Thresholds of Understanding and of Departments (ENGL 431 Thresholds)

            This semester, we will be diving into three works by Toni Morrison, Beloved, Paradise, and Jazz. I’ve never read any of Morrison’s work, so such a focused look into a completely new author is an exciting chance to learn for me. At the same time, the coming semester presents me with some apprehension from multiple sources. We are connecting many of the themes in Morrison’s work to the writing of Dante, another author which I have never read. While it is exciting to explore new works, that much new material in such a high level class does bring a level of concern that I may not be able to keep up with the reading or with the comprehension of the rest of the class. In addition, I have recently been grappling with a feeling of “otherness” in my English classes this semester stemming from my STEM major and my focus on different studies. While we study the idea of thresholds in the writing of Dante and Morrison, these worries leave me, ironically, at two of my own thresholds to consider as we move into the spring semester.

             The first threshold to consider is that of understanding. Now that we have read some of Morrison and Dante, I have the beginnings of an understanding of why the two might be grouped and studied together. The themes present in Dante’s Inferno are starting to pop up in Morrison’s Beloved, and they interact in increasingly interesting ways. Dante’s idea of Hell in Inferno centers largely around the idea of contrapasso, that sinners’ punishments are fitting for their sins. Since Sethe killed her child, that sin would put her in one of the circles of Hell, most likely Caina, in which sinners are held under frozen water with only their heads sticking out. Despite her sin, after reading most of Beloved I would venture to say that Sethe does not deserve this kind of punishment, since the circumstances of her life before and after the supposed sin show her to be a good person put in a bad situation. Dante would seem to disagree, since the sinners in Hell refuse, or are unable to, answer Dante the Pilgrim when he asks for their stories and are condemned to Hell without concern for the context under which their sins were committed. If my interpretation of Sethe’s life is in line with what Morrison intended, I am interested to see how or if this apparent disagreement between Dante and Morrison over what sinners deserve is resolved. Not knowing anything about either author at the beginning of the semester, I feel like I am moving towards a greater understanding of the two authors and how they overlap, but I acknowledge that I still have a lot to learn and a lot of material to read. This leaves me in a state of both understanding and not understanding at the same time, an idea that struck me as ironically fitting due to our focus on different kinds of thresholds in our readings this semester. I have no doubt that a semester worth of reading and good-faith conversation with my classmates will push me through this threshold and lead me to a greater understanding and appreciation of both authors.

            I am much less certain of overcoming my second threshold. As a biochemistry major, I have felt more noticeably out of place in my English classes this semester than in previous semesters. After thinking on the feeling, it makes perfect sense. I had recently remarked to a friend that my chemistry classes had become much smaller and more competitive as we moved into junior year, since the only students left in chemistry classes this advanced are upper-level chemistry and biochemistry majors that really care about and love the subject. With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense that I feel out of place in my two four hundred level English classes. My classmates are largely English or English education majors who have decided to dedicate their college education to a subject that they really care about. This is not to say that I do not care as much as my classmates do, but I have realized that they have dedicated a much more significant part of their lives to the subjects we are studying than I have, in exactly the same way I have dedicated more time to chemistry than they have. That dedication showed in the first few days of my English classes, in which my peers were much more ready to tackle difficult readings and discussions of interpretations that had not even occurred to me yet. While I was a little discouraged that I was lagging behind my peers in some discussions, knowing that my peers are expected to have developed their reading skills more than I have is a comforting thought that provides me the motivation to catch up with my peers’ comprehension of the texts we are reading. My minor in English leaves me at my second threshold; both in and out of the English program. While I’m currently enrolled in two high-level English classes, I am now aware of the difference between me and my English major peers and how that is starting to manifest in the classroom. This semester, one of my goals for this class, as well as Professor Rutkowski’s Herman Melville class, will be to push myself to the level of my peers and share some of the dedication and the extent of the love that they have for English literature.

            As we move past the threshold and into the class itself, I am challenging myself to take these difficulties as a challenge more than an obstacle. It is true that I feel behind my peers in comprehension and skill, but that gives me a framework to center my improvement around. I have never read the two authors we are focused on this semester, but new authors give me an opportunity to both expand my literature lexicon and catch up with my peers in my reading and analysis. The thresholds I find myself in currently provide a fitting link to the class curriculum and an impetus to grow beyond my previous education and attitudes, a prospect that excites me as much as it does intimidate me.

