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.

The Expulsion of Freedom

Freedom is an abstract force, applicable in different facets of life. “Being Free” is something America has always prided itself on since the Revolutionary War when America won independence from Great Britain. Freedom is a privilege that many individuals come to America to find. However, during the 2008 housing crisis, many Americans got a glimpse of what it was like to lose some of that freedom. Americans were financially suffocating from their mortgages that failed them as the housing market crashed. After reading A Mercy by Toni Morrison, I was able to see a different perspective of freedom; the perspective of a young girl, Florens, who was born enslaved and traded off away from her mother at a young age to work on a farm. For the purposes of this essay I will focus on Florens’ views on freedom as well as the lack of freedom Americans experienced during the housing market crash. Freedom is a privilege that can be seen clearly for some people, but not clearly for everyone. A Mercy’s emphasis on Florens noticing freedom but not having the ability to interpret it is something that has helped me to better understand how expulsion occurs and especially what happened during the 2008 housing crisis. 

Continue reading “The Expulsion of Freedom”

“The Europes” vs Wall Street

While reading A Mercy, I think I took for granted all of the natural comments and sightings that Florens had mentioned throughout the text. I saw them mostly as adding to the story and to describe a scene. Now looking back, I have been able to text crawl through the book, and find scenes, and passages that help me understand life during this time, and the variety of people that were all working during this time, and had come from other places/ where expelled from there original homes.  Particularly looking on page 174 of A Mercy, “ Six English, one Native, twelve African by way of Barbados. No women anywhere” here Florens was listing off the type of the different men that she saw working in the field but the only thing she said that they had in common was the fact that they all truly disliked was the master’s son. Why would that matter? When things fall apart, the only thing that would unite them would have been the fact that they all dislike this one man, they would need to learn to find themselves, and then also live as a group. 

I also think recognizing how Florens sees them and calls the white people as, “The Europes” like on page 63, is a prime example of how even the Europeans are all new and where pulled from Europe as well. Every time she says that it is a reminder that they are not actually from America, but from Europe. This also reminded me of the movie Old Man and the Sea and The Big Short because in each of those the depressed(with money, goods, or emotions) characters referred to the giant or larger companies not as people, but as a thing, as “ Wall Street” or as the “Tax people”, and now “the Europes”. I found how characters like Mr. Gettridge, Florens, and the folks who suffered from the housing crisis talked about large institutions or groups of people in the broad sweeping sense.  Many people were “enslaved” to their mortgages living paycheck to paycheck, by no means, is it like slavery, but more of a saying. People during the housing crisis who had fallen into the trickery or fraud of the Wall Street men, later found out that their houses would soon not be there’s but the banks. The folks during this time were trapped into walking away from their beautiful house or trying to maintain status and working for the rest of their life to pay it off.  Any race, any ethnicity, any hair color this applied to everyone. 

Within Jacob Vaarks household we had people of many different ethnicities, Florens, who is African, Lina who is Native,  Willard and Scully who were white men and all of these people worked for Jacob Varraks under the same household. This is about pre-racism slavery as Toni Morrison had mentioned in this video there WAS a time, wherein America slavery was NOT linked with racism. We can see that with the work done with Willard and Scully, and Lina. These people did not have a home, and the Vaarks home became everyone’s home. With that being said, when Jacob died, that was also the common thread, holding them together. Now they had to go on a journey of self-discovery, and hoping the group comradery would them bring all back to the house.  Since, they did not have as Morrison states, “an institution to hold them together, a tribe, or a race.” They had to learn to push back against everything that was or wanting to expel them and come to where they were accepted. Another insight that was picked up from listening to the video linked above, is Morrisons’ mention of the Bacon Rebellion. Bacons Rebellion took place in 1676, and this book took place during the 1680s so shortly after this event. She described it as an event where men of all races gathered to protest the governor of Virginia,  they did many awful things, burning cities, etc but in the end, the culture ended up viewing the Africans and servants as the people of fault, and they were worried that they would uprise again. Some take this to be a starting point for racial slavery in the United States which correlates with the expulsion of African people from their homes to fuel this new forming mode of work in the US. Although this is after the time frame of A Mercy, we can still see how this affects Florens in her personal self searching to find freedom, which she finds after she let’s go from the Blacksmith, “ Now I am living the dying inside” page 167 Florens was expressing her extreme rejection from the Blacksmith, but now she does have the freedom to build herself up. Florens at the end of the novel realizes the gift she was given to be able to live in the Vaarks house, it was a mercy. Offered by a human.  In a few years to come, many Africans would not have the freedoms that she had now, like being able to experience the freedom to discover herself.

