Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Paradise, which focuses on the love of God, is Morrison’s third novel in a trilogy of books dealing with various kinds of love. As the book opens, a violent, bloody massacre takes place at the Convent, a run-down refuge for broken women located near the small town of Ruby, Oklahoma.
The inhabitants of Ruby are descendants of a group of dark-skinned African Americans who migrated west in the 1870’s from Mississippi and Louisiana. Hoping to be accepted in Fairly, a town of lighter-skinned blacks, they were turned away. This event becomes memorialized in the town’s history as “The Disallowing.” The nomadic group finally established a town that they named Haven. During the World War II years, however, the morals of Haven declined so much that the town elders became convinced that they should establish a new town, Ruby, named after the deceased sister of the town’s two patriarchs, Deek and Steward Morgan.
The centerpiece of Ruby is the transported Oven, a brick kiln and shrine to the town’s unity as well as the gathering place for town business and remembering. Ruby is a proud town, cloistered and protective of its immunity from the evils of the outside world. In this town, there is no tolerance for the less than righteous. Sin is either suppressed or secret.
Despite the town’s stringent vigilance against the intrusion of sin and sinners, the weight of transgression and progress from the world outside—mostly sins of the flesh and a weakening of religious constraint—bears heavily upon the town. At the novel’s beginning, the height of the mid-1970’s social revolution sends the town’s...
(The entire section is 678 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
The opening sentences of Paradise are startling and hint at the ominous events that unfold in the novel. “They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time. No need to hurry out here.” “They” refers to a group of nine men, composed of many of the founders of the city of Ruby, Oklahoma, who have taken it upon themselves to kill the six women who live in a mansion that townsfolk have named the Convent, seventeen miles outside of Ruby. Although the mansion was originally owned by an embezzler—and contains sexually explicit paintings and statues depicting sensual poses—a former nun, Mary Magna, turned the house into a school for orphaned Native American girls. When the novel opens, however, Mary is dying, and her daughter, Consolata/Connie—a Brazilian orphan whom Mary has raised as her own—has been elevated to the role of mother superior for the numerous women who will take refuge in the house.
The plot of the novel develops in a nonlinear fashion, twisting and turning in a labyrinthine way that involves multiple perspectives, mysterious clues to the identities of characters, and fragmentary allusions to historical events. These elements must be stitched together in order to reveal the action of the novel. For example, the white girl mentioned in the first sentence is never identified, nor is it ever clear why a white girl is among the women at the Convent. Numerous subplots digress from the opening action, revealing bits of information about Ruby’s history and the reasons for the men’s attack upon the Convent. Several of the novel’s chapters take their title from the name of one of the women residing at the Convent, and a portion of the chapter tells that woman’s story before digressing in other directions concerning the complex relationship between Ruby and the Convent.
Although the action of Paradise occurs in the 1970’s, culminating with the Convent attack in 1976, the historical events that underlie the plot involve the migration of black people from the South to the West in the late eighteenth century. The novel tells of several families that got together—among them, families whose descendants would...
(The entire section is 899 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Nine men from the all-black town of Ruby, Oklahoma, are ready to launch a military-style assault against the five women living in a former nunnery called the Convent, located seventeen miles outside town. The women represent everything that, at minimum, two of the men, twin brothers Deacon (Deek) and Steward Morgan, have fought against all their lives: white people and “white blood,” or light-skinned blacks. They enter the Convent and “shoot the white girl first. With the rest [of the women] they can take their time.”
Ruby had been founded by the descendants of the original exiles from Louisiana and Alabama who, in 1889, traveled west toward the “free” territory of Oklahoma. Arriving there, they were turned away from town after town by Choctaws and poor whites. The most traumatic event, one the Morgans have never forgotten, was being turned away by citizens of the all-black town of Fairly, Oklahoma. Although the real reason for their “disallowing” was their lack of cash or capital, Deacon and Steward believe skin-color prejudice, and not economic discrimination, had kept them out of Fairly, a town of light-skinned blacks. So the “8-rock” blacks, so called for the blackness of the “deep deep level in the coal mines,” founded the town of Haven and made it exclusive: No American Indians, whites, or light-skinned blacks were allowed to reside there. When the Great Depression took its toll on the town, the surviving people of Haven moved deeper into unpopulated Oklahoma Territory, avoided the major cities, and founded Ruby, named for the Morgan brothers’ mother, who had died in transit.
