The “Both/And” of Expulsion

One of the things that stuck out to me in A Mercy is the immediate connection Morrison makes between failing to understand what one notices and expulsion in the opening paragraph.  Notably, the book begins with a narration from Florens that takes place after she’s been expelled by both her mother and the blacksmith. Florens references both of these expulsions in the opening paragraph. She mentions “a corn-husk doll sitting on a shelf,” which references Malaik’s doll that’s present when the blacksmith expels Florens (3). Later down in the opening paragraph, Florens also mentions, “I see a minha mae standing hand in hand with her little boy,” referencing her mother’s expulsion of her. Noticing is tied in by the sentences Florens narrates toward the end of the paragraph: “I sort [the signs I noticed] and try to recall, yet I know I am missing much, like not reading the garden snake crawling up to the door saddle to die” (4). Here, Florens references how she has noticed “signs” yet cannot “read” or understand them properly.

I found it very interesting that Morrison ties expulsion to being unable to understand noticed signs so early on in the book; for me, this is evidence that there’s a direct correlation between the two. By analyzing the characters’ expulsions in the book, I’ve concluded that one possible explanation for the relationship between the two lies in the reasons for expulsion. The characters in the book are expelled because they are unable to understand what they notice; namely, they are expelled over issues they have no control over. This initially suggests that expulsion in A Mercy serves as a tool to punish and isolate people. However, Florens’ mother expelling Florens out of love suggests that the expulsion A Mercy presents is more complicated. It is (in Dr. Beth’s words) a “both/and”: expulsion serves to both violently isolate others and protect others. 

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Small Actions

When I was reading The Turner House (after just completing The Big Short), I was struck by how similar these two texts are. Both, even though they approach it from different perspectives, are centered around the 2008 housing crisis. Both books also take us through the stories of many different individuals, such as Eisman, Vinny, and Mike for The Big Short and Cha-Cha, Tina, and Francis for The Turner House. Additionally, both books do not seem to follow the structure of Freytag’s Pyramid, for events such as the climax, inciting incident, and resolution seem to differ for each characters’ narrative (Cha-Cha’s narrative, for example, would have a different climax from the narrative we are given of Francis). Yet, despite their similarities, The Turner House seems to include a narrative about choice in situations where there is a loss of control that The Big Short’s narrative is missing. By using character actions and reinterpreting the flood metaphor, The Turner House reminds us that while individuals can’t always control what happens in their surrounding circumstances, they do have the power to control how they react.

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The Numerical Value of Love

In a lot of classes where I’ve previously analyzed Lear, it was pointed out that Lear is a play that deals strongly with love and human connection. This is probably best shown by King Lear’s demands of his daughters in scene 1 of Act 1, for he distributes land based on how much they “love” him. Yet love within Lear seems to be more complex than just a human emotion describing the relationship between characters; it seems to factor strongly in the play’s theme of expulsion as well. Lear treating love as if it’s something that holds both financial and numerical properties suggests that expulsion in the play, although seemingly just because of love, might also be strongly connected to economic or quantitative issues. 

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Self-reflective Noticing

I’ve always been very fond of mystery stories. What I like about them isn’t so much the suspense or the revelation moment (where the murderer or culprit is found and their methods exposed) but rather the process. I’m fascinated by the journey the detective goes through—how they notice many different clues, comprehend all the clues, and use it to pinpoint a solution/culprit. I think part of why I’m caught up with the deduction process is because I find it hard to do myself; I’m good at noticing things but very poor at understanding what I’m noticing and how it fits into the bigger picture. For example, while reading Morrison’s Home, I was able to notice that “They [the horses Frank and Cee see in the opening chapter] stood like men” held significance. I also noticed this likely connected to the answer Tommy, the son of Billy (a man who took Frank to Goodwill to buy shoes), gives Frank about what he wants to be as an adult: “a man.” Yet I was unable to notice the larger picture; I couldn’t understand the importance this concept held in relation to the book overall. So I suppose I can’t say that I’m “good at noticing,” because I’m actually just only good at half of the process. 

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What Draws and What Binds

Even though it happened over two weeks ago, I keep thinking back to the moment in class when we were discussing vocabulary in Zone One. Dr. Beth had asked us (the class) each to pick out a word we didn’t understand in the text and look up its definition; as we were going around the room and reciting our words, I noticed that a lot of us (including myself) started with a variation of “I don’t know if I’m pronouncing this right.” A while later, as we were all debating on the “correct” pronunciation of “elementary” and other words inside our small groups, Dr. Beth said something that really made me think: “Pronunciation differences can be a basis for identifying people as different” (these are not the exact words Dr. Beth spoke). I found this very interesting because I’ve never considered this possibility, but once Dr. Beth pointed it out, I realized that she’s right. Within my small group, we were talking about the pronunciation of “data” and “either,” and I noticed I felt more disconnected from those who pronounced the words differently than I do. What Dr. Beth said about pronunciation differences made me realize how easy it is for people to find differences; differences are often more evident than similarities. This realization is what made me want to return to the question Dr. Beth asked us at the end of our class session about Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark: “What draws and binds people together?”