Noticing Our Access to Resources And How It Shapes Our Experiences

“My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice”- Dionne Brand

When I first began Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, I had noticed how different characters noticed and reacted to their environment out in nature when narrating their portion of the novel. I had mentioned this in one of our Canvas chat discussions and Dr. McCoy had asked, “I wonder what you make of it?”. During that class period, I wasn’t really sure what to make of it, but as I read further and began to think further, I thought about how having access to appropriate resources both material, but also intangible, are vital in how one notices and reacts to their environment that then shapes their experience. People who do not have access to the necessary resources are often expelled from these environments where the resources are needed as a result. This is seen not only in Morrison’s A Mercy, but also in the 2008 housing crisis and the current crisis we are living through now.

Continue reading “Noticing Our Access to Resources And How It Shapes Our Experiences”

Just Another Number

When thinking about the housing crisis in 2008, I think about how inhumane and insensitive we must have become as a human race in order to get to the point that it came to. The housing market crash is directly related to greed, naivety and ignorance- all connected to the nature of humanity. Families were viewed as another number in the crisis. Their humanity was stripped away from them, and their displacement was not thought about for too long, as long as the top 1% were benefiting from the rest of the worlds pain and misfortune. After reading A Mercy by Toni Morrison, which was “coincidently” published in 2008, I notice the same kind of ignorance within the characters and their inability to see other humans as a whole rather than another number in the world. Just like the housing crisis, A Mercy highlights the pain many of the characters endure, however they lack the tools to fully understand why this pain is occurring and where the pain is derived from. The lack of tools to interpret each other has functioned as a way to expel people from the places that they once called home, whether it is literally or figuratively.

In this beginning of the semester, we watched a film in my “Expulsion and the Housing Crisis” course called The Old Man and the Storm. In this film, we became connected to Gettridge, an 82 year old man in New Orleans, and his family. This family was devastatingly affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, causing his children and grandchildren to be displaced and his wife taken away and put in a nursing home. For years, Gettridge worked hard to rebuild his home and bring his family back. According to Season 2009: Episode 5 in the Frontline, “The moving personal story of Mr. Gettridge and his family reveals the human cost of this tragedy, the continued inadequacies of government’s response in the aftermath of Katrina, and how race, class, and politics have affected the attempts to rebuild this American city”. Gettridge expresses how he received little to no financial assistance from the government to rebuild his home, which should have been enough for him to pack up his stuff to move out. However, Gettridge is resilient and refused to be another number to the government and their lack of tools to see him as an actual human being.

Just like Gettridge in The Old Man and the Storm, we see the same inability in the characters of A Mercy to view each other as human beings. We become aware of the forces that allow them to easily expel each other from the places they call home. For instance, Lina is unable to see Sorrow for more than what she appears to be; quiet, inadequate, and evil. Lina does not hold back on how she views Sorrow; “In Sorrow’s presence, eggs would not allow themselves to be beaten into foam, nor did butter lighten cake batter. Lina was sure the early deaths of Mistress’ sons could be placed at the feet of the natural curse that was Sorrow” (Morrison, pg. 65). Lina doesn’t have the tools and compassion to see past her appearance and her name. However, I am unsure if Lina has no desire to comprehend Sorrow, or I should say Complete, on a deeper level or she physically lacks the tools to be able to do so. Whether she has the tools and chooses not to use them, or doesn’t have the tools accessible to her, she is still engulfed with the same naivety and ignorance as the CEOS during the Housing Crisis. Not only is Complete expelled from her home on the boat due to a storm, but she is expelled from her new home with the Vaark’s due to Lina’s inability to comprehend her and see her more than just another number on the farm.

