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Relationships in “A Mercy” by Toni Morrison Essay

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Updated: May 5th, 2020

The novel “A Mercy,” written by Toni Morrison, explores the relationships between four different women. The women portrayed in the story are Rebekka, the wife of the farm owner Jacob Vaark, Florens, a black slave sold to the farmer, Lina, the Indigenous servant, and Sorrow, the woman with an unknown background also owned by the Vaarks after being found on the shore having survived a shipwreck.

Even though the female characters are absolutely diverse, they have many qualities in common. First of all, each of them is absolutely lonely and helpless on her own, second – they all need to please one man. They end up clinging together since that was the only way for them to survive in the America of the 1690s when women’s rights and freedoms were very limited.

Theoretically, there is a hierarchy between the characters. Jacob, who basically owns all of the women, is at the top. Rebekka is the close second since she is the wife of the farm owner. Yet, when she arrives at the Vaark farm, she is completely unaware of how to run it and needs help. Lina, who had come to the farm before Rebekka arrived, is also helpless at her job.

The two women end up forced together as they have similar strengths and weaknesses, and “both are hopelessly ignorant of how to run a farm” (Morrison 69). Over the course of the novel, Rebekka and Lina develop a tight bond of sisterhood, mutual help, and trust.

Lina is practical. She is aware that her wellbeing depends on the Vaarks. Lina becomes a loyal servant and a partner for Rebekka and does her work thoroughly, trying to show as much love and care as possible to her owners. Her relationship with Rebekka evolves as she adopts her new life and becomes protective of it. Lina is conservative.

Having suffered a major loss of her family and tribe, she unconsciously starts to view the farm and people living there as her new tribe. Her indigenous culture becomes obvious in her attempts to form a family-like connection with Florens and Rebekka. At the same time, she is hostile towards Sorrow, probably because she feels that Sorrow is broken inside, which makes her potentially unstable, and Lina is scared of change, she is desperately trying to preserve her newfound stability.

Sorrow does not interact with other women initially; she has her own best friend, Twin. Sorrow stays away from Lina due to the Indigenous woman’s utter hostility. Rebekka becomes especially cold with Sorrow when she starts to suspect that Jacob might be the father of the slave’s unborn baby.

Sorrow’s imaginary friend Twin disappears as soon as she gives birth to her daughter and says, “I am your mother. My name is Complete” (Morrison, 120). This is how she develops a new relationship and loses the need for the previous one. After becoming a mother, Sorrow change. She becomes brave, starts to do chores, speaks with other slaves, and even with Rebekka.

Florens arrives on the farm as a child. She has severe abandonment issues after being given away by her mother, who preferred to keep her baby boy instead. As any person with abandonment issues entering teenage Florens forms unsafe attachments. Her love for the blacksmith turns into an obsession and results in a tragedy as he also prefers a baby boy to her. Lina becomes her caregiver, and Florens perceives the world through Lina’s teachings. Her narration often uses the phrase, “Lina says.”

Lina intends to make Florens less sensitive and warns her about possible dangers. The relationship between them changes when Florens becomes stronger and more independent. The major distress in her relationship with the blacksmith makes her attack him with a hammer: “Seeing you stagger and bleed I run… I have no shoes. I have no kicking heart no home no tomorrow” (Morrison, 138). This makes her shut herself down for any attachments and change drastically, becoming cold-blooded and distant from everyone.

In the novel, Toni Morrison demonstrates the complexity of women’s destinies during the end of the 1600s, putting all of them into equally dependant positions due to their powerlessness. In the story, it is mentioned that the major force that united the female characters was the only man of the house: “As long as Sir was alive, it was easy to veil the truth: that they were not a family—not even a like-minded group. They were orphans, each and all” (Morrison 55). Jacob’s mercy is what brings all of the women to his farm (Womersley par. 3).

In “A Mercy,” women put together under one roof or thrown in the same circumstances start to form mother-daughter relationships such as Florens and Lina, our sister relationships such as Rebekka and Lina, Rebekka and women at the ship, Sorrow and Twin, Florens and Jane. The novel reveals solidarity, which occurs during hard times. Towards the end of the book, women willing to survive to unite. They transform, build a bond, and start to function as a group instead of being separate orphans they initially came to the farm.

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. A Mercy. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. Print.

Womersley, Chris. ’ by Toni Morrison. 2008. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Relationships in “A Mercy” by Toni Morrison'. 5 May.

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