A Mercy

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But especially in the closing pages of A Mercy , Morrison sets in place the final bricks that this structure needs to stand firmly. At the same time, Morrison concludes the book with a satisfying resolution that also connects the ending with her opening gambit. Morrison lets each of her key characters control the narrative at some point in A Mercy. In lesser hands, these frequent shifts in perspective would impart a disjointed, scattershot tone to the whole.

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Even more striking, Morrison retains her own distinctive style—with her characteristically potent imagery and overtones of Biblical language— while also allowing each of her characters to develop an identifiable voice and worldview. Morrison is not just one of the most widely read authors of modern time; she also carries the distinction perhaps, at times, the burden of being the most frequently taught living novelist. She holds a preeminent place on high school and college reading lists, and probably has spawned more term papers in recent years than Napoleon and Caesar combined.

As such, one always reads Morrison with expectations of getting a lesson in post-colonial perspectives. The victims here are sometimes also victimizers, and all demonstrations of heroism are only relative. Of course, there are lessons here. After all, this author has herself become a symbol and catchword.

Moreover, she releases this novel at a time when another African-American has taken on an unprecedented visibility and symbolic resonance—of ground-breaking historical importance. Which is both understandable, yet also a shame; since Toni Morrison has delivered a book here that is eminently worth discussing.


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In a way, this first sentence is an answer to the presumption that violent acts necessarily translate into the violence of language or rather a language of violence. These signs correspond to specific recurrent dreams. She was given to settle a debt. She was seven or eight years old at the time. She is worth nothing, since her own mother gave her away. Her mother was breast-feeding him at the time. The image is a recurrent one, one that she cannot erase from her memory. It is a haunting sight:. I see it forever and ever. Me watching, my mother listening, her baby boy on her hip.

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Senhor is not paying the whole amount he owes to Sir. Sir saying he will take instead the woman and the girl, not the baby boy and the debt is gone. A minah mae begs no. Her baby boy is still at her breast. Take the girl, she says, my daughter, she says. Florens is the seer and the seen, both the subject and the object of the gaze.

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Within the repetitiveness of this seeing, trauma is the enigma of having experienced and survived something that remains unknown, as Cathy Caruth explains:. The repetitions of the traumatic events which remain unavailable to consciousness but intrude repeatedly on sight thus suggest a larger relation to the event that extends beyond what can be seen or what can be known, and is inextricably tied up with the belatedness and incomprehensibility that remains at the heart of this repetitive seeing. Caruth , In that trade-off between Jacob and her mother, no money is exchanged.

The perniciousness of that system, and of that reasoning, extends to his eventually dealing in rum. This trade eases his moral conscience since he is not directly buying or selling slaves. Florens is desperately in love with the blacksmith, a love so total and engulfing that aims at compensating for the trauma of her abandonment. When she arrives at his place, he tells her to wait for his return and to take care of a little boy, Malaik, a foundling, whom he has rescued. That the other child is a boy and the main protagonist, the daughter, forces the reader to face gender and sexual difference at the core of the trauma.

Although set in the 17 th century, A Mercy, in a way, anticipates on 19 th century slavery, and beyond on analyses of the black family unit that made black women be the source and cause of its dysfunctions. This happens twice before. 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 expel.

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Now I am seeing a little boy come up and he is holding a corn-husk doll. An old man has been engaged to keep watch over it, and sat beside the body murmuring prayers. Freud In his analysis, Freud puts forward the hypothesis that the dream prolongs our desire to sleep. That the father conjures up the living image of his dead son could thus partly confirm his thesis. Yet this example poses other questions since there is something outside in reality that corresponds to what the father sees in his dream. Freud seems to suggest that something in reality itself makes us sleep.

It is not that, in the dream, the father persuades himself that the son is still alive. But the terrible version of the dead son taking his father by the arm designates a beyond that makes itself heard in the dream. Desire manifests itself in the dream by the loss expressed in an image at the cruel point of the object.

It is only in the dream that this truly unique encounter can occur. Only a rite, an endlessly repeated act, can commemorate this not very memorable encounter [ Lacan The father wakes up to the death of his son, and to the necessity of surviving it while only the dream could figure this encounter with a beyond.

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This is the meaning of her recurrent dreams of the mother holding hands with the little boy 3. This dream takes over from and encrypts what actually happened: her being given away to Jacob Vaark. The text then figures her reaction to the second encounter that repeats the first scene. She replays this double death in her dreams, each repetition bringing her closer to what was unbearable in that severing, itself a repetition of her weaning The third occurrence that Florens anticipates as a repetition is bound to be a re-enactment of her initial rejection.

Yet she refuses the destiny inherent in trauma, its necessity. You ask me to water the bean shoots and collect the eggs. I go there but the hens make nothing so I know a minha mae is coming soon. As always she is trying to tell me something. I tell her to go and when she fades I hear a small creaking. In the dark I know he is there. Eyes big, wondering and cold. There is also necessarily a blurring between the dream content and the reality that Florens apprehends through her troubled consciousness. He is holding her hand.

In a mise en abyme of the act of dreaming and a reversal of the position of the subject, the dream dreams back. Her selflessness her death , figured by her lack of reflection — the loss of the reflection of her face 15 —gives way to a vision of Daughter Jane—a helping hand , a benevolent friend—and then she wakes in her dream to see her mother and Malaik. Paradoxically, Florens is waking up in her dream to the reality of her mother choosing the other child.

This awakening stands in for what is at the heart of her trauma. Her awakening to a rejection that inscribes a sexual relation between her mother and the blacksmith whose offspring would be the foundling is a double negation. The mother takes her place in relation to the blacksmith, which negates her as a woman and her lover chooses the other woman, her mother.

Their child is Malaik, the child-king. The daughter does not exist; she is negated. In the diegesis, Florens takes the place of the absent blacksmith in his cot.

Toni Morrison Discusses 'A Mercy'

Malaik you shout. Spillers I think that must be where his power is. I take it away and place it on a shelf too high for him to reach. The child screams and she gets out. It is abandon in a corner like a precious child no one wants. Maybe the doll is sitting there hiding. Hiding from me. Which is the true reading?

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  • On one level, the confusion she expresses lies in her inability to read the signs, yet one could say that she also reads two contradictory meanings at the same time. The doll that functions like a projection of herself it is standing in for her is either abandoned as she was or afraid of her. You choose the boy. You call his name first. You take him to lie down with the doll and return to me your broken face, eyes without glee, ropes pumps in yours neck. I am lost. No word of sorrow for knocking me off my feet. No tender fingers to touch where you hurt me.

    I cower. Hold down the feathers lifting. Is that what my mother knows?