When deeply analyzing the actions of other beings, we can be quick to say, “oh, that’s just human nature”. Throughout this blog post, I keep asking myself, why? Why is it important to understand the actions of others? Well, for a starter, it is important to understand each others actions because it allows us to understand what they don’t know. For instance, can we truly judge Lina for being so cautious around Complete, if she doesn’t know her whole story? (I’d like to point out, I am purposefully referring to her as Complete and not Sorrow because it is the name she gave herself, and one’s identity shouldn’t be given to them by someone else). I personally don’t think we should be judging Lina per se, but we should be hoping that Complete can have the patience to open Lina’s eyes to a new perspective and world, and hope that Lina can learn to see her as a whole human being, not just what she wants her to see. The same thing can be applied to the housing crisis. Can we truly judge the CEO’S and upper class for being so ignorant during a crisis, if all they’ve ever known was ignorance? Instead of falling into the human nature of judging, we should be hoping that someone can open their eyes to a new perspective, and that these individuals are full human beings, with real hardships, emotions, and blessings. It should be mutual. We should be trying to understand, comprehend and learn from each other, instead of trying to label each other off of what we know and not trying to understand what we don’t know. Instead of focusing on the tools and knowledge that we lack, we should be focusing on ways to better ourselves and understanding each other on a deeper level. If we don’t give each other this opportunity, we will all stay as a number, be forced out of our home. We all have a story to tell, we just need to use the tools we have accessible to us to listen and learn.

After I submitted my post, I continued on with my quarantine routine, which looks a lot like many of yours probably. Homework, tv, self-care, laying in bed, and calling family members. When on the phone with a cousin of mine, we discussed what was going on around our world. Unfortunately, a close friend of hers past away due to COVID-19. Together, we walked through her emotions. Im sure a lot of people are feeling the same away about a lost one due to COVID-19, that their loved ones passing feels disconnected, cold and too soon as you’re unable to mourn the proper way. As I tried my best to comfort and console her, I realized that I found myself talking about numbers. It feels like your loved one is just another statistic, another COVID-19 victim. They are no longer identified as someones friend, mother, father, brother, sibling or spouse, but “someone else to add to the data”. I found myself thinking about the World War Victims and 9/11 victims and how the news lacked the tools to comprehend that each one of these numbers is a full human being with a story to tell. These forces expel them from their home base and identity causing them to be seen as half of their full self. Lets not let ourselves get caught in this trap. Lets not watch the news and here a statistic and think of it as another number. Take the time to really understand the depth of that number, and pray that for every person who gets added to the disconnected list, may their memory be eternal.

The Effects of Greed

My first encounter with mortgages was when I first played the video game Animal Crossing. The premise of the game is that you play as a human who arrives at a town of animals. The first thing you do is pick out a one-room house.  A racoon named Tom Nook is the one who sells it to you, and the price is outrageous because he is a greedy crook. But there is no other choice, so you agree to take out a large loan that can be paid off in increments. It’s just a video game, so it is not nearly as complex as the real-life mortgages we have been reading about in The Big Short and The Turner House, but it is the basis of my knowledge about mortgages.When our class first started reading The Big Short many of us outwardly agreed that it was confusing, and Dr. McCoy pointed out that of course it is confusing, because the situation the people in The Big Short are dealing with does not make sense. Steve Eisman and company spend much of the book attempting to get to the bottom of it, and they realize that banks have been giving nearly all mortgages good ratings in a nonsensical manner. The CEOs of the banks didn’t understand it either, but they seemingly did not care to understand it since they were profiting. 

Continue reading “The Effects of Greed”

Intent and Consequence in the Big Short and The Turner House

In my first reading of The Big Short, to say that I was confused was a bit of an understatement. I couldn’t wrap my head around the lack of responsibility that Wall Street displayed in response to the 2008 Housing Crisis. While Micheal Lewis’s book functioned more so as a literary textbook, throwing random bits of information that framed a series of events, whereas in Angela Flournoy’s novel, The Turner House, character development and her usage of flashbacks played a central role in humanising the ways in which I was able to make sense of the 2008 Housing Crisis and the importance of deciphering intent and facing the consequences of our actions.