Changing Myself Through Changing My View of Others: Running Towards Independent Life

How do you view others? Are you conscious of how you judge the actions of someone you don’t know, especially someone who looks different from you?  I think we would all like to think we view everyone the same, that we don’t discriminate, that we don’t judge others, that we are willing to accept differences.  Before the semester began, I felt secure in my belief that others’ outward appearances couldn’t outweigh the significance of their actions.  But, when I tried to sympathize with the Oankali in Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood, I arrived at the realization that appearances did matter. They mattered a lot.  They mattered so much that I was unable to acknowledge any potential acts of care on their part. I have learned to come to terms with myself and alter this perspective.  Earlier in the semester, I centered my Goal-Setting Essay on using a growth mindset this semester to be open to change.  In that essay, I wrote, “As the semester continues, I want to emphasize the importance of really getting to know people, beyond just what they look like.”  I set this goal at the start of the semester, not knowing where the final destination would lead me. Now having reached the end, the destination I didn’t know I was working towards revealed itself within the text.  This semester was one of growth and change.  The lens I use to understand others changed through reading Lilith’s Brood, as I realized the importance of focusing on others’ actions and intentions, instead of focusing on outward appearances. 

One way I learned to change the way I viewed others was analyzing the ways characters were brought together throughout the trilogy. Gabe and Akin were brought together, despite their best efforts not to be.  In Dawn, the group of humans didn’t take the time to understand each other or the Oankali. This resulted in many of them dying, or leaving the Oankali to become resistors on Earth. Many of these resistors were not at peace and turned to kidnapping as a source of hope for the future. Gabe is an example of a character who learned how to bind with others eventually, even though he resisted for the longest time. Gabe was extremely distrusting of the Oankali and Lilith for the entirety of Dawn.  In Adulthood Rites, he continues to be wary of the Oankali.  He doesn’t trust Akin.  When first meeting Akin as an infant, Gabe says, “What I want to know, is just how unHuman he is” (Butler 350).  Instead of trying to find common ground, Gabe focuses on how Akin is different, just as he always has done with others.  Gabe is forced to spend a lot of time with Akin.  He is forced to understand that Akin does not have bad intentions.  He is forced to learn that they have a lot more in common that he would like to think.  By the end of their time together, the two are so close that Gabe chooses to perform Shakespeare for him. Gabe has learned how to bind together with an Oankali.  He even saves Akin’s life.  When Gilbert Senn pulls a gun on Akin, Gabe stops him by saying, “If he dies, we all die” (513).  Gabe’s words stopped the killing of Akin. Gabe learned to lower his guard, and actually get to know Akin for who he was, instead of focusing on their differences. The arc of this relationship taught me that others deserve the benefit of the doubt.  If you resist attempts to understand others based on rumors or stereotypes, without making an honest effort to get to know them, you are harming yourself and others by refusing an opportunity for connection and understanding. 

Butler shows us again and again how characters need to be brought together in order to survive, especially those who have different beliefs.  Gabe became binded to Akin due to circumstances out of his control- he would not have chosen to.  It’s worth considering other circumstances of how people are brought together.  In this post-apocalyptic world, there are many different groups of people that feel differently about what the future should look like (sounds familiar-right?). The only way forward, towards finding peace within all groups and finding a solution, is for people to be willing to understand how the other groups are living, make an attempt to understand and reconcile. 

Tino showed me that people can be brought together when one is brave enough to follow their inner voice. Tino leaves behind everything he knows in an effort to get to know those he has been taught to hate.  Even though he risks being outcast from his family, Tino feels he needs to understand how the Oankali are living. He feels like he’s missing something.  Instead of going about his life, dissatisfied, Tino actively chooses to get to know the Oankali, even though he’s fearful.  Tino was nervous to meet Lilith and Akin in the forest for the very first time. He doubts whether Lilith is human and has hesitations toward baby Akin, saying, “I just don’t know what to make of you” (Butler 270). Tino is nervous, but he doesn’t shut them out completely; he’s willing to give them a chance and follows them to their village. Tino is welcomed by the Oankali and is asked to tell his story. The Oankali are desperate to learn more about him and Humans, in general. Akin is slightly nervous about Tino, wondering, “Will he try to steal someone?” (Butler 275) but Dichaan reassures Akin. This initial interaction is key to consider because despite the hesitation on both Akin’s and the Oankali’s side, both parties have a mutual interest in getting to know the other.  They both know the possible risks of being together, but they are willing to put differences aside, and put their desire to get to know each other first. This is incredibly important to understand- the circumstances will likely never provide a situation to get to know someone without any risks or potential for failure. That’s just not plausible, especially if the other person is part of a group you were raised to distrust. But this is when getting to know one another is even more important. 

