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Copy of An analysis on shoes in A Mercy by Toni Morrison

This presentation explores the connection between the different shoes and Florens' developing character
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semsettin tabur

on 13 January 2013

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Transcript of Copy of An analysis on shoes in A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Florens holds a fervent passion for shoes; she dislikes being barefoot and searches for any feet protection even on the hottest days. This need to guard her feet from any physical obstacles from the environment can symbolize her desire for emotional armor to guard her against the harsh calamities of life. Florens’ physical actions can be prompted by emotional responses. This reserved aspect of her nature can also be associated with the enclosing boundaries created by the shoes, for she remains confined by her own insecurities just as her feet are confined by the shoes. Florens fears freedom, both internally and externally. For a contemplative girl, whose greatest fear was that of a pathless night, the shoes undoubtedly provide security and protection while exploring down that trail. But this security hinders her from confronting her weaknesses, which stalls her development. Florens comes to terms with the blossoming nature of her young womanhood when she first discovers her attraction to high heeled shoes (Morrison 4). Despite her mother’s reprimand of her “prettify ways” (4), Florens sticks to her wants and obtains a pair of throwaway heels, which are pointy, worn, and buckled with one raised heel broken. This desire for glamorizing adornments, despite any present deterioration, accentuates Florens’ adolescent curiosity for an adult maturity, for “only bad women wear high heels” (4). These “bad women” flaunt their female features, signifying Florens’ desire to mature into her feminine role. However, the heels are in bad condition and broken, which demonstrates the sad reality of her social situation as a young black girl, struggling with her servile status in the societal hierarchy. As Slotkin writes, “the Anglo-American colonies grew by… enslaving Africans to advance the fortunes of White colonists” (Morrison 11), much like how Jacob Vaark and D’Ortega had amassed their own fortunes. The ambitious white settlers took full advantage of the promising America to acquire the “American Dream” by ruthlessly utilizing all of the resources it offered, whether human or material. Like the shoes protecting feet from external danger, as a slave she suffers the brutalities of a laborious life to protect her master from financial and physical hardship. Despite Florens’ undertaking of physically strenuous work, however, within her soul she still remains sheltered and apprehensive; she remarks, “I am a little scare of this looseness. Is that how free feels? I don’t like it." (Morrison 82).The authoritarian attitude of powerful male figures such as the above and the blacksmith paradoxically fuels Florens’ self-enslavement because it induces an insecurity spill-over within her that disturbs her already shaky self-image. Unsurprisingly, Florens slipping on provocative heels provides more disadvantages than advantages. Consequently, at this stage in her character progression her feet are “useless, will always be too tender for life and never have the strong soles, tougher than leather, that life requires” (4). Once Florens realizes the futility of wearing high heels for someone of her station, she dons Sir’s boots that are made for men and stuffed with hay and oily corn husks. This type of foot attire is undoubtedly more appropriate in relation to her tough life of toil, and while it too provides protection from the outdoors the inside is also packed with tough material, which hardens her feet and metaphorically her heart while allowing her to stomp more confidently through the unknown wilderness. However, confidence is still not entirely hers. The letter Florens hides in her stocking, a tangible identification back to her Mistress as a means of protection from prosecution, also resides with her feet within the secure surrounding of the boots; this act of safeguarding her letter confirms that Mistress plays just as big of a role as she does herself in determining her own value. Florens’ physical act of hiding Mistress’ letter in her stocking symbolizes an emotional reliance to an authoritative figure. However, this emotional reliance to another is more mentally constructed than anything. Florens achieves a release from this bondage when the blacksmith symbolically transfers his love from her to Malaik by presenting him Sir’s boots. The security that the blacksmith’s affection entails is therefore also carried down to the little orphan boy, compelling Florens to forcibly enter an adult reality of anguish and leave the childish fantasies behind. Those once so dependable shoes could no longer shield this new suffering. Her weak soul, always padded with protection, unfortunately leaves her unprepared for devastating despair once heartache strikes and she loses both the shoes and the blacksmith. Once Florens’ request to the blacksmith to accept her adoration and submission is cruelly denied, she ultimately realizes she can depend on nobody but herself. Therefore, she begins liberation, beginning with her self-enslavement by facing her insecurities. Because Malaik “steals Sir’s boots that belong to (her)”, her naked feet must acclimate to life on their own (Morrison 164). The soles of her feet eventually develop to be “hard as cypress” (Morrison 189), much like her soul of her newfound identity. The ruined high heels from earlier now appropriately demonstrate Florens’ broken personality: wounded but callous. The youthful and innocent protection the shoes once provided for her naïve soul has been invaded upon, and like the shoes, Florens is now worn, broken, and bitter. At the end of the novel, Florens labels her identity to an entity: “You say I am wilderness. I am.” (Morrison 184). Shoes are no longer a required prerequisite between her and the wilderness, for now those two entities are one within her. She has embraced the enigma of life and all of its inevitable difficulties because her physical journey has made her more emotionally resilient. Though she is still a black slave, Florens possesses freedom: freedom of movement in her physical journey, freedom of choice in obeying Mistress’ commands, and freedom of thought to narrate without restraints (Conejos). An inferior female black slave seems to possess various liberties despite her being underneath her white indentured servant counterparts on the societal pyramid. While a sense of racial superiority became established amongst the white settlers after Bacon’s Rebellion (for Morrison's explanation, watch the following URL: http://splicd.com/7IZvMhQ2LIU/97/131) , Morrison has effectively demonstrated that no law could determine the freedom of any man regardless of race. Freedom had to be uniquely defined by the individual after certain insecurities had been overcome. For Florens, the once pathless night now holds illuminating clarity. Shoes are immediately introduced by Florens on the second page of Toni Morrison’s novel, A Mercy, to set the stage for her character development. In the novel, Morrison details the different types of shoes and their inevitable absence towards the conclusion to explain Florens’ evolution from an insecure, submissive child to an audacious, liberated young woman. The consistent mention of shoes throughout Florens’ journey debunks any suspicion of their insignificance, for Morrison’s intent is clear: to employ continual shoes references to further clarify Florens’ personal progression.

An Analysis on the Role of Shoes in Toni Morrison's A Mercy Works Cited
Conejos, Antonio. "Good Intentions." Lit React. 22 July 2011. Web. 30 Sept. 2011.

Jordan, Don, and Michael Walsh. “Bacon’s Rebellion.” White Cargo: the Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America. New York UP, 2008. 1-6. Web.

Morrison, Toni. A Mercy. New York: Knopf, 2008. Print.

Slotkin, Richard. "Introduction." Gunfighter Nation: the Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-century America. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1998. 1-26. Web.
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