restricted access Failed Messages, Maternal Loss, and Narrative Form in Toni Morrison's A Mercy

In A Mercy, Morrison frames the psychic damage inflicted by slavery as a series of failed messages between slave mother and slave daughter. Florens's misreading of her mother's message, as she arranged for Florens's sale, becomes the distorting lens through which she perceives the world; and as a consequence of her separation from her mother, her capacity to read the meanings of others' messages is disabled. Jean Laplanche's theory of the enigmatic signifier, which also examines the effects of a parental message that cannot be understood, enables me to clarify some baffling aspects of Florens's actions and of her style as narrator. The narrative structure formally reproduces the thematics of mother-daughter separation.