosity fuels her ambition. If more people questioned the societal issues around them, then there could have been a greater chance that the 2008 housing crisis would have been less destructive on families and their livelihoods. The turning point in the novel came in chapter 14 when Lauren faced expulsion. The night she had “escaped from the neighborhood, it was burning. The houses, the trees, the people: Burning” (153). Lauren witnessed her home burn because of  intruders. Her brothers were killed, along with many others. Lauren was alone with no family, no home, and no way out of the misery. Although she was consumed with anger, she was driven to make it out of the gated community. She said “I mean to survive”, a thought that connects back to her commenting “I intend to survive” in a previous chapter. Throughout the novel, Lauren develops as a character despite her hyperempathy and the loss of her family. Her persistent nature and dauntless attitude is portrayed through her determination to survive. In the end, Lauren finds that there is hope in acknowledging the truth of the universe and trying to “shape” God. She shares that the “essentials” of Earthseed are learning to shape God with forethought, care, and work, educating and supporting oneself, one’s family, and the community, and contributing to the fulfillment of the Destiny. These “essentials” of Earthseed are to create a unifying, purposeful life on Earth (261). After becoming displaced, Lauren learned to find value in her new faith and wanted to share the recurring message of ‘God is Change’ by referring to Earth as a god. Butler showed through her novel that even in difficult situations, there is always a place for hope and change. 

In an environment sought to enact change and to engage in a globally connected world, the Geneseo community allows students to encounter broad areas of knowledge. Through this English course, I have been able to capture a more profound understanding of the 2008 housing crisis and its connection within literature. Subsequently, I have developed habits of critical inquiry and civic engagement, as participation with my fellow peers was a necessary and helpful tool when crafting the different papers. I have not only reflected on my learning about the 2008 housing crisis, but also explored the different experiences and viewpoints that the works of literature offered in regards to the economic crisis. The different works of literature allow readers to see how concepts discussed in this course, along with the skills learned, can then be applied in other courses and in other situations outside of the classroom. Within the novel Parable of the Sower, Lauren shared that her dad is the best person she knows, but that “even he has blind spots” (Butler 57). As a preacher, Lauren’s dad follows his religion, but he is often blinded by the negative crimes that happen in the gated community. The religion prevents him from seeing the truth about the people and the society outside of the gates, and he does not want to scare the community about the increase in incidents. The Big Short conveys how many middle class citizens were unaware of the subprime mortgages, which often left them with mortgage prices too sizable for them to pay. Consumers’ inability to understand and the banks and businesses’ arrogant exploitation of eager homeowners caused the unstainable mortgage market. In relation to the housing crisis, the idea of “blind spots” connects to an area where a person’s view is obstructed by a lack of knowledge on the crisis. Many banks would take advantage of the uneducated people, ultimately leading to the housing crisis and a lingering effect on the global economy. Subsequently, people should engage in courses on social and economic injustices in order to be more knowledgeable and informed. Students will learn methods of collaboration that allow for analyzing situations and taking into account various perspectives and commentary. 

ENGL 111: Third Mini-Collaboration

Riley Griffin

During the 2008 housing crisis, banks held worthless investments in subprime mortgages that cost many people their jobs, savings, and homes. Literature often allows people to reflect on how literacy and subsequent interpretations contribute to people’s expulsion. In The Big Short, readers learn about the economic side of the crisis through the explanation of how businesses and the stock market operate. People would sign mortgages without reading the fine print, which sometimes resulted in them facing expulsion all while Wall Street profited. The Turner House provides a more humanistic approach on the situation by showing readers how everyday people were affected by the crisis. Although Lelah gets expelled from her home after she gambles her money away, the Turner family face the possibility of losing their home on Yarrow Street because the mother, Viola, could not pay the mortgage and the value of their home dropped significantly due to the housing crisis. In both texts, people were unaware of the situation and the detrimental effects of the crisis until it was too late. Many people lost their homes, and their families were pushed to the breaking point. In A Mercy, Florens gets expelled numerous times, first from D’Ortega’s plantation and in the end from the Blacksmith’s life. While Florens was viewed as a keen observer, she was prevented from having the tools to read and interpret situations because of how she grew up and living in slavery.

Florens’s ability to read both print and pressure does not prevent her from experiencing expulsion throughout A Mercy. She does not receive the necessary knowledge to understand the world and situations around her. She has been held captive as a slave and understands very little of what life could be outside of captivity because slavery is all she knows. When her mother begs Jacob Vaark to take her, Florens feels abandoned even though her mother was trying to save her from facing the same abuse and rape that she has undergone. However, Florens can only see that her mother chose to send her away and to keep her brother. Florens’s inability to understand why her mother would send her away can be attributed to her unstable and poor childhood. Florens’s mother was never taught at the young age that Florens was. The only reason they learned was that the local Reverend chose to teach even though it was forbidden. Once every seven days Florens and her family learned to read and write thanks to the Reverend. Fortunately, Florens was a quick learner. She was much faster than her mother, and her baby brother was way too young (6). Florens said that “we have sticks to draw through sand, pebbles to shape words on smooth flat rock” (6). Florens had a better understanding of reading and writing than the rest of her family, but unlike her minha mãe, Florens did not have real life experience or knowledge. It is unfortunate that even at the end of A Mercy, the selfless motherly love goes unnoticed by Florens. 

At the end of the novel A Mercy, Florens returned to the Vaark farm after being expelled from the Blacksmith’s home and life. She accidentally broke Malaik’s arm, the Blacksmith’s adopted child, after she became too paranoid. As a result, the Blacksmith dismisses Florens’s apology and forces her to leave. During the dialogue between the Blacksmith and Florens in chapter 9, he tells her that she has become a true slave and says that her “head is empty” and her “body is wild” (166). The Blacksmith makes sure to tell Florens that she could have killed Malaik and that she is “nothing but wilderness” to emphasize her wild nature, isolation tendencies, and barrenness that connect to the wilderness. According to the blacksmith there is “no constraint” and “no mind” with Florens (166). After she returned to the Vaark farm, Florens spent every night carving words into the wooden walls of one of the rooms of the house as a means to explain her narrative. “There is no more room in this room. These words cover the floor” (188). Despite Florens’ hard work and skill, she still gets forcibly expelled. As Florens said “What I read or cipher is useless now. Heads of dogs, garden snakes, all that is pointless. But my way is clear after losing you who I am thinking always as my life and my security from harm, from any who look closely at me only to throw me away” (184). By the end of the novel, Florens came full circle with completing her long journey to the Blacksmith and back entirely barefoot. As a result, her emotional and mental state had been altered significantly due to the combination of the Blacksmith’s rejection of her and her own trauma surrounding abandonment. Florens is no longer the soft and trusting young woman that she once was. After going out into the real world, she gained more insight into the dangers of the world, but that could not stop her from getting expelled. 

When Florens asks the Blacksmith if he can read symbols in the first chapter of the novel, Morrison draws the reader’s attention to the fact that good reading is not a simple task. The emphasis on reading also highlights the link between slavery and suppressing literacy. Literature helps to expand people’s knowledge by opening them up to a wider range of emotions and diversifying the power of words. If people are comfortable reading and understanding, then those people will probably possess a voice to advocate for themselves. In the literature from class, the authors emphasize an understanding of the 2008 housing crisis and incorporate some ideals through their characters and the scenarios. In The Big Short, many CEOs on Wall Street used their power in bad faith to expel folks from their homes in order to gain a profit. Many people may observe what is surrounding them, but they may not necessarily be able to interpret the information or situation. While people should hold themselves accountable, other people who might hold greater wealth, status, influence, and knowledge should not take advantage of the less fortunate. People, therefore, need to be responsible and work in good faith to promote sustainability and community within society and develop strong literacy across all socio-economic levels.

Second Mini-Collaboration

Faith Griffin, Riley Griffin, Isabelle Hoff, Spencer Jurgielewicz, Abigail Kennedy, Alexandra Ross, Mairead Wilsch 

Michael Lewis’s The Big Short focuses on the 2008 global market crash and highlights the factors that lead up to said crash. It looks into the lives of the people who were involved in it. This includes but is not limited to individuals on Wall Street, the officials in the Reagan, Clinton, and Bush’s Administrations, and others involved in business. The book showed the views of those in charge on Wall Street and showed the making of the big decisions which affected the rest of the population. The book showed their lack of accountability. It also mentioned how many people were expelled from their homes due to the businessmen’s careless behavior towards their clients. The Big Short emphasizes a moral hazard, as the banks knew it was risky to loan money to people with the knowledge that they would not get the money back, they felt protected by the US government and believed that their system was too big to fail. The numerous loans distributed can be related to the overwhelming amount of characters that were presented throughout the story. Ignorance is a big theme throughout the book, consistently portraying the customers as “less than” the companies and investors having the biggest egos. Although the Big Short did give us a look into the Housing Crisis, there were many parts that were left out, including the parts that affected everyone else. 

