Similarities in Female Characters

As a class, we have already discussed that Toni Morrison writes for black people. I think that has a lot of weight and the discussion of what that exactly means should be continued throughout the semester, but in this post I’d like to focus on Morrison’s relationship to female readers shown through her female characters in A Mercy.

I think it was Emily (I’m not positive, though it was someone) who brought up the idea that possibility of Florens being raped mentioned by Rebekka on page 84 is a women’s issue. I really liked that idea, because that can be seen as a similarity between many characters that Dr. McCoy had told us to look for while reading that section of the novel.

When thinking about this in class, I was particularly drawn to one passage found on page 115. To save space, I won’t include the entire quotation, but I was looking specifically from “Although they had nothing in common…became like children when the man was gone.” In this passage, I believe that Rebekka shows great wisdom. She relates the male-female dynamic and how the power inequity affects all women, from the religiously devout to her shipmates (women sent out of the country for their lewd behavior), from herself to the slave/servant women in her life. This one passage seemed to sum up the idea of similarities vs. differences in the characters very succinctly. As we continue to read Morrison’s works, I plan to look into her relationship to female readers, not just black readers. (As a disclaimer, I’m not trying to make myself included in her target audience- I just think that her choosing to write about “women’s issues” makes for an interesting discussion).

Virginia’s Verger: Sexual Politics of Race in the New World

After Dr. McCoy’s brief mention of “Virginia’s Verger” in class last week, I decided to search a little for the original document–Purchas his Pilgrimes–which, written by Samuel Purchas, a settler in the New World, turned to out be brimming with intertwined racism and sexism. Can you guess how shocked I am (hint: not at all)?  Continue reading “Virginia’s Verger: Sexual Politics of Race in the New World”

Black History is American History

A question that Beth posed in class this week asked us to understand what Toni Morrison means when she stated that her literature is intended for black folks. In this blog post, I’d like to dive into what I believe that she meant, with a special mention to a quote from the PBS film, Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery, that stated indignantly that “slavery is indeed an institution that is American.”

Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery noted the contextual history of Morrison’s novel, Mercy, by placing us in the time leading up to slavery – the movement that occurred during the Middle Passage and then the buying and selling of black bodies. In Mercy, a work of historical American fiction, the quote “slavery is indeed an institution that is American,” should be noted in categorizing the novel as a work of “historical American fiction.” Among the many statements mentioned throughout the film, each able to shake the roots of what Joan Dayan recalls as “the sorcery of law… hidden at the heart of the modern state,” and which Beth sites in her “The Archive of the Archive of the Archive,” stating that slavery is an institution that is still present in our American ways and that its history will continue to haunt black lives is what brings Morrison’s work to life today. I inferred that this is what the producers of the film want us to learn from saying that. The statement is supported by reference to how the Declaration of Independence, the doctrine that asserts our nation’s foundation, was not made with consideration for black lives. The plethora of these kinds of dismissals present in our history continues to subjugate and dehumanize black people in the United States. It highlights a modern slavery that is a relic of what was never dealt with during Reconstruction.

Moreover, I think that stating that “slavery is indeed an institution that is American” brings currency to what we study in class. Saying that slavery is American includes its history and all of its implications in our present day society. It denies the perspective that some Americans have of “colorblindness” and elucidates Morrison’s assertion that her literature is meant for black people. It is meant to empower black people and to remember black history. It includes black lives, and the history of these black lives, and contextualizes this history to our present day society, giving a voice to the #BlackLivesMatter movement today.

For all these reasons, I applaud the showing of Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery because now, we know in brevity what we are working with. We know that what Morrison is teaching us is a delicate balance of our American history, including what has been erased and what we are yearning to learn.

Jacob’s values and religion

On the second day of class (my first day since I joined late) I remember discussing Jacob and his apparent distaste for slavery. We spoke specifically about the line, “Jacob winced. Flesh was not his commodity.” Without context because I hadn’t starting reading the book yet, my initial reaction was a torn one. While on the surface one might think, “Oh wow, Jacob is so virtuous he rejects slavery!” the fact he still refers to the slaves as “flesh,” dehumanizing them, shows he is not so far removed from the idea of slavery.

