The eagle allegory is symbolic and thematic. Analyze the passage that begins with "One day, ran the story, an eagle laid her eggs in a nest" and ends with "We have, says Lina."

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In Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, the narrator presents the allegory of the eagle and her eggs in the nest. The eagle has a broken wing, and when a traveler comes across the nest, the eagle pushes the eggs so that the traveler cannot harm them. In this allegory,...

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In Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, the narrator presents the allegory of the eagle and her eggs in the nest. The eagle has a broken wing, and when a traveler comes across the nest, the eagle pushes the eggs so that the traveler cannot harm them. In this allegory, the eggs are representative of the main characters, specifically with regard to their vulnerability.

Florens is a slave. Lina is a Native America who is one of only a few survivors of smallpox in her tribe. Rebekka was sold to her husband as her father put her on a transatlantic ship responding to an advertisement. Jacob Vaark is an orphan and grew up in a poorhouse. All of these characters are alone, bereft of their roots, like the eggs that are falling. They are in constant danger, especially the women, due to the culture they live in, and yet they find a way to persist and survive in the face of disparity.

The broken eagle wind represents the damage done to the natural world by the colonies in the New World. The Europeans value the free market and making money, which often causes harm to the natural world. This cultural ideal is juxtaposed by the Native Americans, who are known for their great respect and partnership with the natural world.

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The allegory of the eagle works on more than one level and from more than one perspective. Lina interprets it in the last line of this passage to mean that she and Florens have survived without parents, a good omen for the eagle chicks in the story, despite the external forces that oppress them. Perhaps the most striking and sinister image for readers, however, is the traveler's reaction to the beauty in which the eagles live. The mother eagle seems to have been waiting for this, and Lina remarks that "the evil thoughts of man" are the one disaster against which she is not strong enough to protect her young.

The view from the mountain is described as one of great beauty:

The turquoise lake, the eternal hemlocks, the starlings sailing into clouds cut by rainbow.

The traveler's reaction to this is to claim it all immediately for himself. The single word "mine" is so powerful that it booms "like thunder into valleys" and begins to crack the eggs of the eagle. When she tries to defend them, the traveler cripples her with his stick.

A Mercy is set during the late seventeenth century, a period when colonization and genocide had been well underway in America for decades and slavery was comparatively new. The original inhabitants of America did not even believe one could own land. Its new colonial masters thought you could own people. The devastating destruction caused by the traveler's cry of "mine" in response to the pristine beauty he sees is a major theme of the book. Readers might also see the cry and the breaking of the eagle's wing as symbolic of human rapacity in destroying the natural world, an issue which intersects with both genocidal violence and slavery in its destructiveness.

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I loved this allegory, which I think Lina tells Florens. You have to keep in mind that nearly everyone in the story is an orphan in some way or another. Everyone has been displaced and they are in a new environment, removed from his/her roots and now facing very difficult circumstances. The story as I recall entails eggs that are falling from a high nest. And possibly that the mother has pushed the eggs out of the nest so that the man who has come into the valley will not harm or take the eggs. The falling eggs separated from the mother parallel the story of all of the orphans in the story. Florens has been separated from her mother--her mother purposely abandons her so that she might have a better life. Lina has been separated by her indian tribe because it was wiped out by smallpox, and she's sort of become a drifter that has been picked up by the French and a protestant group. Disease has made her an orphan. Sorrow grew up living on a boat but everyone died, so she becomes a casteaway who is taken in by Sir. Sir himself grew up in London as a literal orphan. He was told that his mother was a woman of no consequence who chose not to take care of him. Eventually he comes to the New World because he buys into all the promises of fortune. Rebekka is also a kind of orphan because her father has basically sold her off as a mail order bride. Sir put out an ad for a wife and Rebekka's father answered and put his daughter on a boat. Everyone is scrambling to survive. No one in the new world has family or roots because they are the first to arrive. They are all eggs falling, totally vulnerable to disease, to violence, to starvation, to the winter, and religious wackos who burn people to stakes. What will happen to the eggs? Florens asks. That's when Lina says "we have survived." This is an amazing book!

 

 

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