On Grief

Unlike Sarah, I didn’t find A Mercy‘s twist ending to be a happy surprise.  I feel that the ending summarized the themes of grief that strike through every facet of the novel.   Floren’s character has been bent around her abandonment from her mother.  It destroyed her when she had to take care of Malik and culminated in her transformation from a flower into a wild animal that assaults people with hammers following her second abandonment by the blacksmith.  While the twist ending shined a new light on her origins to me, I know the twist doesn’t effect Floren’s destroyed state at the end of the novel.  While I now know the truth behind Florens being rejected by her mother, I can only think about how she will never know, and will always suffer as a wild, emotionally ruined woman.  The heroic gesture of her mother sending her away for protection, and tragedy and grief inherent in that same gesture, have resulted in a whole fresh well of grief for her daughter anyways, which ruined her as effectively as abuse could’ve.  I found the ending to be darkly ironic, as it showed that for all Florens’ mother’s efforts, her daughter was still destroyed by grief like she would’ve been destroyed by abuse back at the old plantation.  After summarizing the distilled grief I felt throughout the novel, I consider that irony to be an epitaph by Toni Morrison on the grief spread throughout her novel; the final failure of a mother due to forces beyond her control.

Looking back, Rebekka is also a grief-stricken failure, who has turned to god as a crutch for her empty life.  All her children are dead, her husband is dead, and his ghost haunts the mansion sitting on his property.  I compare Rebekka’s failure to that of Floren’s mother, as she too, lost her children to forces beyond her control.  Her daughter Patrician was kicked in the head by a horse used to build Jacob’s house.  In a poetic way, Jacob is responsible for his daughter’s death, and Rebekka’s sorrow.  I feel the last line of Rebecca’s passage, where Rebekka first bemoans being alone, then says “How long will it take will…is it already too late?  For salvation,” shows how she’s so lost in grief she’s hanging onto everyone else for support.  She does end up becoming a bitter church-going woman, using god as a crutch.

I think of Sorrow’s story as an example of a mother trying to defeat grief.  I’m not sure if the ending of her story, with her taking her daughter and changing her name to Complete, is intended by Morrison to be a sign that her life will truly improve when she flees the Vaark farm, or that she’s making another futile gesture and another tragedy is just down the road.  Sorrow’s story line was my favorite either way, as unlike Rebekka, she has a chance for a fresh start.  I liked how despite the murder of her firstborn by Lena, she didn’t give in and become bitter like the other women, but kept struggling to pull her way out of the mess.  My favorite quote to summarize her drive to escape, and survive with her mind intact is “Twin was gone, traceless, and unmissed…She had looked into her daughters eyes; saw in them the gray glisten of a winter sea…My name is Complete,” (158).  In that line, she summarizes what enables her to put her grief aside and make a positive transformation instead of a negative one.

I feel that Toni Morrison is using her heroines to make a commentary on grief, its nature, and its effects on humanity.  Her final verdict, I feel, depends ultimately on Complete.  Not even her success, but her survival in such a precarious world.  I think she’s a symbol of how, as destructive as grief is, people can always rebuild from the remains of their life.

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