The Name Game

Names in Toni Morrison’s A Mercy play an interesting role. We have already discussed in class and on the blog the name Patrician, the absence of a name for the Blacksmith, and the name Messalina/Lina. I’ve grown to enjoy finding etymologies for words, and if an author pays attention to names, as Morrison clearly does, then looking for meanings behind names can be equally fun, if not insightful.

A few disclaimers though, well, more like a disclaimer, a personal rule, and an acknowledgment. First, if I mention something that someone in our class has already pointed out and I don’t attribute it to that person then please let me know so I can promptly fix the offense. Second, I didn’t use any online or textual A Mercy guides or articles for this blog post. I don’t think there is anything wrong with using someone else’s research if you acknowledge it, but this removes some of the fun and it may be limiting if you don’t search beyond it. Lastly, sometimes the name game can be taken “too far” and the interpretations can begin to become less insightful and less pertinent. Our class is full of English majors, so I’m sure this gray area of interpretation is not too strange to any of you, but it seems particularly common in the name game. Anyway… Continue reading “The Name Game”

On Structure and Interpretation

In class this week we discussed the interpretations made by characters within the text. While working in small groups on Wednesday, we tried to find instances wherein these interpretations were either supported or unsettled by the conclusion of the novel. As I was considering the implications of interpretation and misinterpretation, my thoughts began to steer towards the role that the structure of the novel plays in the unfolding of the readers’ own interpretations of the text. As Julie mentioned in her post, the novel is divided into chapters which belong to different characters. This division of chapters only lets the reader understand one slice of the story at a time. These glimpses into different characters’ perspectives reveals how each character understands their position and the position of others. By imposing blinders on readers, Morrison is compelling them to come to terms with their misinterpretations at the end of the novel. Continue reading “On Structure and Interpretation”


Last semester I chose to research in depth about the issue of how lesbian and bisexual women were treated in television shows. I chose this topic because of the frequency of deaths or unhappy exits those characters faced that spring. I noted the issue because my Tumblr dash and Twitter time line were flooded with angry posts from viewers of various shows. Upon research I found out that this unsettling occurrence was a trope and has been consistent in media productions. It is called “Bury your Gays”. According to, “gay characters just aren’t allowed happy endings. Even if they do end up having some kind of relationship, at least one half of the couple…has to die at the end”. These include characters that are coded as LGB (many being villains), not just ones that expressly say they are interested in the same sex. It is the frequency and degree to which these characters are killed that really leaves a toll on viewers. Their narratives are removed thus excluding knowledge of their experience besides stereotypes. Continue reading “#LetLesbiansLive”

“It is always now”

Emily’s blog post noted a quote from Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery. The quote, “Slavery is Indeed an American institution” is something that I haven’t stopped turning over in my head. At first the statement may seem a little shortsighted when you realize that other European countries, including Britain, had been participating in the slave trade. However, when you look at the definition of the word “institution,” the truth of the statement becomes more evident. The online O.E.D has multiple definitions for “institution,” but the one I’d like to draw attention to is, “An established official organization having an important role in the life of a country, such as a bank, church, or legislature.” This seems important to me, especially the phrase, “important role in the life of a country.” When looked at in the context of slavery, this definition has a special, contemporary pertinence. Continue reading ““It is always now””

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”