Throughout Adulthood Rites and extending into Imago, Tino finds a home with the Oankali.  This transition isn’t easy, by any means, and there’s some hiccups along the way.  Tino has a hard time getting comfortable with Nikanj and trusting it to touch his body, “Tino drew back a little in revulsion.  God, the Oankali were ugly creatures. How had Human beings come to tolerate them, so easily” (Butler 292).  Tino changes his mind, little by little, by trusting Lilith and allowing Nikanj to touch him.  Eventually, Tino finds his place in the village tribe.  At the very end of Imago, when the Oankali arrive in a shuttle to help, Jodahs recalls, “The first person I spotted in the small crowd was Tino” (Butler 737).  I thought this moment was immensely significant. Tino has learned and been brought together with the Oankali fully, to the point where he is willing to risk his life to help Jodahs.  Tino finds his new family among the beings he was originally repulsed by, because he was willing to open his mind and let down his guard.  Tino is an example of how even though there may be hesitation to break down your walls and make an effort to get to know someone, it will be worth it. Moving forwards in my life, I will be sure to keep Tino’s arc in mind when I am faced with the opportunity to get to know someone I have heard bad things about. Tino’s journey of learning to understand the Oankali and live happily with them impacted the way I view others, especially those I have preconceived notions about.  If Tino can learn to follow his intuition, even if it means going against everything he had ever been taught, then why can’t I?

Part of the process of changing the lens I use to view others involved coming to terms with the overlap between harm and care. At the beginning of the semester, when we reviewed the etymologies of these two words,  I found it hard to believe that the roots were nearly identical when I thought they were polar opposites.  It was hard for me to realize that despite our best intentions, there is a potential for actions to cause harm in the end due to circumstances out of our control.  Conversely, actions viewed as harmful immediately, sometimes may end up transforming into acts of care. I learned that the relationship between harm and care is never as clear-cut as we would like it to be- for better or for worse.

One example of harm and care blurring is when Nikanj impregnates Lilith without her consent. When I first read this at the end of Dawn, I was outraged. I was still hoping for Lilith to return to Earth and start a new life with other humans, away from the Oankali. I was furious that Nikanj would take it upon itself to make a decision that was not its to make.  I do still believe that this was partly harmful because Lilith did not explicitly agree to being pregnant, as Lilith immediately says in response, “I’m not ready! I’ll never be ready!” (Butler 246).  But I can also see how Nikanj was trying to act with care, as it tells Lilith, “You’re ready now to have Joseph’s child… I mixed a girl to be a companion for you.  You’ve been very lonely” (Butler 246). Nikanj was trying to help Lilith in her loneliness and it wanted to give her a reminder of Joseph. Even though it took time, Lilith finds peace and contentment with having construct children, despite  once saying she would never be ready. Nikanj gave her a push that she was later grateful for, as she tells Jesusa in Imago, “[Nikanj]made me pregnant.  I didn’t think I would ever forgive it for that…I’ve accepted it…There’s closeness here that I didn’t have with the family I was born into or with my husband and son” (Butler 671). This example demonstrates how an act once seen as causing harm, Nikanj acting without Lilith’s consent, changed over time to be seen as an act of care, as Lilith was given family and connection.

Another integral theme to consider when attempting to understand the relationship between harm and care is the influence of disinformation.  This concept is more important than ever to understand in our world today.  It is extremely fitting that Lilith’s Brood contained these urgent themes of harm/care and the role of disinformation in 2020, the year of COVID and political turbulence.  I was able to better understand how harmful disinformation is in our world, by being able to understand how disinformation caused such negative effects in Butler’s world.  

