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Dysfunctional Relationships in Toni Morrison`s Novel, “A Mercy”

DysfunctionalRelationships in Toni Morrison’s Novel, “A Mercy”

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DysfunctionalRelationships in Toni Morrison’s Novel, “A Mercy”

AMercyis a Tony Morrison’s novel published in 2008 was set during the1690s when slavery was on its strong footing, a period when it wasdangerous to have no protection of a male figure, a period when womenwere alleged to be witches and paternalistic connections betweenopposite sexes became the norm. In this story, Morrison gatherstogether groups from various races including Native Americans,Africans, Mulatto, and Anglo.

Oneof the characters in the story is Florens who worked as a slave andlived as a labourer in New York farm owned by Jacob Vaark. Lina isanother labourer, a Native American on the Vaark farm that relates ina narrative how she became a survivor of a disease that caused havocin the whole tribe. Rebekkah, Vaark’s wife, recalled leavingEngland just to be married to a man she never met. The deaths oftheir siblings created great devastation and Vaark accepted Florensfrom one of the debtors in his hope that Florens would help ease theloneliness that Rebekkah felt at that time. Vaark was once an orphan.He depicted his voyages from New York to Virginia and Maryland bygiving his views on the function of religion in the customs andtraditions of various colonies, together with their views on slavery.The characters in the story are orphaned of their ancestors andstruggled to endure the life in the new environment filled withdisease and danger. When smallpox endangered the life of Rebekkah in1692, Florens was sent to seek for a black freedman who has expertiseon herbal medicine. Florens’ journey has been a dangerous one andhas proved to be the defining moment in her existence.

Inthe novel, Morrison also analyzed the history of racism from the timeof slavery during the earlier eras, offering glimpses of diversereligious traditions of the period, and demonstrating the associationbetween women and men in early America that concluded in femalevictimization.

Eachchapter of the novel is stated from a varied viewpoint of thecharacters. The sections demonstrated how the characters criticothers and the world. In the novel, women are all orphaned either bya family sending them to a distant place or by circumstances thathappened during their childhood. A Dutch merchant named Jacob broughtthe women together and turned them into a family. Thoughdysfunctional, the women were still each other’s family. This paperdiscusses the dysfunctional relationships in Tony Morrison’s novelAMercy.

Dysfunctionalityin the Novel

Sorrowis a mongrelized girl who was rescued by sawyers and acquired by anAnglo-Dutch farmer named Jacob Vaark. Sorrow develops an alter ego todeal with trauma. Sorrow became mentally disabled and her shatteredself is the outcome of her unbearable experience on the failed shipthat became her dwelling place. Hers is a personality journey thatdelivers her from madness to psychic completeness through motherhood.Sorrow’sinsanity is the consequence of a horrifying incident in herexistence. She characterizes the disturbance and madness of acatastrophe survivor, a girl who suffered an abrupt and upsettingdemise, which left her orphan in a confused and aggressive world,primal America. Dramaticsituation such as the demise of someone dear can elicit psychologicalbreakdown which makes the sufferer’s life incoherent andmeaningless.

Sorrowis a broken personality from the beginning of the novel. Thebeginning of the orphan’s dementia is abrupt and dramatic, thehorrifying result of the demise of her father and of other people shehad connection with. Hers is a complex passing away, as there is adisastrous parental defeat and an apparent inconsolable developmentheightens the danger of a later growth of psychopathology. Havingsurvived an overwhelming occasion, Sorrow senses that the basicpostulations and anticipations of her existence have been devastatedand, with them, the ongoing awareness of self as well as theopportunity of developing human associations. Her unbearabletribulation wipes out the crucial psychological approach for dealingwith supreme understandings.

AMercyrestores civilization to disturbed victims by demonstrating thattheir ‘insane’ conduct is the outcome of the appalling anddramatic conditions of their life, while giving counterpoints in thefemale lead, Sorrow, who becomes whole in her new function as amother. Sorrow delivers a representation to move violently with deathas well as orphanhood. In the novel, insanity is a coping approach,which aids Sorrow in surviving the hostile environment following thesudden death of a loved one. Trauma is the root cause of disorderspsychologically.

