The Ransom of Mercy Carter
Deerfield, Massachusetts is one of the most remote, and therefore dangerous, settlements in the English colonies. In 1704 an Indian tribe attacks the town, and Mercy Carter becomes separated from the rest of her family, some of whom do not survive. Mercy and hundreds of other settlers are herded together and ordered by the Indians to start walking. The grueling journey -- three hundred miles north to a Kahnawake Indian village in Canada -- takes more than 40 days. At first Mercy's only hope is that the English government in Boston will send ransom for her and the other white settlers. But days turn into months and Mercy, who has become a Kahnawake daughter, thinks less and less of ransom, of Deerfield, and even of her "English" family. She slowly discovers that the "savages" have traditions and family life that soon become her own, and Mercy begins to wonder: If ransom comes, will she take it?
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During this time period in American history, English settlers were concerned about Indian attacks. This is why Mercy's aunt, uncle, and cousins have left their countryside farm and are staying in the stockade with the villagers of Deerfield.
Based on Mercy's silence about this terrible event, what can you infer about her as a character?
One of the themes in this novel will deal with conflicting cultures: beliefs, customs, and values. Look for ideas such as this one, both directly stated and inferred, as the author highlights the conflicting beliefs of the English, the French, and the Indians.
This aerial image of a colonial stockade gives you an idea of what it looks like: the town's citizens are kept inside fences made of pointed posts like these. Soldiers are "quartered" in private houses within the stockade and take turns keeping watch in order to increase security. Consider the pro's and con's of living as a child in a town such as this one. (This annotation contains an image)
The author has been giving clues that the Indians would attack the settlement of Deerfield. Which of the following is the clearest example of foreshadowing this event?
The Indian on Mercy's stairs is a member of the Mohawk tribe and may have looked something like the subject of this painting. What do you think it is that inspires "terror" in Stepmama and curiosity in Mercy? (This annotation contains an image)
The author shows a direct contrast between the way Mercy reacts to the Indian's presence and the way her stepmother reacts. What does this contrast help the reader understand about these characters?
In a Puritan settlement such as Deerfield, the minister provided the people with daily guidance and comfort. As we have seen from Mercy's prayers, the settlers are very concerned with living in accordance with what they see as God's will. This picture shows a Puritan "flock" following their respected minister. How does this image relate to Mercy's thoughts here? (This annotation contains an image)
We've seen multiple examples of Mercy's bravery; what aspect of her character is shown here?
These questions are important: if the Indians are as savage as Mercy has been led to believe and as actions would seem to indicate, why aren't more people murdered? Are the Indians trying to protect some of the townspeople during the fighting in order to have more prisoners? It would seem that the Indians' intent is not to massacre the entire town, so what is the purpose of the raid on Deerfield?
Based on its context in this conversation between Mercy and Ruth, what is the meaning of the idiom, "Praying Indian"?
The intensity of the opening scene of this novel feels like a movie, but it is based on true events: the 1704 Raid on Deerfield, which was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. For a clearer understanding of the real-life conflict, view the introductory video to the website, "Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704." Consider how the historical facts relate to the author's choices in telling the story this way. (This annotation contains a link)
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
The author chooses to use another character's point of view to begin this second chapter. Even though Mercy and Eben live through similar circumstances, how do their experiences differ? Use specific details from the text to explain what effects the author achieves by switching narrators.
As the captives are led up the hill and out of town, Mercy would look back at her annihilated village. This interactive picture of the actual Raid on Deerfield allows you to visualize the attack on families like Eben's and Mercy's. Try rolling your cursor over people, artifacts, and animals to learn more. (This annotation contains a link)
Why does Mercy not want the English to chase the Indians?
What terrible example of situational irony is shown through the story of Eben and his sisters?
Here is another aerial shot of a stockaded settlement. In this case, the artist is depicting Deerfield following the raid. How do the details in the picture compare with the imagery in the author's words? (This annotation contains an image)
Based on evidence found throughout the chapter, what can you infer has happened to Marah?
