A Mercy

A Mercy Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chapter 8 follows Sorrow’s limited third-person narrative. The narrator begins the chapter by stating that Sorrow does not mind when the other characters call her Sorrow because “Twin” continues to use her real name. Over the course of Sorrow’s narrative, it becomes clear that Twin is a delusion that Sorrow has invented. Sometimes Twin gets her attention with that name while Sorrow is doing her chores, distracting her from what she is doing.
As the narrative changes to Sorrow’s perspective, it immediately becomes clear that Sorrow suffers from some kind of mental illness when she begins describing her relationship to Twin. This, like Rebekka’s illness, renders the narration in Sorrow’s chapter especially unreliable.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
According to Sorrow, she met Twin under one of the hammocks of the ship she was on after everyone else who was on it had drowned. Sorrow survived because, when the ship was looted, she was high on opium and being treated for boils in the ship’s surgery. The next thing Sorrow knew when she came down from the medicine was that everyone else was gone.
Sorrow suffered an enormous trauma when her ship, which was Sorrow’s home during her entire childhood, sank and then was looted. Twin, who appears to Sorrow after the shipwreck, seems to be linked to Sorrow’s inability to process the trauma.
Themes
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Sorrow grew up on that ship and had never lived on land before. Alone on the looted ship, and the only survivors, Sorrow and Twin left the shipwrecked boat and walked on the shore. They ate dead fish and ignored the sight of the dead bodies in the water. A tide swept Sorrow out to sea. The next thing she knew she awoke naked under a blanket next to a woman with white hair looking over her. The woman told her she was not dead. Sorrow saw Twin at the foot of the pallet she was lying on. Comforted, Sorrow fell asleep again. When she woke up again, the lumberjack’s wife gave Sorrow men’s clothes to wear.
Again Morrison emphasizes the traumatic nature of Sorrow’s past, dwelling on the dead bodies around her. All the main female characters of color in the book experience trauma (Lina’s village is destroyed and she is abused, Florens’s mother is raped, Florens is seemingly abandoned by her mother). This suggests that women of color are especially vulnerable to trauma in the social and legal system of colonial America.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Sorrow put on the clothes and ate breakfast. When Sorrow’s saviors asked her name, Twin told Sorrow not to tell them, so she said nothing. The lumberjack and his family asked Sorrow questions about her past, and she gave them very little information, only saying that she was on a ship, and that she got to shore thanks to a whale. The lumberjack’s wife named her Sorrow since she would not reveal her real name.
As Rebekka suggests elsewhere, the fact that Sorrow grew up on a ship around very few, if any, women, possibly accounts for Sorrow’s problematic relationships with men and her inability to form meaningful relationships with other women.
Themes
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Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
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The lumberjack’s wife tried to get Sorrow to care for the geese. Because of Sorrow’s sea legs, she stumbled and tripped throughout her first day. Sorrow failed at managing the flock, and so the housewife gave her simpler cleaning tasks. Sorrow failed at them too, and the housewife scolded her. Sorrow enjoyed taking short walks with Twin in between her tasks, and the narrator notes that Sorrow occasionally had “secret company other than Twin.”
The fact that Sorrow was not raised by women, and so not socialized to be traditionally feminine, becomes evident as Sorrow cannot complete basic cleaning and farm work. Though her inability to complete these tasks may also be due to her mental instability, Sorrow shows how gender in 17th-century America is socialized and codified.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
When Sorrow bled, the housewife told her it was her period. However, she did not bleed again in the subsequent months, and it became clear that Sorrow was pregnant. The lumberjack finally decided to get rid of Sorrow. Jacob came to examine Sorrow, asking questions about her age and health. The lumberjack told Jacob he could rename her, and that although she was “a bit mongrelized,” Sorrow would work without complaint.
Sorrow’s lack of a mother figure during her childhood means that she is completely out of touch with her female body and does not know the signs of pregnancy. This section is also where Morrison hints at the fact that Sorrow is mixed race, when the lumberjack calls her “mongrelized.”
Themes
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Jacob took Sorrow away to his farm on horseback. During the ride, Sorrow vomited. Twin was happy when they saw the farm. Sorrow evaluated Rebekka and Lina when she met them, contrasting their skin colors and observing that they both had straight noses. Lina washed Sorrow’s hair for fear of lice before letting her in the house. Jacob told Rebekka that Sorrow would sleep in the house, and when Rebekka asked why, Jacob said that the lumberjack told him that Sorrow wandered. That night, Sorrow slept by the fireplace, comforted by Twin’s presence.
When Jacob tells Rebekka that Sorrow would sleep in the house, and Rebekka asks why, there seems to be an underlying implication from Rebekka and Lina that Jacob wishes to sleep with Sorrow. Other characters repeat this suspicion; however, Sorrow’s narrative reveals nothing that supports it. Still, what appears to be Jacob’s sexual interest in Sorrow alienates her from them.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
The next morning, Sorrow threw up her breakfast. Rebekka told her to work in the vegetable garden. As she picked turnips, Sorrow saw Patrician at the garden’s edge and waved at her. Patrician waved back. Lina appeared and shooed Patrician away. In the morning, Lina checked around Sorrow’s bed to make sure she didn’t steal food.
Lina clearly finds Sorrow immediately untrustworthy, as evidenced by the fact that she will not let Sorrow near Patrician. Lina’s harsh prejudgments prevent Sorrow from finally attaining the female community previously unavailable to her.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Lina does not often speak to Sorrow, but she was the one who told Sorrow she was pregnant. Sorrow recalls her utter shock. When she asked Lina’s advice, Lina walked away. Rebekka, on the other hand, did not seem to notice that Sorrow was pregnant. Although Sorrow’s baby died when it was born premature (according to Lina, that is), Rebekka’s baby survived until he was six months old. When he died, the family buried him next to Rebekka’s other child who died.
Again, Sorrow clearly has not had women in her life to instruct her about the symptoms of pregnancy. Lina fills this role (which perhaps a mother might otherwise do), but walks away when Sorrow looks to her for further advice, clearly indicating that she will not play any kind of maternal role for Sorrow.
Themes
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Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
When Sorrow’s baby was born, she thought she saw it yawn. Lina, though, told her it was dead, and wrapped it in cloth before putting it in the river to be carried away. Sorrow cried at the (debatable) stillbirth, but Twin told her not to cry since she was there with her. Sorrow relied on Twin increasingly, talking and walking with her.
It’s unclear whether Sorrow’s baby was actually alive when Lina cast it away, or whether Sorrow is imagining it. Lina’s narrative, however, never indicates that she intentionally drowned it, suggesting that Sorrow’s belief that it was alive is incorrect.
Themes
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Sorrow began meeting with the local deacon in secret. He brought her cherries and walnuts and implored her to keep their meetings quiet. He brought her a neckerchief that she threw in the stream, knowing that if Lina saw it she would tell Rebekka. Rebekka lost another another child, but Patrician stayed healthy until the horse kicked her in the head. Lina blamed Sorrow for the children’s deaths.
Sorrow’s “meetings” with the deacon are described in a way that heavily suggests that Sorrow and the deacon are having sex. This shows the hypocrisy of the deacon’s religious teachings, since premarital sex in 17th-century America would be condemned by most Protestant sects.
Themes
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Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Sorrow remembers that Florens arrived on the farm next, and Sorrow was happy to meet someone new. Twin, though, got jealous, and told her not to reach out and touch one of Florens’s braids. Lina led Florens away, and, according to Sorrow, “thereafter, the girl belonged to Lina.” Lina kept Sorrow away from them, encouraging Florens and Rebekka to mistrust her. Although Lina helped her birth her child, Sorrow continues to think that the baby was born alive, and that Lina drowned it in the river. She still pictures the baby breathing water.
Sorrow’s stillbirth and lost chance at motherhood obviously continues to cause her emotional distress, as evidenced by the fact that she keeps imagining her baby breathing under water. Sorrow’s obsession with the water may also stem from her traumatic experience after the shipwreck, when she nearly drowned. Sorrow’s difficulty in overcoming the loss of her baby shows the potential pain and heartbreak of motherhood.
Themes
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Several years later, the Blacksmith arrived at the farm. Sorrow remembers how Lina was afraid of him and tried to warn Rebekka about him, but Rebekka paid no attention because she was so happy that Jacob was home. Sorrow and Twin, meanwhile, did not know what to think of the Blacksmith. Then one day, as Sorrow was returning from the stream with water, she collapsed with a fever. The Blacksmith saw her fall, picked her up, and took her to a bed. Lina brought the Blacksmith vinegar, which he put on Sorrow’s skin. Then, while Rebekka, Jacob, Lina, and Florens watched, he heated a knife and lanced one of the boils, then fed Sorrow a drop of the blood from it.
While Lina, who is generally wary of men after her own experience of sexual violence, immediately mistrusts the Blacksmith, Sorrow withholds judgment. In Sorrow’s own experience, men have provided her with much more support than women, albeit while also trying to have sex with her. The Blacksmith’s technique for healing Sorrow’s illness is a mix of practical healing (putting vinegar on the boils, for example) and spiritual ritual (like feeding Sorrow one drop of her own blood).
Themes
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Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Sorrow lay outside in a hammock with the women fanning her. She hallucinated that she and Twin are on the ship she grew up on. She remembered her shock at feeling the ground under her feet for the first time. Sorrow thought of how the Captain had raised her like a future crewman rather than a daughter, only teaching her to patch and sew sails.
During Sorrow’s sickness, the reader gets a slightly better idea of her life on the ship. Morrison shows the reader how Sorrow was not raised in a traditionally feminine way, making her transition to “normal” (gendered) life difficult.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
The Blacksmith insisted that Rebekka and Lina feed Sorrow nothing during her sickness, only fanning her and soaking her boils in vinegar. Finally Sorrow’s fever broke. The boils disappeared and Sorrow’s strength gradually returned. Everyone was impressed by the Blacksmith’s healing powers. Lina, though, worried that the sickness would spread to them all and tried to keep Florens away from Sorrow.
The Blacksmith’s healing powers— which seem more like early medicine— serve as a counter to the various other types of more religiously based remedies, like Christian prayer and Lina’s native remedies. In general the Blacksmith, who is never named, is a figure shrouded in mystery and power.
Themes
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However, Sorrow thinks, Florens became sick anyway—with love for the Blacksmith. One day Sorrow was lying in a meadow listening to Twin tell her a story when she saw the Blacksmith and Florens together. Sorrow watched them have sex, thinking it was like “dancing,” until they finished and dressed. Sorrow watched the Blacksmith say goodbye to Florens with a kiss, which amazed her. Sorrow realized that no one had ever kissed her.
Sorrow’s amazement at Florens and the Blacksmith’s relationship heavily hints at the violent and unaffectionate nature of her own sexual experience. The tragic fact that Sorrow has never been kissed, despite having been pregnant twice, implies that Sorrow has never had an example of happy and loving sex.
Themes
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Related Quotes
When Rebekka gets sick and sends Florens to find the Blacksmith, the Blacksmith returns alone. He asks how long Rebekka has been ill and enters Rebekka’s bedroom, sitting beside her. Rebekka thanks him repeatedly. The Blacksmith leaves the room and Lina follows him. Sorrow, though, lingers by the door long enough to see Rebekka get down on her knees and pray. Sorrow thinks that Rebekka seems entirely alone in the world, even with her servants, except for God.
Sorrow witnesses the first signs of Rebekka’s religious conversion as she watches her pray on her hands and knees. Although the Blacksmith has come to heal her, Rebekka seems to think that the Blacksmith’s healing is the work of the Christian God. When Sorrow thinks Rebekka is alone in the world except for God, she highlights Rebekka’s sadness.
Themes
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Sorrow tiptoes away and out into the yard. She sits down in the grass, stroking her pregnant stomach. Through the kitchen window she overhears Lina asking the Blacksmith where Florens is and when she will return. The Blacksmith gives few answers, telling Lina that Florens will come back “when it suits her.” The Blacksmith then leaves the house, smiling as he passes by Sorrow, and walks over to the new house. He strokes the iron fence he made for Jacob. Then he stands before Jacob’s grave before going inside the enormous empty house and shutting the door behind him.
Lina’s motherly anxiety emerges as she interrogates the Blacksmith, who she does not trust, about the whereabouts of her surrogate daughter. The Blacksmith, meanwhile, continues to be a mysterious figure. When he goes into the house and strokes the iron fence, he seems to be contemplating something, but there is no hint whatsoever about what he is thinking, leaving the reader to speculate (and reminding us of the symbolic nature of the house and the fence in particular).
Themes
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Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Before sunrise the next morning the Blacksmith leaves again. Sorrow stands in the doorway, unable to sleep, and watches him ride away. Lina clearly is still upset about Florens, wondering whether the Blacksmith was telling the truth. Sorrow wonders if, despite his healing powers, Lina is right that they cannot trust him. She doubts it though, remembering how he saved her life and had known that Rebekka would live. Sorrow thinks Lina is just overprotective of Florens.
In this section, Morrison shows the dynamics at play that cause Sorrow to be continually unable to connect with Lina. While men repeatedly help Sorrow (even if it’s in exchange for sexual favors, like in the case of the deacon), Lina has continually denied Sorrow’s attempts to be close to her.
Themes
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Sorrow is so pregnant she cannot bend down or lift anything heavy, so she cannot do anything about the farm running wild. The livestock are uncontained and the laundry is molding because no one is hanging it. Rebekka is still ill, and Lina is so distracted by Florens’s absence that she does nothing to help.
With Jacob gone, the farm falls into a profound state of disrepair. Jacob’s pastoral dream culminates in chaos and ruin, far from the innocent rural life he and Rebekka imagined.
Themes
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One day, Sorrow’s water breaks. Rebekka is still sick, and Sorrow, who still thinks her first baby was born alive, does not trust Lina to help her. Sorrow walks to the riverbank where she hopes to find Will and Scully on their raft, thinking that they could help her. Sorrow begins labor alone before Will and Scully hear her. She stands in the river and they deliver the baby. Scully cuts the umbilical cord and hands the child to Sorrow. Scully and Will congratulate Sorrow and offer to take them back to the farmhouse. Sorrow says thank you and declines, wanting to rest. The two men wade back to their raft.
Although at the time childbirth was usually a life event during which women helped other women, Sorrow feels unable to seek aid from the women she lives with. Instead, Will and Scully, two men, help her. Sorrow gives birth in the river, adding to the many associations that Morrison makes between Sorrow and bodies of water. Unlike the last birth, when her child was stillborn or drowned, this child survives.
Themes
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Sorrow wraps the baby in a blanket and dozes on the riverbank. Just before sunset she wakes up and nurses the baby. Sorrow feels accomplished for doing “something important” herself, without being saved by a man. Twin is nowhere to be found.
Although Will and Scully help her deliver, Sorrow feels personally accomplished, as giving birth is the first time she does something significant on her own, without a man.
Themes
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Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
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Two days later at the farm, Lina hides her disgust with Sorrow and continues to worry about Florens. Rebekka says nothing about the baby. Sorrow says to Rebekka that it was good that the Blacksmith came to heal her, and Rebekka chastises her, saying only God can cure. Each of the women distances herself from the others, caught up in her own problems and thoughts.
Rebekka’s response to Sorrow’s comments about the Blacksmith reflects her sudden religious transformation. Following Rebekka’s sickness, the friendship between Lina and Rebekka, previously a source of support for both women, dissolves.
Themes
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Twin has completely disappeared from Sorrow’s consciousness. Sorrow stops wandering, and is now able to complete chores and care for her child. Sorrow sees the sea in her daughter’s gray eyes. She says to the baby that she is her mother, and tells her “my name is Complete.”
When Sorrow says she sees the sea in her daughter’s eyes, she evokes the water imagery that used to be so traumatizing for her because of the shipwreck and the death of her first child. Now, however, water has a positive signification. Sorrow renaming herself as “Complete” also signifies a major step for her—she no longer needs Twin, but feels fulfilled as her own person (along with her daughter).
Themes
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