In the final chapter of The Big Short, Michael Lewis posits that the problem with money was that “what people did with it had consequences, but they were so remote from the original action that the mind never connected the one with the other.” I will admit that when I first read this sentiment, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. But when I read The Turner House and returned to the comfort of narrative prose, I found myself questioning how characters like Lelah, for example, deal with their shortcomings and cope with the resulting consequences of their actions. Early on in my reading, I was able to focus specifically on Lelah and the relationship she had with her daughter and position within the Turner family with the help of the novel’s usage of the third person omniscient point of view. Having all of the thoughts and feelings of the Turner family, specifically when it came to Lelah, made it all the more accessible when attempting in deciphering how she confronts the consequences of her gambling addiction. Unlike The Big Short, The Turner House sets the scene, so to speak, and we see how characters develop through their actions by first establishing their intent or Mens rea.

 For example, when Lelah is forced to leave her apartment, she chooses to ignore the calls from her daughter Brianne and refuses to seek help from her siblings. Instead, she opts to take up residence in her vacant family house.  In her reasoning behind her decision, Lelah makes the point that, “A house with electricity couldn’t be classified as abandoned, and an individual with a key to that house didn’t fit the definition of a trespasser.” I was particularly interested in this line of reasoning primarily because it highlights exactly what the legal Latin term Mens Rea refers to: guilty mind. According to Cornell Law School, Mens Rea refers to criminal intent or a guilty state of mind that is required in order to convict someone of a particular crime. According to Lelah, she does not consider herself a trespasser because she holds a key to the house, yet, the very definition of trespass, as defined by Cornell Law School, is “the act of knowingly entering another person’s property without permission.” Just because Lelah had a key for the house does not necessarily mean she had permission to enter her family house. The question of whether or not Lelah was trespassing however, is not a question of her integrity but rather the consequent actions that follow.

Lelah, unlike those in The Big Short, was well aware of the fact that she was an addict. In the description of her gambling addiction, there are instances in the novel where she recounts that she should have walked away from the gambling but couldn’t. There was something irresistible in the act of gambling that Lelah simply could not resist. Lelah’s addition, highlighted the very problem that those in The Big Short may have confronted. In Chapter 6 of The Big Short, it is evident that the casinos were most successful in helping gamblers delude themselves, offered them a sense of “false confidence” as Lewis puts it. This seems to be demonstrated particularly well with Lelah, who also benefits from the false confidence that Lelah herself acknowledges at the end of Motor City, when she recalls:

It wasn’t Vernon’s fault she’d ended up a gambler; she would never say it was… When she felt like she was flailing, back on Yarrow not doing anything worth anything with her life and tired of being alone, she could sit right here, put her hand on the chalky surface of the chips, and be still for a moment in the middle of all the commotion of the casino floor (50).

I found this particular exploration of Lelah’s connection to gambling indicative of the lack of depth that was evident in The Big Short. As I’ve pointed out in numerous discussions, Lewis’s novel rightfully condemns the gamblers of The Big Short, and we as readers, are eager to categorise them as villains. Yet, in The Turner House, one can’t help feel sorry for Lelah because she isn’t depicted as a villain. Her state of mind isn’t one of self-destruction, she’s just trying to cope. But one of the questions I have been asking myself through all of this is, can the same be said for people like Michael Burry, who knew exactly what he was doing when he placed bets against the crappy loans. If there’s anything The Turner House explores in relation to The Big Short, I think it has more to do with examining character intent and positing how they are able to move forward. When I consider Lelah and her desire to be her own woman, free from the shackles of the patriarchy, I consider the fraught relationship she has with Brianne, whom she urges to be independent and not rely entirely on Robbie. If I were to consider Brianne’s perspective of Lelah, I might argue that she believed her mother to be harsh and overly critical, but when given the background of Lelah that we have and considering her own previous relationships, it’s evident that Lelah’s intent is not push her daughter away, but to protect from dwindling down a path that she herself can’t seem to escape from.

While Lelah’s intent is not to cause harm, the consequences of her overprotectiveness result in Brianne pushing her away. That being said, it’s a shame that those responsible for the housing crisis were not confronted with the consequences of their own actions, but rather received quite large bailouts instead.

