The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead, written by Marilynne Robinson , centers around the Reverend John Ames, an aging pastor in the small Iowa town of Gilead; while fictional, is told in an autobiographical style as he nears death. Ames is portrayed as a thoughtful and sympathetic man, less an...
active participant in his own life and more of an observer, struggling to deal with sorrow for the many things he has left unresolved.
More specifically, Ames struggles internally with much throughout the story, including his grandfather's legacy as a radical abolitionist during the Civil War, his father's loss of faith and eventual abandonment of their community, his loneliness and resentment and grief over the loss of his first wife, his inability to fully address the hardships of those around him, and most importantly of all, his hostility and distrust toward Jack Boughton, a disgraced young man who has returned to their town after a prolonged absence and struck up a connection with Ames' wife Lila and their son.
Despite Ames' initial animosity toward Boughton, he eventually softens when he learns that Boughton is also suffering familial heartache: a forced estrangement from his own wife due to Southern segregation laws. Walking a mile in another man's shoes often evokes empathy, as it does here. In addition, Ames writes a letter to his son that involves highlights from his life as well as sage advice, and this experience allows him to mentally and emotionally sort through the dubious issues he had struggled with involving his own paternal figures.
His concern for how Lila and his son will fare once he's gone leads him to eventually embrace the surrogate family portrait created by Jack, Lila and his son, leading Ames to finally accept Jack and bless him. The story ends quietly and with little fanfare. Ultimately, Robinson's treatise on how embracing compassion, love, and understanding can assuage suffering and help us compensate for the fallibility of our own human nature.