Paradise is one of Toni Morrison’s most controversial novels, criticized for appearing to bracket racial injustice to concentrate on gender oppression, particularly the systematic exploitation and sexual abuse of girls and women. However, Morrison does not privilege gender; rather, she draws parallels between gender, race, and class.
It is true that except for Mavis, the one former housewife in the group, all the women at the Convent had suffered sexual abuse of one kind or another during their teenage years. Many of the women have internalized their abuse—for example, Mavis and Gigi have brutal, physical fights—just as the black men of Ruby have internalized the racism and skin-color prejudice that initially drove them into the nethermost regions of Oklahoma.
At the same time, for all its wonderful characterizations and explorations of American history, the novel’s binary oppositions are contrived: not only is Ruby, a sanctuary for men, the polar opposite of the Convent, a sanctuary for women, Ruby’s massive communal Oven, which symbolizes self-sufficiency and a kind of cultural nationalism, is opposed to the giant kitchen in the Convent where the women have a kind of “last supper” before the slaughter. Deacon and Steward, twin brothers, are married to Dovey and Soane, twin sisters. Reverend Misner, the progressive outsider, is opposed by another reverend who is a conservative insider. That the novel succeeds in spite...
(The entire section is 587 words.)