(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Men and Angels illustrates the possible consequences of parental rejection and implies that people need religion to be complete. The story begins when Laura Post, a twenty-one-year-old drifter, becomes a live-in babysitter for the two children of Anne Foster, who is writing a lengthy catalog on the works of the late artist Caroline Watson, to be used at an exhibition being arranged by Anne’s longtime friend Ben Hardy. Since Anne’s work is time-consuming and since Michael, a professor, is teaching in France that year, she needs someone to tend the children and the house.

Anne hires Laura because her original sitter has changed plans and no other suitable person can be found. Yet she takes an instant disliking to the younger woman, for which she tries to compensate by doing small favors for Laura, such as making her cocoa in the mornings, taking her to lunch, and baking her a birthday cake. Anne’s dislike of Laura is augmented by the latter’s religiosity and her frequent reading of the Bible. Anne, on the other hand, has no conscious religious life. She and Michael do not attend church, and she has never told her children, Peter and Sarah, ages nine and six, respectively, about hell and the devil, thinking these supposedly questionable doctrines might frighten them. While Anne is not an avowed atheist, her highest objects of worship seem to be her spouse and children, whom she keeps safe and secure in their upper-class home.

Although Laura appears to be mentally stable, her lifelong deprivation of parental love (especially from her mother, who seems to hate her) has caused her to embrace religion (of no particular denomination) to the point of madness. She has convinced...

(The entire section is 700 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In Men and Angels, Gordon continues her examination of human love and its limitations and of female identity. She explores these issues in the contexts of work, friendship, motherhood, and male-female relationships. Set in the 1980’s in the fictitious small college town of Selby, Massachusetts, this novel dramatizes, in alternating chapters, the sharply contrasting perspectives of two women, Laura Post and Anne Foster. Although in this novel Gordon moves beyond the world of New York Irish Catholicism, she gives this complex and compelling novel a well-defined religious perspective. Its title and epigraph are the words of Saint Paul: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”

At the outset, neither Laura Post nor Anne Foster fully understands Saint Paul’s words; neither has come to terms effectively with her own needs to love and to be loved. The spiritual conditions of both women fail to empower them: Laura’s spirituality is diseased, while Anne’s is undeveloped. Their relationship proves to be a fatal combination.

Rejected cruelly in childhood by her mother and neglected by her father, twenty-year-old Laura Post has drifted into the byways of fundamentalist and charismatic religious cults. She has come to address the absence of human love in her life by convincing herself that the Holy Spirit has summoned her to teach children that such love—especially family love—is unimportant. Armed with her Bible, from which she has gleaned texts that seem to reinforce this conviction, Laura comes to Selby, where she meets Anne Foster, who, despite some misgivings, hires her as a live-in babysitter for her children, Peter, age nine, and Sarah, age six.

Laura soon becomes enamored of Anne. She imagines...

(The entire section is 751 words.)