We saw disinformation thrive past the point of no return towards the end of Dawn. The humans were unable to trust anyone and bind together, resulting in extreme harm for all.  The other humans did not believe that they were not on Earth, or even that Lilith was human.  Despite Lilith’s best efforts to convey she was on the human’s side, that she was put in a position she didn’t want to be in, Joseph told her, “Some people aren’t laughing…That new man…didn’t think you were human at all” (Butler 147).  Lilith tried to tell the truth, but those who did not like her position of power spread rumors about her to cause problems. This tactic worked without fail.  By the end of the book, the group of humans had broken into factions, each as scared of the other as they were of the Oankali. 

The humans were unable to bind together because disinformation was swirling; any potential acts of care would have fallen flat due to the lack of trust.  There was so much disinformation about where the Humans were being kept, that it drove the characters to commit the most extreme act of harm.  Kurt killed Joseph because the emotional climate caused him to act in unimaginable ways, as Nikanj explained, “I don’t believe he meant to kill anyone. He was angry and afraid and in pain” (Butler 224).  Kurt’s confusion does not excuse his murder, but, it does shed light on why he may have done it.  When you are in an environment where you have no idea what’s true and what’s not, when you don’t even have a single person you can trust, everyone becomes an enemy.  This is why Kurt felt compelled to kill Joseph. This is why polarization and “fake news” has threatened our democracy and our nation this past year. Disinformation prevents any motivation for care and opens the door for harm wide open.  In every action, in every person, there are elements of harm and care. There is no instance of one and not the other.  Once one comes to terms with this, it becomes possible to have an open-minded perspective and understand one another. 

As I learned how to focus on others’ actions and intentions, instead of their outward appearances, I realized my thoughts, my perspective, who I was as a person was changing along with it.  Looking back, I know that I was not open to change or to be changed when the semester began. I didn’t take the time to see anything from the Oankali’s perspective.  Even though I knew the Oankali saved humankind from going extinct, I still clung to thinking it was the Oankali’s fault. Why? Because it was easier.  Easier than admitting humans were at fault.  If I admitted this, I would have had to admit I was part of the problem.

I didn’t understand what it meant for the Oankali to “trade.” I thought they were choosing to force the humans to stop reproducing naturally, even though this quote (that we discussed in class many times) makes the necessity of this trade very obvious: “We are as committed to the trade as your body is to breathing”  (42).  Even though we discussed that the Oankali don’t actively choose to trade with other species, just as humans don’t choose to breathe, I didn’t like them.  They made me uncomfortable.  I was focusing on their outward appearance, instead of trying to understand them on a deeper level.  This happened slowly, but I began to understand and like the Oankali by the conclusion, without me even being actively aware of it.   

I know that I reached a greater awareness and ability to understand, I know that I changed, because by the end of the novel, I was rooting for the Oankali. I was rooting for Aaor to be restored to his healthiest form and find mates.  I was rooting for Jodahs to mate successfully with Jesusa and Tomás.  I was rooting for the resistor colony to sympathize with the Oankali and join them, instead of turning away from them.  If I read Imago with the perspective I had when I read Dawn for the first time, I can say with certainty I would not have been rooting for the Oankali.  Reflecting on this transformation of thought, I realized I shifted my perspective because I focused on the Oankali’s actions and intentions, instead of their outward appearances. 

The supporting materials used to augment our reading of Lilith’s Brood forced me to come face-to-face with my willingness to change.  I was asked to engage deeply with materials that would challenge what I had been spoon-fed my entire life.  Growing up in a small-town suburb with a predominantly White population, I never had to think about racial issues very much.  In fact, I don’t ever remember having a conversation about racism in school. Reading From Here to Equality forced me to come to terms with concepts that I have had the privilege to be unaware of for my entire life: that white privilege is extremely prevalent, that racism continues to affect society in extremely harmful and pervasive ways, and- the hardest thing to come to terms with- I am part of the problem.  Darity and Mullen break down the issues of racism and discrimination that are unavoidable for Black Americans, in a way that I had never encountered before.  Normally, history books prefer to gloss over racism, to create the facade that discrimination ended when slavery was abolished.  From Here to Equality had such a profound impact on me because it clearly illustrated how the evils of the past have still not been corrected; that Black Americans continue to face obstacles in society because those in power have not stepped up to make the system equitable for everyone. As the authors plainly explain, “The story of America could have been one of inclusive democracy.  But it was not.  At key junctures, when America could have separated slavery from blackness…it hardened those distinctions and intensified the institution” (Darity and Mullen 92).  It might be easier for White people to believe that racism is not real and that societal conditions are the same for everyone, but this is just a blatant lie. 

