Love in Place of Protection

Toni Morrison’s A Mercy deals with life’s biggest problems regarding the choice to love and protect over the ability to stay close to the ones that you love. The end of the novel, narrated by Florens mother, gives key insight to the foundations of the book. She knows, above all else, that the protection of her daughter must come first, leaving Florens scared, alone, but ultimately safe. Morrison weaves a tale that shows how the people in Florens life, together, make up a mother figure, and are ultimately the source of her chosen gained mental freedom at the end of the novel, even though all the while she believes she is alone.

From the very beginning of the novel, it is made apparent that Florens is searching for a mother figure in her life. Parental love and influence are some of the most important shaping factors in a child’s life. Without proper love and affection, children become dissociative, unable to interact with people on a level perceived to be normal. Florens is a little odd because her mannerisms come from so many different role models. From the very beginning, Jacob is perceived as a loose father/ protective figure. He provides her with long awaited stability in her life. Jacob takes Florens in for his own purposes. He sees her as something that hopefully Rebekka “would be eager to have”, but also because he understands what it means to be an orphan and have the possibility of losing your family (Morrison, 37). He states quite upfront that “there is no good place in the world for waifs” (Morrison 37). Even though he doesn’t fully understand why he takes Florens in, with the majority of his intention being for Rebekka, he loosely associates with this young girl and the situation she is in because she is an orphan. There is nothing worse than not having a place of belonging and he associates that feeling. It also allows him to empathize with the lack of motherhood that plays a recurring part in the story. Rebekka can’t be a mother to her children as they keep passing away in front of her, and Jacob lacks anything that remotely relates to a family. Florens mother very deliberately states at the end of the novel that the reason she did what she did in sending Florens away was because Jacob saw her as “human and not pieces of eight” (Morrison, 195). It is recognized by a mother, Florens mother, that this man is the correct choice for her daughter because he will keep her safe and protect her, in a way like any other mother would because he sees her as more than property. It is also apparent that Florens is connected to Jacob throughout the entirety of the story, whether it be through his protection or just in his memories.

Florens has a strange connection with shoes that follows her as she ages. They are all given to her by prominent people in her life, people that she eventually leaves. She wears the heels of Senora D’Ortega shunned by her mother for impracticality, the moccasins of Lina, and the boots of Jacob as she goes to fetch the blacksmith. She sheds the boots in haste, leaving the blacksmith and leaving the life she thought she had; “It is hard without Sirs boots” (Morrison, 184). Her not having the boots anymore represents her growth from a dependent person to an independent one. She is dependent on her mother, but she is given up, she is dependent on Jacob but he dies, and she is dependent on the blacksmith and he casts her aside. She puts her faith in people and walks in their shoes only to eventually be left behind and it is a large part of her setting herself free at the end of the novel, and fulfilling at least a part of what her mother wanted for her in giving her up.

The blacksmith is largely a representation of the love that Florens thinks she needs and absolutely wants within her life. It is different than the love of a parent that she craves, but it is also similar in that she sees it as unconditional acceptance. When Florens is fighting with the blacksmith after injuring Malaik, he accuses her of having a “wild” body and mind, and her reasoning in return is that she “is adoring [him]” (Morrison, 166). She doesn’t understand his reasoning at first because to her, love and adoration are things that she could never turn down, and for him to do so blatantly is a blight on what she understands. For her, it is of the utmost importance that she does feel like she loves this man and that she would drop her life to be with him and continue having that love and affection. Unfortunately, he doesn’t see it the same way because she is not his family. His child is his family, and family being unconditional, comes first. It’s a heartbreaking moment for Florens because it is another confirmation that the only person she truly has is herself. And on top of it all, the blacksmith is doing exactly what her mother did, with the intention of saving and protecting a child, but in both situations, Florens can’t comprehend that. She feels the victim in either scenario, when actually she is the one being saved from a life of abuse and dependency.

Throughout the story, Florens does not understand her personal worth. She spends her life trying to be worthy of others and to show that she belongs to be in their lives, but she doesn’t spend enough time trying to understand, know and accept herself. Her mother speaks of the slaves coming from Barbados after the long journey on their ship; “Now, eyes wide, they tried to please, to show their ability and their living worth”, and after they arrive they are hardened (Morrison. 194). While Florens never made that journey, she spent her whole life being soft and trod on. She doesn’t stand up for herself in the ways that it counts and doesn’t understand until the very end of the novel that her worth is her own. For her to realize that she is a “she-lion” who does not need to care about what others think of her is incredibly eye-opening (Morrison, 187). However, to get to that point it takes a lot for he to get over what she thinks others want her to be. Lina is one of the people in Florens life who acts as close to a spiritual guide as she ever gets. She helps Florens to see the world as it is and to show her the other side where people and the world do shape who you are; “Sir steps out. Mistress stands up and rushes to him. Her naked skin is aslide with wintergreen. Lina and I looked at each other. What is she fearing, I ask. Nothing, says Lina. Why then does she run to Sir? Because she can, Lina answers. We never shape the world she says. The world shapes us” (Morrison, 83). This is a pivotal moment in the novel because Florens has the realization what love can do for people and what it could do for her. She later admits that Lina’s words actually confuse her because she doesn’t think that the world has shaped her, that instead it has been the blacksmith all this time. Unbeknownst to her, though, he doesn’t really shape her until he is no longer in her life.

It is the lack of people that allows her to realize what she needs to do in the face of being sold again. Florens also does not believe that there is anyone for her unless she makes it so. Lina is her constant companion in discussion about spirituality and believes there are “spirits that look over warriors and hunters and there are those that guard virgins and mothers” (Morrison, 80). Florens doesn’t believe that she fits in any of these categories and therefore doesn’t deserve to look for or have any protection. She finds a lot of peace in the idea of spirits watching over her with other people’s assurance, and nearly every time those spiritual guides led her back to the one she thinks she loves, the blacksmith. In many ways, Florens has so many people in her life that are protecting her but they are all doing so from afar and for different reasons. Jacob is her outright protector, giving her land to live on, a family of sorts to call her own. It is a physical kind of protection. Lina gives her the protection of a spiritual guide, and often as a mother, making sure that she has shoes to wear and somewhere safe and dry to sleep. The Blacksmith provides her with the protection of herself. Steering her on the right path so that she can be an individual person and have the capability to keep herself safe when it seems as if there is no one left. And above all, her mother gave her the protection of life. She gave her up and caused so much pain to both herself and her daughter so that she could live a semblance of a life without the torment and abuse that would be out of her control. Florens doesn’t see this in the world around her. She sees people who are keeping her back, people like the blacksmith and her mother casting her aside, but they have gone and given her the greatest gift. Morrison has created a world of characters that fill the void Florens lack of a mother created and the most beautiful part is that it is her mother who is the missing piece to her freedom at the very end, even though Florens will never fully know that.

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