Throughout Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, the absence of Florens’s mother is heavily emphasized. This absence is noticed by multiple characters in the novel, not just Florens. Through Florens’s narration, the perspectives of other characters such as Jacob Vaark, and the presence of other mother/daughter relationships, Morrison draws attention to the absence of Florens’s mother. Florens feels abandoned—she is separated from her mother and her original plantation with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Without her mother’s perspective, neither readers nor Florens have the necessary tool to interpret her mother’s absence. However, readers eventually learn that her mother offered her to Jacob Vaark to prevent Florens from being raped; therefore, Florens has her mother’s love all along. While Florens constantly notices the absence of her mother, she does not have her mother’s perspective; without this perspective, Florens is unable to interpret her mother’s love.
Florens is surrounded by maternal figures, but her own mother remains absent. Seeing other mother/daughter relationships calls attention to this absence, both for Florens and for readers. Jacob chooses to take Florens to his plantation because “Rebekka would welcome a child around the place” (Morrison 30). Jacob knows that Florens cannot replace their late daughter Patrician, but he hopes that “Rebekka would be eager to have her” (Morrison 37). Just as Florens cannot replace Patrician, Rebekka cannot replace Florens’s mother. Therefore, the circumstances under which Jacob brings Florens to his plantation calls attention to the removal of Florens from her mother as well as the absence of Florens’s mother in her life.
The absence of her mother is also emphasized by the introduction of the mother/daughter relationship between Widow Ealing and Daughter Jane. When Florens is with Widow Ealing and Daughter Jane, she notices her mother’s absence more frequently than she does in the rest of the novel. For example, she narrates: “If my mother is not dead she can be teaching me these things” (Morrison 129). This passage shows that Florens notices that she lacks her mother’s presence, while Daughter Jane does not. Moreover, after spending more time with the mother/daughter duo, Florens ponders: “I am a weak calf abandon by the herd, a turtle without shell, a minion with no telltale signs but a darkness I am born with, outside, yes, but inside as well and the inside dark is small, feathered and toothy. Is that what my mother knows? Why she chooses me to live without?” (Morrison 135-136). Florens notices that a piece of her life is missing and that it creates an internal darkness; the missing piece is her mother’s love which she so desperately craves.
Like Florens, Jacob also does not think that Florens has her mother’s love. Jacob thinks that by telling him to take Florens, her mother is “throwing away” Florens (Morrison 39). Since Jacob himself was orphaned at a young age, he projects his own abandonment onto Florens: “ “he continue[s] to feel a disturbing pulse of pity for orphans and strays […]. he [finds] it hard to refuse when called on to rescue an unmoored, unwanted child” (Morrison 38). He further implies Florens’s lack of her mother’s love when Morrison writes that “he [knows] there [is] no good place in the world for waifs and whelps other than the generosity of strangers” (37). Florens is not an orphan, and her mother did not abandon her without reason; however, without Florens’s mother’s perspective, Florens and readers are led to believe Jacob’s perspective—that Florens mother does not love her.
In the final section of the novel, Morrison shows the reader that Florens has her mother’s love all along, even though Florens constantly notices her absence. Through this section, readers learn the true reason that her mother gave her to Jacob: “To be female in [D’Ortega’s] place is to be an open wound that cannot heal” (Morrison 191). Florens’s mother is a survivor of sexual abuse, and fears that Florens will suffer the same fate if she remains on D’Ortega’s plantation. Florens’s mother’s perspective shows that “Breasts provide the pleasure more than simpler things. [Florens’s] are rising too soon and are becoming irritated by the cloth covering [her] little girl chest” (Morrison 190). Her mother sees the men on the plantation lustfully looking at Florens’s growing breasts, yet she notices that Jacob looks at Florens for a different reason; her mother says “[t]here is no protection but there is difference. […]. I said you. Take you, my daughter. Because I saw the tall man see you as a human child” (Morrison 195). Since Jacob does not look at Florens as a sexual object, her mother hopes that she will be safer at Jacob’s plantation than at D’Ortega’s. Without her mother’s perspective, Florens cannot know that her mother was trying to save her, or that her mother refers to her as “my love” (Morrison 190). Therefore, Florens lacks the tool to interpret her mother’s love; she just knows that her mother is absent.
Florens undergoes expulsion when she is removed from her mother, but without her mother’s perspective she cannot understand the reason that she was expulsed. Like many people who undergo expulsion, she was seemingly removed from her home and her mother without any warning or any reason. Confusion works as a force for expulsion since without the proper tools to understand their expulsion, people who have been expulsed cannot change their situation. Florens’s confusion makes her unable to understand her situation; she sees examples of motherly love, yet cannot know if her own mother loves her. Without her mother’s point of view, she has to blindly trust that her mother does love her and that there is a reason behind her expulsion. She longs to understand and to talk to her mother, but her mother is absent. Her desire to talk to her mother can be seen when Florens narrates: “There is no more room in this room. These words cover the floor. From now you will stand to hear me. […]. My arms ache but I have to tell you this. I cannot tell it to anyone but you. […]. Sudden I am remembering. You won’t read my telling” (Morrison 188). This longing emphasizes her mother’s absence in her life, and shows how badly Florens wants her mother’s perspective in order to better understand her situation. Her mother’s perspective is the only tool that can help her understand the reason behind her expulsion—that she has her mother’s love all along.
From the final section of A Mercy, readers can see that Florens has her mother’s love all along. Florens, due to the absence of her mother, does not have her mother’s perspective; therefore, she lacks the necessary tool to interpret her expulsion and her mother’s love. Florens’s mother pleads “In the dust where my heart will remain each night and every day until you understand what I know and long to tell you” (Morrison 195-196). She wants Florens to understand that she allowed Florens to be expulsed in order to prevent a life full of rape and sexual assault. The novel ends with the powerful phrase “[h]ear a tua mãe” which, when translated, means “hear your mother” (Morrison 196). This line emphasizes how powerful of a tool Florens’s mother’s perspective is. Although Florens and readers notice the absence of Florens’s mother, her perspective is the only tool that can be used to help Florens understand that motherly love is the reason behind her expulsion. If only she could hear her mother, she would be able to understand.