Elizabeth Kauwell

September 7, 2009


AP English, 4th hour

What’s Wrong With the World

A Mercy depicts the shortcomings of humanity in a firsthand manner. Of reaction versus realization. Of self-protection and safety versus vulnerability and exposure. Lying to everyone, including yourself. A lack of self-examination, and hence, a lack of growth. A Mercy demonstrates the belief that obliviousness is better than awareness. If the world does not live with pensive and honest reflection, the demise of the human race is nearby.

Toni Morrison illustrates these failures in almost all of A Mercy’s characters. Jacob lives in blissful obliviousness of his ethical hypocrisy. He fancies himself an upright, moral untraditional thinker. Scorning D’Ortega’s lifestyle Jacob is quoted as saying, “They seemed well suited to each other: vain, voluptuous, prouder of pewter and porcelain than of their sons,” (Morrison, 22) he comforts himself with the knowledge that although he is not of noble blood or wealth, he has morals. However, we quickly see flaws in this moral man’s set of values. He takes joy from D’Ortega’s shortcomings, and spends most of his time at Jublio proving to himself that although he has less than D’Ortega, he is a far better man. Jacob thinks to himself “They did not smile, they sneered; they did not laugh, they giggled. He imagined them vicious with servants and obsequious to priests. His initial embarrassment about the unavoidable consequences of his long journey–muddy boots, soiled hands, perspiration and its odor–was dimmed by Mistress D’Ortega’s loud perfume and heavily powdered face.” (22-23) His own willingness to ridicule them and their lifestyle demonstrates a psychological longing for self-validation.

When he dies, he is left struggling for confirmation of worth through material values. He buys Rebekka impractical gifts on his travels “It was some time before she noticed how the tales were fewer and the gifts increasing, gifts that were becoming less practical, even whimsical… Rebekka swallowed her questions and smiled… Having seen come and go a glint in his eyes as he unpacked these treasures so useless on a farm, she should have anticipated the day he hired men to help clear trees from a wide swath of land at the foot of a rise. A new house he was building. Something befitting not a farmer, not even a trader, but a squire.” (103) to further his goals of a life of wealth and “worth.” He tells Rebekka “What a man leaves behind is what a man is,” (104) revealing his deeper theorization that money parallels self worth. For all his apparent kindness and seemingly superior moral values, he is still trapped in the world’s materialism and void of true selflessness.

Where Jacob is trapped in the desire for things, Florens too is trapped, however in the desire for validation of self worth through confirmation by another. She looks for her approval in the eyes of the blacksmith, blindly choosing to believe that she was single-handedly his entire world, without confirmation from the blacksmith. “When Lina tried to enlighten her, saying “You are one leaf on his tree,” Florens shook her head, closed her eyes and replied, “No. I am his tree.”” (71) They had a passionate physical relationship but from a third person standpoint, it seems common sense that to the blacksmith their relationship was naught but a fling. Florens truly was too wild, and let her emotions take over the logical part of the brain that would question “What affirmation have you of his undying love for you? Don’t be hasty with your decisions Florens, it will ultimately get you hurt.” Her inner conscience was absent without leave. However, seeing as she feels abandoned by her mother, it seems only natural to crave love and acceptance from someone, anyone, to the point you allow yourself to become blinded to reality if only to believe you are loved. When the blacksmith tells her to leave, she is wild, he doesn’t want her, she reacts. “Feathers lifting, I unfold. The claws scratch and scratch until the hammer is in my hand.” (167) She was hurt and her body countered with rage and blame shifting. Nothing in the novella establishes any change of heart or mind.

Rebekka actually declines in moral conscientiousness. She traverses from “[Being] ideal. There was not a shrewish bone in her body. She never raised her voice in anger… cheerful as a bluebird. Or used to be. Three dead infants in a row, followed by the accidental death of Patrician, their five-year-old, had unleavened her. A kind of invisible ash had settled over her which vigils at the small graves in the meadow did nothing to wipe away,” (24) to someone whose “Behavior after the master’s death and her own recovery [were] not simply the effects of ill health and mourning. Mistress passed her days with the joy of a clock. She was a penitent, pure and simple. Which to him meant that underneath her piety was something cold if not cruel.” (179) Now, growing up with emotional hardship does not destine everyone who encounters this to a horrid fate of equal hardship. This is the case with Rebekka. Functional and well-adjusted, she remains a respectable character until the point of her illness. She transforms into the above. “Mistress has cure but she is not well. Her heart is infidel. All smiles are gone. Each time she returns from the meetinghouse her eyes are nowhere and have no inside… Her churchgoing alters her but I don’t believe they tell her to behave that way. These rules are her own and she is not the same.” She allows her grief to take over and transform her into a cruel thoughtless woman.

One may contest that these were good people, with shortcomings that got realized and exploited by the deities, karma, coincidence whatever. However, there is always a choice. Perhaps, you say, they were unaware of their options, of their faults. This is probably true, however when one is unhappy, when a life is falling apart, it is a choice not to examine your part in it. It is a choice to keep running in circles, in the same pattern, stay in your faulted rut out of fear of what outside the rut.

These examples of a lack of self-reflection constituted a demise of the Vaark clan. On a larger scale, Morrison is demonstrating the importance of a conscious decision to try and improve your life by not falling into patterns. A logical perspective is crucial to survival, just as an emotional perspective is crucial to finding a passionate and joyful life. Simply put, the world must start to learn from it’s mistakes.