Monday, February 2, 2009

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison is an American author, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She has written some of the acclaimed American novels including The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Song of Soloman. In her writing, she traverses the experience and roles of black women in a racist and sexist society. In A Mercy, her latest work, Morrison uses her storytelling to transports readers back to a time (1680s) in America when religion, class differences, prejudice and oppression were as familiar as American apple pie. That was a time in American history when the seeds of slavery and racism began to take root.

The novel centers around the decision of Jacob, an Anglo Dutch trader, who despite his revulsion to the business of slavery, accepts a young slave girl as payment on a debt. The decision to take Florens, the young slave girl "with the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady" impacts the lives of other women living on Jacob's farm. There is Rebekka, Jacob's wife, who questions her God as she loses one baby after another to the harsh realities of the New World. A Native servant, Lina, a survivor of smallpox epidemic, who hungers for Florens's love to replace the family taken from her. And then there is Sorrow, a quiet black woman, who is a survivor of a terrible incident on a slave ship.


Use the following discussion questions to participate in our discussion:

Do you think Florens' mother showed her mercy by begging Jacob to take Florens?

How did the different viewpoints enhance the story?

Why do you think Rebekka started treating Lina and others badly after her illness passed?

What acts of mercy do the characters display?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

One of the great lessons of A Mercy is that the human "will to power" is "color blind." Toni Morrison is the most percpetive in her social analysis when it comes to the many faces of the power-game. Indeed the violent human history is the triumph of the heartless over the powerless.

Anonymous said...

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. How about those who don't forget the past and keep playing the blame game, in disguised ways. America is all about moving on. Its religion is all about forgiving. If poor new immigrants who work hard and learn new things can make it in America, why can't the people who know the terrain. Black authors need to come out of their hidden narcissistic injuries. Stop blaming and start inspiring. Obama has proven that those who are willing to grow and learn face no barrier in the land of opportunities.

Candace Vasquez said...

To Anonymous
“One can enjoy a rainbow without necessarily forgetting the forces that made it” Mark Twain



Thank you for joining the discussion. From your comment, I see that Toni Morrison's book has offended you by revisiting America's past. Like you, many people in America, feel that now that we elected President Obama, we must keep an eye on tomorrow and forget about the mistakes of the past. With the election of President Obama, I too feel a sense of hope for the future. But let us be real, the effects of 400 years of slavery, a generation of Jim Crow and segregation, and another generation of inferior schools does not get wiped away by the election of one man.

Anonymous said...

Howard Zinn, who wrote the most objective history of United States, says that you never know the plight of the balck people in America until you read the great black writers. That is what happened when Zinn read Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Countee Cullen.
One has to balance one's reading experiences by choosing books based on a sincere intention to understand self and the world objectively, and not just consciously or unconsciously reinforce one'e racial and national vanities.

One is not born black or white. One becomes one when one is treated differentially or reads selectively. Morrison said it well, "No one ever talks about the moment you found that you were white. Or the moment you found out you were black. That's a profound revelation. The minute you find that out, something happens. You have to renegotiate everything." Such biases persist for so long can only be explained by looking at what happens to human cildren after they take breath 1. Morrison points it out: Black people are victims of an enormous amount of violence. None of those things can take place without the complicity of the people who run the schools and the city" -- and why not those who raise children and preach. The enduring conflicts between groups cannot be explained without the complicity of priests and parents.

Sparling said...

I recently stumbled upon this discussion after finishing this book and was looking for some further insight into this work... and I am astounded by the comments left here regarding this book. Anyone who believes that A Mercy is a novel once again covering the plight of African Americans in our country is foolish and nearsighted. The beauty in this book is the broad presentation of all people, from all walks of life of the time -- slave, indentured servant, europeans escaping their countries prospering and floundering in the life of early America.

Its the fictional representation of history at its finest.

riveav said...

Toni Morrison's 'A Mercy is a deep compelling novel of a group of people although they came from different worlds, they were able to live together as a family at some point. I enjoyed the way she shared some light differenciating rascism verses slavery.
They almost come together as family. It works until it doesn't. And, the danger in that is this so called family didn't work is because in life you really...do need structure, a community, or church "a religion as Rebekka thinks." They would not have missed it if their master would have lived. But if you have one something or someone holding everything together...you see just how vunerable you really are.

riveav said...

In Toni Morrison's novel I especially enjoyed the way she differenciated rascism verses slavery. Joining these people from different parts of world together, and they created some sort of family.
They almost come together as family. It works until it doesn't. And, the danger in that this so called family didn't work was because in life you really...do need structure, a community, or church "a religion as Rebekka thinks." They would not have missed it if their master would have lived. But if you have one person or something holding everything together...you see just how vunerable you really are.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about anyone else, but from my reading, a girl with red hair and sliver/gray eyes (the description of sorrow) who is the daughter/responsibility of the captain of her ship is not a black girl.