A Mercy Questions and Answers
by Toni Morrison

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Who is the character "Job" that Rebekka references when hallucinating about the women on the ship? 

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In the story, "Job" is an allusion to the character of Job in the Bible. In the Book of Job, God takes up Satan's challenge and inundates Job with great tragedy, as a means of testing his faith and loyalty. Accordingly, Job's cattle, children, and servants all fall victim to nature's wrath or the murderous intentions of marauders. In addition to all this suffering, God also plagues Job with painful sores all over his body.

In the midst of his trials, Job's three friends, Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar, visit him. They try to comfort him but only succeed in making things worse. All three agree that Job must have been guilty of enough evil in his past to have deserved such suffering. They lecture him in self-righteous indignation about wickedness, sin, and the wrath of God. In the end, Job characterizes his friends as "miserable comforters."

The  biblical allusion to Job characterizes Rebekka's suffering in Chapter 7. In the chapter, Rebekka is delirious from smallpox, and she awaits the return of Florens and the blacksmith, in the hopes that the latter might save her. Meanwhile, her friends come to soothe her, but it is only her imagination: "...like all ghostly presences, they were interested only in themselves." Yet, Rebekka maintains that she welcomes the distraction of even these past spirits; she equates them with Job's friends and muses that their meaningless chatter demonstrates the "true value of Job's comforters."

Like Job's friends, the ghostly spirits in Rebekka's imagination "comfort" her. They distract her from her suffering and turn her thoughts away from herself. Like Job, Rebekka longs for God's attention and blessings again; she has no need to be reminded of her weakness, vulnerability, and ignorance. Yet, she concludes that, in the midst of her great trial, "false comfort" is better than none.

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