Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Tender Mercies focuses on the aftermath of a terrible accident and its effects on the family involved. The quotations from Virginia Woolf and May Swenson cited at the novel’s beginning pose a question: What happens when, freed of her body, a woman is reduced to the core of herself? The novel explores this question, primarily through the poetic monologues of the victim, Laura, whose body has been reduced to an unfeeling object by the carelessness of her husband of twelve years. Yet Tender Mercies turns an intense and unsentimental light on social relationships beyond the internal one between victim and self. It examines the relationships between husband and wife, among family members, and between a family and the community in which it lives. Stripped of tradition by the accident, these relationships require redefining, and regarding this redefinition the novel poses basic questions related to gender issues. What motivates men and women to marry the people they marry? What is expected from the relationship? What function does a wife or husband serve? In narrative flashbacks throughout the novel, Dan describes his family background, his meeting and courtship of Laura, the accident, and the period of recuperation in New York City. As narrator, he continues to describe the painful struggle to adjust, with Laura’s internal monologues providing the inner landscape from which she faces her dilemma.

The novel begins a year after the accident...

(The entire section is 515 words.)