Key Relations between Men and Women In Toni Morrison′s A Mercy

Choose one of the following, and write a 4-6 page essay in response:

1. You have spent the last few weeks reading Toni Morrison’s A Mercy. This book is a
work of fiction but it offers a stunningly accurate depiction of seventeenth-century
Maryland society. In particular, it tells us a great deal about the lives of women
living in this remote English place. The book also has much to say about the
relations between men and women in early Maryland. What I’d like you to do for
this essay is to consider the key relations between men and women depicted in the
novel. Obviously these would include Jacob and his wife Rebekka. But there are
some others as well. Choose two of these and explain exactly how Morrison depicts
the relationships. How does she depict marriage at this time? How does she depict
non-marital relations between men and women? What sorts of power dynamics
does she illuminate? What kinds of roles are men and women assumed to have?
How do those roles change for enslaved women? Be sure to document your
discussion with specifics drawn from Morrison’s book.

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2. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was the most widely read political pamphlet in the
history of political pamphlets when it appeared in early 1776. Now that you’ve read
Paine’s short essay, you may wonder about this. How could so innocuous and dry a
piece of writing attract such an enormous audience? Well, part of the answer is
simply that Paine’s contemporaries did not see his pamphlet as at all dry: to them, it
was the literary equivalent of a Molotov cocktail: a political incendiary that would
forever change the course of history. What Paine was urging his upon readers—that
they abandon the British Empire and go their own way as a republic—was
unthinkable to many of them. What? A country without a king? Impossible. Paine
thought otherwise. He thought that republics are the only kinds of governments that
are truly just. Monarchy, in contrast, is the opposite: it is a form of government
designed to serve the governors rather than the governed. For your paper, I’d like
you to explain exactly what Paine thought was so bad about monarchical
government. What sorts of examples and arguments does he use to shoot holes in
the ancient English defense of monarchy? The more you draw directly from Paine’s
pamphlet, the more persuasive and successful your essay will be.

For these papers, it is recommended that you indicate the source of quotes from
the book in question (A Mercy or Common Sense) with either footnotes or page
numbers in parentheses. If you do the latter, please indicate in a bibliographic
note the exact edition of the text you’ve used. If you use an electronic edition and
there are no page numbers, indicate this in a bibliographical note.


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