Gilead | Study Guide

Marilynne Robinson

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Gilead | Section 19 | Summary



John realizes his letter must seem like he is struggling to understand "what it is he's struggling with." He understands after their night on the porch with Jack that Lila feels settled in life, and this brings him peace. He writes about how he came to be married to Lila. After she showed up at his church, he could not stop thinking about her. He wrote sermons to impress her. One Sunday she did not come and he was terribly sad. He "spent the week missing her as if she were the only friend" he ever had. When she returned, he took her hand and told her she had been missed. She blushed.


This section addresses John's relationship with Lila. Because this is an epistolary novel and the letter is meant for John's son, he does not reveal much about Lila. Presumably this is due to the fact John assumes his son knows his own mother, and indeed will likely know more about her than John does by the time he is old enough to read the letter. But, John's relationship with Lila is instructive for his son at this point in the narrative because it illustrates how John feels about love. He compares "the love of God with mortal love," and says he does not "see them as separate things at all." The pleasure one has in mortal love shows one "the nature of the very grandest love," which is God's unconditional love. John feels he made a fool of himself over Lila, but this is an aspect of passion. It was the first time he felt that all he was—his character, his calling, his reputation—"could just fall away like a dry husk." This type of abrupt transformation is rare, but does occur. He compares it to a dream he had of Grandfather Ames throwing a sheet of water over him and Boughton, and how after they were "shining like apostles." A "baptism" by water is a symbol of transformation, and this one was as "unsought" as Lila's coming in John's life and as his impending death, his next, and last, great transformation.

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