Mia Stout, Mairead Wilsch, Annie Urig, India Roundtree, Myah Dombroski, Ryan Trebing
In the novel A Mercy, we begin with seeing a young girl in 1690 being expelled from her home. From the loss of his ship, a man named Jacob is seeking to not part with his losses. As a trade for this, D’Ortega trades the slave Jacob’s choice. Jacob wanted to take the healthy woman standing with her children, but D’Ortenga wouldn’t allow it. The woman offered up her daughter instead, which was likely to protect her and give her a better life than what she’d have had if she’d stayed. After this Florens, the young girl traded by her own mother was traumatized. And she is repeatedly faced with expulsion throughout the novel after this. No matter where she had finally felt safe or at home, she was forced out. This process is much like the 2008 Recession, where homeowners that could never afford houses, finally were able to purchase them. But, they were forced out of where they’d felt safe. The people of 2008 were expelled from their homes and faced many challenges after the crash, much like Florens was expelled from her home and faced many challenging experiences as a result of her expulsion.
In the 2008 housing crisis, people were expelled from their homes just like Florens from A Mercy. Even though she can read both print and pressure just like the victims of the 2008 crisis that didn’t stop Wall Street (in Florens case anywhere she lived) from being kicked out of their homes. When it comes to the homeowners their “protection” from the world was stolen from right underneath them. Whereas Florens had a different kind of protection. ”Let me show you my letter” (pg 131). The one thing that gave Florens legal protection was her letter. The homeowner’s protection was the contract that they signed when buying a house but that was ripped from them after Wall Street claimed it was their “misfortune”. Wall Street continuously blamed homeowners for their expulsion but in reality, it was the companies that were managing the home who were at fault. This links to A Mercy when the blacksmith aggressively blamed Florens for the incident with Malaik. One person that holds power and money in A Mercy is D’Ortega. He is the replica of Wall Street. He’s the reason that Florens was expelled from her first home. Florens’ interpretation skills and her expulsion can be compared to the fact that during the 2008 Housing Crisis, the home expulsions never stopped for anyone’s literacy or viewpoint on the situation. Just as Florens’ intellect and insight never saved her from being expelled, the intellect and insight of those who were expelled from jobs or homes in 2008 didn’t prevent the expulsion itself.
A Mercy is full of examples of Florens interpreting and reading, both literally and figuratively. We learn early on in the book that Florens was taught to read and write by Reverend Father. “Once every seven days we learn to read and write… He has two books and a slate. We have sticks to draw through sand, pebbles to shape words on smooth flat rock.” (Page 6). This shows us early on that being able to read and write is important to Florens’ character. Another literal example of Florens reading is on page 131 when Florens is one of only two people in the room able to read the letter from her Mistress. “Everyone including Daughter Jane who rises from her bed stares at the markings upside down and it is clear only the man is lettered.” At the end of the book, we get a final example of Florens being able to read and write when she writes her story down in one of the rooms of Jacob’s house. “If you are live or ever you heal you will have to bend down to read my telling… I stop telling only when the lamp burns down.” (185). In addition to reading actual words, there are many instances of Florens interpreting situations and the world around her. Throughout the story her narration interprets others’ feelings and thoughts, portraying to the reader the type of environment and emotions she is facing. “A woman comes to me and says stand up. I do and she takes my cloak from my shoulders. Then my wooden shoes. She walks away. Reverend Father turns a pale red color when he returns and learns what happens…Finally, he takes rags, strips of sailcloth lying about, and wraps my feet. Now I am knowing that, unlike Senhor, priests are unloved here. A sailor spits into the sea when Reverend Father asks him for help. Reverend Father is the only kind man I ever see.”(8) This indicates how Florens is interpreting her surroundings and feels a sense of resentment by the people in the town when she and the Reverend arrive, she then “reads” the people they interact with. A common trend of Florens point of view is these examples of sharing other people’s reactions and emotions used as a form of protection after being expelled by her mother but soon changes once she is expelled by the Blacksmith. Once being expelled by the two people she trusted most, a minha mãe and the Blacksmith, we see a change in the narration where she breaks down the wall of protection. “My face absent in blue water you find only to crush it? Now I am living the dying inside. No. Not again. Not ever. Feathers lifting, I unfold. The claws scratch and scratch until the hammer is in my hand”(167). It is wise to say that after the Blacksmiths’ expulsion a change occurred in Florens, she realized that she deserved more than the treatment she has received thus far and almost has this sense of empowerment over her, promising herself that she will not be expelled again. The farm also notices this change in her, concerned for the girl they see walking up the road when returning from the Blacksmith’s home. “Strangest was Florens. The docile creature they knew had turned feral. When they saw her stomping down the road two days after the smithy had visited Mistress’ sickbed and gone, they were slow to recognize her as a living person” (171-72). This character shift may have come as a surprise, but after interpreting the stories of others, it is a nice change of pace to read more about her growth.
