A Mercy

A Mercy Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chapter 10 is told in limited third-person narrative from Willard and Scully’s perspectives. The chapter begins with Willard and Scully seeing a shadow near the big, new house Jacob was building before he died. Willard and Scully watch the house over the course of several days and suspect that this is Jacob’s spirit haunting the house.
Willard and Scully’s belief that they see a ghost in the window adds to the book’s already clear interest in occult and spiritual forces and how they intersect with religion. The house, meanwhile, continues to be a center around which the characters gravitate.
Themes
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
According to the narrator, the residents of the Vaark farm are the closest thing either Willard or Scully has to family. Unlike Willard and Scully’s frequently absent owner, Jacob never yells at them. He even gave them rum for Christmas. Willard and Scully were so sad about Jacob’s death that they disobeyed their master’s orders to avoid the house and volunteered to dig his grave. They buried Jacob and now, thirteen days later, they suspect his spirit is haunting the house nearby. The men see Jacob’s spirit glowing in the second story of the house at night.
Although Jacob exploits Willard and Scully’s labor, just as he does with the slaves he owns, Jacob’s kindnesses toward Willard and Scully still make them develop affection for him. As she does throughout the book, Morrison shows the heartbreaking, exploitative, and complex relationships between bonded people and the people they serve.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Willard and Scully help Rebekka repair the farm that ran wild during her illness. Rebekka pays them for their work, marking the first time they have earned wages. To Will and Scully, the women (including Florens, who has returned home) on the farm now seem distracted. Willard thinks Lina seems like she is about to boil over. Scully, who has been ogling Lina for many years while she bathes, also senses this change in Lina.
As Rebekka works to repair the farm and begins paying Willard and Scully for their work, Morrison exhibits the difference in social mobility between white indentured servants and black or native slaves. While Lina and Florens have effectively no possibility of upward mobility, Willard and Scully begin to see their situation change.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Rebekka too has changed. Her hair has gone gray and she tires more easily than before. She only cooks and mends, never doing yard work. Rebekka also frequently reads the Bible. Willard predicts that Rebekka will remarry soon. When Scully asks why, Willard tells him that she needs to do so to keep the farm, and that he predicts she will marry someone from the village.
Morrison reiterates Rebekka’s religious conversion. Moreover, Willard emphasizes what Rebekka has already noted herself: that widows in 17th-century America effectively have no legal status without a husband. In order to keep the farm, Rebekka must remarry.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
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Only Sorrow’s change seems to be for the better. With her baby, she is more focused on and capable of doing chores. Her devotion to her child, though, comes first. Willard and Scully, who helped her deliver the baby, act like godfathers and offer to take care of the baby when Sorrow is busy. Sorrow declines though, wanting to care for it herself.
Motherhood, meanwhile, has done wonders to improve Sorrow’s mental wellbeing. With her child, Sorrow can focus more on household tasks. Sorrow exemplifies how motherhood can allow for personal transformation and growth.
Themes
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Florens’s change seems strangest of all to the men. She has become moody since returning from the Blacksmith’s farm, and when they first saw her, Florens seemed hardly like a “living person” to them. Florens walked right past them without saying anything, and they leapt out of her way.
That Florens hardly seems like a “living person” to Willard and Scully fits neatly into the fact that, as is later revealed, Florens is actually the “ghost” that Willard and Scully see in the window of Jacob’s house.
Themes
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Willard and Scully had just returned that morning from a narrow escape with a bear while hunting partridge. They were smoking when Willard heard a crackle and saw a bear coming towards them. The men ran away and separated. Scully climbed a tree. The bear, however, could climb trees, and stood up against it, trying to catch Scully’s foot. Scully pulled out his knife and thrust it at the bear, hitting her in the eye. The bear tumbled to the ground. After a while of rolling around on the ground, the bear walked away to find her cubs. Scully and Willard emerged from their hiding places. Then they raced out of the forest to the road, where Florens march angrily past them.
Like many of the descriptions throughout the book, this scene shows the hidden threat of nature under the seemingly peaceful and romantic pastoral scenes of rural America that characters describe. Significantly, the bear that attacks Willard and Scully is also a mother bear, and the scene that plays out is one that occurs in many permutations throughout the book—that of a mother attempting to protect her offspring.
Themes
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
The narrator explains Willard’s background, stating that Willard was sold for seven years to a planter in Virginia, anticipating that he would be freed at age twenty-one. However, a series of crimes added time to his sentence, and then he was sold to a farmer in the north. The farmer lent him for periods of time to Jacob in exchange for use of some of Jacob’s land. Prior to Scully’s arrival, Willard was often lonely. He thought of Virginia, where he was one of twenty-three men working in the tobacco fields. Now in the north, Willard disliked the cold weather and the wildlife at night. Scully’s arrival was a relief to Willard, and together they became friendly with the people working on the Vaark farm as well. A few runaway attempts added more time to Willard’s sentence.
As she gives the reader information about Willard’s background, Morrison fleshes out some of the details of what life might look like as an indentured servant— a form of bondage that modern readers may not be especially familiar with. Morrison shows some of the different challenges that bonded people faced when working in the Southern colonies versus the Northern ones, contrasting the more difficult working conditions of the South and the crueler slave owners with the isolation and difficult weather in the North.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Willard’s social life improved even more when Jacob decided to build his house. Willard helped as a laborer. The Blacksmith came to forge the fence, crafting a beautiful fence with decorations that first appeared to be vines. On further inspection, however, Willard saw that the vines were actually snakes.
The snakes on the top of the fence that the Blacksmith built allude to the story of Adam and Eve, and so associate the house with sin. This sin may be Jacob’s greed as well as the fact that he gained his wealth through a slave economy.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Willard liked the Blacksmith until he realized that the Blacksmith was a free man getting paid for his work. Seeing the Blacksmith compensated for his work and not being compensated himself made Willard furious, and he and Scully began refusing to do anything for him. Relations between the two men improved again when Willard slipped in dung and ripped his work shirt, causing him to change into his collared shirt. When he saw the Blacksmith, the Blacksmith gave him the thumbs up and said “Mr. Bond. Good morning.” The use of the title “mister,” far above his station, made Willard feel dignified. From then on, the Blacksmith always addressed Willard as “mister.” Although Willard is annoyed by the fact that the Blacksmith, an African, is free and Willard is not, he lets go of his resentment.
Although Willard likes the Blacksmith, he clearly harbors internalized racism, as he cannot stand the idea that the Blacksmith, who is a black man, is paid for his work while he, a white man, is not. This suggests that Willard feels his race makes him inherently superior to black men, even skilled laborers and free men like the Blacksmith. When, however, the Blacksmith addresses Willard as a superior, Willard’s vanity is flattered enough that he gets over his bitterness. Morrison shows here how a white person’s low social status can actually exacerbate feelings of racism—a fact exploited by the white upper classes in order to keep poor whites from joining with poor blacks to overthrow their wealthy masters.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Willard understands how the Blacksmith charmed Florens. He comments to Scully that he “never saw anything like it,” with Florens totally love struck and willing to meet the Blacksmith whenever and wherever he wants. Scully is even more shocked by this behavior. The narrator, taking up Scully’s perspective, goes on to describe how he feels about each of the women on the farm, starting with Lina.
Willard and Scully think about Florens’s infatuation with the Blacksmith in terms of her sexual availability to him, rather than in terms of her emotional state or wellbeing. In doing so, they ignore Florens’s desire for the Blacksmith, objectifying her in the process.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Despite Scully’s voyeuristic gaze upon Lina as she bathes, Scully admires her as a person, thinking that her loyalty to Rebekka and Florens is not submission but an affirmation of self-worth.
Although Scully seemingly only sleeps with men, his voyeurism of Lina reveals his lack of respect for women’s privacy and agency over their bodies.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Although Scully joins Willard in mocking Sorrow, he also admires her. He thinks the look in her eyes is not blank but patient. Scully is the only one who doesn’t think Sorrow is crazy because she talks to herself. Scully thinks of Sorrow as private, and admires how her pregnancy makes her glow.
Scully harbors incredibly problematic views of women, but he is also one of the few characters who sees and respects Sorrow’s personhood apart from her race, mental illness, and difficulty completing work.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Scully moves on to Florens, determining that “if he had been interested in rape,” he would have preyed on Florens. Scully describes Florens’s defenselessness, eagerness to please, and tendency toward self-blame. However, Scully notices that since Florens returned from the Blacksmith’s cabin, none of these things are still true. After seeing her brush past them on the road, Scully thinks of Florens as “untouchable.” Despite his disturbing evaluation of Florens’s susceptibility to rape, the narrator assures that, beyond his habit of watching Lina bathe, Scully is uninterested in sex with women. Scully sees Florens’s change from sexually susceptible to guarded as predictable.
Again, while Scully does not sleep with women, his misogyny is chilling as he evaluates how easy it would be to rape Florens. Morrison’s use of Scully as the mouthpiece for this disturbing analysis shows how rape is not necessarily rooted in any inherent heterosexual male compulsion, or even really in actual sexual relations between men and women, but rather in the culture of patriarchal power and how men see and relate to women as objects.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Scully then moves on to Rebekka. The narrator states that Scully did not dislike her, but finds her suddenly pious behavior after Jacob’s death cold and cruel. Scully views Rebekka’s refusal to enter the new house as a punishment to everyone who worked on it, including Jacob. He thinks of her behavior as a way of expressing her anger at Jacob for leaving her behind.
Scully offers a critical view of Rebekka’s religious conversion, highlighting how Rebekka has become cold and unsympathetic as a result. The house, which was once so beloved, has become a relic of life before Jacob’s death and a monument to Rebekka’s grief.
Themes
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
The narrator then delves into Scully’s early life, noting how as a child Scully was leased to the clergy by his father. By the time he was twelve, Scully had been “loved and betrayed” by an Anglican minister. Scully did not blame the man for blaming their sexual relationship on him. The clergy elders gave Scully to a landowner (the landowner Scully is still with), hoping that in a rural area Scully’s interest in men would end.
Though Scully is not a woman, he, like many of the women in the book, has experienced troubling sexual relationships with men. Scully’s abuse by a minister highlights again the hypocrisy of Christian religion as it is presented by many Europeans and Americans. Like Sorrow’s deacon, Scully’s minister shows the seedy underbelly of Christian clergy members.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Upon arriving at the farm, Scully intended to run away, but he was prevented from doing so by a snowstorm. Scully and Willard tried to rescue the animals so they did not die of the cold. They snuggled together to keep warm and developed a romantic attachment to each other. Scully decided to stay at the farm until he was freed and given money to buy a horse.
In Willard and Scully’s relationship, Morrison offers the reader a sense of romantic possibility outside of the confines of heterosexuality and its unequal power dynamics, which have proven to be devastating for the other characters in the book.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Scully had begun to lose hope that he would ever gain his freedom. But then Jacob died and Rebekka began paying him and Willard. Scully has quickly accumulated money. Scully tries to keep Rebekka happy so she will continue her payments. Meanwhile, Willard’s guess that Rebekka will soon remarry disturbs him, because he worries that a new husband would change the arrangement he has with Rebekka.
Scully and Willard’s wages mark a difference in the possibility of their upward mobility. Rebekka’s remarriage also comes up again, and Scully’s worry shows how remarriage would strip Rebekka of the fragile agency she gained since Jacob’s death.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
In order to keep Rebekka happy and keep his payments coming, Scully does not say anything about her increasingly nasty behavior towards her other servants. When Rebekka beats Sorrow, takes down Lina’s hammock, and decides to sell Florens, Scully is quiet. However, he tries to do nice things for the women. Scully builds a box for Sorrow’s baby to sleep in and tears down the advertisement for Florens’s sale. He thinks that the consequences of Jacob’s death are sad.
Scully’s silence at Rebekka’s increasing cruelty shows how indentured servants might be divided or pitted against black or native slaves through the threat of losing their minute advantages. The threat of losing his salary outweighs Scully’s solidarity with his fellow servants, and so keeps him from standing up for his friends.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Scully thinks that they used to be the kind of family that “carved companionship out of isolation,” but that that sense of family turned out to be false. Without shared bloodlines, Scully sees nothing to unite them. Still, Scully imagines that, with his new wages, he and Willard may be able to make a future for themselves.
Scully’s sense that the Vaark household was an artificial family that turned out to be false speaks to the impossibility of loving and trusting relationships between slaves and slave owners, who give into greed and racism and can never truly overcome the unequal and corrupt power dynamic of the relationship.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon