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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In Holy the Firm Dillard explores the metaphysical and religious concerns that inform her first two books, Tickets for a Prayer Wheel and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. In this book, Dillard looks more closely at the problem of pain: How can one reconcile the existence of pain, suffering, and death with a belief in a benevolent God? Set near Puget Sound, Washington, where Dillard lived while writing it, the book is short, spanning only three days. In the first of its three sections, “Newborn and Salted,” Dillard describes a moth being attracted to the flame of a candle and burned to death. The moth’s death is an image to which she often returns in her discussion of the nature of the divinity.

The second section, “God’s Tooth,” is concerned with Julie Norwich, a seven-year-old child who, with her father, survives the crash of his small plane. Unlike her father, however, the child is horribly burned, and her face is destroyed. Asking if God were responsible for this tragedy, Dillard concludes that God cannot be present in a world where an innocent child is mutilated for no reason. “Holy the Firm,” the book’s third and final section, attempts to find a place for a merciful God in a violent world. The solution Dillard achieves is that God owes humankind no explanations. Because God created humans and not vice versa, God is not required to answer to them. Dillard also concludes that the control that people cherish so dearly is only an illusion, that humans are only passengers on earth, along for the ride rather than behind the steering wheel, and on a journey whose destination they cannot know.

For Dillard, accepting or affirming that God is the foundation for all things allows her to believe again in the unity of all things, even when some things—such as the disfigurement of a child—seem unjust. Acceptance of the ineffable nature of God enables Dillard to reaffirm her desire to proclaim the mysteries of the universe through her art and her life, thereby reaffirming the essentially divine nature of...

(The entire section is 531 words.)