The Importance of a Narrative

Ever since I was a young girl, I was infatuated with storytelling. I’d beg my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, anyone who I deemed as “old and wise” to tell me a story, a true story. I think the thing that I always searched for in these stories was some type of emotion I didn’t fully understand yet. I would ask my parents, on a smaller scale, how 9/11 impacted them, and at a larger scale, how it impacted their community. This community started at the neighborhood, stretched to their workplaces and dove even further at a nationwide scale. I would ask my grandparents how they individually felt during the Vietnam war and World War 2, and how their community as they knew it changed. I would focus on the emotions in their voice as I asked them to reflect on a really scary time in their lives. A time where they couldn’t see the future and didn’t know how the story would end. I can’t explain it, but there was some part of me as a young girl that was jealous of their experience with pain, loss and uncertainty. I felt as though it gave them depth, caused them to see the world a little differently than my innocent self could. Now, as a young adult, I am beginning to understand the pain they went through, and I regret the jealousy I felt towards them. As a junior in college, I have been asked to undergo an unforeseeable and uncontrollable change due to the global COVID-19 that is traveling faster than the thoughts in my head as I am writing this blog. I am beginning a narrative that I never saw coming, where I was asked to cut my semester short and move back to Long Island with my parents. Where I was asked to leave my friends without a proper goodbye, friends I may never see again. Where I was asked to end my Ultimate Frisbee season before it has even begun, not knowing my last tournament with my team would have been the last. I did not consent to this change. Please excuse my french, but so much shit has hit the fan in the past 4-5 days that I am not really sure if this blog will answer the prompt I was given, but at least my thoughts are on paper (or on your computer screen) and I am connecting with my readers.

Now that my rant (for now) is over, I will attempt to connect what our world is enduring with our class content. In 2008, The United States experienced a housing crisis that asked families to undergo a change that was unforeseeable. Families lost their houses, they were displaced, and lost so much of their lives in the matter of seconds. I was too young to remember what our country went through, what my parents went through, and the pain that they felt. I am now understanding this pain and this uncertainty, and I hope and pray to God that my children and my children’s children never feel this pain. As a class, we were asked to read The Big Short by Michael Lewis and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. They both tell their reader a narrative of the same story, and I believe that The Turner House sheds light on what was missing from The Big Short. I believe that they work together to fill in the missing puzzle pieces to a narrative that affected so many people’s lives.

After reading my classmate Kaitlyn Papaccio’s blog “Liquidity of Narratives”, she helped me wrap my head around how these two works of literature work together to create a single story. Kaitlyn wrote, “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”. I completely agree with Kaitlyn’s statement and will build off of our agreed claim. In class, we agreed that The Big Short was a difficult read due to the lack of prior knowledge on the Housing Crisis and the terminology that went into it. Lewis threw terms at the reader such as “liquidation” and “credit laundering” (pg. 141) that required me to constantly stop reading and start defining. As a class, we compared it to reading a text book that provided the stone cold facts of the 2008 crisis. In fact, I was one of the many that watched the film in order to feel some type of emotional connection. However, I will say that without reading this narrative before reading The Turner House, my personal narrative would be very different. In The Big Short, I was given the cold truth of what went down behind the scenes. We then read a narrative that told us an emotional story of how individuals were affected by the Housing Crisis, and it all seemed to come together. The Turner House makes The Big Short seem more real and more emotional than what Michael Lewis portrays it to be. However, I do think it is important that Lewis wrote a narrative in this textbook style because there is no sugarcoating or dramatizing the events and experiences of those affected. It is important because there is no bias to the words written on the page and Lewis understands that every individual was impacted differently.

After re-reading what I have so far, I see that I am writing backwards as to what the prompt asks, ” Does The Turner House shed light on what was missing from The Big Short‘s story telling? If so, how? If not, how not? So what? Who cares? “. I need to slow down. I think I am saying that The Big Short sheds light on The Turner House, and there is something so interesting about that because it was not intended and it was unforeseeable. I want to say that they shed light on each other and it is not a one way street. We need both a story that is unbiased and gives the facts and a story that tells an emotional rollercoaster of individuals impacted by these events. We need both because as a reader who does not remember the Housing Crisis taking place, I want to know WHY these events happened (through The Big Short) and I need to now HOW these events impacted families (Through The Turner House).