But even after coming to terms with the reality of racism, there was a part of me that was reluctant to see myself as part of the problem.  I have always thought of myself as someone who treats everyone with kindness.  But, as noted in Jerry Kang’s “Immaculate Perception” TedTalk, Timothy Wilson remarks, “We are strangers to ourselves” (8:15).  I did not actually know myself or where I stood with these issues.  I had thought that because I was not a racist person, there was no way I could be seen as accountable for the racial issues in society.  I didn’t think I held any biases towards people of other races, and I was comfortable with that train of thought.  If I believed that, then I wouldn’t have to reexamine everything I have learned. But, after watching Kang explain that we hold biases we are not even consciously aware of, his statement,“We are the problem” (13:10) resonated strongly with me.  It continues to resonate with me.  I had to be willing to acknowledge that my brain works in ways I am not conscious of. That my brain might jump to assumptions that I don’t decide to make.  I had to really look at myself, realize that I don’t know myself, that I am part of the problem, and come to terms with this.  This wasn’t easy.  This Aha! moment didn’t simply happen in an instant, it spanned the entire semester.  As each piece fell into place, this realization became, slowly but surely, more clear. I have learned to be okay with not knowing exactly who I am.  I have learned that I have to be ever-vigilant of myself and my actions, ready to correct my implicit biases.  I used to think I wasn’t biased toward others.  Then, after reflecting back on my reading of Dawn, I knew that I was fully capable of disliking others simply based on their appearance.  Reflecting on my growth this semester of learning to love the Oankali, I know it is possible to change the way I think about others.  But, it takes time.  It takes effort: honest, real, raw, authentic effort.  I have to be willing to let my walls down and truly see others for who they are, not who I think they are at a first glance.  

Moving forwards, I want to carry this understanding with me. Am I willing to really notice others?  I want to really, truly get to know people without needing to put them in a box based on their appearances.  I am part of the problem, but I have the power to be part of the solution.   Butler’s world has taught me that it is possible to love those who were once our enemy, that true understanding can be reached if we are willing to admit our own faults and biases.  I feel I have grown immensely this semester in how I view others. But, simply acknowledging this growth is not enough.  I am embarking on a journey of independent life, free from the walls of this semester, but I need to carry this journey with me, into every aspect of who I am. I have learned.  It is now time to run.  

Works Cited 

Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood: Dawn — Adulthood Rites — Imago. Aspect/Warner Books, 2000.

Darity, William A., and A. Kirsten Mullen. From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century. The University of North Carolina Press, 2020. 

Kang, Jerry. “Immaculate Perception.” YouTube, 28 Jan. 2014, 

Independent Life: An Act of Creation in a Tumultuous World

“I chose a spot near the river. There I prepared the seed to go into the ground. I gave it a thick, nutritious coating, then brought it out of my body through my right sensory hand. I planted it deep in the rich soil of the riverbank. Seconds after I had expelled it, I felt it begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life.” –Octavia Butler, Imago

Over the course of this epigraph, Octavia Butler succinctly describes the act of creation. In the beginning, there is a preparation: Jodahs considers a location to plant the seed, and give it a “thick, nutritious coating.” The process of creation, for Jodahs, involves the implantation of the seed into the rich soil. The result of Jodahs’ efforts is profound: it then ‘felt it begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life.” Jodahs enters this process with an open mind and has confidence that his efforts will produce something fruitful. The role of independence in this epigraph is crucial to note since the definition of independence implies two meanings: freedom from constraints and assumptions being the first, and then self-assuredness as the second. In this course, I initially thought that as a scholar and as a thinker, I always had to be more of a maverick and that the more original and freer from assumptions (as possible) my ideas were, the more valid my own ideas were. The act of creation, in this case, was a glorification of my own ego and need to be different. Over time, I have learned to be more self-assured in my own textual analysis and creative endeavors. I can take into consideration what people think, but because of self-assuredness, I do not have to let each critique be a buffer or a blow to my ego. The act of creation, in this instance, is an expression of self that is meant to be out for discussion and critique. In Imago, Jodahs is a construct, its role undefined in the setting of Lilith’s Brood that has categories of human, ooloi, and those that are a product of both. However, I take on many roles, such as scholar, author, creator, thinker, and future educator. In future discussions, pertaining to this text or otherwise, I hope to further examine the assumptions I have, coming from the roles of scholar, author, creator, thinker, and future educator. I hope to be self-assured and cognizant of my own assumptions, not only to be careful and propulsive in my own thoughts but also to reduce harm as much as I can. 

