A Mercy

Rebekka Vaark Character Analysis

Rebekka Vaark is Jacob’s wife and Lina, Florens, and Sorrow’s “mistress” (owner). Rebekka was born in England, where she lived with her devotedly religious but cold and unloving parents. In England, Rebekka began a training program to become a domestic servant, but dropped out because the head of the program was sexually harassing her. Rebekka’s father sent her to marry Jacob in order to relieve him of the burden of paying for her upkeep. Rebekka arrives in America and marries Jacob. She manages the family farm while Jacob is away trading. She feels only somewhat religious and does not join the local church. Rebekka becomes pregnant several times, but only one of her children, Patrician, lives past infancy. When Patrician dies in an accident with a horse, Rebekka becomes withdrawn and sad. Rebekka and Jacob have a happy marriage, and she enjoys Jacob’s presence while they build their third house together. After Jacob’s death, Rebekka falls ill with small pox. She recovers, and following her illness, Rebekka becomes devoutly religious.

Rebekka Vaark Quotes in A Mercy

The A Mercy quotes below are all either spoken by Rebekka Vaark or refer to Rebekka 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 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 6 Quotes

Wretched as was the space they crouched in, it was nevertheless blank where a past did not haunt nor a future beckon. Women of and for men, in those few moments they were neither…For them, unable to see the sky, time became simply the running sea, unmarked, eternal and of no matter.

Related Characters: Rebekka Vaark, Judith, Lydia, Patty, Dorothea, Abigail
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

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Wife beating was common, she knew, but the restrictions— not after nine at night, with cause and not anger— were for wives and only wives.

Related Characters: Rebekka Vaark
Page Number: 111
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.

Related Characters: Florens, Lina, Sorrow, Rebekka Vaark, Jacob Vaark, Willard, Scully
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

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Rebekka Vaark Character Timeline in A Mercy