The Morgan twins are married to twin sisters, Dovey and Soane. Steward and Dovey cannot have children, and Deacon and Soane had lost both of their sons in the Vietnam War. Sterility and death have led the four to other forms of compensation: Dovey has an imaginary friend, suggesting her withdrawal into childhood. Soane, who had an abortion (the result of an affair) shortly after she and Deacon were married, regularly takes a “tonic” (prepared by Connie Sosa) that prevents her from getting pregnant again; she also talks to birds, warning them to “watch out” for Deacon, who hunts quail. Deacon is having an affair with Connie, as had Steward, and both are losing their grip on power in Ruby.
A new minister, the Reverend Misner, has started a credit union, whose favorable interest rates threaten the Morgans’ bank. The Morgans’ nephew, K. D. Morgan, the son of their dead older brother, has insulted his pregnant girlfriend, Arnette Fleetwood, with a public slap in the face; now, her father, Arnold Fleetwood, wants justice. The Morgans are forced to promise to pay for her college education. K. D., who is having an affair with Grace “Gigi” Gibson, wants to end his relationship with Arnette, but because...
(The entire section is 1164 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Toni Morrison’s Paradise explores a little-known fact of African American history: the migration of African Americans to the West after the Civil War. Like many whites who went west in the latter half of the nineteenth century, African Americans who migrated west sought a better life. In the case of African Americans, however, a central facet of that better life was isolation from white discrimination. For that reason, black townships were formed in Oklahoma and Texas. Morrison’s novel focuses upon a fictional township called Ruby in the state of Oklahoma during the 1970’s. Ruby is actually the second township formed by the fictional community at the center of her novel. The first was named Haven and fell apart in the 1930’s as cotton prices dropped and the town’s population shrank because of limited opportunity and isolation. The founders of Ruby, who had descended from the founders of Haven, moved their town, bringing with them the oven which was at the center of Haven. They made the oven the centerpiece of Ruby. Inscribed upon its lip were the words the original founders had seen as the central tenet of their founding faith: “Beware the Furrow of His Brow.” However, as a result of time and use, the words were now worn away so that some in town could only make out “The Furrow of His Brow” and others thought they might even read “Be the Furrow of His Brow.”
On the outskirts of the town, there is a competing “paradise”: a Convent that has fallen into disuse and become home to an array of wandering and desperate women, at least one of whom is white. The Convent has many characteristics that a reader would associate with various “havens” or paradises. Originally built as an “embezzler’s folly,” the convent was lavish and ornate with marble and teak flooring and fixtures and statuary that celebrated the sensual. It later...
(The entire section is 767 words.)
Chapter Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1 - Ruby Summary and Analysis
Nine Unnamed Men from the town of Ruby: they are the figures around whom this chapter centers. The reader learns the following information about them:
• The men are not hurrying or acting in a nervous fashion.
• Several of the men are related: there is a father-and-son team and a pair of twin brothers.
• The twin brothers are 52 years old. They are not very much alike; in fact, now that they are grown men, they no longer even look alike. One is a natural leader who heads this expedition. The brothers are grandchildren of Morgan, one of the founders of Haven, who put the message on the Oven door. They are the brothers of Ruby; it was her death that settled the...
(The entire section is 1705 words.)
Chapter 2 - Mavis Summary and Analysis
Mavis Albright: a housewife in Maryland whose baby twins have suffocated in a parked car; she is 27 years old.
Frank Albright: Mavis’ husband.
Sal: Mavis and Frank’s daughter, the eldest of their children. She repeatedly hurts her mother in a most malicious and obvious fashion.
Frankie James: one of Mavis and Frank’s two sons.
Billy James: the other of Mavis and Frank’s two sons.
Merle and Pearl: the twin babies whose deaths begin the chapter.
June: The journalist who interviews Mavis and her children; her supposedly professional probing seems condescending and unkind.
Birdie Goodroe: Mavis’ mother....
(The entire section is 1553 words.)
Chapter 3 - Grace Summary and Analysis
Gigi (Grace): an outsider who comes to Ruby and goes to the Convent.
K. D.: the nephew of Deek and Steward Morgan, and the nephew described in the first chapter. As described there, he is spoiled.
Good and Ben: the two dogs K. D. tends at the beginning of the chapter.
Arnette Fleetwood: K. D.’s girlfriend. She is fifteen and pregnant.
