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Zaha Alzaabi

English 11

Mrs. Hunt

February 1st, 2017

A Mercy: Issues and Relevance

A Mercy, by Toni Morrison, is a compelling book that explores different

social and emotional aspects that show its relevance to modern day. The

issues that are introduced in this novel help readers understand the

messages the author is trying to get through. It also provides knowledge to

readers that are oblivious to the societal issues that affected the era the

book was set in, as well as the present time. All the elements of the book

including the characters, setting, symbols, and themes are evident in

showing this books significance. A Mercy tackles different topics which many

readers can find riveting, such as: conformation to the stereotypes that were

cast upon women in that era, relationships between women and their

children, and the struggle of life in the wilderness.

To begin with, the author of the book demonstrates how women in the

late seventeenth century, a period during which America was far more

diverse and complex than it is generally imagined today, conformed to the

stereotypes that were cast upon them. This is evident throughout the novel

based on their dependence on male figures. Rebekka Vaark who is the wife

of a white slave owner named Jacob Vaark, becomes affected negatively

from the lack of a male figure. After her husbands death she becomes weak
and worthless. Her life was centered around her husbands presence and

authority. The author shows how Rebekka is psychologically affected by the

lack of a male figure after the loss of her husband when she says, And a

few, like herself, after a mutually loving relationship, became like children

when the man was gone (Morrison 98). The author describes Rebekka as a

child, because of her dependence on a male figure. She cannot handle his

inexistence and is left in misery. The protagonist, Florens, goes through the

same thing as well. Florens is a slave that was sold to Jacob Vaark at the age

of 8. Florens is approximately 16 years old when she falls in love with an

unnamed blacksmith. Florenss actions conform to the stereotypes through

her dependence on a male figure after the blacksmith shuns her. This is

portrayed through her misery when he rejects her, No, wait. You put me in

misery (Morrison 141). She feels miserable and empty without him. Through

the novel she speaks very highly of him, it is evident how obsessed she is

with him. Her love for the blacksmith was so strong, that she was unable to

see how her actions caused her to fall into the stereotypes that were cast

upon women during that time. The book displays how these two characters,

Florens and Rebekka, struggled with the lack of male figures in their lives

enabling them to conform to the stereotypes women were perceived with.

Moreover, the author was trying to reach out to readers to help them

understand what the book is really about. It is a learning tool that displays

certain issues readers could relate to. Along with the issue of the stereotypes

that were cast upon women, which Morrison immensely went into, she also
explained the relationships between women and their children, a very

important aspect of growth. The author first introduces the relationship of

Florens and her mother. Their relationship from the start was unstable.

Florenss mother sold her to Jacob Vaark, the Dutch trader and slave owner.

Her mother decided to send her off on her own at the age of eight, which left

Florens emotionally crippled by her mothers despise and neglect.

Consequently, her mothers abandonment haunts her. She tries to achieve

some kind of closure and emotional balance from her mothers abandonment

and overall past. This affects her growth and character. She tries to find the

love and nurture she lost from other people. However, a mother could never

leave her child behind. A mother is always trying to protect her children.

What Florenss mother did was not out of hatred or neglect it was just a

desperate attempt to save her life. In the novel, her mother says, Take you,

my daughter. Because I saw the tall man see you as a human child, not pieces of eight

(Morrison 166). Florens was still too innocent to understand the abusive

environment surrounding her. Her mother knew that she had no other way to

protect her daughter other than to let her go, a painful sacrifice which she

knew was necessary. This shows how mothers loved their children and would

sacrifice anything just to save them. This is an example of strong love, a

theme that is exhibited throughout the plot. Additionally, the theme of love is

evident throughout the book where the author shows that families are not

built on blood, but they are often built on love. There is a love that a parent

figure has for a child, just like the love Lina, the American Indian slave who
helped Jacob Vaark and his wife, has for Florens. Florens awakens a maternal

instinct in Lina, and she embraces the girl as if she was hers. The author

shows how Florens sparked Linas emotions when she says, Somehow, some

way, the child assuaged the tiny yet eternal yearning for the home Lina once

knew, where everyone had anything, and no one had everything (Morrison

49). It is very obvious that Lina loves Florens just like how a mother would

love her own child. She worries about her and tries to protect her as much as


Furthermore, along with the theme of love, the theme of struggle is a

significant theme the author displays through the novel. Its significance is

based on its relevance to modern day issues. While people in the wilderness

in the 17th century struggled, so do people nowadays. An example from the

book would be the tragedy of Rebekka Vaark losing her unborn infants and

her eight-year-old daughter. After the death of her daughter, Patrician,

Rebekka feels that life has betrayed her. She feels the loneliness of not

having a child to care for or nurture in a house filled with people. Nothing can

replace a lost child, therefore she struggles with the tragic loss of her

children. Another example that portrays the struggle of life in the wilderness

would be Sorrows imaginary friend, Twin. Sorrow goes through many

hardships through her journey in the novel. She is raped, abused and left

alone to suffer, thus her name, Sorrow. Therefore, Sorrow creates an

imaginary friend to help her survive. She goes on to explain how Twin is her

safety entertainment, and guide, Sorrow concentrated on meal times and

the art of escape for short walks with Twin, playtimes between or instead of

tasks (Morrison 119). She escapes with Twin and goes on short walks and

has playtime with her. Instead of going through the hardships of life by her

own, Sorrow is accompanied by Twin. This just proves how life was tough and

people struggled to get through.

Overall, A Mercy is a book that tackles issues that were existent both in

the past and the present. The novel is a contemporary literature work which

makes it more compelling to readers than ever. Relevance to these issues

help readers better understand the concept of the book as well as the

general message. This demonstrates how the author knows what modern

day readers are looking for to be enthralled. It also attributes to the general

understanding of the book as well as society in the past and present.

Therefore, readers can gain a lot of knowledge about certain issues such as

dependence of women on male figures, relationships between women and

their children, as well as the struggle of life in the wilderness when reading

this book.