Examine whether the leading women in A Mercy are weak or strong.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the leading women in A Mercy are strong.

For the most part, the characters in Morrison's work live very sad existences. They embody what it means to be forlorn, creating “companionship out of isolation.”  This does not make them weak.  Rather, enduring such a painful condition is what gives them strength.

Florens is one such example of strong fortitude.  She is a woman, a slave, and one who experiences little social power.  Added to this are her psychological challenges.  She is forced to live the struggle of being second best, as her mother favors her brother. However, Florens perseveres in all of this, as can be seen in the text's opening lines:

Don't be afraid.  My telling can't hurt you in spite of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in the dark--weeping perhaps or occasionally seeing the blood once more--but I will never again unfold my lines to rise up and bare teeth.  I explain.

Florens shows she is strong in her willingness to tell her narrative.  Given what she has experienced and what she is committed to explain, weakness is not called to mind even though she suffered throughout her life, as can be seen when she says,  “I welcomed the circling sharks but they avoided me as if knowing I preferred their teeth to the chains around my neck my waist my ankles.”  While Florens experiences pain, she remains strong and committed to giving voice to her experience.

Rebekka is another strong woman.  She endures the difficult condition of marrying a man she has never met or seen.  Yet, she does so in the hopeful belief that things can improve.  She displays a strong willingness to embrace restoration and optimism in a condition where such qualities are not in ample supply.  She also experiences the painful condition of losing her children.   She also contracts smallpox and survives it. Her survival of these experiences displays strength and toughness.  She endures and, in the world that Morrison has created, withstanding pain shows she is strong and has a form of resolve.  

One of the strongest characters in the narrative is Lina.  She survives the plague of measles that hits her tribe.  She withstands it on both physical and psychological levels. Because she is strong, she remains true to her reverence for the natural world, even when few others do.  Her strength and spiritual compass allow her to survive and even prevail over the pain that encompasses her.  Morrison says that Lina "learned the intricacy of loneliness: the horror of color, the roar of soundlessness and the menace of familiar objects lying still.”  The world around Lina does not wither her, and, because of it, she emerges with “a sense of her own self-worth.”   This makes her extremely strong and representative of a pattern where the women in A Mercy are described as very strong.

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