Course Hero. "Gilead Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 Feb. 2018. Web. 20 May 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Gilead/>.
Course Hero. (2018, February 13). Gilead Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 20, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Gilead/
(Course Hero, 2018)
Course Hero. "Gilead Study Guide." February 13, 2018. Accessed May 20, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Gilead/.
Course Hero, "Gilead Study Guide," February 13, 2018, accessed May 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Gilead/.
Appropriately for a meditative novel about faith, Gilead is full of references from both the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible. The parable of the prodigal son is central to Gilead's narrative about fathers and sons. In that parable, found in Luke 15:11–32, a father has two sons, one who is faithful and stays home, and the other who takes his share of his father's estate, leaves home, and spends the money unwisely. When this prodigal son returns home, the faithful son is angry and finds it unfair that his father should welcome his brother with a feast. But, the father says, they should rejoice because "this brother was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." In Gilead, John feels like the faithful brother, as his own brother, Edward, renounces his faith. Despite this act, John feels as though his father still loves Edward more, even moving away from Gilead to be near Edward. This buried resentment is part of the reason John is unable to forgive Boughton's "prodigal" son, Jack.
Other major biblical references include the following:
In addition to biblical allusions, Robinson also references a number of great thinkers including philosophers, writers, and historical figures. Central to the question of faith and spirituality in Gilead is John's discussion of the German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72). As John mentions, Feuerbach wrote The Essence of Christianity (1841), which inspired his brother Edward to atheism. John reads it "in secret" so as to avoid upsetting his parents, but he claims he finds nothing offensive in it, only that Feuerbach is wrong to distance joy from Christianity. John quotes Feuerbach's view of water being "the image of the spotless nature of the Divine Spirit." This view of water is central to the symbolism of baptism and forgiveness of sin.
Other major personalities referred to include the following (in the order they appear in the novel):
In Gilead, John Ames's grandfather, also named John Ames, goes to Kansas as part of the Free Soil movement prior to the American Civil War (1861–65). Free Soilers believed that slavery should not expand into the western territories that were not yet states, such as Kansas. They thought that an economic system in which "free men" work "on free soil" was superior to a system built on slaves.
Grandfather Ames is (fictionally) involved in the events of Bleeding Kansas (1855–61), a series of violent episodes between antislavery Free Soilers led by American abolitionist John Brown and proslavery "Border Ruffians." These conflicts occurred as a prelude to the Civil War, when antislavery emigrants came from Northern free states to Kansas specifically to make it a free state. This, too, is Grandfather Ames's expressed reason for moving from Maine to Kansas: he has a vision from God telling him to fight to free slaves.
John Ames recounts a story from his father in which he encounters a wounded soldier in his barn during the violence. The soldier refers to Grandfather Ames being in cahoots with "Osawatomie John Brown." John Brown used the town of Osawatomie, Kansas, as a headquarters for his antislavery activities. On August 30, 1856, hundreds of "Border Ruffians" attacked Osawatomie and killed John Brown's son Frederick. This early skirmish became known as the Battle of Osawatomie and was instrumental in building the legend of John Brown.
An epistolary novel is made up of documents. The most typical form is letters, but novels made up of newspaper articles, blog posts, emails, diary entries, or other historical documents are also considered part of this style. Gilead is conceived as a letter from a dying man to his son, with his intended audience being not only this son (once he is presumably old enough to understand his father's musings), but also God. By naming the writer of her letters John, Robinson clearly alludes to John the Apostle's letters in the Bible.
The major types of epistolary novel are monologic, dialogic, and polylogic: