A Mercy

A Mercy Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chapter 7 resumes Florens’s first person narrative. Florens describes how she finally fell asleep in the forest, waking up whenever something in the woods made noises. Florens dreams of walking cherry trees ripe with fruit. In her dream, one tree bends down towards her and she wakes up screaming. When she wakes, the trees are fruitless and exactly where they were when she fell asleep. Florens sleeps again.
Florens’s fears in the American wilderness transform into nightmares of walking cherry trees. Again, the American pastoral— this time represented by the fruit-bearing orchard trees— becomes monstrous and menacing rather than innocent and enchanting.
Themes
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Florens wakes up to sunlight. Florens heads northwest until she reaches a patch of thick brush. She pushes through, reaching an open meadow. Florens then reaches apple trees. Florens suddenly stops, hearing the sound of hooves. Several young native boys ride up to her. The men circle and smile at Florens, who is afraid, and speak in a language she does not understand. Florens drops to her knees out of fright. One of the riders dismounts his horse and offers Florens a drink from his canteen and a strip of leather to chew on. The boy then runs and jumps onto his horse, and the three riders disappear.
Florens’s walk through the meadow and apple trees and her encounter with the native boys seemingly restores the idyllic pastoral image that has been lost during the rest of Florens’s travels. Florens’s initial reaction to the native boys is fear, perhaps reflecting the pervasive stereotype that natives are “savages.” On the contrary, however, they give Florens a helping hand.
Themes
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Florens aims north once again, following the hoof prints of the boys on horses. Florens thinks of a time when she was having sex with the Blacksmith and he put a hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. Lina knew what was going on between them, and she told Florens one night while they were going to bed to be on her guard. Florens, though, was too tired to answer. She thought instead of the Blacksmith.
Florens’s thoughts return to her intimacy with and lust for the Blacksmith. When Lina warns Florens that she should be careful not to get hurt by the Blacksmith, she displays a motherly impulse to protect Florens. Florens, however, who is still quite naïve in matters of love, ignores Lina.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
As Florens was falling asleep, Lina told her about her bad experience with her lover, with whom she met in secret. Florens’s sleepiness disappeared and she sat up to listen to Lina’s story. Lina talked about how the man did not drink rum the second or third time they met, but he hit her with his hand. Then one day he punched her, and another day whipped her. The abuse progressed. Lina described walk through town wiping blood from her nose, with the townspeople believing she was drunk because the pain made her stumble.
In order to get Florens to listen to Lina’s request that she be careful with the Blacksmith, Lina tells Florens her own story of abuse. Strikingly, Lina’s story not only features horrific abuse by her partner, but also a community that, despite its piety, makes no attempt to help Lina get out of her abusive situation.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
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The Presbyterians stared at Lina when she appeared covered in blood. Ultimately they decided to sell her. They forced Lina to sleep outside and eat from a bowl “like a dog” because they did not want her in the house. Jacob purchased Lina, but first she put two rooster heads in her lover’s shoes to curse him.
Rather than trying to help Lina, who has been living among them and adopting their culture, the Presbyterians cast Lina out. This exemplifies how abused women may be ostracized by their supposedly “righteous” communities.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Lina focused her attention back on Florens to tell her that she must be wary of men. She asked Florens if the Blacksmith planned to take Florens with him. Florens had not thought of this question, knowing that the Blacksmith cannot marry her because she is a slave. But Florens is determined to go where he goes, and knows that since Rebekka sent her to find him, her trip is lawful.
Once again, Lina is sharing her own story of abuse to try to warn Florens of the potential dangerous of men and sex. Morrison shows how female relationships and community can allow women to share knowledge and try to protect one another in an oppressive patriarchal society.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Florens walks through the forest, thirsty and tired. She arrives in a part of the woods where cows are grazing, thinking there must be a village nearby. Florens sees a path in the woods and follows it. She sees two cottages, but there are no signs of life inside. There is a church off in the distance so Florens assumes the villagers are at prayer. Needing shelter for the night, Florens decides to knock on one of the doors. Florens spies a light in a house, and she knocks on that door.
Morrison offers the reader another image of pastoral rural America in this village. Morrison also suggests how religion structures daily life in many communities— the entire village, except for one household, seems to be at prayer.
Themes
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
A woman with red hair answers the door. She is suspicious of Florens and asks who sent her there. Florens tells the woman she is alone and she is only looking for shelter. The woman asks Florens more questions about whether anyone is with her, if Florens is a spirit from another world, and whether Florens is a Christian or a heathen. Florens tells the woman she is an orphan, and finally the woman lets her in.
Widow Ealing’s initial questions reiterate that Florens has stumbled into a deeply religious (and isolated) community. Although Florens is technically not an orphan, she identifies herself as one. Orphanage, although a kind of alienation, also allows Florens to gain Widow Ealing’s sympathy.
Themes
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
The woman tells Florens her name is Widow Ealing. She excuses herself for her hesitancy in helping Florens, telling her there is evil about. She gives Florens porridge and bread to eat, which Florens devours with a thank-you. Florens notices that there is a girl lying on one of the beds in the room. The girl’s black eyes are looking in different directions. Florens finishes her food and the Widow asks why she is traveling alone. Florens explains that she is on an errand to save her sick mistress.
Widow Ealing’s widowhood is significant because, as Rebekka notes in her chapter, widowhood is an extremely vulnerable position for women in 17th-century America. Without a husband or father, widows are untethered to men, and because women are unable to own property or otherwise live independently, widowhood is a state outside of social rules and expectations.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
The girl lying in the bed sits up and says something about death. Florens notices that the girl appears to be around her age. The Widow does not respond. The girl then stands and limps to the table, showing Florens the bleeding cuts on her legs. The Widow explains that the girl is her daughter, Jane, and that the cuts on her legs are to “save her life.”
Clearly, something strange is going on, although it is not yet clear exactly what. In Daughter Jane and Widow Ealing, Morrison gives the reader another example of the mother-daughter relationship— this time, one that is threatened by religious persecution.
Themes
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Widow Ealing closes the shutters and blows out the lamp for bed before saying her prayers. Daughter Jane goes back to her bed. Florens lies near the fireplace in the dark and sleeps, occasionally awakened by the Widow and Jane’s intermittent speech. She overhears Daughter Jane ask Widow Ealing how she can prove she is not a demon, and then hears the Widow respond that “they” will decide. They continue to talk about demons, God, the devil, and how Daughter Jane will be judged.
As it becomes clear that Daughter Jane is being threatened because the townspeople believe she is a demon, Morrison evokes the story of the Salem Witch Trials. The Salem Witch Trials were a much written about series of witch trials in 17th-century Massachusetts, and are widely considered to be an example of the dangers of group-think and fanaticism.
Themes
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Widow Ealing tells Jane that God will not abandon her, and that she will be safe because, unlike her, demons do not bleed. Florens thinks that that is a good thing to know, and that her own mother should be teaching her these things. Florens falls asleep again, then wakes up to animal sounds outside. The Widow begins her morning routine, and Florens goes to the commode. When she returns she sees Widow Ealing opening up the wounds on Jane’s legs again.
Jane’s persecution is an example of how intensely and uncritically religious communities can be dangerous, even for people, like Widow Ealing and Daughter Jane, who seem to be a part of the community that is persecuting them. As women living alone, the Widow and her daughter are especially vulnerable.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
The Widow, Jane, and Florens have breakfast, praying beforehand. After the prayer, Florens moves to cross herself like she learned in Catholic Maryland, and Jane stops her with a shake of her head. They eat except for Jane, who eats nothing. Florens washes the dishes. Suddenly, Florens hears footsteps on the path, and visitors approach the cottage.
Clearly, since Jane stops Florens from crossing herself (a symbolic act associated with Catholicism), Florens has found herself among a Protestant community of some kind. Although Widow Ealing and Daughter Jane are being persecuted, they continue to follow their strict customs.
Themes
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
The Widow invites the visitors inside. She shows the visitors Jane’s wounds, insisting that Jane cannot be a demon because demons do not bleed. The visitors then turn to look at Florens. The Widow explains that Florens is a guest. One of the women says she has never seen a black person, and the rest of the visitors say she is “the Black Man.” There is a child with the visitors, and when she sees Florens she cries inconsolably. Her mother takes her outside.
“The Black Man” is a name for the devil and a reference to the fact that many 17th-century Christians believed that the devil had black skin. This is another example of how Christianity in the 17th century was deeply entwined with racist ideas. The townspeople, who have never seen a black person, thus seem to think Florens is the devil.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Florens feels she is in danger. She decides to show them the letter that Rebekka gave her to explain her errand, and so she removes it from her stocking and holds it out to them. None of the visitors will touch it, so the Widow breaks the seal on the letter and unfurls it. Only one of the people in the room, a man, seems to know how to read. He reads it aloud. Rebekka justifies Florens traveling alone in the letter and confirms the necessity of her errand.
When Florens shows her letter to the visitors, she attempts to justify her presence and account for her existence. This shows how, as a woman and a black person, Florens’s presence without her owners is constantly subject to interrogation and her movement is severely restricted.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
The visitors discuss the letter. They then tell Florens to take off her clothes. They examine her without touching her. Finally they tell Florens to dress and they leave the room. As Florens puts her clothes back on, she hears quarreling. The visitors discuss whether Satan could have written the letter. When Florens reenters the room, the child who is with the visitors screams, and the visitors leave.
The townspeople’s examination of Florens is cold, invasive, and disturbingly dehumanizing. It also it an example of how black bodies and the bodies of slaves were constantly subjected to scrutiny— a consistent practice throughout the history of slavery and racism.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The visitors depart with the promise that they will consider the letter and return when they’ve decided if it came from Satan. The Widow kneels to pray, and then she leaves to go find the sheriff. Jane cleans her leg wounds and waits with Florens. As the sun begins to go down, Jane boils duck eggs and wraps them in a blanket. The she motions to Florens to follow her.
Again, Morrison depicts the shocking ignorance and irrationality of this religious community. Despite the fact that black slaves are fueling the North American economy, the townspeople have never seen one, and are quicker to believe Florens is the devil.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
The two girls run through the pasture and into the forest. They arrive at a stream, and Jane hands Florens the eggs, telling her to leave and showing her the right way to the village where Florens needs to go to find the Blacksmith. Florens thanks her, and Jane kisses Florens’s forehead. As Florens walks away, she turns back and asks Jane if Jane is a demon. Jane smiles and says yes, then tells Florens to get on her way.
Jane and Widow Ealing’s kindness contrasts sharply with the townspeople’s mistrust and aggression. As result, when Jane says that she is, in fact, a demon, she gives the reader cause to question the entire moral structure of Christianity and the colonies. Jane’s “demonism” is more in line with modern morality than 17th-century norms.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Now alone, Florens feels drained and worries about the fact that she left the letter with the visitors. Now Florens has no documents stating her status and affirming the legality of her presence. Florens thinks of her mother again. Then she thinks of the Blacksmith, anticipating the comfort and safety she will feel again when she is with him.
For a black woman like Florens, being undocumented is dangerous. Also, in Florens’s recurring thoughts of her mother, especially in contrast to the Widow’s commitment to Jane, Morrison shows how her perceived abandonment continues to traumatize Florens.
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon