Gilead | Study Guide

Marilynne Robinson

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Gilead | Section 15 | Summary



John finally reveals his issue with Jack. While Jack was in college, he impregnated a girl. Jack never acknowledged his child, nor made "any provision for it at all." Boughton and Glory would go out to visit the child, and bring money, but she was never well cared for and died at the age of three. She was never even given a name. He recalls a day he went with Glory to take some things to Jack's daughter. They parked away from the property and watched her play in the river with her mother. In the present, he watches his son play with Tobias. Then, Jack arrives to practice baseball with them.

Jack comes by the church to speak with John. He asks again about predestination. They discuss a few other subjects including the lack of black families in Gilead, though there used to be some. When Jack leaves, he tells John how sorry he is, and John finds he has tears in his eyes. John thinks back on Jack's youth and how troublesome he was with his pranks. John always saw a certain meanness in him.

John celebrates his 77th birthday, and his son is disappointed that Jack does not attend. John feels guilty and brings an apology note to Jack. Jack agrees to talk to him again. John admits to himself he has never liked Jack, not from the day of his baptism.


When John resolves to write about Jack's story, he reserves the right to burn the pages if he changes his mind. This would be more like Grandfather Ames purifying fire than a fire of anger. Nevertheless, the reader must assume the pages remain intact, as the story is still present in the letter.

John reiterates his bond to Jack, the kind that "oblige [him] to special tolerance and kindness towards this young man." Jack is the beloved son of John's dearest friend. He is Jack's namesake, though John was not prepared to be "blessed" this way in public while performing Jack's baptism. John's feelings on this matter are complicated. John's loss of his wife and child had made him covet Boughton's apparent happiness, and Jack was a poor substitute for having his own child. Because of this "taking offense at the beauty" of Boughton's blessing, John admits to never having "been able to warm to" Jack, and also how far his "thoughts were from blessing him" during Jack's baptism. Naturally, when John learns of Jack's abandoned child, he is horrified that Jack could so easily "squander" the fatherhood John had had taken from him. All of these circumstances make it more difficult for John to forgive Jack. John regards Jack's actions as those of a dishonorable person, and in his estimation, "those who are dishonorable never really repent and never really reform."

Coincidentally, Lila brings one of John's sermons on forgiveness to his attention. In it he has concluded, "grace is the great gift" of God. One half of the gift is to be forgiven and the other half is that "we also can forgive" and "feel the will of God enacted through us." However, John asserts, "it is not for me to forgive Jack," insisting that any harm Jack did to John was "indirect, and really very minor." John is clearly not yet able to be honest with himself about his real feelings.

When Jack comes by to speak with John privately, he asks if it seems right to not "bring a drop of water to those of us who languish in the flames." This analogy fits into the Robinson's symbolism of fire being anger and water being forgiveness. It is Jack's way of asking John for his forgiveness, though he knows John's forgiveness is but a tiny fraction of the forgiveness he needs.

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