Posted in Short Stories

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

I will keep one sadness. That all this time I cannot know what my mother is telling me. Nor can she know what I am wanting to tell her. Mae, you can have pleasure now because the soles of my feet are hard as cypress.


There are great writers and great story-tellers and when one person can do both it’s a thing of beauty and Toni Morrison’s novel A Mercy epitomizes that beauty. It’s as beautiful as the novel’s cover.

Of course, beauty doesn’t eliminate sadness and tragedy and there is plenty of that in this novel. Florens, a slave girl in 1690 Maryland is given away by her mother to pay her master’s debt. Florens, old enough to know what’s going on at the time, never forgets what her mother has done.

The plot in the present time simply consists of an older Florens traveling to see the free blacksmith with whom she is head over heels in love so that he can get the right kind of medicine for her current Mistress who appears to be on her deathbed.

But Morrison miraculously gives the reader so much depth and understanding by having the many characters involved all tell the story. While Florens gets more sections from her point of view than the others, many of the  characters who might be considered minor are brought to major light through the sections that are from their viewpoint. Not many writers could pull this off.

While reading the novel, the title hung over my head as a major question. And then, when I thought everyone had had their say, a surprising voice appears:

It was not a miracle. Bestowed by God. It was a mercy. Offered by a human. I stayed on my knees. In the dust where my heart will remain each night and every day until you understand what I know and long to tell you: to be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.

Oh Florens. My love. Hear a tua mae.



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