Morrison’s Book, A Mercy as a Symbol of the Active Inner Narrative: Rereading and Empathy Cultivation

Before an expulsion takes place, a notice is issued. This definition of notice resonates most with this topic and our course concepts: “a formal declaration of one’s intentions to end an agreement, typically one concerning employment or tenancy, at a specific time”. The experience of reading a book is a lot like becoming a tenant in an imaginary world. Any book that we get into our hands, can be “my shaper and my world as well” (Morrison 83). When we enter this imaginative, fictitious world, we know that it is fake; yet, how we respond to it is very real. We bring who we are in life, into the book with us. However, to be true to ourselves, we must be able to notice and read what is happening on the page, that is unless we put trust into the author and the characters. In Toni Morrison’s novel, A Mercy she has created a narrative scheme that ties a reader’s fate with the protagonist through the use of imperfect, dynamic characters and point of view. This interconnection can foster empathy for the characters, which directly aligns with Morrison’s moral of the story. Morrison’s message in the book is for readers to notice how narratives from all people, especially those who are expelled, need their stories to be heard and shared because expulsion should not happen to anyone in a literary or physical sense.

Morrison sets us up to be Florens’s supporter, and her hopes is for us to remain in this position even when she makes mistakes. The mistake that makes readers question her moral integrity is when she hurts Malaik. Florens perceived Malaik to be threatening because his dislike of her and his strong attachment to the blacksmith, who is his father, could lead to her being expulsed. She cannot overcome the fear of abandonment. Instead, the fear of abandonment clouds her judgment, “then I cannot read its full meaning. Now I know how. I am guarding. Otherwise I am missing all understanding of how to protect myself” (Morrison 163). Using the word guarding is another word for trust, which she cannot place into the blacksmith’s son or the blacksmith. Instead, she can only validate her own feelings, and has those feelings define what she perceives and how she acts. Consequently, Florens somehow, either accidentally or on purpose, hurts the blacksmith’s son, and she is expelled from their home.

When you open this book, it is easy to become overwhelmed, for so little information is provided to contextualize the world we have entered. As a result, we must trust the character to tell us their story. Morrison uses point of view to cause readers to be implicated in the trajectory of Florens’s life. We are implicated through the use of the you pronoun. For example, at the start of the book it is hard to figure out who the you is being directed at: “Don’t be afraid. My telling can’t hurt you in spite of what I have done…you can think what I tell you a confession, if you like, but one full of curiosities” (Morrison 3). Immediately a reader’s guard is put up, for in this passage someone’s accountability for blame is of potential recourse. Although readers learn that her story is for the blacksmith, this narrative technique fits into Morrison’s larger scheme. Morrison’s narrative scheme is intended to show how readers of books are responsible for accepting narratives, or a person’s story about themselves, even those stories that are fictional like in this book.

The message of the story is unified with Morrison’s narrative ploy. Florens engraves her story into the wooden planks of the empty home to take ownership of her life: “These careful words, closed up and wide open, will talk to themselves. [meaning Florens will reevaluate and refine her narrative]. Round and round, side to side, bottom to top, top to bottom all across the room. Or…Perhaps these words need the air that is out in the word” (Morrison 188). Florens’s character growth observed in this scene is capitalized by the moral of the story. The novel teaches the importance of owning your origin story, or your inner narrative, and validating others stories as well. If you don’t own, or remain indifferent to your active origin story, you cannot psychologically grow as an individual. Morrison is asking her readers to be a vessel for Florens’s story. And, sure, some “signs need more time to understand,” like in the course of reading the book we learned more about the world we entered (Morrison 4). The narrative ploy Morrison employs is mastered by the author’s strategic timed reveals of new character narrations and her characterization techniques used to either hide, or at times highlight the conflict of a character’s presentation. Provided this, one can conclude that chapter titles and numbers are omitted on purpose by the author to show the fluidity of interpretation by the reader through time. How one reads and interprets characters is highly dependent on being self-aware and observant of the author’s narrative techniques. In other words, a rereading of the book would be drastically different from a first read through because Morrison has the reigns on what information was being revealed and when. Therefore, not only does Florens’s wisdom on interpreting the meaning of signs apply to our reading experience, it also applies to Florens’s character growth in this story, and in an imagined sequel detailing her continued growth. The narrative foundation that supports the moral of the story is poignant because the creation of Florens’s origin story is not the end, it’s only the beginning.

Florens’s story is about healing from feelings of abandonment after being expelled from her family residence on a slave plantation. Morrison uses poetic language to show the trauma impression Florens developed after being abandoned and separated from her family. This feeling of abandonment re-emerges after fleeing from Widow Ealing and Daughter Jane’s residence: “without it[the letter] I am a weak calf abandoned by the herd, a turtle without shell…the inside[of me] dark is small, feathered and toothy. Is that what my mother knows? Why she choose me to live without?” (Morrison 135). Not understanding her mother’s reasoning, she feels this abandonment painfully deep. The use of metaphorical language evokes in readers the feeling of abandonment she felt viscerally. Morrison uses a metaphor of a chicken like being harboring inside Florens’s body to describe her painful emotions. Empathy is fostered in this poetic language. Validating a person’s narrative, like Florens, and letting them heal is important. The rebuilding of trust in others is hard work, especially when that which has been broken is from the trauma of expulsion. People who are expelled can be stigmatized, and this stigmatization can further their isolation. However, through Morrison’s narrative scheme, she is able to tie together a reader’s fate to that of the character. In other words, if you do not trust in the character’s version of their story, then you will be expelled from a large portion of the fictional world in this book. The story of Florens’s expulsion must be validated by the readers, otherwise the story loses its uplifting message of hope and healing.

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