Judgmental Attitudes, Isolation, and Forgiveness in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead

Judgmental Attitudes, Isolation, and Forgiveness in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead

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In Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead narrator and reverend John Ames seeks to transcend the isolation he feels from the title town through a letter to his son. John Ames holds the ironic role of moral leader and recluse, which leaves him alienated from the people who respect him. His isolation is a byproduct of his independence; an independence that distances him from those he loves: Jack Boughton and his son. This estrangement is represented in the text by his heart condition which prevents him from watching his son grow up, metaphorically epitomizing the damage that his years of solitude have done to him. Therefore, in order to find a way to transcend his temporal life and imminent death, he writes a letter to his son offering something guidance, as consolation for leaving him in poverty and destitution. The letter serves to offer his son guidance and understanding of his father’s identity after he dies and as a plea for forgiveness for the narrator’s isolation, critical ways, and for leaving his son’s life too soon. Ultimately, Gilead portrays a forced distance between father and son due to the father’s death. It reveals the isolation of independence and it expresses forgiveness in the face of loneliness. Through this construction of a father-son relationship, the text critiques independence and reveals a value in forgiveness, acknowledging that the impermanent nature of humanity leaves distance between people and that the nature of writing gives some level of permanence.

Ironically, John Ames’ role as preacher causes him to become the estranged moral leader in the community that respects him so much. Those who respected him for “all those hours [he] was up [there] working” on his sermons and studies distanced themselv...


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...ent it causes between him, Jack, and his young son illustrates the dangers of independence and self-reliance in Gilead. Ultimately, the novel acknowledges the imperfections of others but does not offer a method of change so much as an emphasis of understanding and forgiveness. The letter of John Ames to his son reveals a plea from a father to his child of his own faults and his desire for forgiveness because of them. Ultimately, writing allows an individual to live on after death and have a level of permanence which allows one to have an enduring identity. Gilead critiques judgmental attitudes and isolation and reveals the value of forgiveness through John Ames’ story. Forgiveness allows one to transcend misunderstandings and differences and recognize the value of others.

Work Cited

Robinson, Marilynne. Gilead . New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004

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