Angela Flournoy’s work makes the events that happen in The Big Short seem more real. She manages to show the reader how families were impacted financially, physically and mentally. In my opinion, The Big Short lacks or downplays the physical and mental components and focuses mainly on the financial aspects that were impacted. In this way, The Turner House sheds a light on the missing puzzle pieces to the narrative. Flournoy talks about really deep things such as addiction and the struggle with sobriety. The 2008 Housing Crisis caused many people to fall into old habits and self sabotaging routines that affected their lives and their families greatly. These two works of literature allow us to create a deeper understanding of a single event that can’t be told by one perspective or point of view.

When I was first learning about the world wars, it was from personal accounts from family members that were filled with emotion and personal perspectives. I then relearned the world wars in grade school and high school. I tried to keep my grandparents stories separate from the text books stories and my teachers stories. I finally realized that that was impossible. Instead of forcing ourselves to separate these narratives, we should combine them to create a story filled with facts and personal events and emotions. Through The Big Short, we have the data and the statistics. Through The Turner House, we have the emotions and the personal accounts. Together, we have a beautiful narrative that includes truth, pain, and uncertainty. Something that our world is going through right now and something that we will once again come out of stronger than ever before.

Motives Behind Madness

                       As humans, we are faced with infinite choices and it’s natural for us to judge the choices of others especially when they don’t align with what we believe to be best.  The Turner House sheds light on the true motives behind what drives our choices as people whereas The Big Short revealed the motives behind those who pursued justice or the truth. Even though both works read like novels, we shouldn’t mistake that life reads the same way. Better understanding the motives behind people’s choices, good or bad, can bring us closer to better understanding our own humanity and that of others whom we have otherwise dismissed as just “bad people.” After all, humans are born with the ability to make choices, not with the ability to make only good choices. 

           In The Turner House, Flournoy explores the lives of the Turner children focused on throughout the novel and how they grew up influenced decisions they make now. The family is a small-scale view, the individual Turners on an even smaller scale, of a financial crisis that in its largest scale affected the world’s economy in some way or another. Even though this novel takes place during the housing crisis, it feels as though it is only an underlying current while we delve deeper into the lives of the individual Turners and what has shaped them. Throughout the novel, we explore the Turners’ motivation to their actions and even though we have special insight as readers we are left wondering what Tina also wonders when hearing about Cha-Cha and Alice: “Can a human being ever truly know another person’s heart?” (Flournoy 290). Cha-Cha’s actions are largely shaped by his haunting father and the fact that due to all of the weight on his shoulders, he doesn’t feel like he’s being listened to. What drives him to pursue a relationship with Alice is that there is someone who he feels finally is listening and validating the good and bad of him. Lelah acknowledges her addiction to gambling as the possibility of victory rather than the possibility of a fortune: “The exact amount wasn’t as important to her while in the thick of the game as much as the feel of her stack of chips” (Flournoy 49). It’s easy to see a person who gambles and question why they would continue with large money at stake rather than look for what they really are getting out of it such as the chance to actually succeed at something. Often the truth behind our actions may not be known to others or even ourselves. As Francis Turner puts it: “It took courage to let a woman in on one’s disappointment, one’s fear” (Flournoy 278). Sometimes it’s difficult to be vulnerable in why we make our choices to other people, so we instead don’t offer an explanation or don’t expect one we’ll receive to justify the judgments we cast on the action.

           In The Big Short, Lewis explores actual people’s lives and while he discloses what went on behind the curtain of those uncovering the crisis from beginning to burst. Lewis focuses on bringing the understanding of the reader from the viewpoint of those working against CDOs. After reading the book, you had very real humans exploring a version of the same side through the lens created by their own lives. It also becomes apparent that money was a big motivator for both sides of the equation, not just those who were screwing people over but also those betting against them. However, we still get their backstory and how their circumstances have shaped who they are. Steve Eisman was known for his blunt personality and we learn that although it may not directly correlate with his financial decisions, his son’s death played a big part in his life thereon after. As Eisman puts it, “’From the point of view of the history of the universe, Max’s death was not a big deal,’ said Eisman. ‘It was just my big deal’” (Lewis 12). Our experiences may not seem to matter in the grand scheme of things, but the ripple they can take on in our own actions unto others are infinite. Burry always believed himself to be defined by his glass eye until he later discovered that he has Asperger’s. Both parts of him were viewed both negatively by himself and others but they are part of what drove him to make important life decisions. With Vinny Daniel, he was motivated to be inclined to see the darker nature of humanity that we tend to overlook because of his experiences: “Maybe it was Queens, maybe it was what had happened to his father, or maybe it was just the way Vincent Daniel was wired, but he viewed his fellow man with the most intense suspicion” (Lewis 10). Lewis gave us these insights into why these people were motivated to look for and/or bet against Wall Street, but his lack of exposing the deeper motivation behind those at Wall Street leads us to just take their unethical choices as purely villainous.