Psychicsuffering can be the result of an upsetting incident or can be theoutcome of long experience to abuse and humiliation, as in oppressedminority groups. Traumatic encounters may irreparably break thesubject’s representative universe. The death of a loved onegenerates an irreparable psychic crack, which may lead to a radicalchange in behaviour as well as psychological confusions. Deathinvolves the breakdown of the subject’s nurturing and protectiveemotional surroundings, leaving the individual helpless and desolate.The person who has experienced a shocking loss in the family may seemto be ‘damaged’, inhabiting a marginal and devalued site in thecentre of the society.

Alternatively,power dynamics and social oppression are two determinant componentsin the effect of mental disturbance on selfhood. Morrison emphasizesthe imperceptible psychic wounds of individuals who are part of thesocial minorities. Racial and social minorities experience dangerousshock as an outcome of the brutality imposed by the prevailing group,typically the whites. Therefore, they savour feelings ofself-contempt and inferiority, which are placed onto them by thepatriarchal Western communication. Systemic racial discrimination,like other forms of social exclusion and marginalization, establishthe types which the transgenerational diffusion of disturbance takesin the community and family. Inhabited members of marginal groupsbecome intimidators themselves, replicating the principles of thehegemonic crowd, of which they are sufferers.

Traumacauses ostracism and, ultimately, may result to the obliteration ofthe sense of character. Morrison represents mentally and emotionallydevastated girls as marginalized and discriminated, inhabiting adisparaged position in other members of the community, orexperiencing segregation from that society. In the course ofmarginalization, individuals from the minority are reified intodebased and rejected objects, which lead to damaging impacts fortheir awareness. In Kristeva’s premise of abjection, the minorfocus is the other in association with the self. In the act of‘abjection’, the person displays onto another everything that isconsidered objectionable, such as “identity, system, order”(1982: 4). This procedure is above all dramatic when the sufferersare youngsters, who are mainly vulnerable, since their subjectivityis not yet completely established. Sorrow signifies the hardshipsthat being a woman as well as racially marked involve. According toDavis (1990, p. 12), womanhood, such as blackness, is other in thiscivilization, and the predicament of woman in a patriarchal societyis comparable to that of blacks in a society full of racists”.Abjection wears away their self-worth and aggravates self-loathing,undermining them psychologically. Trauma, ostracism andself-contempt, at a crucial stage of the personality development,might cause their victims to cross from sanity into insanity. Thesebehaviours are what cause dysfunctional relationships.


Theprevalent theme in Toni Morrison’s AMercy islove in the midst of abandonment. Florens was deserted by her whenshe was still young. Sorrow was also left behind after the death ofher loved one and other people she had connections with. AMercy isabout the obsession of a freeAfrican blacksmith which later became her tragedy. This novel is alsoabout slavery however Morrison expanded more by exploring other typesof enslavement including the type brought about by romantic love. Thestory also revolved on the life of Sorrow, a woman who lost hersanity after several tragic events that happened to her. Through theVaark, the women were brought together to establish a family.However, such a family was a dysfunctional one. Morrison explained inthis novel how love can be pure and true when it is selfless andkind. Jacob Vaark, for instance, could have hired male slaves to helpincrease the profits on his land however due to his kindness andselflessness he helped the black mother by taking Florens instead.Women during those times experienced the harshness of slavery. Womenwho were punished or imprisoned for protecting themselves by acts ofresistance were equally traumatized with those who were notimprisoned by the evils of slavery. Both groups of individualssuffered cruelty and severe punishments. Those who were imprisonedbecause of resistance were further abused for the purpose ofweakening their resistance. They were physically and sexually abusedjust as how slaves also suffered the same. Abuses against blackpeople were present for several centuries. Slavery and sexual abusesin the past strongly violated human right. Slavery has become rampantand Africans fought mightily against this inhumane act. Women wereforced to mate with men they do not know. The slave owners do thisbecause they look at Africans as animals and not as people. Africanwomen were forced to perform sexual acts for the amusement of theslave owners.

Ina dysfunctional relationship, there exists co-dependency. It is arelationship that does not function to comply or meet with the needsof the people. This does not merely talk about romantic relationshipsper se or even family relationship but rather, the relationship ofpeople to one another in general. What causes this dysfunctionalrelationship is the person itself. The state of mind of an individualmay have effect on the kind of relationship that he or she is likelyto form. When a person undergoes a trauma, this distorts his or hersanity thereby affecting the way that person deals with other people.


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