The image of a soldier or warrior caring for the wounded is one that inspires emotion in many different cultures. How does this modern American statue, depicting soldiers in Fallujah in 2004, relate to Eben's feelings as he observes the Mohawk warriors carrying their wounded? (This annotation contains an image)
Using the details in these two paragraphs, compare and contrast Mercy's mother and stepmother. Based on this comparison, which woman do you feel is the better parent?
Moccasins like these, hand-stitched from animal skin, were essential in this climate during the wintertime. Mercy is impressed first by their warmth, then by their artistry, and finally by the realization that the Indians brought moccasins in children's sizes. What does this detail lead you to believe about the Mohawk warriors who have captured the Deerfield settlers? (This annotation contains an image)
This brief glimpse into Ruth's point of view presents yet another perspective of the situation in addition to Eben's and Mercy's. Compare and contrast these three characters' personalities and insights. Use textual evidence to support your ideas.
Even though Mercy is horrified by the idea of sleeping in a hole scooped out of the snow, modern mountaineers actually advise explorers and outdoor enthusiasts to learn to build this form of shelter in extreme climates. The snow acts as an insulator of body heat. How can you tell that Mercy's Indian wants her - and Daniel - to survive? (This annotation contains an image)
This question will frequently trouble Mercy throughout the novel. It's a great example of internal conflict, when a character struggles with a problem psychologically. This novel also contains multiple examples of external conflict, or conflict between a character and an outside force (man, nature, or society). For more on the types of conflict, view the animation below. (This annotation contains a video)
The author uses figurative language here to describe how Mercy feels when a prisoner escapes. How does his escape make Mercy feel?
The author chooses to include this information at the start of each chapter. How do the details of the setting impact the characters of this novel?
Why is Mercy surprised that "her" Indian is grieving for another Indian's death?
Notice how Mercy mentions that Indian names "had to make a picture." At first, this seems different from English names. However, some of the Puritan children, such as Waitstill and even Mercy herself, also have names that evoke imagery. Names and their meanings have a great deal of significance in this novel, so think about them carefully.
Just a few moments earlier, Mercy thought Tannhahorens was about to torture her to death. What is she starting to realize about him now?
Maybe these cultures have more in common than Mercy first thought: both English and Indian women have a love for beautiful handiwork. The Mohawks were known for their intricate beadwork like the example below. Consider what this information can lead you to infer about the Mohawk women. (This annotation contains an image)
What do these questions indicate about Mercy's state of mind?
Popular in England but less so among the Puritans, children's needlework often included letters of the alphabet and bible verses for practice. In the sampler below, the "s" looks like an uncrossed "f," which was common during this time period. Compare this sampler with the Mohawk beadwork Mercy noticed earlier. How do these examples of art teach us about each culture? (This annotation contains an image)
In the middle of a heartbreaking situation, the children begin to enjoy themselves by sledding and even having a snowball fight. Try to put yourself in these children's shoes: would you be acting this way?
Which of the following is most accurate regarding Mercy's feelings for Tannhahorens?
As the text here indicates, the actions of the settlers when they are under attack is sometimes hard to explain. Keep this in mind as the children learn to adapt to their situation: in order to survive, they sometimes react differently than we would expect them to do.
Many of the children expected Ruth to be one of the first killed on the journey. Surprisingly, the Indians enjoy her. Based on evidence in the text, what is most likely the reason why she is favored?
Remember: names are important! Continue to look for examples throughout the novel of how names are chosen and given. How does a name, especially one given for a specific reason, contribute to one's sense of identity?
These are the first Mohawk words that the children learn, indicating how important they are in Mohawk vocabulary. If the situation was reversed, and Mohawk children were kidnapped by the English, what do you think would be the first words that those children would learn? What does the simple vocabulary of each culture show about their beliefs and values?
The image below shows an Indian with his tomahawk in hand, brandishing a scalp that he has collected. What is the purpose of scalping? Can you think of any parallels between this purpose and the practices of soldiers or warriors from other cultures? (This annotation contains an image)
What is Eben's "theory" about whom the Indians are choosing to let live?
Use the Define feature and read the different definitions for ransom. Based on the context in which the word is here in the story, which of the following sentences also uses this definition of ransom correctly?
