Female Perspective in Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy”

Rebekka is raised under the vigilant eyes of a fanatical mother, whom she hates. Her mother poisons her notion of religion by teaching her that it is ‘a flame fuelled by wondrous hatred’. At the end, it is Rebekka’s resurgent obsession with religion which brings her self- destruction. Having grown up in a family who took their children to watch executions and taught them the fear of God in a terrifying way, it is not surprising that at the end Rebekka impoverishes her life and her homosocial bonds with her distorted way of being religious.

The one where she might have children and therefore be guaranteed some affection. As with any future available to her, it depended on the character of the man in charge. Hence marriage to an unknown husband in a far-off land had distinct advantages: separation from a mother who had barely escaped the ducking pond; from male siblings who worked days and nights with her father and learned from him their dismissive attitude toward the sister who had helped rear them; but especially escape from the leers and rude hands of any man, drunken or sober, she might walk by.

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Rebekka has no opportunity to choose whom she is going to marry since her father is the one who decides for her. She has no choice other than to obey her father and accept an undefined future. Despite such uncertainty and dependency, the marriage is depicted as successful. She becomes an ideal wife for Jacob, since according to him “there was not a shrewish bone in her body.

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She never raised her voice in anger. Saw to his needs, made the tenderest dumplings, took to chores in a land completely strange to her with enthusiasm and invention, cheerful as a bluebird”.

Here, evaluating her on the basis of how much work on the farm she can do without complaint or how she cooks and serves her husband, the narrative shows Jacob’s materialistic, patriarchal view of women. Both men in Rebekka’s life, her father and her husband, carry a materialistic view of her. Her father seeks to get rid of her, as he regards her as rebellious and exchanges her for a gift of food and clothes. On the other hand, Jacob evaluates her on the basis of her physical abilities and it seems that her mind and personal feelings are not of importance at all.

Even bearing in mind current gender expectations, Morrison makes clear that Rebekka does not enjoy an equal male-female relationship in her heterosexual union, although she is devoted to Jacob. Inequality is explored even more starkly in Native servant Lina’s damaging experiences with men, so the female characters are moulded together throughout of this they share their feeling and maintain a good relationship with them. The first encounter is between Rebekka and Lina. As soon as Rebekka comes to Jacob’s farm, where Lina is already established, an instant hostility between them begins: “The health and beauty of a young female already in charge annoyed the new wife; while the assumption of authority from the awkward Europe girl infuriated Lina”. However, Morrison unfolds how quickly they grow and are united: They became friends. Not only because somebody had to pull the wasp sting from the other’s arm. Not only because it took two to push the cow away from the fence. Not only because one had to hold the head while the other one tied the trotters. Mostly because neither knew precisely what they were doing or how. Together, by trial and error they learned.

Through listing the domestic chores which demand two people, the narrator builds up a sense of the everyday struggle Lina and Rebekka have gone through and what unites them. It is learning how to deal with jobs they had no idea about before which brings them together and makes them grow together. The word ‘learned’, which the writer places at the end of the quotation, stands for the growth and development in their personalities which they achieved by being united. The female bond is the one which helps them grow and discover their abilities. The bonding between them also helps them to endure the isolation which living on a new world farm imposes on them. The initial suspicion between these two women is affected by the jealousy which patriarchy teaches women, causing them to view each other as rivals. Rebekka becomes irritated when she realizes that there is a young woman already living with her husband and regards her as a threat. On the other hand, Lina envies the newcomer who suddenly is going to be her mistress and the lady of the house. Eventually, Morrison demonstrates how female homosociality and a common purpose overcome this enmity and bring the two together. Lina helps and supports Rebekka in different moments of crisis. Lina is always there for Rebekka, for example when she is in labour. Lina acts as an efficient midwife at the birth of her mistress’s children. She helps her to overcome the misery of losing her daughter, as the narrator comments: “More and more it was in Lina’s company that she let the misery seep out”. This suggests that Rebekka turns to Lina, not Jacob, for emotional support. In addition, Lina puts her own life in danger in order to save Rebekka and her daughter’s life when a sudden blizzard strikes and Jacob is away. She saves them all from starvation: “it was Lina who dressed herself in hides, carried a basket and an axe, braved the thigh-high drifts, the mind-numbing wind to get to the river. There she pulled from below the ice enough broken salmoon to bring back and feed them. She filled her basket with all she could snare; tied the basket handle to her braid to keep her hands from freezing”. Lina is depicted as committed and courageous by the writer, and the scene quoted above shows that her bond is more than that of a servant to her mistress.

Although Lina has a stronger character than Rebekka, an inequality sometimes remains in their relationship. It is suggested that Lina’s sacrifice is one-way and she does not ask for anything in return from Rebekka. They share company and affection but differences of race and class will be seen to return later on. When Rebekka becomes ill, it is Lina who stays with her and nurses her: Lina placed magic pebbles under Mistress’s pillow; kept the room fresh with mint and forced angelica root in her patient’s festering mouth to pull bad spirits from her body. She prepared the most powerful remedy she knew: mugwort, Saint John’s-wort, maidenhair and periwinkle; boiled it, strained it and spooned between Mistress’ teeth.

Although she was cared for and supported by Lina, her female friend, as a typical woman of the era — a slave to patriarchal values — ultimately she thinks that she is powerless without Jacob. She turns to God as an alternative source of strength, and she never comes to know what she has really lost in this futile attempt. On the other hand, as a widow, Rebekka feels compelled to align herself with a local community and practice what is sacred to them in order to keep her position and Jacob’s property after his death. The patriarchal values of a supremacist society force Rebekka to break from female homosociality and conform to a dictated role in order to maintain security as a woman in such an environment. Scully, who sometimes works on the farm, observes that such were the ravages of Vaark’s death. And the consequences of women in thrall to men or pointedly without them. Or so he concluded. He had no proof of what was in their minds, but based on his own experiences he was certain betrayal was the poison of the day. They once thought they were a kind of family because togethere they had carved companionship out of isolation. But the family they imagined they had become was false.

Jacob is the one who brings all these women together and although he is away most of the time, it seems he and his farm is the reasons why the women around him are united. Although Rebekka and Lina have a more sisterly friendship for most of their lives, their relationship retreats back to a mistress-servant hierarchy after Jacob’s death. Both Rebekka’s strict religious beliefs and the absence of the man they all served account for this radical change in Rebekka’s attitude. Yet while Rebekka changes, Lina still behaves as she has always done. In male perspective, women are used for sexual desire and also used for payless servant. In A Mercy, Jacob uses his wife Rebekka for three careers: “servant, prostitute, and wife”. She only acts like a doll that is control by husband. Not only Rebekka, all of the women characters in A Mercy serve to their master for example, Jacob’s ritual of bathing every May, all the women would gather to pour the hot water and prepare the bath for the master. But women receive less care from men than from their female companions, they still regard men as more powerful creatures, who can bring them safety and can secure their place in society. Females are also having a comfortable feeling when they are with female character and they share their feelings and emotion to them. But in male perspective, they don’t consider their feeling and also they use them for their external desire and happiness.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Female Perspective in Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy”. (2024, Feb 10). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/female-perspective-in-toni-morrison-s-a-mercy-essay

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