A Mercy


Toni Morrison

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Themes and Colors
Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity Theme Icon
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Mercy, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Human Bondage, Wealth, and Humanity

A Mercy takes place during a time in American history when labor was being exploited throughout the colonies through various forms of human bondage. Morrison’s characters suffer under the variety of forms of bondage that were common in the late 17th century, from lifelong, hereditary chattel slavery (as in the case of first-generation slaves trafficked from Africa and their descendants) to indentured servitude, a system in which Europeans committed to a certain number of years…

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The Oppression of Women, Violence, and Female Community

Throughout A Mercy, Morrison describes and portrays the extremely common and disturbing violence that women face at the hands of men in 17th-century America. Over the course of the book, women characters suffer brutal beatings and sexual violence, which are in turn condoned by the male-dominated society.

Though Jacob does not beat Rebekka, Rebekka notes that wife beating is “common” in colonial America, but only legal before nine at night and “with cause…

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Motherhood, Heartbreak, and Salvation

A Mercy offers the reader several distinct images of motherhood in Rebekka, Sorrow, Lina, and Florens’s mother. Each of these portraits of motherhood is very different, showing the distinct ways that social factors like race, social status, marital status and financial security can all affect motherhood. The women who serve as mothers represent a variety of types of motherhood and social and personal situations. As a result, they all experience motherhood…

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Land, Exploitation, and the American Pastoral

Throughout A Mercy, Morrison plays with the idea of the pastoral, or the use in literature of motifs and themes of idealized country and agricultural life. Pastorals recur throughout the English literary tradition, often to convey themes of innocence and romanticized views of hard labor.

Morrison connects her novel to the pastoral through her beautiful and striking descriptions of the early American landscape. Take, for example, Jacob’s ride through the Virginian wilderness to…

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Religion, Morality, and Otherness

Throughout A Mercy, the white characters define the people living in North America in terms of their religion, separating them and stereotyping them by religious group. As characters draw their own social distinctions and outline the biases they associate with others, Morrison shows the North American landscape to be one peopled by a diverse array of religions. According to A Mercy, the religious makeup in the colonies is a rich mix of Protestant…

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