Gilead | Study Guide

Marilynne Robinson

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Gilead | Section 11 | Summary



John does not sleep well for a couple of nights. He watches baseball and falls asleep in his chair. Lila has Jack move some of John's things for him, and John does not like the idea of Jack being in his study. He gives his sermon on Hagar and Ishmael, and Jack shows up at the service. Jack takes the sermon personally, and John worries others in the congregation might feel like it was directed at Jack.


Though the reader does not discover it until Section 15, Jack's "sin" in John's eyes is the abandonment of his child, who later died at three years old in squalid conditions. Though John claims he did not purposefully aim his sermon at Jack, it is likely no coincidence that Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness is on his mind. And, it is no wonder Jack might feel targeted as his treatment of the poor young woman and their daughter amounts to leaving them to the "wilderness." John seems to think his point is that these abandoned and mistreated children are "within the providential care of God," as every child of God ultimately is. But, John could not help but add God's harsh judgment of the perpetrators of evil against children: "It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck" before being "cast into the sea." Thus, despite John's claims of innocence, the text reads as a clear rebuke of Jack's behavior.

Jack has another reason to take John's sermon personally, though neither the reader nor John discovers this reason until the end of the novel. This is when Jack reveals he has left his current wife and child to return to Gilead with the hopes he might bring them back with him one day. Leaving a wife and child behind might be equated in John's mind with sending Hagar and Ishmael out into the wilderness.

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