Women subjugation in A Mercy
Toni Morrision’s, “A Mercy” begins with the day when Jacob Vaark, a trader from New England proceeds to Maryland to settle the debt with D’ Ortega, the owner of plantation and the slave trader. Jacob is proposed a female slave by D’ Ortega as a compensation for his debt. Even though he dislikes slavery, he proposed to take female slave, Floren’s mother. Floren’s mother had gone sexually abused by D Ortega, so he wanted to protect her daughter from D’ Orentga and she asks Jacob to choose Florence instead of her. Jacob takes Florence to his home where she meets Jacob’s wife Rebeeka and the servants Lina and Sorrow. Reebika was childless as she had loss her daughter Patrician in an accident with a horse. Lina, the servant undertakes Florence and acts as a surrogate mother to her. Jacob decides to build a large house. Willard and Scully, the indentured servants and the Blacksmith who is a free Africian man from a nearby area help to construct the house for Jaacob. Florence falls in love with Blacksmith and has an abusive intimacy. The Blacksmith has the traditional knowledge of healing smallpox. He heals Sorrow through his traditional knowledge during his stay in Jacob’s farm. Jacob too suffers from illness and passes away. Rebekka, too suffers from smallpox and asks Florence to find Blacksmith who had cured Sorrow from the same illness. Florence sets a troublesome journey to find Blacksmith. She comes to a village and meets Widow Ealing and her daughter Jane. The villagers accuse Jane of evil spirit because of her blue eyes and even accuse Florence of evil spirit because of her dark skin. She flees from the place and finally meets Blacksmith. She tells everything to Blacksmith about Rebekka’s illness and the blacksmith rides off to heal Rebekka. Florence becomes mentally distress and breaks the hand of Malaik, the son of Blacksmith. She thinks that her mother preferred baby boy and send her with Jacob and the in the same way Blacksmith would prefer Malaik rather than Florence herself. When Blacksmith return’s he hits Florence and chases her out. Florence returns to Vaark’s farm and finds Rebekka is healed. While Floren was away, Sorrow gave birth to a baby. Florence becomes moody when she is betrayed by the Blacksmith. Every night she thinks of how her mother abandoned her. She carves words in the wood of the room with a hope the Blacksmith would read it someday. Florence never finds out the reasons behind the action of her mother leaving her to Jacoob.
A Mercy reflects the human relationship and captures the attention of the readers since Morrison is able to show a range of emotions, love, rivalry, jealousy, subjugation and obsession. The characters in the novels are entangled in the web of these sensations and feelings. The characters suffer various forms of exploitation and dominance especially from the stereotype patriarchy throughout the novel. The novel deals with women’s subjugation which emphasizes on the psycho-physical humiliation of slavery in the dense period of history in around 1680s, when many labors were exploited and abused in the name of different human bondage. The story depicts and explores the social and economic conditions during the slavery period. Morrison clearly discloses the sufferings, physical violence and cruel act of slavery. Female characters in A Mercy are often physically mentally and socially exploited. They are subjugated by the landlords, farm owners and masters. They silently bear all the burdens for survival.
The oppressive inhuman behaviors reflect the pathetic condition of slaves’ especially female slaves by the fellow male slaves and their masters. Morrission clearly represents the heart breaking condition of female slaves due to the economic and cultural power vested in patriarchy society in the contemporary period. A Mercy shows the history of man’s brutality and male sexuality. It reflects the masculine sexual lust driven through cultures, and economy.
Floren’s mother was born in Africa and was taken to Barbados for slavery. She was shipped for working on sugarcane plantation. Later on she was taken by D’ Ortega to Maryland for the slavery purpose but along with making her work on farm, she was also ganged raped, as a result Florence and her brother were born. When Jacob Vaark goes to meet De’ Ortega, a Portuguese merchant, to formally claim his money, De’ Ortega forces him to take a female slave instead of cash in order to achieve high profit. After a survey in a line of many slaves Jacob decides to take a female slave with a daughter and a son. But, the female slave offers her daughter and pleads to Jacob, “Please, Senhor. Not me. Take my daughter. Not me” (28). The plot tries to script the struggle of the lonely women and their troublesome situations. Event D’ Ortega hesitates to offer her and says: “Ah, No. Impossible. My wife can’t stay longer without her. She is our main cook, the best one”.(26). These words from D’ Ortega discloses the hidden meaning that, Florens’ mother is sexually abused by him and so the owner is not ready to trade her. Florence’s mother did not want her daughter suffer as she did in Orenta farm, she begs Jacob to take Florence. The begging of Floren’s mother to Jacob to take Florence instead of her reflects the brutal oppression towards female slaves. She begs to protect her daughter from D Ortega sexual abuse for life time. These statements reflect the miserable condition of female slave during the then period. The women slaves were compelled to bear the oppression and violence. It also discloses the fearful slavery and slave trade carried out at the farmhouse.