Florens is forcibly expelled repeatedly even though she is one of the rare slaves who has been taught to read and write. First, she was expelled by her mother, and the main memory she remembers from this experience is her mother “holding the little boy’s hand.” (8) At the Widow Ealing home, where she eats and tells the widow and her daughter Jane of her errand, the townspeople come to judge Judy’s innocence, Florens is seen by the group and thought to be evil. “This has happened twice before. The first time it is me peeking around my mother’s dress hoping for her hand that is only for the little boy. The second time it is a pointing, screaming little girl hiding behind her mother and clinging to her skirts. Both times are full of danger and I am expelled.” When going to find the Blacksmith so that he can help save Rebekka’s life, the protection letter Mistress Rebekka Vaark has written for her does not give her safe passage as it is taken from her at Widow Ealing’s home. Expelled from the protection the letter gave her, exposed to the world, and traveling to find the Blacksmith, she travels on. Once she gets to the Blacksmith’s home she sees a young boy, Malaik, who is being taken care of by the Blacksmith. She thinks, “ I worry as the boy sleeps closer to you. How you offer and he owns your finger. As if he is your future. Not me.” (136) She is asked to stay and care for Malaik while the Blacksmith is gone. She scares Malaik, who hides and screams, as she tries to grab him to calm him down she accidentally breaks his arm. The Blacksmith returns and sees the incident. She tries to explain that she is not trying to harm him, but the Blacksmith will not hear her words. She says, “I am trying to stop him. That is why I pulled his arm” (139). The Blacksmith immediately expels her as she realizes he has chosen the boy. “I am lost because your shout is not my name. Not me. Malaik. You shout Malaik.” The Blacksmith tells her, “ you are a slave”. Your head is empty and your body is wild. (141) As she is being expelled he states, “Own yourself woman, and leave us be.” (141). The Blacksmith is above Florens in status even though they are both people of color, and feels close to him but can’t build a real connection because of that as he will still see her as below him, this shows expulsion from a community/support system. “Nothing but wilderness. No constraint. No mind.” (166). This indicates it is often found easier to push her away than to keep her, despite how much she’s helping. She isn’t a nice, quiet, polite lady, and so she often gets expelled because of this. All of the examples of expulsion are not directly Floren’s fault, even though the people expelling her want her to feel that it is. While by the end of the novel she shares her story through wood carvings in one of the house’s rooms, hoping for the Blacksmith to read it, while the reader never finds out if he does.
In conclusion, A Mercy shows that interpretation is only a part of survival. Although Florens is an incredibly talented observer, and it is an integral part of her personality, she continues to be expelled; by her mother, Rebekka, by the Blacksmith, and by Widow and Daughter Jane. This book serves the purpose of proving that some things will happen, despite fighting against them. This can also tie back to the 2008 crisis, and the fact that victims of the housing and job crisis continued to be expelled, despite their knowledge of the situation. However, interpretation is still important. Florens is not only able to interpret the world around her, but also interpret herself, and her own worth, which brings her own perception of herself down. “Something precious is leaving me. I am a thing apart. With the letter, I belong and am lawful. Without it, 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.” (135). It is made clear throughout the book that Florens is not responsible for her own expulsion, a theme which carries through both A Mercy and the 2008 crisis. Florens is representative of the world around her at the time the book takes place. She is not valued as much as she should be, and for this reason is subject to more danger than those with more power, like Jacob or Rebekka. Similar to this, victims of the 2008 crisis were at the hands of bigger corporations and Wall Street. The “puppet masters” of the 2008 housing crisis blamed said victims rather than taking accountability for their actions. “They look at you and forget about me”(135). Although this is said in A Mercy when Daughter Jane feels relief that Florens takes the attention off of her accusation of being a demon, we can relate it to how Wall Street blamed their poverty-stricken customers and communities of color as a way to take the heat off themselves and avoid the consequences they may face. Both Florens and the victims of the 2008 crisis show that expulsion is often not at the fault of the expelled.