Billie Delia: Arnette’s friend. Billie has a reputation as a loose young woman. She, Arnette, and K. D. are among the group of young people who hang out at the Oven, a habit that the older residents of Ruby do not appreciate.
Deacon (Deek) Morgan: one of the leading men in Ruby. He and his twin...
(The entire section is 1877 words.)
Chapter 4 - Seneca Summary and Analysis
Dovey Morgan (nee Blackhorse): wife of Steward Morgan and sister of Soane Morgan. She worries about her husband and the future of her town.
Menus Jury: a man who lives in Ruby; a member of one of the founding families. He served in Vietnam and has a drinking problem.
Reverend Pulliam: one of Ruby’s three spiritual leaders. The reverend of New Zion (Methodist) Church, he represents the old ways of thinking and decries the behavior of the youth of Ruby. His first name is Senior.
Destry Beauchamp: a young man who speaks up at the town meeting. He and his brother Royal challenge the old notions about the message on the Oven, and they are not very respectful to...
(The entire section is 5631 words.)
Chapter 5 - Divine Summary and Analysis
Pallas Truelove: a young woman with a troubled past. She appears to be a child from an interracial marriage. Originally from Los Angeles, she runs away from home and eventually finds the Convent.
Carlos: Pallas’ boyfriend. He was the janitor at the exclusive girls’ school she attended. He is much older than Pallas. He eventually leaves her for her mother.
The chapter begins with K. D. and Arnette’s wedding ceremony. It is three years since her pregnancy and the incident between their families, as described in “Grace.” The event is the setting of a battle between the two main spiritual leaders of Ruby: Reverend Pulliam and...
(The entire section is 2860 words.)
Chapter 6 - Patricia Summary and Analysis
Patricia Best: mother of Billie Delia and daughter of Roger and Delia Best; she is a schoolteacher.
Nathan DuPres: the oldest man in town. He tells a story from his childhood at the Christmas production. (He tells the same story every year.) He is also the owner of Hard Goods, the horse that K. D. Morgan, when he was a small boy, once rode to victory in the race at the founding of Ruby.
Patricia Best is at home, but she is thinking about the upcoming Christmas play. She is certain that it will be the same as every year before. She is a little tired; she has been listening to her father, Roger Best, rhapsodize about his grand business...
(The entire section is 4824 words.)
Chapter 7 - Consolata Summary and Analysis
Sister Roberta: one of the nuns at the Native American girls’ school.
Penny and Clarissa: two Native American girls (the last two, it seems, in the Convent’s tradition of “educating” Native American girls), who look up to Connie and appeal to her for help.
Lone DuPres: Ruby’s midwife and one of the town’s oldest women. She helps Connie to explore and develop her abilities and, therefore, helps to bring Consolata out into the open.
Piedade: a mythical figure in Consolata’s stories and lessons. Though described as a woman, Piedade has various powers and may be something of a shape-shifter.
As Gigi said...
(The entire section is 4302 words.)
Chapter 8 - Lone Summary and Analysis
Lone DuPres is hurrying back from the Convent, driving too quickly at night. One of the oldest residents in Ruby, she was rescued by the first settlers of Haven. Lone was adopted and trained by Fairy DuPres, Haven’s midwife. When Fairy died, Lone took over as Ruby’s midwife. Except for her, the town of Ruby is unaware of the plan cooked up by a few men to “deal with” the “threat” of the Convent women.
As she drives, Lone broods over history. Her career as a midwife is practically over. This bothers Lone, partially because it is only now that she is as mobile as she has long wanted to be, with a real car instead of recalcitrant mules or horses. But modern ideas have made women...
(The entire section is 2446 words.)
Chapter 9 - Save-Marie Summary and Analysis
Save-Marie: not a true character; she has died just before the time frame of the chapter. She was the youngest of Jeff and Sweetie Fleetwood’s sickly children. The others are Noah, Esther, and Ming.
Manley Gibson: Gigi’s father, a convict recently removed from death row.
Dee Dee Truelove: Pallas’ mother.
This chapter opens with a funeral, the first one in Ruby’s history. Save-Marie was the youngest of Jeff and Sweetie’s children, all of whom, we will recall, were extremely unhealthy from their first breaths. Save-Marie’s funeral is the first public one in Ruby, and she is considered to be the first citizen of Ruby...
(The entire section is 2809 words.)