Eben's was a common belief held by English settlers during this time period. John Quincy Adams, the fifth president of the United States, once asked: “What is the right of the huntsman to the forest of a thousand miles over which he has accidentally ranged in quest of prey? Shall the fields and vallies, which a beneficent God has formed to teem with the life of innumerable multitudes, be condemned to everlasting barrenness?” Explore the connection between his words and Eben's thoughts.
Why does the author use both "drag" and "tempt" in this sentence?
Notice the mood of the children here and later in the story as they learn more and more from the Indian way of life. What about this culture would appeal to a Puritan child?
Increase Mather (shown below) and his son Cotton were two of the most prominent Puritans in all of the colonies. Increase Mather also founded Harvard College, later Harvard University. Why might Mr. Williams's relationship to these men be important? (This annotation contains an image)
Mercy's theory is that the Indians need children. Why? What other evidence from the text could help support this theory?
Quiz, Chapters 1-4
At this point in the novel, the main conflict has been established. Therefore, the exposition, or beginning, of the novel is complete. As the tension continues to build, this section of the novel is part of the rising action. For more information on the basic parts of a plot, see the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
During this time period, Puritans opposed symbols of Catholic faith, such as a cross or a priest in a cap and gown, as seen on the Pope below. They believed that these symbols could actually endanger the soul of a Puritan. Mercy will later meet a Catholic priest. Pay attention to the inner conflict she experiences as she learns about the Catholic faith firsthand. (This annotation contains an image)
What is Nathaniel's fear?
Snowshoes such as these were made and used for hundreds of years before European settlers arrived in North America. What cultural differences might the use (or disuse) of snowshoes indicate? (This annotation contains an image)
In contrast with this wondrous moment for Joseph, what does the author's word choice and tone here indicate about Mercy's mood? Explain your answer.
Here's a map similar to what Eben wants. Based on the information in the text, identify Deerfield and the Connecticut River. (This annotation contains an image)
What do the Indians mean by this nickname for Ruth?
The boy on the left side of this portrait is wearing clothing that would have been typical of a Puritan child during this era. Compare this image with the description in the text when the Indians change the boys' clothes. (This annotation contains an image)
What has frightened and even "shocked" Eben?
This sentence exemplifies which of the following literary devices?
Why is the author writing some of the words in this scene in italics, but not all?
What theme is the author developing by including Ruth's choice to save the man she believes she hates? Use the text to support your answer.
The author uses a simile here to compare the loons' cries with human weeping. To fully understand this comparison, watch the short video clip below to hear what Mercy hears. How does the author's use of language affect the mood here? (This annotation contains a video)
Tannhahorens has reached his destination; this is Mercy's new home. The image below shows Kahnawake and the St. Lawrence River, both in Quebec, French Canada. Based on the image, what can you infer about life in Kahnawake? (This annotation contains an image)
While the modern French flag now looks different from this description, the flag of Quebec, shown below, still contains fleurs-de-lis. What does this similarity lead you to infer about the influence of French culture in Quebec? (This annotation contains an image)
Watch the following video to understand the difference between flat and round characters. Then, tell which character from this paragraph is round. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdgj4ryTeJg
The piece of art below shows a Catholic priest, escorted by a French colonist, meeting the Native Americans. Catholicism spread among the Indians rapidly. Mercy and the other Puritan children will feel conflicted about the influence of Catholicism. Be on the lookout for other examples of this as you read. (This annotation contains an image)
Use the Define feature for the word aghast. Then, include the word in an original sentence, indicating your understanding.
Based on Ruth's actions, what is most likely to be the answer to Mercy's question here?
The video below shows you not only what a longhouse looked like, but helps you understand the values and beliefs that influenced this type of home, where many generations lived under one roof. What does this video help you understand about Mercy's new home and "family"? (This annotation contains a video)
Why does Mercy hate Tannhahorens at the moment?
Based on context, what is the meaning of the idiom, "the baptism would hold"?
What is the meaning of "nistenha" in the Mohawk language?
