A Mercy


Toni Morrison

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Orphans Symbol Icon

Throughout A Mercy, Morrison brings up the concept of orphans, referring to many of her characters as such. As a child, Jacob was an orphan, making him especially sympathetic to other people who seem unmoored or lost. Lina and Sorrow are both orphans as well after their respective tragic youths. While Florens is not technically an orphan, she feels abandoned by her mother. When she appears at Widow Ealing’s door, the woman identifies Florens as an orphan, and Florens does not object.

The preponderance of orphans in the book serves as a thematic counterweight to the discussion of motherhood throughout Morrison’s novel. Moreover, the many orphans in A Mercy emphasize the possibly and necessity of alternative kinds of families. This necessity is the result of the systems of bondage that separate families, the high levels of death in the colonies, and the distance from parents in Europe or the Caribbean. Although orphanage is alienating and marginalizing for the characters who experience it, it also allows characters like Jacob, Lina, and Florens to form new relationships outside of traditional familial ones.

Orphans Quotes in A Mercy

The A Mercy quotes below all refer to the symbol of Orphans. 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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Orphans Symbol Timeline in A Mercy

The timeline below shows where the symbol Orphans appears in A Mercy. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral Theme Icon
...desire for adventure. Jacob thinks of himself as a self-made man. Having started as an orphaned child, Jacob is now an independent landowner. Jacob relishes the challenges of life in the... (full context)
Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation Theme Icon
...he decided to take the child because of his own tough childhood. Jacob was an orphan, and so he knows the difficulty of being a child without an adult for protection.... (full context)
Chapter 4
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community Theme Icon
...on their own. Now Lina sees that they were never a family after all— just orphans that banded together. (full context)
Chapter 7
Religion, Morality, and Otherness Theme Icon
...whether Florens is a Christian or a heathen. Florens tells the woman she is an orphan, and finally the woman lets her in. (full context)