Iwan Russell-Jones on the work of Marilynne Robinson: The Hidden Wound in Gilead

Gilead and Home revolve around the inter-related stories of two marginal and misunderstood characters ”“ Grandfather John Ames and Jack Boughton. The first is the paternal grandfather of Rev. John Ames, a Congregationalist pastor who is the putative author of the memoir that comprises Gilead. The second is John Ames Boughton, or simply Jack, the namesake of Reverend Ames and the prodigal son of his best friend, Robert Boughton, a Presbyterian pastor.

Between them, and at different periods in the town’s history, Grandfather Ames and Jack Boughton are the bad conscience of Gilead. The question they ask and the challenge they pose is, effectively, the same: “What is left here in Gilead?” asks Grandfather; “What about this town?” asks Jack, “Could we live here?”[1] In essence they are both asking the ancient biblical question, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (Jeremiah 8:22). . .

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