The timeline below shows where the character Rebekka 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
...lady.” Florens explains that when she 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)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Lina and Rebekka stuff the boots with cornhusks and hay so they fit Florens better and tell her... (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...the winter made her believe she was in hell. Lina wrapped Florens in warm clothes. Rebekka looked away from her. Sorrow waved a hand in front of her face at nothing. (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
...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 “mothers... (full context)
Chapter 2
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Jacob thinks about his own wife, Rebekka, comparing her humbleness favorably to D’Ortega’s wife. Jacob remembers seeing Rebekka for the first time... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
...Jacob the girl instead of her mother. Although Jacob refuses, he begins to think that Rebekka might enjoy the girl’s presence around the farm. The girl is about the age of... (full context)
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Jacob’s thoughts return to the child he has acquired from D’Ortega. He hopes Rebekka will like her. Jacob knows that he decided to take the child because of his... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
...nearly drowned on a riverbank. At the time, Jacob needed the extra help anyway, since Rebekka was pregnant. Jacob’s land, once part of a Dutch settlement, stands alone in a community... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...him far away from the farm for long periods, Jacob bought female slaves to help Rebekka. Jacob thinks of his acquisition of the slave girl, like the acquisition of Sorrow, as... (full context)
Chapter 3
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Jacob wants Rebekka to take him to the new house, in spite of the fact that there is... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
...afraid of contracting the pox that killed Jacob. The women bury Jacob. During the burial, Rebekka notices two pockmarks in her own mouth. She finds even more the next day. Now... (full context)
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Florens recites her route, which Rebekka made her memorize. After getting off the wagon, she is supposed to walk up an... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
...pulled toward the Blacksmith. She mentions the reason for her errand: the Blacksmith can heal Rebekka’s illness, so Florens has to bring him back to the farm. (full context)
Chapter 4
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
At first, Rebekka did not seem especially enthusiastic about the new house either. But at least, she thought,... (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Lina also wonders why Rebekka sent Florens to find the Blacksmith rather than swallowing her pride and asking the Anabaptists... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
...sure that the Blacksmith would be attracted to Sorrow, not Florens. When Lina learns from Rebekka that the Blacksmith is a free man, not a slave, she gets anxious knowing that... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
During the meeting, the Blacksmith removed his hat and looked Rebekka in the eye, something that Lina has never seen an African do. Lina, who had... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...from her mother before she died. Being the only person working on the farm, with Rebekka not yet there, Lina was incredibly lonely and struggled with survivor’s guilt and the memory... (full context)
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Lina remembers Jacob’s burst of activity as he waited for Rebekka to arrive from Europe. When she would bring him his dinner, she would occasionally find... (full context)
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...of her village before the sickness and fire, working through her trauma and loss. When Rebekka finally arrived, Lina had mostly sorted through her past, reinventing herself. (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
With Rebekka now sick, Lina tries to use native remedies to heal her, putting magic stones under... (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...that she was unable to work effectively. When Sorrow arrived at the house, it annoyed Rebekka, but she knew also that they could use the help. (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
...she was fourteen. He searched through the slave advertisements in town before finding her. When Rebekka arrived on the farm later, Lina remembers that there was immediately tension between the two... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
However, the animosity between Lina and Rebekka dissipated when Lina delivered Rebekka’s first child. They became friends, confiding in each other and... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
When Jacob brought Sorrow back to the farm, both Lina and Rebekka were unhappy about it. Rebekka found Sorrow useless, while Lina thought that she brought bad... (full context)
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...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 and Rebekka... (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...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. Lina thinks... (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
One day while they were preparing mincemeat, Lina told Rebekka that she believes Sorrow carries bad spirits with her. Rebekka told Lina her baby died... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...again, and her baby will possibly survive this time. Lina wonders what will happen if Rebekka dies, and where she and Sorrow will go. The Baptists in the neighborhood are no... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
...have no men working on his property. Now, however, the plan seems to have backfired. Rebekka is sick, Sorrow is pregnant, and Florens is lovestruck and running after the Blacksmith. (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Lina implores Rebekka not to die, wondering what will become of herself, Florens, Sorrow, and Sorrow’s baby if... (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Lina looks out the window in Rebekka’s sickroom. Rebekka mumbles feverishly, and Lina follows her gaze to her trunk that contains her... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
...immediately, and saw the potential 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)
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
...at the farm, quiet and shy, on the heels of Patrician’s death. Though Lina and Rebekka had competed for Patrician’s affection, Lina was the only one who paid attention to Florens.... (full context)
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Lina returns to the present and Rebekka, sick, seeing her face in the mirror. Lina leaves the room to do chores and... (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...happened to Florens yet but worried that soon something will. She then goes back into Rebekka’s sickroom, where Rebekka is praying. Lina wonders what Rebekka is praying for, since Rebekka has... (full context)
Chapter 5
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...do communion, as per the Reverend’s instructions, but there is no communion in the woods. Rebekka, meanwhile, being nonreligious, would have no advice for Florens. (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Florens thinks of the time she, Rebekka, and Sorrow went to sell the cows and a village woman slapped Sorrow in the... (full context)
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
In spite of this incident, Florens feels that Rebekka has a good heart. She remembers when Lina asked Rebekka for Patrician’s old shoes to... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
...in May. She remembers pouring hot water into the tub for Jacob to sit in. Rebekka washed Jacob until he was pink. Rebekka then took her turn in the water, washing... (full context)
Chapter 6
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Chapter 6 is told in limited third-person narrative from Rebekka’s perspective. The chapter opens with Rebekka in her sickbed, wondering whether Florens will make it... (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Rebekka thinks about her physical discomfort, which only goes away when she is unconscious. Lina attends... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Rebekka rambles to Lina, her mind returning to her transatlantic voyage. Rebekka remembers that, upon finally... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Rebekka’s mother, meanwhile, objected to what she saw as the “sale” (Rebekka’s father received “reimbursement” for... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Before Rebekka left, her mother warned her of the dangers of native people, who she described as... (full context)
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Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Rebekka, in bed, revisits memories of the first hanging she attended. She remembers being two years... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The city that Rebekka grew up in was dangerous, so the dangers of the new world did not turn... (full context)
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Rebekka enjoys the sweet, clean smell of the air in America, so unlike the rancid city... (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Rebekka only casually attends the local meetinghouse for services. Unlike what her parents told her, the... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Rebekka was chosen in school to undergo domestic service training. However, Rebekka left the program after... (full context)
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
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When Rebekka first moved in with Jacob, she visited a nearby church. The churchgoers explained their beliefs... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
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Rebekka’s mind focuses on her daughter Patrician. She thinks about processing her grief with Lina after... (full context)
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
At present, Rebekka is ill and still mourning Jacob’s death only a few days before. Her thoughts, though,... (full context)
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...and food as offerings on the grave, part of her native religious practices, and told Rebekka that Patrician and the babies that Rebekka lost are in the stars. Rebekka thought this... (full context)
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
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This reminds Rebekka of one summer day when she and Lina sat sewing and doing laundry, discussing God’s... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Rebekka, feverishly thinks again of her journey across the Atlantic, hallucinating the women she met on... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Over the course of their voyage, Rebekka learned more about her co-travelers, discovering their talents and their backgrounds. Rebekka became closest with... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
...wine, etc.) Abigail was probably eating at his table. The women quibbled over Dorothea’s comments. Rebekka then offered to share the cheese and biscuits she brought with her for the trip. (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
...heated water. There was no tea, so they drank hot water with rum and ate Rebekka’s cheese and biscuits. Rebekka remembers how, although the women around her were women “of and... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
...unsentimentally. This turns out to be accurate, and except in her fever dreams at present, Rebekka never saw them again. (full context)
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The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Rebekka then remembers seeing Jacob for the first time and thinking he was “bigger” than she... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
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Rebekka refuses Jacob’s offer to help her into the wagon. Rebekka intended to accept no pampering,... (full context)
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When Rebekka and Jacob slept together for the first time, Jacob seemed shy to Rebekka. Rebekka thought... (full context)
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Jacob, convinced the farm would never be profitable, began to spend more time trading. Although Rebekka found Jacob’s stories of his travels exciting, they also made her worry about the threatening... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Eventually Jacob started to tell Rebekka fewer stories and bring her more elaborate gifts. Rebekka did not ask him questions and... (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... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
...equipment, and horses to 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... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Per Jacob’s final request, Rebekka and the servants carried Jacob into his new house to die. It was raining, and... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Rebekka’s sickness feels like a bad joke to her, and she thinks of how Dorothea used... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
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Rebekka thinks of the Bible story of Job, who was once prosperous before God subjected him... (full context)
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Finally the women Rebekka imagines fade. Lina is sleeping on the floor at the foot of the bed. Rebekka... (full context)
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Rebekka holds a particular grudge against the Baptists because they refused to baptize her children. Moreover,... (full context)
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Besides, Rebekka thinks, the Baptists did not help her loneliness when Jacob was gone. The loneliness struck... (full context)
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Rebekka’s thoughts then turn to a memory of a conversation with Lina. The two women were... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Rebekka, now alone with her baby, thought again how lucky she was to be with Jacob.... (full context)
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Rebekka reflects that only her mother has ever hit her. Now, Rebekka is unsure of whether... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Rebekka begs for her mirror, and Lina finally gives it to her. Rebekka looks at her... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Rebekka thinks of how happy her life was before Jacob’s death. Rebekka remembers the role that... (full context)
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Though Jacob had thought that giving Rebekka a girl close to Patrician’s age would comfort her, Rebekka had found it insulting. She... (full context)
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Rebekka also sees this as the psychological reason for Florens’s fast attachment to the Blacksmith. Jacob... (full context)
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Rebekka tells herself it will all be all right, just like how her loneliness was always... (full context)
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Rebekka wonders if the Anabaptists were right and her self-sufficiency and happiness with Jacob were blasphemy.... (full context)
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Still, Rebekka thinks that they have the “promise and threat of men” in common. Rebekka thinks that... (full context)
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The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
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...version of the Adam and Eve story, with Eve goading and betraying Adam. According to Rebekka, they also have binary understandings of good and bad, and clear-cut understandings of good and... (full context)
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
To access this heaven that the Anabaptists dream of, Rebekka would only have to believe in their faith. Rebekka pictures herself talking with Jacob again.... (full context)
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Rebekka remembers how, the second year that Jacob was away, she, Lina, and Patrician almost starved... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...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. (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...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... (full context)
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The next morning, Sorrow threw up her breakfast. Rebekka told her to work in the vegetable garden. As she picked turnips, Sorrow saw Patrician... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...“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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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The Blacksmith insisted that Rebekka and Lina feed Sorrow nothing during her sickness, only fanning her and soaking her boils... (full context)
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When Rebekka gets sick and sends Florens to find the Blacksmith, the Blacksmith returns alone. He asks... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...clothes. When Florens tells him why, the Blacksmith frowns and says he will ride to Rebekka immediately. Florens will wait for him at his house, since it is faster to go... (full context)
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...and Florens tells him she wants to stay with him no matter what happens to Rebekka. With the Blacksmith, Florens feels safe and good about her body. (full context)
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...chosen the boy over her. Florens feels cowed and lost. The Blacksmith tells Florens that Rebekka is healed and that he will hire someone to take her back to the farm. (full context)
Chapter 10
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Willard and Scully help Rebekka repair the farm that ran wild during her illness. Rebekka pays them for their work,... (full context)
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Rebekka too has changed. Her hair has gone gray and she tires more easily than before.... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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Scully then moves on to Rebekka. The narrator states that Scully did not dislike her, but finds her suddenly pious behavior... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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In order to keep Rebekka happy and keep his payments coming, Scully does not say anything about her increasingly nasty... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...though no one uses the house. As Florens cleans, she is cold, and thinks that Rebekka has forgotten how cold the outhouses are in winter and what that cold could do... (full context)
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Florens thinks that although Rebekka was cured of her disease, she is still not well. Rebekka attends church and returns... (full context)
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Florens learns from Scully and Willard that Rebekka is going to sell her but keep Lina. Meanwhile, no one will take Sorrow and... (full context)