A Mercy

Jacob’s House Symbol Analysis

Jacob’s House Symbol Icon

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.

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Jacob’s House Symbol Timeline in A Mercy

The timeline below shows where the symbol Jacob’s House appears in A Mercy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...removed. Jacob goes to bed in the inn, sleeping well and dreaming of a huge house. (full context)
Chapter 3
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Jacob feels he is being cheated out of the beautiful, big new house he is building. Florens goes on to say that the house is spectacular to look... (full context)
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 no furniture there and that it’s raining.... (full context)
Chapter 4
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
...chapter opens 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... (full context)
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, building the house would mean Jacob would be around... (full context)
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Lina describes Jacob’s choice to build the house as a decision to “kill the trees and replace them with a profane monument to... (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 6
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
...gifts should have made her unsurprised by Jacob’s eventual decision to build his new, huge house. Rebekka was unhappy about the house, thinking it was useless and boastful. (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
...she shaved him, Rebekka told Jacob she did not think they needed the enormous new house. Jacob responded by telling Rebekka that need was “not the reason” for building it. The... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
The building of the house brought lots of men, equipment, and horses to the farm, including the horse that kicked... (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 they struggled with the gate, laying him in the... (full context)
Chapter 8
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 10
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...perspectives. 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... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
...were so sad about Jacob’s death that they disobeyed their master’s orders to avoid the house and volunteered to dig his grave. They buried Jacob and now, thirteen days later, they... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
Willard’s social life improved even more when Jacob decided to build his house. Willard helped as a laborer. The Blacksmith came to forge the fence, crafting a beautiful... (full context)
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...behavior after Jacob’s death cold and cruel. Scully views Rebekka’s refusal to enter the new house as a punishment to everyone who worked on it, including Jacob. He thinks of her... (full context)
Chapter 11
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...again and again and clean the spot where Jacob died, though no one uses the house. As Florens cleans, she is cold, and thinks that Rebekka has forgotten how cold the... (full context)
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
...that if he does not read them, no one will. Florens thinks about burning the house so that the words fly up in the air in ash. (full context)