Paradise Additional Summary

Toni Morrison


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Nine men from the all-black town of Ruby, Oklahoma, are ready to launch a military-style assault against the five women living in a former nunnery called the Convent, located seventeen miles outside town. The women represent everything that, at minimum, two of the men, twin brothers Deacon (Deek) and Steward Morgan, have fought against all their lives: white people and “white blood,” or light-skinned blacks. They enter the Convent and “shoot the white girl first. With the rest [of the women] they can take their time.”

Ruby had been founded by the descendants of the original exiles from Louisiana and Alabama who, in 1889, traveled west toward the “free” territory of Oklahoma. Arriving there, they were turned away from town after town by Choctaws and poor whites. The most traumatic event, one the Morgans have never forgotten, was being turned away by citizens of the all-black town of Fairly, Oklahoma. Although the real reason for their “disallowing” was their lack of cash or capital, Deacon and Steward believe skin-color prejudice, and not economic discrimination, had kept them out of Fairly, a town of light-skinned blacks. So the “8-rock” blacks, so called for the blackness of the “deep deep level in the coal mines,” founded the town of Haven and made it exclusive: No American Indians, whites, or light-skinned blacks were allowed to reside there. When the Great Depression took its toll on the town, the surviving people of Haven moved deeper into unpopulated Oklahoma Territory, avoided the major cities, and founded Ruby, named for the Morgan brothers’ mother, who had died in transit.

The Morgan twins are married to twin sisters, Dovey and Soane. Steward and Dovey cannot have children, and Deacon and Soane had lost both of their sons in the Vietnam War. Sterility and death have led the four to other forms of compensation: Dovey has an imaginary friend, suggesting her withdrawal into childhood. Soane, who had an abortion (the result of an affair) shortly after she and Deacon were married, regularly takes a “tonic” (prepared by Connie Sosa) that prevents her from getting pregnant again; she also talks to birds, warning them to “watch out” for Deacon, who hunts quail. Deacon is having an affair with Connie, as had Steward, and both are losing their grip on power in Ruby.

A new minister, the Reverend Misner, has started a credit union, whose favorable interest rates threaten the Morgans’ bank. The Morgans’ nephew, K. D. Morgan, the son of their dead older brother, has insulted his pregnant girlfriend, Arnette Fleetwood, with a public slap in the face; now, her father, Arnold Fleetwood, wants justice. The Morgans are forced to promise to pay for her college education. K. D., who is having an affair with Grace “Gigi” Gibson, wants to end his relationship with Arnette, but because...

(The entire section is 1164 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Toni Morrison’s Paradise explores a little-known fact of African American history: the migration of African Americans to the West after the Civil War. Like many whites who went west in the latter half of the nineteenth century, African Americans who migrated west sought a better life. In the case of African Americans, however, a central facet of that better life was isolation from white discrimination. For that reason, black townships were formed in Oklahoma and Texas. Morrison’s novel focuses upon a fictional township called Ruby in the state of Oklahoma during the 1970’s. Ruby is actually the second township formed by the fictional community at the center of her novel. The first was named Haven and fell apart in the 1930’s as cotton prices dropped and the town’s population shrank because of limited opportunity and isolation. The founders of Ruby, who had descended from the founders of Haven, moved their town, bringing with them the oven which was at the center of Haven. They made the oven the centerpiece of Ruby. Inscribed upon its lip were the words the original founders had seen as the central tenet of their founding faith: “Beware the Furrow of His Brow.” However, as a result of time and use, the words were now worn away so that some in town could only make out “The Furrow of His Brow” and others thought they might even read “Be the Furrow of His Brow.”

On the outskirts of the town, there is a competing “paradise”: a Convent that has fallen into disuse and become home to an array of wandering and desperate women, at least one of whom is white. The Convent has many characteristics that a reader would associate with various “havens” or paradises. Originally built as an “embezzler’s folly,” the convent was lavish and ornate with marble and teak flooring and fixtures and statuary that celebrated the sensual. It later...

(The entire section is 767 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Paradise is about the relationship between two communities—the town of Ruby, Oklahoma, and a very small but largely...

(The entire section is 1033 words.)