By now, you're probably seeing a pattern here: Mercy thinks a lot about mothers and the bonds they build with their families. Keep an eye on these relationships. What theme(s) about motherhood and family do you see developing as the novel progresses?
Many examples of the differences - and the surprising similarities - between Deerfield and Kahnawake are given in the first several pages of this chapter. Find these examples in the previous pages, and analyze how Mercy feels about them.
Why does the author choose to use both the words "magnificent" and "savage" to describe the chief?
A cradle board, like the one seen in the picture below, was used by a Mohawk woman to keep the baby close while she worked in the fields and forests. What does the use of such an item show about Mohawk women and children? (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Sally hesitate before she speaks?
The video below lets you hear a Mohawk prayer being sung. What sort of mood do the words of each prayer establish? (This annotation contains a video)
Based on what you know about Deerfield and the Puritan way of life, why is it that "Mercy had never seen grown men play"?
Based on textual evidence, how does Nistenha feel about Mercy?
Use the short video below to hear the Mohawk language being spoken. Mercy still doesn't understand the meaning of her name; at this point in the novel, what do you think it might mean? (This annotation contains a video)
What is the meaning of this simile as it is used here?
The image below shows the breechclout that Joseph wears. Why is it that Mercy "could not get over the sight" of children dressed in these clothes (or even less)? (This annotation contains an image)
What literary technique is the author using when describing "flames casting soft shadows" on the faces of Mercy's family?
During this time period, several different Indian tribes are allies. Yet, Mercy is picking up on the fact that these tribes were once at war with one another. What does it say about the nature of war, if enemies can later live together in peace, even if it's sometimes strained?
What does this sentence mean?
Why is Mercy ashamed?
For the first time in months, Mercy sees the Indians and Europeans next to one another. How has her opinion changed about whose clothing is strange or silly? Use this painting to help you picture the scene. (This annotation contains an image)
An antagonist in a work of literature opposes the main character. Is Tannhahorens Mercy's antagonist? Use textual evidence to support your answer.
Why did the Indians name Eunice "Aongote"?
Why is it that Mercy will not answer Mr. Williams but will answer to all of these other names?
Quiz, Chapters 5-8
During this time period, Montreal was under French rule but also still home to many Natives. Compare this image with the ones you have seen of Deerfield and similar English settlements. (This annotation contains an image)
A literary paradox occurs when contradictory ideas are used together to form a complex truth. In this case, the children "died" when they were taken from Deerfield, but they are "alive" and sometimes flourishing in this strange new world. What other paradoxes are in this passage?
What does Mercy mean by saying, "there was no trace of Mary Brooks"?
Use the Define feature for the word frippery. Then, choose which of the words below is the clearest example of an antonym (word with the opposite meaning) of frippery.
In colonial America, as in Europe, many brides' fathers were expected to make a payment, or dowry, to the groom's family as part of the marriage contract. Why is Mercy saying Sarah doesn't need a father's dowry to be married into a wealthy family?
Here's another example of a paradox: Mercy is feeling both "joy" and "terror" at the same time. How is it possible to feel these two conflicting emotions simultaneously?
Mercy discovers a talent that she uses to help Sarah and Eben. What is her talent?
What does Mr. Williams's repeat visit indicate?
Remember, Mercy lives with a Mohawk family, but there are other tribes in Kahnawake as well. Why does Mercy notice the differences between the tribes when Mr. Williams doesn't? Would this have always been the case?
Based on context, why is Mr. Williams "sadder" when he looks at Mercy?
The girl shown below was part of the Iroquois / Mohawk nation. Compare and contrast her appearance with the description of Snow Walker given in the text. (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Mercy choose not to speak to Eliza?
What does Mercy's decision to tell Aongote's mother about Mr. Williams indicate?
Mercy's view of Tannhahorens has suddenly taken a dark turn. How does the image below relate to what she thinks she now realizes about him? Do you think Mercy is being fair? (This annotation contains an image)
Mercy is horrified when she discovers the meaning of "Munnonock." Why does she feel that this is a cruel name?
