The Rain Ascends

by Joy Kogawa

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 495

Kogawa’s third novel, The Rain Ascends, presents as narrator and main character Millicent Shelby, a Canadian of British descent. Daughter of an elderly Anglican clergyman, the Reverend Doctor Charles Barnabas Shelby, she has repressed memories of her father’s past crimes as a child molester. She feels that she lives in a mental and emotional fog that hides the painful truth that her father was himself abused by an older neighbor boy and later sexually abused hundreds of young boys.

Millicent’s older brother, Charlie, distances himself from his father at an early age, bonding closely with his mother as his father bonds with Millicent. Charlie marries a truth-telling woman, Eleanor, who thinks that the Reverend Shelby is despicable and prods Millicent to accuse her father.

Eleanor tells her over the telephone that the Reverend Shelby had abused Millicent’s illegitimate son Jeffrey. Much of Millicent’s discussion with Jeffrey takes place over the telephone long distance from Canada to England. The scene of revelation is repeated several times, the key phrase being Jeffrey’s statement that he thought his mother knew.

Dreams help Millicent to slay the fictions that hide her father’s evil. In a recurrent dream about a lion king who preys at night, the princess tries to help both her father and the king’s victims. She also has a recurrent fantasy about a gnat that spreads lies; she finally kills it. From the ashes of her old world of fictions, Millicent takes a Daoist view that the opposite is present in the form of rain ascending—rising to heal the destruction with mercy.

After much interior searching, Millicent finally confronts her father. Their plain dialogue dramatically reveals the extent of his crimes. In order to help her father and his victims, she informs the bishop. He makes her father’s crime public, not for rehabilitation or for searching out the victims, but to exonerate the church; in the past, the church has ignored the problem.

Part 3 is set five years after her father’s death. Millicent explores the network of his father’s victims, many of whom become child molesters. She condemns the conspiracy of silence, led by her mother and continued by Millicent, that protected her father but allowed him to pursue his victims. Charlie and Eleanor move away and refuse to talk to her for a long time. While many people condemn Millicent for her complicity, the novel ends with mercy. Millicent has understanding friends and has a visit from her son and grandson. There is an abundance of love and mercy in her life.

Millicent learns that good and evil coexist in the world, sometimes in the same person. Despite biblical references to figures of Abraham and the trusting child Isaac, the good man Barnabas (her father’s middle name), Jonah, and the Good Samaritan, Millicent turns from redemption through Christ to redemption through mercy in the figure of Kuan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of mercy.

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