Continue reading “Independent Life: An Act of Creation in a Tumultuous World”


“Learn and Run!”–Octavia Butler, Dawn

The sentence fragment of “Learn and Run,” one of the course epigraphs, has a simple syntax: two verbs, present tense, joined together by the conjunction “and.” The verbs “learn” and “run” are not in present progressive (with the suffix -ing, indicating that the action is still occurring) form. In actuality, the pairing of these two verbs: one verb associated with the mental, intangible, and the other associated with the physical and tangible, has far more complex implications. We can see concrete demonstrations of learning, such as assessment performances and other presentations/portfolios. While these are debatable and dependent on certain cultural constructions of acceptable learning, these are the current tools we have at the moment. We can also use the verb ‘run’ in a metaphorical sense. When two verbs have so many associations, the choice to put them together, as Octavia Butler did, is deliberate and intentional.

In the statement “Learn and Run,” these present tense verbs are joined by the conjunction “and.” The “and” conjunction does not offer an opportunity for comparison, affirmation, or negations between one action or another. When there are no opportunities for comparison, there are no opportunities to look to the past or the future. Since there is no opportunity to look in either one of those directions, linear progression, binaries, or anything of the sort are not applicable. Instead, the sentence fragment “Learn and Run” indicates a focus on present circumstances. Learning and running––in whatever form or journey possible, will shake us out of fear and comparisons and point us closer to our own truths.

Continue reading “Learning/Leaning”

What’s the Difference Between a $1 Chip and a $100 Chip? The Risk Factor

The Big Short describes the 2008 stock market crash from the points of view of those who work on and around Wall Street. Michael Lewis, the author, tells the stories of multiple people in the industry such as Michael Burry, a hedge fund manager, and Steve Eisman, an investor. Contrarily, the Turner House by Angela Flournoy details the story of a Detroit Family and their house a few months before the same stock market crash. While the Big Short depicts investors and banks in charge of CDOs to be egotistical and self-centered, the Turner House humanizes the other side of the crash. The Turner House, in doing so, inadvertently clarifies why the investors made the risky choices they did which caused the crash. 

The Big Short details how the investors and bond traders helped cause the stock market crash by slowly performing riskier trades. These investors would trade other people’s loans and mortgages. To create more beneficial trades, they would bundle large quantities of loans and mortgages into Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs). People had jobs where they had to assess and grade the contents of the CDOs and therefore ensure that the CDOs were understandably stable. As investors and stock market traders realized CDOs were highly profitable, the trading of them multiplied. As the trading of them increased, the availability of CDOs to be traded decreased. Traders then realized that they could put riskier loans and mortgages into these CDOs and still trade them as stable CDOs. Soon, the economic world was filled with toxic CDOs being traded all over the United States. This toxicity was a primary cause of the 2008 Stock Market Crash. 

I remember the 2008 crash. I was ten years old. I remember the impact the stock market crash had on the U.S. and other countries. People lost their jobs. People lost their homes. Sure, the news is never too positive but I remember watching every night and being in shock. Millions of people’s lives were affected in some way due to these investors’ decisions. Michael Lewis humanizes some Wall Street and bank employees in the Big Short. For example, he details how Steve Eisman’s son died during his career and how Michael Burry lost his eye due to cancer. Understandably good people worked in the economic field. Yet, Lewis also conveys that this crash was much bigger than any one person, even any one bank. A mindset was formed on Wall Street where investors did what they needed to do to make money and the future effects of their decisions would be ignored. It appears as though they lived by the motto, “Ignorance is bliss…” except perhaps they would add, “Ignorance with a lot of money is bliss.” Mob mentality only supported the spread of this mindset. This infuriates me. Throughout Lewis’ depiction, I continuously asked myself, “How did this happen? Why wasn’t this stopped?” I held no respect for the people who traded away others’ home loans knowing that it was a risk, nor did I want to understand why they did what they did. 

