What is an explanation on the theme of orphanhood and its connection  to other themes in the book such as race, power, or hope?

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

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To a great extent, the issue of orphanhood is of vital thematic importance to A Mercy.  The broken bonds, ruptured dreams, and denied hopes that are a part of the orphanhood reality is what helps to establish the need to find hope and redemptive power.  Orphanhood is an experience that serves as metaphor for the betrayal that is intrinsic to slavery and abandonment.  In the exposition of the novel, Florens lives as the product of what orphanhood has created.  She lives with the "shock, pain, and bitterness at this abandonment by her minha mae, “my mother” in Portuguese.  Florens' experience is one in which orphanhood plays a critical role in her being.  At the same time, the ending of the novel is one that clearly demonstrates that perceived orphanhood was actually an attempt at liberation.  Florens' mother understands that the life of slavery is one that could not be wished upon her daughter.  She understands that D' Ortega will do to Florens what was done to her. The need for Vaark to take her daughter was to save her.  Orphanhood was Florens' chance at a new life.  The same hurt and sense of pain that is introduced at the beginning of the novel represents an ideal of hope by its end.  It becomes clear that in order to save her daughter, orphanhood is "a mercy" from the horrors of D' Ortega and slavery.

Orphanhood becomes part of the dialectic within the condition of hurt that exists in so many of the characters in A Mercy.  To be abandoned is where hurt exists in characters such as Willard and Scully, Rebekka, and Lina. These characters demonstrate the hurt that lives in abandonment.  Yet, Morrison demonstrates that from this hurt, there can be a sense of empowerment and redemption.  For example, Willard and Scully live their lives in a way where family is still validated above all else.  Lina finds love in her care for Florens, whose own longing for her mother represents love being more present than anything else. So many who experience the hurt in being find a source of potential redemption.  The real "mercy" becomes the ability to live a life of love and dignity despite being steeped in orphanhood.

In this light, the Vaark home is a backdrop for those who are the victims of orphanhood. The notion of "home" is one in which so many are taken in and nurtured. It seems that the real "mercy" is that family and love can be present to anyone and everyone.  Being an orphan does not necessarily mean that one is condemned to a life of hurt and suffering.  It is in this where one sees the themes of resilience and empowerment in A Mercy. The condition of orphanhood enables empowerment and a sense of reclamation of voice to happen.  Morrison does not find her characters victimized by the legacy of slavery as much as they are able to take the condition of orphanhood and find strength out of it.  It is here in which orphanhood is a powerful element in connection to the themes in A Mercy.

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