Gilead | Study Guide

Marilynne Robinson

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Gilead | Section 17 | Summary



John hears Jack laughing on the porch with Lila and their son. Jack brings gourds, and John's son sorts them with Tobias. John thinks about a sermon his father gave after Edward "defected" from the faith. His father had gone to worship with the Quakers instead of his family, and his ill mother insisted on going to Grandfather Ames's service in protest of their son's behavior. John's father could not bear to put his mother through so much pain, so he came back to Grandfather Ames's church.


Robinson uses laughter as a symbol for life, and when John hears Jack with his family out on the porch, it only reminds him how Jack "will still be his inexplicable mortal self" when John is "dust." Here again, John feels his mortality—like he is on the outside of life, no longer really able to participate. He compares the times he has felt lost before with this new experience of being on the edge of death, about to leave "the forgetful world behind [him] to trample ... everything [he] has ever cared for."

John's father's sermon is illustrative that every person has at one time or another acted in "thoughtlessness." John suggests that because every deed (bad or good) is "seen to be in service to the mindfulness of the Lord," a person cannot ever justify staying angry. Of course, John admits this is easier in principle than it is in practicality. And he is still angry with Jack, though he hopes to be able to work through this anger eventually. And indeed, this section is setting up the reader for John's imminent forgiveness of Jack.

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