The Big Short does not examine the people who were hit the hardest by the economic downturn which were groups such as lower income individuals such as, people of color, and women. Instead it mostly highlights the CEO’s and businessmen on Wall Street along with the overall financial crisis of the nation. The book failed to analyze the socio-economic repercussions of certain groups that were at a disadvantage from the start of the crisis. There was no personal connection with any characters in the book and readers were unable to empathize with anything that happened regarding the people of higher status and influence. The businessmen and CEOs were sometimes portrayed in a manner in which they seemed like they had a robotic demeanor with no personality besides greed and a drive for self-interest. The Big Short showed just how corrupt those in charge were, gaining wealth from others’ downfalls. “The CEOs of every major Wall Street…All of them, without exception, either ran their public corporations into bankruptcy or were saved from bankruptcy by the United States government. They all got rich, too.” (Lewis 256). Unlike the general population, the businessmen received immense help from the government, even benefiting from this crisis of their making. American investors seemed to care little about the rules as they wanted to secure as many wins as possible, no matter the risk it presented to themselves and the global market. They even mock some European bankers by calling them “Stupid Germans. They take rating agencies seriously. They believe in the rules” (93). By mocking the foreign investors, they show just how little empathy they have for consequences. All their focus goes to their own gains, they simply do not care about rules or honesty.

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy sheds light on those who were directly affected by those in The Big Short. It shows the impact the housing crisis had on families, not only talking about the actions of the big companies and CEOs who caused the crisis. By showing the more individual reactions, and struggles of the Turner family, The Turner House shows many things that The Big Short wanted to hide, giving a new perspective many readers should know about when learning about this topic. The portrayal of addiction in both novels are vastly different;  the CEO’s use of drugs and prostitutes is for pleasure/enjoyment, while people in The Turner House used sex, drinking, and gambling as a means of coping with their financial situations.  “Lelah hooked Cha-Cha under the armpits and helped him sit upright on the bed. He reeked of beer. Sweat ringed his undershirt collar. She had never seen him like this before, ” (Flournoy 259). This example from The Turner House expresses the use of addiction as a way of coping with their struggles and as a way to avoid the financial strain they were facing, since they are in lower status it is viewed as pathetic. While in The Big Short, we see the “glamorous” side of addiction, used as a means of celebration or pleasure, hiring prostitutes, doing drugs and gambling, this is seen as an act of fun due to their higher status. “All three were worried that Bear Stearns might fail and be unable to make good on its gambling debts. “There can come a moment when you can’t trade with a Wall Street firm anymore,” said Ben, “and it can come like that.” (Lewis 219). In the novel The Turner House they highlight how the unemployment line was not helpful and both the private and public sectors provided minimal or no help at all. “She’d waited two and a half hours to watch someone push buttons on a keyboard. ‘It says you’re not eligible,’ the woman said. ‘I know it says that,’ Lelah said. ‘That’s why I’m here. I got suspended from my job without pay, so I should be eligible, right?’ ‘Your employer hasn’t put anything in here,’ the woman said.” (Flournoy 119).  Lelah, a member of the Turner family, is struggling with being laid off, evicted, and having a  gambling addiction. The text describes her trip to the unemployment office, the line being unbearably long, the employees being rude and unhelpful, overall not a successful trip as they sent her to call an automated response machine named MARTHA, rather than assisting her in person. This is an example of the many battles the Turner family faced when being used by the large companies seen in The Big Short.