In the Turner House, Flournoy details one of the Turner children’s gambling addiction. Lelah, once again evicted, goes to a casino just to look. Contrary to common beliefs, “Lelah knew she was an addict” (Flournoy, 47).  Yet knowing this, Lelah continues to bet and gamble. Lelah enters a mindset while gambling where she would “slip into a space of just her and her hands and the chips that she tried to keep under them” (Flournoy, 49). Everything would dissolve except her and the chips. She discloses that gambling for her is about finally winning and being a victor. She had a grandson to babysit, no job, and no home, but still she went to the casino. Lelah knows what she is doing is wrong but every part of her wants to gamble. Flournoy portrays Lelah’s addiction in a manner that makes it understandable. The Turner House describes this addiction in a way the Big Short did not. 

The Mayo Clinic website details compulsive gambling as follows:

Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system much like drugs or alcohol can, leading to addiction. If you have a problem with compulsive gambling, you may continually chase bets that lead to losses, hide your behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support your addiction.

Both Lelah and at least some Wall Street investors suffered from this addiction. Lelah’s addiction impacted herself along with her immediate family. While the investors and brokers’ addictions impacted people all over the world. Yet, the premise remains the same. They were not able to assess the risk of their bets accurately using the devices available. After being evicted, Lelah makes $300 from $20. She initially had all of her chips in $1 and $5 chips, that is over 100 tangible chips. The dealer encouraged her to change those $5 chips to $20 chips. All of a sudden, chips that represented $1 now stand for $20. The risk of betting that one chip increased by 200 times, yet the risk visually appears unchanged. Similarly, CDO managers were able to build CDOs to be riskier yet hold the same appearance. The risk of trading those CDOs were greatly increased but they visually seemed to remain the same. This change caused managers and traders to not be able to recognize the impact of trading these CDOs. They could not visualize the houses and people whose lives would be affected. Just like Lelah, their goals were to walk away as the victors.The Turner House inadvertently humanizes the Wall Street brokers who caused the 2008 Stock Market Crash. Lelah’s story speaks to the case that everyone has flaws. Addiction is not just alcohol or drugs. Addiction can be gambling. Addiction can be risky trades. The lack of fully comprehending the risk of each piece in gambles and trades increases the likelihood of them going bad. If Wall Street brokers and traders could see the impact of just how incredibly risky their CDO trades were (before they traded them), would they have still traded them? If Lelah had to gamble with cash and not chips, would she still have gambled so much? The separation between actual and perceptual cost inflates the risk dramatically. From what I understand about Wall Street and the Stock Market, traders should ensure that they are understanding the risk of their trades. The economy depends on it. Moreover, gambling addiction, including participating in trades in the Stock Market, needs to be understood, recognized, and prevented/treated. When the stakes are high enough to cause people to lose their homes, there needs to be something secure to check the health of the people trading them. 

Palimpsest: CLICK HERE to learn more about this weird disease (just kidding, it’s just a word I didn’t know but, hey, since you’re here, read this post)

I often say that my main activity as an English major is looking up the meaning of words that I don’t know the meaning of — the other day, in doing writing for another class, I came across such a word:


Any takers on the meaning of that one? Yeah, I didn’t know it, maybe all of you do (literary theorist Paul Gilroy certainly does, let’s all give a warm round of applause to Mr. Gilroy for his contributions). 

1.  Palimpsest can first refer to writing material (such as a parchment or tablet) used one or more times after earlier writing has been erased. Continue reading “Palimpsest: CLICK HERE to learn more about this weird disease (just kidding, it’s just a word I didn’t know but, hey, since you’re here, read this post)”

Slavery Broke the World

In N.K. Jemisin’s work we see an earth twice (if not more times — remember, much of history is unwritten) shattered; once torn apart by the mysterious loss of the moon, once fragmented by Alabaster’s explosive and revolutionary orogeny.  In both cases, the shattering acts as a catalyst, as an end of on era: in the first case as an end to that stability which allows humanity to flourish (perhaps too much?) and a beginning of that chaotic existence which destroys society after society; in the second, the shattering is an end to the oppressive Sanzed regime and the beginning of some (thus far unknown) new world.  We can make geological and environmental connections galore in this world of unreliable, yet controllable, earth, but after stumbling upon a specific quote from Toni Morrison I have been mainly entranced by the myriad of metaphorical connotations this shattering embodies. Continue reading “Slavery Broke the World”