(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Paradise, which focuses on the love of God, is Morrison’s third novel in a trilogy of books dealing with various kinds of love. As the book opens, a violent, bloody massacre takes place at the Convent, a run-down refuge for broken women located near the small town of Ruby, Oklahoma.

The inhabitants of Ruby are descendants of a group of dark-skinned African Americans who migrated west in the 1870’s from Mississippi and Louisiana. Hoping to be accepted in Fairly, a town of lighter-skinned blacks, they were turned away. This event becomes memorialized in the town’s history as “The Disallowing.” The nomadic group finally established a town that they named Haven. During the World War II years, however, the morals of Haven declined so much that the town elders became convinced that they should establish a new town, Ruby, named after the deceased sister of the town’s two patriarchs, Deek and Steward Morgan.

The centerpiece of Ruby is the transported Oven, a brick kiln and shrine to the town’s unity as well as the gathering place for town business and remembering. Ruby is a proud town, cloistered and protective of its immunity from the evils of the outside world. In this town, there is no tolerance for the less than righteous. Sin is either suppressed or secret.

Despite the town’s stringent vigilance against the intrusion of sin and sinners, the weight of transgression and progress from the world outside—mostly sins of the flesh and a weakening of religious constraint—bears heavily upon the town. At the novel’s beginning, the height of the mid-1970’s social revolution sends the town’s...

(The entire section is 678 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The opening sentences of Paradise are startling and hint at the ominous events that unfold in the novel. “They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time. No need to hurry out here.” “They” refers to a group of nine men, composed of many of the founders of the city of Ruby, Oklahoma, who have taken it upon themselves to kill the six women who live in a mansion that townsfolk have named the Convent, seventeen miles outside of Ruby. Although the mansion was originally owned by an embezzler—and contains sexually explicit paintings and statues depicting sensual poses—a former nun, Mary Magna, turned the house into a school for orphaned Native American girls. When the novel opens, however, Mary is dying, and her daughter, Consolata/Connie—a Brazilian orphan whom Mary has raised as her own—has been elevated to the role of mother superior for the numerous women who will take refuge in the house.

The plot of the novel develops in a nonlinear fashion, twisting and turning in a labyrinthine way that involves multiple perspectives, mysterious clues to the identities of characters, and fragmentary allusions to historical events. These elements must be stitched together in order to reveal the action of the novel. For example, the white girl mentioned in the first sentence is never identified, nor is it ever clear why a white girl is among the women at the Convent. Numerous subplots digress from the opening action, revealing bits of information about Ruby’s history and the reasons for the men’s attack upon the Convent. Several of the novel’s chapters take their title from the name of one of the women residing at the Convent, and a portion of the chapter tells that woman’s story before digressing in other directions concerning the complex relationship between Ruby and the Convent.

Although the action of Paradise occurs in the 1970’s, culminating with the Convent attack in 1976, the historical events that underlie the plot involve the migration of black people from the South to the West in the late eighteenth century. The novel tells of several families that got together—among them, families whose descendants would...

(The entire section is 899 words.)