           Although The Turner House is a novel, The Big Short also abides by storytelling elements especially when introducing the “characters.” As mentioned by Sandy in class, The TurnerHouse appears to humanize the villains we see in The Big Short. However, I believe we feel like this because The Turner House works to expose the real human motives behind what we may gauge as bad choices. When telling a story, the “why” is something we search for to explain the characters’ decisions, actions, and words. This was only delved into from the point of view of those working “against” the unethical practices of Wall Street while those in higher positions seemed to only be ruled by ignorance or greed. To me, the people in these positions aren’t painted as not human, but rather they only represent the worst in humanity itself. This is a part of humanity we willingly turn a blind eye to or cast under the label of the classical villain. I am also eager to do so when initially reading The Big Short, however, this part of humanity is very real and needs to be understood if hope to better understand ourselves and the choices we’re inclined to make. Maybe this knowledge will also help us think twice about the why before we carry through with the do.

           Understanding people’s motives and better understanding our own may help us think twice when passing judgment on the choices of others. It’s easy to pass judgment as if the world was painted like a movie: there are only people driven by greed or desire who seek to hurt others and there is everyone else who either falls under the heels of the former or rises to challenge them. The reality is that the world is grey, and the worst of the best of what makes us human exists in all of us. In the words of Flournoy, “Here is the truth about self-discovery: it is never without cost” (Flournoy 106). We are influenced by our past, our current environment, our desire, our morals, and our experiences. One decision doesn’t dictate who we are, but the motives behind these decisions and how we deal with the consequences can say a lot about us as people. I think, given at a time like this, exploring motives is key especially when shuffling though all the fake/false news we are being faced with. Right now, fear is behind many people’s actions. Fear is driving a lot of media as well whether the information is instigated by fear or meant to spread it. I hope we can all respect each other’s humanity, the good and the bad, even if we disagree with other people’s choices. In retaliation spread facts and kindness rather than hate since we are all human and we are all in this together. 

Addiction and Human Interconnection

Since humans are inherently interconnected, one person’s addiction, whether it be to a substance or to something else, affects other people. Merriam-Webster defines addiction as “a strong inclination to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly.” In The Turner House, the various addictions of Turner family members affect other members of the family; however, the addictions of the risk-taking investors and brokers in The Big Short affect the entire economy of the United States. While Angela Flournoy in The Turner House, directly acknowledges addiction and the effects of addiction on individuals, Michael Lewis only indirectly mentions addiction in The Big Short. A direct acknowledgment of addiction, and the effects of addiction, is missing. Therefore, while The Big Short and The Turner House both tell stories of the financial crisis, The Big Short masks the effects of addiction on individuals which The Turner House illuminates.

The Big Short takes a subtle and indirect approach to discuss addiction. Addiction is primarily discussed, and largely dismissed, through the frequent use of the word “obsession.” Lewis describes a group of investors for whom “the trade became an obsession” (106). The use of the word “obsession” seems to suggest, and largely gloss over, a gambling addiction. While this gambling addiction extends far beyond an average poker table, the effects are also much greater; however, Lewis never directly addresses the effects of these large-scale addictions on individuals and dismisses addiction as “obsession.”

The only individual person that Lewis suggests has an addiction is Michael Burry, yet he still never directly calls it an addiction. Within the first paragraph of introducing Burry, Lewis refers to Burry’s “new obsession” (26). He later clarifies that Burry’s “lifelong obsession [is] the inner workings of the stock market.” and that he “dragged his obsession along with him through high school, college, and medical school” (35-36). Lewis’s focus on Burry’s “obsession” shows that Burry is addicted to the stock market, even though Lewis never directly calls it an addiction. Instead, Lewis suggests that this addiction to the stock market is due to Burry’s Asperger’s syndrome: “it explain[s] an awful lot about what he did for a living and how he did it” (183). By implying that Burry’s addiction is due to Asperger’s, Lewis further masks the effects of addiction on individuals and the part that these addictions played in the economic crash. Unlike Lewis’s negligible attention to addiction and the effects of addiction on individuals, Flourney sheds light on the effects of addiction on both the addicts and their families. 