The Turner House more specifically exemplifies the effect that the housing crisis had on families and groups with lower income, which often includes women, people of color, and people with different ethnicities than in the United States. In this literature, the Turner family tries to short-sell their family house on Yarrow Street. The mortgage of the house was $40,000, but by short-selling the house the Turner family won’t even make $4,000. The thought was to short-sell to Troy Turner’s girlfriend, Jillian, because at the time it was illegal to short-sell to relatives with the current market rate (Lewis 64). Ironically enough, Troy is a police officer in the family and he is the one who initiates breaking the law. People in these positions are supposed to enforce the laws for society, but end up becoming the ones who feel the need to break them. This exemplifies how people in power use their influence to benefit themselves and alter the rules to fit their agenda. This ties into the philosophical Immanuel Kant and his concept of categorical imperative. This is the concept in which people who act immorally and do wrongs such as steal, murder, etc. have a bad understanding of society as they expect others to abide by said rules but they are the expectation and do not have to (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).  Throughout both of the novels, corruption is a prevalent issue that takes place during the global market crash. The Turner House has a cop who is involved with questionable activities regarding short-selling the house, while The Big Short touches upon the issue of corruption within the banks and government regarding fraud. The banks continued to loan money to people knowing that they wouldn’t receive the money back, so it was relating to a ticking time bomb that would eventually explode. The Big Short, however, does not highlight many specific cases of who will face accountability and how it, directly or indirectly, still causes regular people economic issues post-2008: “He didn’t even notice you were here. He thought he was speaking in confidence to us. You can’t go holding him accountable for that.” Ever since joining the police force, Troy was quick to become litigious.” (Lewis 8). 

When the Turner family decided to short sell their house in order to keep it in the family, they also wanted to get the bank to take a hit. This showed how desperate times were for money, as mortgage payments were increasing and nobody was able to afford it as the house was worth less than what they owed the bank. The Turners have grown up in this house for their whole life, and now nobody is living there except for Lelah for a period of time. The house still is haunting them as they still owe money to the bank and they can almost never get rid of this old, moldy home. With the house still lingering behind the turners like a shadow and Lelah staying there for a period of time it is exceptional to think that, “humans haunt more houses than ghosts do” (Flournoy 312). The book was able to give us an emotional connection with characters such as Lelah and her personal life. We got to experience the effects from the housing crisis, one being unemployment. Lelah said “the prospect that so many white people are unemployed reveals how difficult times really are” (Flournoy 117). This shows that everyone, no matter race, was being affected. Lelah  not only was struggling to find a roof under her head, but she also was face to face with addiction and unemployment. The CEOs in The Big Short used addiction as a means of celebration and entertainment, while the people impacted in The Turner House used addiction as a coping mechanism. Lelah turned to gambling, while Cha-Cha consumed alcohol. After Lelah got evicted, she felt she needed to win back money, so even when she earned a profit she wanted more. Whereas, the oldest Turner child, Cha-Cha, reeked of beer, which surprised Lelah since she had never seen him like that before. Overall, The Turner House provided more personal details and a view of the consequences of the global market crash by showing the perspective of those who were impacted the most.

We have compared and contrasted the concepts from The Big Short by Michael Lewis and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy and several other works we have watched. First, “The Old Man and the Storm” shows how people were personally affected by crises’ just like how The Turner House shows the family’s struggles with the financial crisis. “The Old Man and the Storm” demonstrates more of the human side of a crisis, as compared to the business side shown in The Big Short. Unlike “The Old Man and the Storm” the documentary of “Inside Job” showed both points of view, though the documentary had a focus on those who were responsible for the crisis. The documentary showed how people lived in tent cities, how they lived as homeless due to the crisis. The interviews demonstrated the arrogance and lack of accountability in the businessmen of Wall Street. Finally, we made the connection between Fantasia and both The Big Short and The Turner House. Fantasia could be seen as a metaphor for the 2008 market crash: the wizard representing the U.S. government or nation as a whole. They did not stop Mickey who could be seen as the Wall Street tycoons when he kept slacking off and used the magic broom to move water or money in the market. When it got out of control nobody could stop the overflowing water well which could represent the crisis which would cause the market crash. Both Fantasia and the events which would lead up to the 2008 market crash demonstrate examples of moral hazard with both parties facing little to no consequences. All of these pieces of literature tie into one common theme: the market crash is a very complex topic and cannot be answered by one simple answer. Different books and films look at the crash and the events that led up to it with different outlooks and through different  perspectives. It is so important to look back at the 2008 housing crisis not only so we can learn from our past mistakes but also to recognize that people are still suffering from these actions fourteen years later. As a society, we should continue to educate ourselves and realize that people have a lot going on in their lives that we may not understand.