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Traditional Medicine

I found it interesting that Zone One had so many references to Asian culture because I don’t typically see that in English books (especially not ones I’m assigned to read for class). One major one that stood out to me is the reference to the “foreign” beverage that seems to be very popular among the sweepers/soldiers. While speaking about how the Chinatown area of lower Manhattan has been restricted specifically for military bases, Mark Spitz narrates: “There was a good word of mouth about the medicinal properties of an enigmatic foreign beverage, bright emerald cans of which were piled in formidable stacks in the kitchen” (Whitehead 37). Spitz here speaks about a “foreign” drink that is said to be “medicinal,” meaning beneficial to the body. A while before this passage, Spitz narrates that they are in a ”dumpling joint” in the Chinatown area; this plus Spitz’s description of the scenery, that there were “Chinese zodiac” prints on table mats placed under “glass tabletops,” clues me in that the restaurant they are is Chinese. Because I have a Chinese background, I’m familiar with dimsum restaurants. For large tables, there’s typically this large, glass lazy susan on which food is placed; I think the “glass tabletops” Spitz refers to are the lazy susans. All these clues make me think that, because they are in a Chinese location, the “foreign beverage” is likely of Chinese origin. This means that the beverage is very likely a type of traditional Chinese medicine.

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Names in Zone One

As I’m reflecting on Zone One, I find myself returning back to one of the earlier descriptions of the Omega unit’s duties. I found it very interesting that, after Gary kills the skels, Kaitlyn asks Gary to search for the skels’ IDs. After discussing the information the Lieutenant had previously told him, Mark Spitz narrates: “[Buffalo (the new government capital)] were keen for the sweepers to record demographic data” (Whitehead 37). The book then details specifically what Buffalo means by “demographic data”: “the ages of the targets, the density at the specific location, structure type, number of floors” (Whitehead 37). I was surprised by this because I was confused as to why names were not included in the type of data the government wanted to collect.

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Humanity in Morrison’s Home

Our Alondra Nelson reading made me want to revisit Home due to the fact that both texts deal with burial. The one thing that was left unanswered for me at the ending of Home is the significance of the line that caught my attention the most: “And they stood like men” (Morrison 5). Frank narrates this in the opening chapter when he speaks about his memory of watching horses in a field with his sister, Ycidra (Cee). Frank says that, although he and Cee also witnessed a violent burial, all he remembers from the field that day were the horses: “I really forgot the burial. I only remembered the horses. They were so beautiful. So brutal. And they stood like men” (Morrison 5). When I read it, I knew that the description of the horses held some type of significance; I just didn’t know how or what. After our Nelson reading, I think I’ve managed to put things into perspective.

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Weighing Choice

As a class, we’ve constantly had to grapple with the idea of choice in almost all of the books we’ve read so far. This is largely because choice ties in closely with the concept of consent; when individuals have no choice or are given no choice, they have their consent violated. We are given many examples of this: Washington describes many cases in Medical Apartheid where individuals had their organs removed without choice, Morrison at the end of Home describes how a young boy was forced to kill his father in a fight to survive, and Butler describes how individuals infected with the Clay’s Ark organism no longer have complete self autonomy.

One scene of choice that we examined in class was the penultimate chapter of Everett’s Zulus. In chapter “XY,” Kevin Peters and Alice are implied to pull a lever that would release the “Agent” (Everett, 245). Kevin had previously told Alice that the Agent is a gas that “kills only humans”; pulling the lever would release it and the wind would take it around the planet, annihilating the human population (Everett, 243). In class, we talked about whether it was fair for Alice and Kevin to make the decision to kill the entire human population when they are just two people; interestingly enough, when considering this, we began to question whether their choice mattered because it was already made for them (and humanity) because of the war. There was the implication that, because the choice to kill humanity was already made, Alice’s and Kevin’s decision isn’t significant. This made me question: does choice matter? Especially in the aftermath when the larger decision was already made without your input? The characters in Clay’s Ark seem to question this, too. When Stephen Kaneshiro asks her to come with him, Rane asks “‘Do I have a choice?’” (Butler, 530). Rane’s likely thinking back to how she (and her family) didn’t have a choice to come to the Clay’s Ark community and doesn’t have the choice to leave; if she’s stuck in a situation she cannot leave, do the smaller choices (such as going with someone to talk) matter?

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The Aftermath

Much like Bryan, who addressed consent in deception studies in the “Uninformed Consent?” blog post, I also struggled with the complicated issue of whether informed consent within deception studies is possible. I found a parallel between the initial state of ignorance (“uninformedness”) in deception studies to that of the Maslin family when they first received the Clay’s Ark organism. As explained to us by Dr. Chapman in our Skype call with him, participants in Chapman’s deception study did not know that they had been exposed to a non-pathogenic strain of E.coli. When Meda initiated contact with Blake (by grabbing his wrist), he had no idea what she had exposed him to. So then what happens in cases like deception studies, where results can only be trusted with a level of deception (which requires a state of not knowing), and in cases like the Clay’s Ark scenario, where the organism makes consent more or less impossible? What do we do when we have a violation of informed consent? 

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