A Mercy Literary Criticism and Significance
by Toni Morrison

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Literary Criticism and Significance

Morrison has said that the novel attempts to separate race from slavery to understand what it was like at that period of time, with the idea of slavery as being set on an institution constructed in America at a time when the country was just being put together. Morrison visited this subject in her essay, “Playing in the Dark,” in which she explored the democratic experiment along with the presence of the unfree.

One scene in the novel gives a fictional account of Bacon’s Rebellion. A group of men who gathered black slaves and white indentured servants to overthrow the governor of Virginia in 1676. Any white could maim or kill any black or servants and Native Americans without any consequences by law. This account establishes the “codification” of slavery as the nation was coming together. Its violence, as Morrison explains, is at the root of most great nations—that and the enslavement of large portions of the population.

Like Morrison’s Beloved, this novel contains an act by a mother for her daughter that explores the personal costs of slavery. Some critics have called A Mercy a prequel to that earlier title. Like so many of Morrison's characters, Florens has been described as a brave soul carrying the others along with her in the story’s trajectory.

Morrison’s stories continue to build one on another to fill in the details of the story, a layered structure that signifies the meaning. The journey that Florens travels on is told in first-person point of view for its immediacy. All other characters are written in third person and move the story slightly forward.

The settlers of the early formation of the country start communities and churches to build some sort of family with one another. This ensemble of characters come randomly together as a family. They are examples of American individuality and self-sufficiency. The novel asks how can you be an individual in a make-shift world and also be part of a community.

Critical reviews have mostly embraced A Mercy, as it builds and continues Morrison’s familiar themes of slavery and its haunting consequences. Reviewers praise the pre-history of America and her elegant storytelling. Many have paired the two titles, Beloved and A Mercy, as two parts of one story. Her rhythm and diction are compared to that of William Faulkner, as is her ability to re-create an entire community of voices that sounds authentic, fresh, and stirring.