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...
(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,...
(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...
(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”:...
(The entire section is 767 words.)
Paradise is about the relationship between two communities—the town of Ruby, Oklahoma, and a very small but largely self-sufficient group of women who live in what has come to be known as the Convent, located on the outskirts of Ruby.
The people of Ruby were once filled with a common purpose—they trusted, needed, and relied upon each other. But in more recent times, with which this novel is concerned, Ruby has been experiencing a whole range of difficulties. The town’s shared existence is threatened, and in their desperation to find some kind of solution, the townspeople blame and attack the women in the Convent. The women become convenient scapegoats for all the unresolved emotions pent up in the prominent men of Ruby, who have felt powerless to halt the unraveling of their homes.
Paradise is a novel of interwoven portraits. They are not exactly portraits of people, places, or of periods of time; they are portraits of striving and conflict. The portraits center on all of the things that are done to protect what has been worked for and sacrificed for, to keep the town safe from the forces of destruction that lie in wait all around.
The events of the first chapter actually occur near the end of the chronological story. The year is 1976, and a few men from Ruby attack the women who live in a single building, which is referred to as “the Convent,” not very far from their town. The men believe (or at least...
(The entire section is 1033 words.)
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 debate about the town’s name.
• The youngest of the men is a nephew of the twin brothers. He is troubled by mental pictures of the murdered victims. He thinks that one of them is staring and waving her fingers at him. He won a local horse race in Haven when he was just a boy. Ruby was his mother, and he grew up spoiled by sympathetic elders.
Morgan: the ironmonger (blacksmith) who contributes his nails to the Oven, at the founding of Haven. We find that this must be his last name, but we do not learn what his first name is.
Ossie: a citizen of Haven who had once organized a horse race as part of a town celebration and picnic. We find out later that his last name is Beauchamp.
Ruby: the woman after...
(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. She allows Mavis to stay with her, but is not supportive of and does not really trust her daughter. After several days, Birdie calls Frank to come and get his wife.
Dusty: the first of the hitchhikers Mavis picks up on her way West.
Bennie: the last of the hitchhikers that Mavis picks up. Bennie sings very well and is Mavis’ favorite, even though Bennie steals Mavis’ raincoat and yellow boots.
Connie: an unusual woman who takes Mavis in at the Convent.
Soane Morgan (nee Blackhorse): a rather formal, well-to-do woman who comes to the Convent to pick up pecans and some other mystery item. She gives Mavis a ride from the Convent. She is married to Deacon Morgan.
(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 brother, Steward, are the twin brothers in the first chapter.
Steward Morgan: the more outspoken of the two Morgan brothers. Steward has leased his ranch to a gas company.
Arnold Fleetwood: Arnette’s father and one of the leading men in Ruby.
Mabel Fleetwood: Arnold’s wife, a woman whose people played an important role in the histories of both Haven and Ruby.
Jeff Fleetwood: Arnold’s son and Arnette’s brother. Recently returned to Ruby from Vietnam, Jeff and his wife Sweetie live with his parents. He has a violent temper. He is ready to stand up for his family and very ready to fight.
Sweetie Fleetwood: Jeff’s wife. Their children have been plagued by health problems. Some of...
(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 their elders.
The Friend: a mysterious but friendly man who visits Dovey Morgan on the porch of their little house in town (as opposed to their ranch outside of town). Neither Dovey nor the reader ever learn much about him.
Elder Morgan: the older brother of Steward and Deacon. He does not appear in the novel, but remains a figure in the memories of the twins. Although Elder had many children, they did not stay in Ruby and are not included in the novel.
Rector Morgan (Big Daddy): the father of Elder, Steward, Deacon, and (the late) Ruby Morgan. Like his father, Zechariah, Rector remains a figure in the memories of the twins and is featured in the stories/history lessons told by the invisible narrator. He...
(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 Reverend Misner.
The chapter opens with Reverend Pulliam addressing the room; he is a guest preacher in Misner’s Baptist church. Pulliam’s words are harsh as he tells the bride and groom, and everyone else attending, that love is not the weak, easy thing they all seem to think it is. Love might be God’s gift to mankind, but love that is not on God’s terms is nothing but delusion and stupidity. God, and God’s rules, will always come first, and couples who marry without being in accordance with these rules are doomed.
Not very surprisingly, this is uncomfortable to hear at a wedding, and everyone is embarrassed and somewhat ashamed, which may be what Pulliam wants. But it seems clear that he is carrying forth in...
(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 schemes. But her mind is full of thoughts, some of them troubling, and she decides to go upstairs and work on her “project.”
Unbeknownst to the people of Ruby, Pat Best, the schoolteacher, is also the town’s unofficial historian. As such, she is trying to compose the town’s history. One might expect that the people of Ruby, who in general, seem distinctly proud, would hardly mind sharing their families stories, but Pat finds that people are very reluctant to tell her much. They do not appreciate her efforts to dig into their pasts.
Pat’s collection of family trees expands as she pieces together an assortment of information, including stories told over the years, gossip and rumors, and anecdotes gleaned from her...
(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 many pages earlier, Connie spends almost all her time in the cellar now. She does as little as possible, hardly moving from her dark, cool cellar, where she consumes bottle after bottle of the wine stored there many years before, by the sisters of the former convent. She has become broken in spirit and merely longs for death. The women and girls around her cause no feelings of sympathy but only rage and feeble hatred.
Connie was nine years old when she was rescued from a dead-end childhood by the nun who later became the Mother Superior at the Catholic school outside of Ruby. For 30 years Connie lived and grew up there, and the faith that she built fell apart the moment she saw a tall man in Ruby, when she was there on an errand...
(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 think that a hospital is the right place to have a baby, and all of Lone’s traditional practices provoke scorn or amusement instead of the respect they should.
Lone remembers Fairy’s comments on how their trade is truly perceived by the male half of Ruby. The husbands distrust midwives because of the unusual position in which the men are placed during their wives’ childbirth. There is nothing the men can contribute to the situation, and this makes the men feel powerless, a situation they cannot possibly deal comfortably with. This intense dislike of the situation carries over, to some extent, into distrust for the midwives themselves.
Lone’s thoughts turn to the Convent again, and to the town’s feelings...
(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 to die in the town; although Delia Best, Pat’s mother, is buried in her own “back yard,” her death was not thought of as official, for several reasons. Regardless of this, the aura of immortality that Pat had once thought about is gone. Some speculate, privately, that the mysterious veil of protection is gone because of what happened at the Convent.
That was in July, and now it is November. The funeral is well attended, but Sweetie refuses to be consoled. She harbors much bitterness toward the Morgan brothers. Some, notably Pat Best, speculate about whether or not Sweetie’s reserve has in it elements of manipulation. Always the observer, Pat considers “the new” Ruby and thinks about the Oven. There is new graffiti...
(The entire section is 2809 words.)