Florence works as a slave in Vaark’s farm. The blacksmith comes to make a fench in Vaarks house. When the Blacksmith falls on love with her, he also starts a sexual relationship with her. Later on when he leaves Vaarks house after the completion of the job assigned to him, he even do not says goodbye to Florence. Blacksmith even abuses her. His supremacy is upon the slave Florence. Florens’s mother and sorrow are also the victims of rape in the novel. Sorrow becomes pregnant when she does not even know the meaning of sex. The birth of Florens and his brother is the result of brutal rape by her master. The violence that Florens’s , and other endures is very traumatized and pathetic that she pledges Jacob to take her from D Oretega’s farm so as to never see Florence to suffer the same fate. The Blacksmith has sex with Florens in Vaarks’s farm and leaves her without saying goodbye. Rebekka’s father sends her to Jacob in exchange for monetary compensation. Her father sees her transact for profit
Lina is a loyal and hardworking girl who serves her mistress, Rebekka Vaark. She has also a painful suffering during her childhoold. The European soldiers burned the village where she was born and gave Lina to one of the Presbyterians of the village. The Presbyterians on course of time sold Lina to Jacob. She has been the victim of European soldiers and the Presbyterians. She has to struggle from her childhood for survival. Lina is the women in the novel whose entire family members are dead by the smallpox .She has a miserable and troublesome life. She goes under various suffering in her early age. She is bought to the farm by Jacob. She is alienated from her relatives and family members and lives with Vaark family in order not to be homeless. lina suffers a terrible violence from her lover. Rebekka’s notes describe the past trauma of Lina. She was beaten, traumatized and raped by her lover.
Sorrow’s origin is mysterious in the novel. She claims herself as a daughter of Captain. The lumberjack found her half drown on a beach and took her back to his home. The Lumberjacks’s wife named her Sorrow because she was found in a pitiful condition. Sorrow had a traumatic past. Her entire village, family members and relatives were burn to ashes. . Sorrow was a bit slow in completing the task assigned to her. So,the Lumberjack sold her to Vaark.
Sorrow has been separated from her family and relatives in her early age. She has grown up at the sawyer’s house. She does not get parental teachings to help her know about femininity. She becomes aware of it only when she becomes pregnant. She too has a pitiful condition as Lina and Florence. She first conceives in her adolescence, when she was even unknown about the meaning of sex. She becomes pregnant and even gives birth to the baby. There are some clues in the novel which suggest that she was sexually abused during her stay in sawyer’s house. She reveals that, “on occasion she had secret company other than Twin, but not better than Twin” (108 mero ma) The next incident is that of her first experiences of menstruation, and “the housewife told her it was monthly blood; that all females suffered it and she believed it until the next month and the next and the next when it did not return” (108). This clue above tells us about her readiness to give birth to an illegitimate child. She has been sexually abused is suffering the common destiny that almost slaved women suffer. There are other hints as well that Sorrow is also sexually abused at Jacob’s farm. For example, she is given the privilege to sleep in the house but Lina is unconcerned about the physical comfort given to her in spite of the fact that she is a slave. There is an increasing tension between between Rebeka, and Sorrow, regarding the truth of the father of Sorrow’s child. Rebekka suspects that Jacob is the father of Sorrow’s child. Jacob’s permission to let Sorrow sleep inside the house indicates the truth of incidence that Sorrow has suffered physical abuse at the hands of Jacob as well. We cannot disregard the fact that she has been abused by other men because there has been a vivid indication of the truth that Jacob has abused Sorrow. Her poor fate as a slave girl begins with her sexual abuse and results in her pregnancy. The name ‘Sorrow’ also exemplifies the grief-stricken and suffering journey of her life.
Reebika Vaark is Jacob’s wife who was born in England. Before her marriage, while she had joined a training to become a domestic servant she was sexually harassed by her master. Even she becomes the victim of male dominated society. After she gets married with Jacob Vaark, she has to look after the household work and Jacob often goes out for the business purposes. Her roles remain limited to household chores.
Rebekka is ready to marry Jacob Vaark for whom she has never seen in her life. She does so for the prospects of settlement as per her father’s choice. It seems as she was now no more needed by her parents and want to settle her marriage to have her own life. Even though she is a white women and the mistress, she lacks the prospects of happiness in latter days of her life. She could not be a perfect mother because her three sons and the only daughter could not survive and instead Jacob is in the hope of having a son. She even loss her husband by small pox. She loses her mental strength and becomes weaker after the death of her husband. She proves to be a feeble woman who is unable to exhibit her presence emotional strength in any such examples of love and attachment. Like other black women, she is unable to redefine her personal feelings and emotions with a new perspective on life. She is in a miserable and pitiful condition. Rebekka fails and disintegrates in the end after the demise of her husband. She is controlled by the governing power of patriarchy. Jacob Vaark deals with all the business matters and often visits various places for the same purposes but Reebeka is entitled to work within the pillar of the designed system. Even though she is the mistress of the Vaark household she is not the head of the family. She has the second role as a wife as determined by the patriarchy culture. She is able to set up inside the boundaries created by patriarchy society. She becomes a victim of spiritual suffering.