By showing the emotions and inner workings of individuals and their families, The Turner House presents addiction in a way that is far more direct than in The Big Short; this presentation directly shows the effects of addiction on individual people and their families. Flournoy very clearly shows the specific addictions of every member of the Turner family:

There was Francis, who Alice had called an alcoholic […]. There was Lonnie, […] he had dabbled in heroin as young as thirteen and was clearly still on something […] at the age of fifty-three. Troy […] was obsessed with success […]. There was Marlene, and with her Viola Turner herself, not really hurting anyone with their obsession […] they were downright absorbed with the flea market stall […]. There was [Tina], not a Turner by blood, but thirty years rubbed off on people. He felt a pinprick of guilt calling Tina’s church involvement an addiction, but that’s how he thought of it. Now here was Francey standing before him, obsessed with nutrition and vegetarianism and kitchen gadgets. […]. Maybe Cha-Cha himself was addicted to being in charge of the family, or going to therapy with Alice, or even this revived idea of a haint. (Flournoy 85)

Through this passage, Flournoy shows the various addictions of many different people which stands in stark contrast to Lewis’s ignoration of the investors’ addictions. In addition to showing the addictions of the Turner family, Flournoy continues to directly display the effects of addiction on individuals and their families. 

One example of the effects of addiction on individuals and their families is Flournoy’s depiction of Lelah, a gambling addict: “What folks [say] about idle hands and the devil [is] true for Lelah; busyness [is] her best defense against the urge to fondle those chips” (96). Through this passage, Flournoy directly addresses one way that Lelah’s addiction affects her daily life—she needs to constantly keep herself busy. Flournoy also shows the devastating effects of Lelah’s gambling addiction on her life when she gets suspended without pay for borrowing money from her coworkers, and when she gets evicted from her home (45). 

In addition to the effects of addiction on Lelah’s own life, Flournoy shows the effects of Lelah’s addiction on her family members. Lelah needs money, so she searches through the basement of Viola’s house for things to sell. She eventually sells “things that weren’t hers, maybe for a lot less than they were worth” (104). If her siblings were to return for their Asian-style dagger or gold earrings, they would not find them. Lelah sold these things without her siblings’ consent, in order to finance her addiction. Flournoy presents a complete description of Lelah’s gambling addiction, giving addiction a specific face and allowing readers to feel a human connection. Therefore, The Turner House sheds light on what is missing in The Big Short because while The Big Short and The Turner House discuss many of the same concepts, The Turner House personifies these concepts in a way that The Big Short does not.

The Big Short does not emphasize the devastating effects on addiction on individuals; it does, however, indirectly show what happens when individuals in positions of power are addicted to risk-taking and the effects of that risk-taking on the U.S. economy as a whole. On the other hand, The Turner House shows not only the effects of addiction on individuals and families that are struggling with addiction, but also the economic effects of the U.S. economy on these individuals and these families. The addiction of the risk-takers in The Big Short alter the lives of the people in The Turner House, who have addictions of their own. A major difference between both narratives is that the addicts in The Big Short do not take any accountability for the consequences of their addictions, even though the extent of the damage caused by their addictions is far greater than any member of the Turner family. Due to human interconnectedness, one person’s addiction inevitably affects the lives of others. This is a concept that is made extremely clear in The Turner House, yet is mostly neglected in The Big Short. By giving readers a more direct insight into the effects of addiction on individuals and their families, The Turner House allows readers to feel more human compassion. Lewis fails to hold the investors accountable for their addiction, and the effects of their addiction on their families and the entire U.S. economy. On the other hand, Flournoy clearly and directly illuminates the effects of addiction on addicts and the families of addicts, and also shows the devastating effects of the investors’ and brokers’ addictions that Lewis masks. Therefore, The Turner House sheds light on what is missing in The Big Short: a direct acknowledgment of addiction and its effects.