Jacob and the Raccoon

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.

At dinner, Morrison writes that Jacob has “raccoon blood on his hands”. Take “raccoon” out of the line, and you have a pretty common idiom for being guilty of murder. Morrison does this not once, but three times.

The second time, Jacob’s hands are described as “soiled”. Jacob thinks of his hands as soiled rather than bloody right before he notes that Mistress D’Ortega’s perfume and makeup overpowers his dirty hands. I read this as another sign of Jacob’s denial; he sees himself as better than the D’Ortegas, because their scent (in this case) is more obvious than his. By not directly trading slaves like the D’Ortegas, Jacob places himself on a moral high ground–though ultimately, both parties are dirty.

The third time Morrison mentions Jacob’s hands is at the end of the chapter, when he is washing the dirt from them, “including the faint trace of coon’s blood.” This invokes another idiom, as Jacob washes his hands of the D’Ortega affair.¬† As she does this, Morrison reminds us one last time that Jacob has done every deed throughout the chapter–praiseworthy or not–with blood on his hands.


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