A Mercy

Jacob Vaark Character Analysis

Jacob Vaark is a farmer and trader in New England, husband of Rebekka, father of Patrician, and master of Lina, Sorrow, and Florens. The son of a Dutchman and an Englishwoman, Jacob was orphaned as a child, growing up in a poorhouse until he eventually became a runner for a law firm and inherited land in New England from an unknown uncle. Jacob is a not-especially-devout Protestant and a not-especially-good farmer. Jacob arranges a marriage with Rebekka, who travels overseas to live with him. Despite not having known each other previously, Rebekka and Jacob fall in love and enjoy a happy marriage. Their martial bliss is tempered, though, by the deaths of all of their children. When his farm does not succeed, Jacob turns more and more to trading. Although he despises the slave trade, Jacob becomes increasingly involved in it. After a visit to the D’Ortega’s plantation, where Jacob buys Florens and becomes jealous of the D’Ortegas’ beautiful house, Jacob decides to invest in a sugar cane plantation in Barbados so he can make a fortune and build a huge house. Jacob does become rich from the investment and begins construction. However, Jacob falls ill with smallpox just before the house is finished. On his deathbed, his wife and servant bring him into the house and lay him on the floor, where he dies.

Jacob Vaark Quotes in A Mercy

The A Mercy quotes below are all either spoken by Jacob Vaark or refer to Jacob Vaark. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of A Mercy published in 2009.
Chapter 2 Quotes

By eliminating manumission, gatherings, travel and bearing arms for black people only; by granting license to any white to kill any black for any reason; by compensating owners for a slave’s maiming or death, they separated and protected all whites from all others forever.

Related Characters: Jacob Vaark
Page Number: 11-12
Explanation and Analysis:
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Disaster had struck…D’Ortega’s ship had been anchored a nautical mile from shore for a month waiting for a vessel, due any day, to replenish what he had lost. A third of his cargo had died of ship fever. Fined five thousand pounds of tobacco…for throwing their bodies too close to the bay; forced to scoop up the corpses…they used pikes and nets…a purchase which itself cost two pounds, six. He’d had to pile them in two drays (six shillings), cart them out to low land where saltweed and alligators would finish the work.

Related Characters: Jacob Vaark, D’Ortega
Page Number: 18-19
Explanation and Analysis:
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They both spoke of the gravity, the unique responsibility, this untamed world offered them; its unbreakable connection to God’s work and the difficulties they endured on His behalf. Caring for ill or recalcitrant labor was enough, they said, for canonization.

Page Number: 18-19
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 4 Quotes

They would forever fence land, ship whole trees to faraway countries, take any woman for quick pleasure, ruin soil, befoul sacred places and worship a dull, unimaginative god…Cut loose from the earth’s soul, they insisted on purchase of its soil, and like all orphans they were insatiable…Lina was not so sure. Based on the way Sir and Mistress tried to run their farm, she knew there were exceptions to the sachem’s revised prophecy.

Related Characters: Lina, Rebekka Vaark, Jacob Vaark
Related Symbols: Orphans
Page Number: 63-64
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 5 Quotes

Sir steps out. Mistress stands up and rushes to him. Her naked skin is aslide with wintergreen. Lina and I looked at each other. What is she fearing, I ask. Nothing, says Lina. Why then does she run to Sir? Because she can, Lina answers. We never shape the world she says. The world shapes us.

Related Characters: Florens (speaker), Lina (speaker), Rebekka Vaark, Jacob Vaark
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 8 Quotes

Although all her life she had been saved by men— Captain, the sawyers’ sons, Sir and now Will and Scully— she was convinced that this time she had done something, something important, by herself.

Related Characters: Sorrow, Jacob Vaark, Willard, Scully
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

I want you to go…because you are a slave…
What is your meaning? I am a slave because Sir trades for me.
No. You have become one.
How?
Your head is empty and your body is wild.
I am adoring you.
And a slave to that too.
You alone own me.
Own yourself, woman, and leave us be. You could have killed this child…You are nothing but wilderness. No constraint. No mind.
You shout the word—mind, mind, mind—over and over and then you laugh, saying as I live and breathe, a slave by choice.

Related Characters: Florens (speaker), The Blacksmith (speaker), Jacob Vaark, Malaik
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 10 Quotes

They once thought they were a kind of family because together they had carved companionship out of isolation. But the family they imagined they had become was false. Whatever each one loved, sought or escaped, their futures were separate and anyone’s guess.

Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 12 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Florens’s Mother (speaker), Florens, Jacob Vaark
Page Number: 195-196
Explanation and Analysis:
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Jacob Vaark Character Timeline in A Mercy

The timeline below shows where the character Jacob Vaark appears in A Mercy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
...set out to find the Blacksmith, Florens’s current mistress Rebekka and Lina gave her “Sir’s” (Jacob’s, Florens’s master) boots. (full context)
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...if the Blacksmith remembers how Will and Scully would not take orders from him until Jacob forced them to, since Will and Scully’s master owed him money. Florens recounts how Lina... (full context)
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Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
...former master D’Ortega, who Florens calls “Senhor.” D’Ortega did not have enough money to repay Jacob, and Jacob said that, to mitigate D’Ortega’s debt, he would take Florens’s mother. Florens remembers... (full context)
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The Reverend took Florens to a ferry to deliver her to Jacob’s farm. During the boat ride, a woman stole Florens’s cloak and wooden shoes. When the... (full context)
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...Florens that Sorrow is pregnant and the father is unknown. Lina believed the child is Jacob’s. Rebekka said nothing. Florens worried at her new home and said she was afraid of... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...(it is not yet clear who this is, but it turns out later to be Jacob) wading through the ocean from a boat to the shore. When he arrives on the... (full context)
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Jacob walks from the beach through the forest to a village nestled between two plantations nearby.... (full context)
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Jacob thinks of how, a quarter century before, a mix of slaves and indentured servants from... (full context)
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Jacob thinks that it is “1682 and Virginia was still a mess.” Because of the land... (full context)
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Although the weather is hot and humid, and his travels are long, Jacob enjoys his journey, admiring the beautiful forests, the breathtaking shorelines, the abundance of wild food.... (full context)
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Jacob looks around the landscape, thinking how the land has frequently changed hands, from native to... (full context)
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...to all foreign markets, making it a center for trade. Notably, Maryland is also Catholic. Jacob finds Maryland’s Catholicism, and the excess and luxury that he associates with it, to be... (full context)
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Jacob is in Maryland because he has been invited to dinner at the house of D’Ortega,... (full context)
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As Jacob arrives at the plantation, which is named “Jublio,” he is impressed by its grandeur. Jacob... (full context)
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Jacob goes back up the steps and a servant (presumably a slave) opens the front door.... (full context)
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Jacob greets D’Ortega and admires his fine clothes. Jacob drinks a beer and makes small talk.... (full context)
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During dinner, Jacob feels awkward, comparing his own humble outfit to D’Ortega’s fine clothes, and worrying about his... (full context)
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Jacob learns that D’Ortega, a fortuneless third son, went to Angola in the first place to... (full context)
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Jacob thinks that D’Ortega’s opulent lifestyle shows how he has gotten himself into debt. He thinks... (full context)
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Jacob thinks about his own wife, Rebekka, comparing her humbleness favorably to D’Ortega’s wife. Jacob remembers... (full context)
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Dessert comes, and then D’Ortega offers to take Jacob on a tour of the estate. As they walk, Jacob admires the various plaster buildings... (full context)
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Jacob refuses D’Ortega’s offer of slaves, but D’Ortega insists that if Jacob will not use the... (full context)
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Jacob suddenly feels sick. He is unsure whether it is from the smell of tobacco or... (full context)
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Jacob begins to grow angry. He knows that if he does not take D’Ortega’s offer, he... (full context)
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As they approach the cookhouse, Jacob sees a woman standing in the doorway, holding a baby and hiding a girl behind... (full context)
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Jacob then changes tactics, telling D’Ortega he will have to look for another lender. D’Ortega panics,... (full context)
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D’Ortega’s hand moves toward his scabbard, and Jacob wonders if he will attack him, kill him, and then claim self-defense to rid himself... (full context)
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The little girl behind the woman’s skirts steps out into Jacob’s view. She is wearing a pair of shoes that are too big for her, and... (full context)
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D’Ortega jumps at the opportunity to give Jacob the girl instead of her mother. Although Jacob refuses, he begins to think that Rebekka... (full context)
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Jacob leaves the plantation, eager to get away from D’Ortega. As he waves a final goodbye,... (full context)
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Jacob pushes his horse to go faster so he can get to a tavern to sleep... (full context)
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At the tavern Jacob listens to a fiddler and piper play music, and sings along. Two women (presumably prostitutes)... (full context)
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Jacob eavesdrops on the people around him as they discuss the price of sugar and rum,... (full context)
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Jacob responds that he thinks the slave trade is a “degraded business,” and Downes tells him... (full context)
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Jacob eats dinner and reserves a bed. Jacob thinks about his day, deciding that D’Ortega will... (full context)
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Jacob’s thoughts return to the child he has acquired from D’Ortega. He hopes Rebekka will like... (full context)
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Because of this sympathy, ten years ago Jacob took on a girl called Sorrow that a lumberjack found nearly drowned on a riverbank.... (full context)
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On top of his farm life, Jacob began trading, but his preference is for farming. Because his trading brings him far away... (full context)
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Jacob walks as far as possible away from town to the beach. He looks out at... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...disease shows up, similar to one that Sorrow had previously. This time, the disease strikes Jacob. He becomes moody and develops blisters, vomiting at night. He begins to grow weak. Jacob... (full context)
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Jacob feels he is being cheated out of the beautiful, big new house he is building.... (full context)
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Jacob wants Rebekka to take him to the new house, in spite of the fact that... (full context)
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Two male servants who occasionally work for the Vaarks, Will and Scully, dig Jacob’s grave, even though their master, a neighbor of the Vaarks, has warned them to stay... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...by describing how Lina had always been wary and unimpressed by the enormous house that Jacob was building, and had refused to go near it. Now that Jacob has died there,... (full context)
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...about the new house either. But at least, she thought, building the house would mean Jacob would be around more, instead of away trading. As the house was being built, Rebekka... (full context)
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Lina describes Jacob’s choice to build the house as a decision to “kill the trees and replace them... (full context)
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Later, alone at Jacob’s farm, Lina tried to remember the healing knowledge she learned from her mother before she... (full context)
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Lina remembers Jacob’s burst of activity as he waited for Rebekka to arrive from Europe. When she would... (full context)
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Lina found life on the Vaark farm unrewarding. Lina was not especially verbose with Jacob and she continued to process her memories of her village before the sickness and fire,... (full context)
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...repeat the healing prayers she learned from the Presbyterians because they did not work on Jacob. (full context)
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Lina remembers how they opened the iron gate to the new, big house to bring Jacob in to die in it, per his final wish. Although Lina sees the iron gate... (full context)
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Jacob had bought Lina, on the other hand, from the Presbyterians when she was fourteen. He... (full context)
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...They learned together how to work the farm and care for Rebekka’s children. Rebekka, unlike Jacob, liked farm-work. (full context)
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When Jacob brought Sorrow back to the farm, both Lina and Rebekka were unhappy about it. Rebekka... (full context)
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...sacred spaces and the ecosystem with their capitalist land system. Lina, however, having seen how Jacob and Rebekka ran their farm, believed that they were an exception to this prophecy. Jacob... (full context)
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...kicked, and Lina had had to leave the sickroom (it is unclear whether it is Jacob’s or Rebekka’s) to milk the cow herself. With Sorrow pregnant, she is even less reliable.... (full context)
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...sleep was not the point,” meaning that they have sex. Lina thinks this is why Jacob will have no men working on his property. Now, however, the plan seems to have... (full context)
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...part of such a small family originally, it was prideful and stupid for Rebekka and Jacob to think they could survive on their own. Now Lina sees that they were never... (full context)
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...danger of it. No one else complained about him, because Rebekka was so happy that Jacob was home, and Jacob liked the Blacksmith immediately. (full context)
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Lina remembers Jacob and the Blacksmith amicably talking while Jacob sliced an apple, and Jacob offering him a... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Florens remembers going to search for the Blacksmith after he finished making Jacob’s gate. She followed a path through the elm trees to a high hill, which was... (full context)
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Florens’s mind wanders to Jacob’s yearly bath in May. She remembers pouring hot water into the tub for Jacob to... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...that, upon finally landing in North America, she was surprised by how much she liked Jacob when she finally met him. Rebekka’s father, who was ready to be rid of her... (full context)
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When Rebekka first moved in with Jacob, she visited a nearby church. The churchgoers explained their beliefs to Rebekka. Rebekka tried to... (full context)
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At present, Rebekka is ill and still mourning Jacob’s death only a few days before. Her thoughts, though, leave Jacob again and return to... (full context)
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Rebekka then remembers seeing Jacob for the first time and thinking he was “bigger” than she had imagined. Jacob, who... (full context)
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Rebekka refuses Jacob’s offer to help her into the wagon. Rebekka intended to accept no pampering, thinking that... (full context)
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When Rebekka and Jacob slept together for the first time, Jacob seemed shy to Rebekka. Rebekka thought that sex... (full context)
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Jacob, convinced the farm would never be profitable, began to spend more time trading. Although Rebekka... (full context)
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Eventually Jacob started to tell Rebekka fewer stories and bring her more elaborate gifts. Rebekka did not... (full context)
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One day as she shaved him, Rebekka told Jacob she did not think they needed the enormous new house. Jacob responded by telling Rebekka... (full context)
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...the farm, including the horse that kicked Patrician in the head. Rebekka did not notice Jacob coming down with smallpox in the frenzy, only realizing he was sick when he collapsed.... (full context)
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Per Jacob’s final request, Rebekka and the servants carried Jacob into his new house to die. It... (full context)
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...sleeping on the floor at the foot of the bed. Rebekka thinks that even before Jacob’s death, she missed him often. With Jacob gone, neither Patrician nor Lina nor the Baptists... (full context)
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Besides, Rebekka thinks, the Baptists did not help her loneliness when Jacob was gone. The loneliness struck without warning. Then, finally, Jacob would arrive to dispel her... (full context)
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Rebekka, now alone with her baby, thought again how lucky she was to be with Jacob. Jacob did not beat Rebekka, although wife beating was common and legal with certain restrictions.... (full context)
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Rebekka thinks of how happy her life was before Jacob’s death. Rebekka remembers the role that the Blacksmith played in their lives, functioning like an... (full context)
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Though Jacob had thought that giving Rebekka a girl close to Patrician’s age would comfort her, Rebekka... (full context)
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Rebekka also sees this as the psychological reason for Florens’s fast attachment to the Blacksmith. Jacob did not worry about Florens’s attraction to him since the Blacksmith would not be around... (full context)
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...loneliness was always okay in the end. Rebekka rationalized many of her marital anxieties, including Jacob’s increasing greed. Regardless, Jacob was present in Rebekka’s life, sleeping next to her at night,... (full context)
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Rebekka wonders if the Anabaptists were right and her self-sufficiency and happiness with Jacob were blasphemy. Rebekka thinks again of her shipmates, who trusted in themselves. The Baptists, meanwhile,... (full context)
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...of, Rebekka would only have to believe in their faith. Rebekka pictures herself talking with Jacob again. Now, though, with her husband gone, Rebekka is alone with the servants. Sorrow is... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...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... (full context)
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Jacob took Sorrow away to his farm on horseback. During the ride, Sorrow vomited. Twin was... (full context)
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...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.... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Florens notices that Jacob’s boots are missing. Florens watches a snake crawl around the garden until nightfall and goes... (full context)
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...but the Blacksmith tells her she is a slave. Florens insists this is only because Jacob traded for her, but the Blacksmith tells her she has become one since her “head... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Willard’s social life improved even more when Jacob decided to build his house. Willard helped as a laborer. The Blacksmith came to forge... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...in and tears down the advertisement for Florens’s sale. He thinks that the consequences of Jacob’s death are sad. (full context)
Chapter 11
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...night away from the Blacksmith’s house to the Vaarks’ farm. The trip is difficult without Jacob’s boots. Florens thinks that after losing the Blacksmith she will be more guarded against people... (full context)
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...They adjust the graves in the meadow again and again and clean the spot where Jacob died, though no one uses the house. As Florens cleans, she is cold, and thinks... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Florens’s mother remembers when Jacob came to eat at the D’Ortegas’ house, and how he did not like the food... (full context)
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...abuse by putting a cloth around her chest, but she catches D’Ortega’s eye anyway. When Jacob came, Florens’s mother thought that it was her only chance to save her daughter. Florens’s... (full context)
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When Jacob says he will take Florens, Florens’s mother thinks it is not a miracle from a... (full context)