In A Mercy, Jacob’s quest to acquire enough wealth to build an enormous, opulent house becomes an obsession around which the rest of the characters and the plot revolve. Jacob’s desire for a large, impressive house begins after his trip to the D’Ortega’s property in Maryland. While there, Jacob admires the D’Ortega’s house and decides to build one of his own to leave as a legacy.
Though Jacob intended to build the house to represent his wealth and status, the house ultimately comes to symbolize his misfortune and moral depravity. Jacob funds his construction project through profits made on sugar plantations in Barbados, making the house a symbol of his profit from the slave trade. During the house’s construction, several tragedies occur. A horse kicks Patrician, Jacob’s only living child, in the head, killing her. Then, Jacob develops smallpox and dies. Rebekka contracts the same disease and survives, but is forever changed.
In a book with so much emphasis on superstition and religion, the reader may wonder whether the house is doomed because it is built with slave money. The gate of the house also features two iron wrought snakes, alluding to the story of Adam and Eve and connecting the house with the idea of greed and sin. Although the house is meant to be a symbol of power, the events surrounding its construction show the fragility of human life and the futility of wealth in matters of morality and mortality.