Transcendence in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping Essay

Transcendence in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping Essay

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Transcendence in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping


William H. Burke suggests that transience in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping is a type of pilgrimage, and that “the rigors and self-denials of the transient life are necessary spiritual conditioning for the valued crossing from the experience of a world of loss and fragmentation to the perception of a world that is whole and complete” (717). The world of reality in Housekeeping is one “fragmented, isolated, and arbitrary as glimpses one has at night through lighted windows” (Robinson 50). Many of the characters that precede Ruth in the narrative rebel against something in this world that is not right. Edmund Foster, her grandfather, escapes by train to the Midwest and his house is “no more a human stronghold than a grave” (3). His daughters, Molly, Sylvie, and Helen, all abandon their home and their mother; Helen, in fact, makes the greatest “leap” away from the world into death when she cannot effectively deal with the expectations placed on her to “set up housekeeping in Seattle” with husband and children (14). Ruth takes up a transient life with her mentor and aunt, Sylvie, to escape from history and the past into a new life, a new awareness. Crucial to this spiritual awakening is the abandonment and the isolation of the self. Transience is Ruth’s escape from the impermanent illusory world, a world that rejects one of the tenets of transience, that “the perimeters of our wanderings are nowhere” , in favor of fixity and stasis (218). She acknowledges the world’s illusory nature when she admits that she has “never distinguished readily between thinking and dreaming”, and that “Everything that falls upon the eye is apparition, a sheet dropped over the world’s true workings...


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...orld (219).



Works Cited

Burke, William H. “Border Crossinsgs in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.” Modern Fiction Studies. 37 (Winter 1991): 716-724.

Mallon, Anne-Marie. “Sojourning Women: Homelessness and Transcendence in Housekeepking.” Critique 30 (Winter 1989): 95-105.

Miller, Heather. Grace Through Isolation in Herland, Housekeeping, and Ellen Foster. Masters Thesis. University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg. December 1991.

Ross, Dianne Lillian. The Circle in the Waters: Unity and Visions of Regeneration and Immortality in Housekeeping, To the Lighthouse, and Surfacing. Masters Thesis. UVA May 1986

Schuler, Carol. Crossing the Boundaries with M/Other: Beyond Dualism into the Dream of a World made Whole in Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. Masters Thesis. California State University, Stanislaus. May 1994.

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