Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 371
The Incendiaries is 2018 novel by R.O. Kwon. Kwon (herself an alumna of Yale University) spent ten years writing the novel, which is in part inspired by her experiences as a young adult. The themes include privilege, religion, and cult mentality.
One of the major aspects separating Will from his peers at Edwards College is the relative poverty in which he was raised. Will's father left when he was young, and his mother bags groceries for a living. Will hides from his peers the fact that he works at a restaurant to make extra money, which he spends on clothing to keep up the appearance that he, too, is wealthy. Conversely, Phoebe is very wealthy a result of the death of her mother (for which she feels responsible). At the outset of the novel, Phoebe and Will are in love, but their financial circumstances are a source of tension and secrecy.
Will is a former evangelical Christian who transferred out of Jubilee Bible college in California after his freshman year of college. He experienced a devastating loss of faith that makes him especially suspicious of the cult on campus sponsored by one John Leal. Will mocks his girlfriend Phoebe's obsession with John Leal and the cult, "Jejah." Will transferred to Edwards (a fictional elite university on the east coast) in order to escape from his former Christian life in California. Will's loss of faith occurred when he was praying in his room after a mission trip to Beijing. He asked God for a sign and, when he got none, realized he was praying to no one. Throughout the novel, Will misses certain aspects of the Christian faith. Specifically, he misses peace of mind that Christianity gave him, as well as having someone to whom to pray. Though he is an avowed atheist, he feels a void left by his former religion.
Leal was a former student at Edwards. He uses his influence to start a cult which he calls "Jejah" (Korean for "disciple"). In the novel, Christianity and cult mentalities are presented somewhat similarly. Additionally, "Jejah" has as its aims the bombing of an abortion clinic, and John Leal frequently uses religious language to inspire his followers to commit destructive acts.
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