Pearl Themes (Mary Gordon)

Mary Gordon

Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Religion underlies nearly all of Gordon’s writing, creating a moral and ethical structure against which her characters react. Pearl is laden with obvious biblical allusions to the Holy Family, many of them used ironically. Maria is the flawed single mother of a divine victim—a sacrificial Child so pure she seems almost to glow, suggesting Saint Matthew’s “pearl of great price” (13:46). Pearl herself has an absent father, a “ghost” who vanished almost immediately after her conception, and a loving foster father who cares for her welfare. (Joseph also identifies himself with Judas.) This family model is distorted further by Mick (the absent father), Breeda, and the boy Stevie (who perhaps evokes Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr). The will to harm that Pearl identifies in herself may likewise correspond to the stain of Original Sin.

Gordon likes to deal with concepts; she has said, “I seem always to be writing about a sense of failure in achieving an ideal.” One such ideal is purity, which can be easily perverted, a powerful double-edged sword that may protect or maim. Maria’s concept of purity is simplistic—sexual purity or childlike innocence, the Church’s definition and also her father’s. Pearl, who never makes demands for herself, seems the pale embodiment of purity, especially in the hospital when her hand appears translucent from her fast. In Joseph’s eyes she has always been pure; his disastrous offer of...

(The entire section is 472 words.)