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Victoria Rielly
Freshman Inquiry
February 3rd 2015
A Mismatched Community
The novel A Mercy by Toni Morrison is complex, with many themes and messages. It centers
on slavery, but not only on the typical slavery a reader might be familiar with. No, instead it draws on
multiple forms of service and paying debt, mentioning indentured white servants, free black men, and
white landowners who are a slave to their own desires. The main characters, Florens, Sorrow, and Lina,
form a small and almost awkward community with their owners, Jacob and Rebekka. This community
is a large part of the story, and even though each member has a different background, social standing,
and role, they all manage to share one unified lifestyle, at least for a short while.
The first member of the community is obviously Jacob Vaark, known by the slaves as Sir. He is
a middle aged man who makes much of his money through trading goods. Even before his wife
Rebekka joins him, he takes on the Native American girl Lina, who survived an outbreak of disease
that killed most of her tribe. Rebekka later arrives in the country, and is dismayed and a bit jealous to
see her new husband already accustomed to having a woman around the house. The two women have a
rocky start, but eventually form a bond as the slave delivers and subsequently buries Rebekka's
The only child of the Vaark's to survive for any length of time is a girl named Patrician. The
other three boys die young from illness or defects. The next slave to join is Sorrow, an accurately
named girl who is sad, alone and unlucky as the result of a bad shipwreck. She is similar to Lina in that
both survived a terrible event, but despite this, they don't get along. Lina even goes as far as to blame
Sorrow for all the bad happenings around the farm, and says she brought bad luck to Rebekka's

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children, including five-year-old Partrician, who is kicked in the head by a horse (or other farm animal)
and dies soon after.
The final member of the community is Florens, a young girl, about sixteen, who Jacob recieves
as payment of a debt. Rebekka instantly sees this new slave as an insult, seeing as she embodies
everything that Patrician was prevented from becoming, thanks to her early death. It also doesn't help
that Florens is almost constantly in a state of being emotionally compromised, first by being given
away by her mother, then later by her affection for the Blacksmith, which drives much of the narraitive
in the story. One thing she doesn't realize until later is that her mother, Minha mae, was actually trying
to spare her young daughter from the hardships of plantation labor by sending her off with Jacob. I
said you. Take you, my daughter. Because I saw the tall man see you as a human child, not pieces of
eight. (Morrison 166)
Slaves and masters alike, the entire group knows they are bound together. The strongest
friendships are between Lina and Rebekka, and Lina and Florens. On the opposite end, the biggest
conflict is between Sorrow and Rebekka, which is to be expected, especially since Sorrow is still young
and can bear healthy children, while the Mistress cannot. A secondary fight is between Rebekka and
Jacob. This may seem like a surprising source of conflict, it springs from Jacob having a mid-life crisis,
and using his newfound money to build a fancy house and buy impractical gifts for his wife. None of
these things have any purpose, and though Rebekka has little to no power over her husband, she still
wonders why all of this is so vital to him, and why he insists on spending so much on material things.
Having seen come and go a glint in his eye as he unpacked these treasures so useless on a farm, she
should have anticipated the day-... A new house he was building. Something befitting not a farmer, not
even a trader, but a squire. (Morrison 88)
The irony in the story lies in Jacob Vaark and his grand house. He is a slave as much as any of
his personal servants, but a slave to the American Dream, and the idea of building a legacy to be

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remembered by. However, in trying to build this legacy, he ends up destroying his child, family, and
ultimately himself, and by the time his work on the house is done, there is nobody left to enjoy it's
splendor. It's also symbolic how Jacob chooses to die in this grand, unfurnished house, as if he wanted
to haunt it, and get a chance to see firsthand the fruits of all his life's work.
From here, the Vaark's small community of slaves falls apart when Rebekka contracts the same
illness that killed her husband. Sorrow is pregnant and unable to help much, Lina refuses to leave her
Mistress, so that leaves poor smitten Florens to go searching for the Blacksmith, who can help cure
Rebekka. While the Mistress is ill, Lina wonders what might happen to the family, now that Jacob is
gone. Without the community that Sir provided, the remaining women and land are seen as fair game
for anyone who might wish to take them. This is Morrison commenting on the risks of being
independent. While freedom may sound appealing, there is always a price to be paid, and in this story,
that price is uncertainty about the future. While the women were under Jacob's wing, they could at least
be sure of having a roof over their heads and food to eat, now, without him, anything could happen to
While Florens goes searching for the Blacksmith, her journey is an allusion to freedom, because
she could easily sneak away unnoticed and start a new life, but at the same time there's that feeling of
longing for something familiar, and sticking to the known fact over the uncertain freedom. This likely
stems from Florens' seperation from her mother, now she seeks approval from other figures in her life
such as Lina, Rebekka, and the Blacksmith, and likely has the fear they they, too, might not want her
This fear is confirmed by the smith, at least. As a free man he has his own form of community,
and as a result he has decided to care for an orphaned boy, Malaik. Florens feels like she has been
replaced. When the boy has an accident, the Blacksmith blames Florens, makes her leave, and that's the
end of their relationship. His sense of community and family is different from hers, and even though he

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used to be in her shoes, he still says I don't want you here, you're a slave, you're wild. You're not like
me. and that's what hurts her the most.
Morrison's writing has many layers and different messages that can be interpreted. The clearest
of these messages is how people from any walk of life can have similar values and find support and
friendship between one another, like the relationship between Rebekka and Lina, but at the same time,
two people who are outwardly similar (Sorrow and Lina, Florens and the Blacksmith) may have subtle
disagreements that keep them from having a healthy partnership.
One other relationship that wasn't part of the direct storyline, but more of the character's origin
stories, was between them and the church. Rebekka mentions how she is jealous of the Baptists for
having healthy children, while Lina was raised by Baptists after her tribe died from the plague.
Religion is an important part of the story, but not one that is really vital to the ideas Morrison presents
about community and belonging. This isn't because religion is opposed to building community, but
mostly because the story focuses on different ways for this diverse cast to get along.
Overall, Morrison tackles several big topics in the novel. First there's the initial community, and
the definition of what seperates the actions of a slave from a freed man, but from there she also
explores what it's like to have a comfortable community, only to have it suddenly ripped away from
you (embodied in this story by Jacob's death). After being so used to having support and comfort, it can
be hard to come to terms with the idea of being alone and without resources. Through these incredibly
developed and unique characters, the author creates an experience that makes a reader empathize with
Florens, Lina, Sorrow and Rebekka, all on different levels. Each one has a different experience, but
together they are able to put aside differences and support one another, even if they maybe can't
personally relate to what the other is feeling. That true and honest community is something that many
people today forgo, replaced by digital screens and friends who are sometimes-there but sometimesnot.

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Works Cited:
Morrison, Toni. A Mercy. New York: Knopf, 2008. Print.

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