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.
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”
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?””
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.
I don’t mean to jump ahead, but Sara’s post got me thinking about Morrison and her potential motives for her writing. I too have been exploring some of the intersections between Beloved and AMercy that I have seen so far (I haven’t finished A Mercy yet). I was intrigued by Sara’s question, “What inspired Morrison, if not her own personal experience of discrimination?” This then reminded me of one of the questions brought up in the first class meeting: “How can we parallel Morrison’s work to what we see in society today?” While I can’t speak for Morrison, I like to believe that at the end of the day, Morrison, like many others, is trying to achieve a more equitable society through her writing. Continue reading “Morrison’s Potential Inspiration”
One of the questions posed on the first day of class was whether or not reading one Toni Morrison book was akin to reading them all. I am very intrigued by this because, while most authors have definitive and clear themes and styles that they write in, would the fact that Toni Morrison is a more prolific author mean that she in fact has overcome that obstacle? I’ve only ever read Morrison’s Beloved and a small portion of Sula one lazy afternoon, and forgive me, but I’ve no intention of reading all of her works to find the validity of that question. However, my curiosity was fueled even more so after reading (slowly) AMercy. To put it plainly, Morrison has an incredible command of the English language, her writing is at times poetic, and her characters embodies numerous styles of writing. I was so awed by her language that I reread the first few pages of Beloved in order to see what I had missed out on, because I didn’t have the skill to recognize it in high school. I saw a common theme of strong women, but not so much the poetry. So doing further research I learned that Beloved was published in 1987 while A Mercy was published in 2008. A twenty-one year difference is to a writer, I believe, a lifetime, which explains what I would loathe to call growth, but rather difference in the works. I was also able to find this article which is a book review of Beloved, by Mervyn Rothstein in the New York Times, from 1987, and contains a quote by Morrison that has stuck with me ever since hearing it last year in another class taught by Dr. McCoy ”It was absolutely the right thing to do, but she had no right to do it.” If you’ve not read Beloved, I won’t ruin it for you, but that is a profound statement even without the context.The article also explains Morrison’s inspiration for A Mercy and how she went about researching to write it. Finally, I think that I will be coming back to the question of whether or not to read one of Morrison’s books is to read them all, I haven’t found a suitable answer and hope you all keep it in your minds as well throughout the semester.
I thought I’d use my first blog post to express my hopes and concerns for this course for the upcoming semester. Normally, I would go into a new course thinking about what I will “gain” from it, or how my study of the various assigned texts will be “useful” to myself. But something feels wrong about this method of thinking with this course. Continue reading “How to Read Texts Not Written for You?”
This semester, I will be conducting a directed study with Maria Lima on British Black Short Stories. I look forward to the connections and interesting perspectives that reading Toni Morrison’s novels alongside the works that I will be reading for Maria will provide. This past week we had our first meeting, and she suggested that I watch A Terrible Transformations, Africans in America. This is a documentary that focuses on the unique history of Slavery in America– one that moved from a system of indentured servitude of all races, to the kidnapping and enslavement of people of African heritage. Overall, I found the film to be quite beneficial towards my understanding of the enslavement of people based on race in the United States, and thought perhaps it could benefit the rest of the class as well.
Along with a better historical understanding, I also found that there were significant connections between A Terrible Transformation and Morrison’s A Mercy. The documentary discusses the conditions of the Slave Ships and Middle Passage–the trading of slaves that D’Ortega subtly makes references to as “factors out of his control.” The documentary also discusses Slavery as something that affected not only the Slave owners and Slaves themselves, but an entity that was tightly intertwined into the American Social and Economic system, in such a way that all people were affected indirectly. This issue is that something that we discussed as a class upon reaction to Jacob’s notion that he “does not deal in flesh.” Just because his direct commodity is not buying and selling slaves, we determined that he is not entirely blameless, due to the fact that he deals in goods that are primarily harvested by enslaved labor.
If interested, I would strongly recommend viewing this documentary. It is available on Youtube, and I have provided the link below. I believe that it provides a sound historical understanding that could be of aid when dealing with the issues that Morrison addresses in her novels.
After looking at Jacob’s contradictory denial of dealing in “flesh”, which Hannah does a good job of explaining in her post, I started thinking about the ways that Toni Morrison made Jacob first appear to be a benevolent character, only to contradict that appearance after closer reading. The most obvious attempt to show Jacob’s altruism, in my opinion, was his rescue of the raccoon in the beginning of the chapter.
Saving a baby animal is about as in-your-face as Morrison could get to show that Jacob is a lovable guy, but she brings the raccoon back several times in a way that I think reveals the part of himself that Jacob denies. Continue reading “Jacob and the Raccoon”