The Episodic Organization of a Mercy

At last, I have mustered up the confidence to make a blog post! Over the past few weeks I’ve kept up with my readings but have been too shy to speak in front of the whole group. I believe it was recently however that Dr. McCoy assured us that none of us really know what we’re talking about, and this has inspired me to put my thoughts here. How wrong could I be?

I don’t think we have spoken much about how the chapters in a Mercy have been organized, but we have recently touched on making connections between all Continue reading “The Episodic Organization of a Mercy”

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.

Following Her Name

On Wednesday, Dr. Beth reawakened an idea that had interested me at the start of the novel: the significance of Lina’s name in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy. We learn that while she was taken to live with Presbyterians, Lina was given an anglicized name. As readers, we never learn what her birth name had been. However, we do know that “they named her Messalina, just in case, but shortened it to Lina to signal a sliver of hope” (55). This follows from the death of Lina’s people, what is presumed to be the “black death.” According to the Presbyterians, it was “merely the first sign of His displeasure” (55). Already, then, Lina is accompanied by a negative aura, because she is Other. Continue reading “Following Her Name”

The credibility of Lina’s character traits

During the in-class exercise that we completed today, my group focused on Lina and which aspects of her character were affirmed and which were not. We agreed as a whole that Lina is a strong person; she has been through and survived so much. Not only is she strong in the physical sense (she takes care of Rebekka almost single-handedly when she’s ill), but mentally strong. On page 57 she describes, “the shame of having survived the destruction of her families. . . .” Carrying that kind of survivor’s guilt at such a young age is nearly impossible to imagine, so clearly someone would have to be of strong mental standing to move forward from that.

Continue reading “The credibility of Lina’s character traits”

Jacob’s Unfinished Business

Almost immediately after today’s class concluded, Rachel asked me what I thought it meant that Jacob was never able to finish his house on the hills and what possible implications that this may have forged for the rest of the characters in the novel.  I did not have a fully formulated answer for her right then and there, but this was something I wanted to explore on a deeper level and delve back into on this forum. Continue reading “Jacob’s Unfinished Business”

A “Florens Found Poem”

In class the other day we talked about how Florens is a poet.  I myself am partial to poetry and so I thought I would enjoy creating a “found poem” from Florens’ chapters in the novel.  While I may have changed a word here or there, almost of the lines I have used are straight out of “A Mercy.”

I Unfold

Your back looks like whatever the sky holds.

Continue reading “A “Florens Found Poem””

Similarities in Female Characters

As a class, we have already discussed that Toni Morrison writes for black people. I think that has a lot of weight and the discussion of what that exactly means should be continued throughout the semester, but in this post I’d like to focus on Morrison’s relationship to female readers shown through her female characters in A Mercy.

I think it was Emily (I’m not positive, though it was someone) who brought up the idea that possibility of Florens being raped mentioned by Rebekka on page 84 is a women’s issue. I really liked that idea, because that can be seen as a similarity between many characters that Dr. McCoy had told us to look for while reading that section of the novel.

When thinking about this in class, I was particularly drawn to one passage found on page 115. To save space, I won’t include the entire quotation, but I was looking specifically from “Although they had nothing in common…became like children when the man was gone.” In this passage, I believe that Rebekka shows great wisdom. She relates the male-female dynamic and how the power inequity affects all women, from the religiously devout to her shipmates (women sent out of the country for their lewd behavior), from herself to the slave/servant women in her life. This one passage seemed to sum up the idea of similarities vs. differences in the characters very succinctly. As we continue to read Morrison’s works, I plan to look into her relationship to female readers, not just black readers. (As a disclaimer, I’m not trying to make myself included in her target audience- I just think that her choosing to write about “women’s issues” makes for an interesting discussion).

Virginia’s Verger: Sexual Politics of Race in the New World

After Dr. McCoy’s brief mention of “Virginia’s Verger” in class last week, I decided to search a little for the original document–Purchas his Pilgrimes–which, written by Samuel Purchas, a settler in the New World, turned to out be brimming with intertwined racism and sexism. Can you guess how shocked I am (hint: not at all)?  Continue reading “Virginia’s Verger: Sexual Politics of Race in the New World”