Mercy's decision to escape and the aftermath of that decision become part of the climax of the story. The climax is the point of greatest conflict, also called a turning point. What has "turned" for Mercy? What do you predict will happen in the novel's climax over the next several pages?
What does Nistenha's reaction to Mercy's sneaking the cross show about how she feels toward Mercy?
Do you agree that Mercy should escape from Tannhahorens and his family? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
Remember that Mercy's point of view is often influenced by people like Mr. Williams in addition to her own experiences. Based on details you've seen in the novel, do you agree with this statement that Mercy makes?
This is an example of irony. The sailor that Mercy thought would save her holds her as if he will skin her alive. The Indians that Mercy thought would kill her never handled her so violently. What is the effect of this irony on the story?
Based on context, what does this statement mean?
Tannhahorens finally explains Mercy's name. Although she understood the translation, she didn't really understand the meaning. Now that she does, give specific details from the text to help prove what Tannhahorens is saying about her courage.
Although still conflicted, Mercy finally feels that Nistenha is a true mother figure. Compare this scene to the image below. If Mercy was one of these children, which one would she be, and why? (This annotation contains an image)
The climax ends when Mercy returns to Kahnawake and she and Tannhahorens understand one another better. Yet, her internal conflict remains. The falling action of the novel will deal with Mercy's lingering doubts over whether she is betraying her family and heritage by living in Kahnawake.
What do the details in this sentence indicate?
This is the second time this idiom is used. What does it mean?
After you take the quiz at the end of this chapter, don't forget to read "The Endings" and the "Author's Note" before you close the book. Caroline B. Cooney explains her inspiration for the novel and what really happened to real-life characters such as Joseph, Eunice, and even little Daniel.
The illustration below is of a woman named Molly Brant, or Konwatsijayenni, as she was named by her Mohawk tribe. Molly served as a liaison between the Mohawks and the English settlers in her time. How could this illustration also represent Mercy Carter? (This annotation contains an image)
Why does the author use the simile, "flung about like a leaf in a storm"?
The rain and the river are both used symbolically here. What does the water symbolize?
Although the circumstances for each powwow are obviously very different, this video shows a modern version of a Mohawk powwow in Kahnawake, Canada. Compare the details in the text with what you see in this modern video. (This annotation contains a video)
The concept of naming has been an important one throughout the novel. What point do you think the author is making about our names for ourselves and others? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.
Why does Mercy want to avoid Ebenezer?
Mercy is pushy with Annisquam, insisting that he give her answers. What she's really looking for is an easy answer to her own internal conflict: does she remain loyal to her own family and heritage or embrace her new life and family? Pay attention to how this conflict is finally resolved in the final pages of the novel.
This map shows the "three oceans" that Joseph and the Indians would cross to get from Quebec to the Western United States. What are the "oceans"? (This annotation contains an image)
The term "assimilation" is often used to describe what happens when someone who is new to a culture changes his / her ways in order to survive and even thrive. How does Mercy's tobacco pouch indicate the she is assimilating?
Over the past several pages, the author has given clues that something is amiss: Indian men and boys leaving unexpectedly, Nistenha suddenly deciding on a trip for Mercy among them. What literary technique is being used?
Why is Snow Walker speaking "frantically"?
What literary technique is used here?
Mercy is avoiding Nistenha and Snow Walker's attempts to hold her back, but she isn't running toward Deacon Sheldon, either. Does her reaction to this miraculous event surprise you?
Here is the resolution to Mercy's internal conflict, but it may not be what the reader expected. What has Mercy realized about her desire to know whether she belongs in Deerfield or Kahnawake?
Although Mercy chooses not to be ransomed, some prisoners were. See the historic marker below, which is posted in modern-day Deerfield. What do you learn from this sign? (This annotation contains an image)
The most important aspect of a story is its theme. The following video will give you a specific strategy that you can use to determine the theme in a book like this one. After watching, use the strategy to help you determine a significant theme of this novel. (This annotation contains a video)
The title of this novel is The Ransom of Mercy Carter. The monetary ransom never occurs, but how might this title still fit the novel? Explain Mercy's true "ransom."
Quiz, Chapters 9-12