However, I do think there’s something to be said for society and culture at this time; I believe it accurate to say it would be difficult to find any white person who flat out rejects slavery in all forms (in fact I’m taking a history course about working in America during this time period, and my professor repeatedly says we must remember what the time period was like.)

So, for the time period, I would agree Jacob is against slavery in comparison to someone like D’Ortega. The next argument we brought up in class is whether Jacob’s ideas toward slavery stem from religion or his belief in a self-efficient work ethic, and whether this matters when putting it into terms of morality.

To this I bring up an entirely different point: perhaps it is not the question of religion vs. work ethic, but a combination of both. When Lina is first rescued she goes to live with Presbyterian’s who say, “God hated idleness most of all.” To me, this sounds like a combination of religious belief with Jacob’s work ethic. I wonder if that is where Jacob’s obsession with working hard, doing things for yourself, not being lazy, etc. comes from. Perhaps at some point Jacob was exposed to this Presbyterian thinking. If so, one could argue his rejection of slavery is not only because he thinks it “cheating,” in a way, to accept slave labor instead of working yourself, but also somehow rooted in religion and God. However, this is all just speculation.

I do not think it matters the reason, when it comes down to it, I see Jacob as a man of morals and virtue.

“Phantom” Assumptions and Expectations

Dr. Beth invoked an excellent metaphor for the outside forces that affect our responses to cultural productions like Morrison’s A Mercy. The idea is that we as products of various cultural and other forces bring expectations and assumptions into the space of the classroom, and if we do not try to root our responses in the text themselves, we are often possessed by these thoughts and “scripts” that may have nothing to do with the text. As someone that considers themselves as very conscious of these forces (from other English classes and my personal life), and as someone that has negatively been shaped and centered in the culture by them in various ways (primarily as a queer individual), I was very surprised to find myself “possessed” by these scripts while reading A Mercy. Continue reading ““Phantom” Assumptions and Expectations”

A Response to “A Terrible Transformation, Africans in America”

After having watched the documentary today in class that Sarah had previously mentioned, Dr.McCoy gave us about ten minutes to reflect on any significant connections that we could see between the documentary and Toni Morrison’s A Mercy.  While Sarah had already started this discussion with her post, I think it is only appropriate to continue this discussion. Continue reading “A Response to “A Terrible Transformation, Africans in America””

A Response to “How to Read Texts Not Written For You?”

I’ve never publicly blogged before. Growing up as a rather shy person–in both my personal life and my writing–the idea of other people reading my work was enough to reduce me to a puddle. But as I’ve begun to find my voice as a writer in college, I’ve grown more comfortable with the idea of sharing my ideas on a public forum–and when I found out that a component of this course was public blogging, I was surprised to find myself more excited than nervous.

However, every time I sit down to actually begin to write, fear seems to keep creeping back in. But this time, it isn’t because I’m uncomfortable with my voice as a writer; it’s because, as a white person, I’m terrified I might do violence to the black community that Toni Morrison’s work was actually written for. Continue reading “A Response to “How to Read Texts Not Written For You?””

Black People Don’t Read

When Beth told us of how Toni Morrison mentioned that she writes for black people, the first thing I thought about was a topic that came up a couple times in Beth’s African-American Literature course. Several writers and critics who were covered in the course mentioned that Black people do not read. I remember thinking deeply about this idea and although I initially got defensive, I thought to myself, “It’s actually true. Black people really don’t like to read.”

Growing up in a minority environment, and going to minority schools, I witnessed first hand that reading was never a favorite pastime or even hobby for most Black people, myself included. I began to wonder why. There are many reasons that I can think of as to why Black people are not interested in reading, but for the purpose of this post, I will just connect this fun fact to Morrison’s statement about writing for Black people. Perhaps, Morrison notices that Black people do not like to read, and she feels as if the reason for it is that reading has been made out to be a White thing.

Throughout my childhood, the people that I saw who actually read books for fun were the White people on television. In real life, it was very rare that I would find somebody who I knew reading a book, unless it was assigned for a class. I think it is possible that one of Toni Morrison’s motives in stressing that she writes for Black people is to get Black people to read. She shatters the notion that reading is a White thing by making the Black community her target audience.