For what reasons have the townspeople come to this Convent before the night of the first chapter?

The townspeople, especially men, tell themselves they have come to the Convent to destroy a place that they claim is corrupting their town. In reality, however, they have to destroy it because they are scared of the changes that are happening in their society.

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At the beginning of the novel nine unnamed men from the town of Ruby break into the Covent in order to shoot all the women inside. They have set up their town of Ruby as a place of religious purity and, in their opinion, the Convent is a corrupting influence and a major threat to what they have worked so hard to build. It may be run by Catholic nuns, but these nuns encourage immoral behaviour by taking in women that have got themselves into trouble by falling pregnant or running away from an abusive relationship.

One of the men does admit to feeling guilty about killing the women, but he says,

the place is diseased. . .they managed to call into question the value of almost every woman [he] knew.

In his view, the town of Ruby does not one have "sloven women" among its numbers because, quite simply, the women are not preyed upon. They can walk down the streets without ever feeling threatened.

Of course, the fact that women from Ruby run to the Convent for shelter completely contradicts his view. In this respect, and in reality, they are attacking the Convent because it shows them as the same as the intolerant, old fashioned society they have become. The town has become so focused on its original aim to provide a haven for Black people that have been unable to move with the times.

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