Gilead | Study Guide

Marilynne Robinson

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Gilead | Section 18 | Summary



John sits with his family outside "enjoying the quiet" when Jack comes by. They chat and John tells Jack he is glad that he is back in town, which Jack does not believe but John insists is true. Lila and Jack talk privately when they think John is asleep, but he overhears them. Lila admits it took her awhile to get used to Gilead, and Jack says to him it "feels a little like returning to the scene of a crime." Jack asks Lila if John warned her about him, and she claims John never speaks "unkindly."


As they sit on the porch in the dark, John thinks again about the question of grace and forgiveness. In the peacefulness of the evening, he can imagine forgetting the "tedious particulars" of Jack's sins and "just feel the presence of his mortal and immortal being." He compares grace to an "ecstatic fire that takes things down to essentials," and in the symbolism Robinson has established for the novel, this would mean that the fire of anger and ashes of regret are essential components in the process of grace because they break down the complex self to lead to an understanding of what is really important—simply that humans exist as eternal souls. This idea runs parallel to Grandfather Ames's idea of "purifying fire."

While John is pretending to sleep, he notices that the "edginess" goes out of Jack's voice while he talks with Lila. He is also struck by how surprised Jack is that Lila has received no warning about him. He notes that perhaps Jack thinks he has been "negligent," but it is more likely John who is projecting his own fear onto Jack. Still, John states he thinks he is finally "reaching some clarity" on the subject of grace and what it means for him.

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