Paradise Summary

Toni Morrison


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Paradise Summary

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The novel’s first chapter, “Ruby,” is named for a town. Afterwards, the chapter titles take their names from female characters in the story. Through telling the stories of the individual women, the book creates a complete picture of Ruby, the Convent seventeen miles south of the city, and the men and women who live there.

The opening chapter begins with the book’s famous line “The shoot the white girl first.” A group of nine armed men enter the Convent. Once an embezzler’s mansion, it has become a shelter for women who are victims of domestic abuse. Through the men’s conversation, we learn that they are searching for someone named Detritus. Two of the men wear ties.One pair are father and son, and another pair are brothers.

The Convent is a monument to the previous owner’s wealth. It’s also shaped like a gun cartridge. Though the women have tried to remove remnants of its previous opulence, small reminders remain, and these make the men feel uncomfortable as they work their way through the building.

The men shoot several women as they enter the Convent. As they make their way through the building, they find evidence that supports their belief that the women were engaging in what they consider to be sinful behavior: hammocks instead of beds, astrology charts, and letters written in blood.

Ruby, we learn, is a purposefully all-black town with a population of 360. The leaders of Ruby have decided that the Convent is a threat to Ruby’s deliberate exclusion of outsiders, and have therefore decided to eliminate it. This fear is born out of Ruby’s own troubled past, its relationship to a failed city called Haven, and the continued presence of violent racial bigotry and hatred.

Ruby is not without its own problems, though. The ruling families maintain a strict hierarchy based upon racial purity. Outside influences are causing divisions between the older and younger residents. They focus their attention, therefore, on the Convent, which they see as a locus for all of the trouble the town is facing.

The chapter ends with the men aiming their rifles at the Convent’s final three women as they attempt to escape.

The next chapter, “Mavis,” introduces a 27-year-old woman being interviewed by a local journalist about the accidental deaths of her twin infants, Merle and Pearl. Mavis left the children in a car on a hot day while she went shopping. Mavis is also in a destructive relationship with a man named Frank, and suffers from what seem to be paranoid delusions that Frank and her other children are plotting against her.When Mavis flees this situation, she stumbles upon the Convent.

The next chapter, “Grace,” takes its name from the character of Gigi, though it opens on K.D. arguing with Arnette at the Ruby bus station. Annette is pregnant with K.D.’s baby, causing much family discord as they worry about the family’s prominence in Ruby. Gigi arrives in Ruby looking every bit the outsider, and once the book shifts back to her, we learn that she’s recently separated from her boyfriend Mikey, who has been sentenced to three months in jail. Eventually, Gigi makes it to the Convent, where she strikes up an uncomfortable friendship with Mavis.

In “Seneca,” we meet Dovey Morgan and her husband, Seward. Again, this section shows how the residents of Ruby blame their own dysfunctions on the Convent. The same holds true in the chapter named “Divine,” which opens with a sermon about love that only serves to highlight the townspeople’s lack of empathy for the Convent and one another. This chapter also illuminates the alternative histories lived by the men and the women of Ruby, who, though they live side-by-side, have very different experiences.

“Consolata” features Connie, who lives at the Convent and suffers from depression and alcoholism. The chapter focuses on the idea that, when our biological families fail us, we seek out and create new ones. The next chapter, “Lone,” focuses on a former midwife in Ruby and reveals that one of the city’s main projects is to control the women of the town.

The final chapter, “Save-Marie,” is named after a now-deceased girl. Her death inspires Ruby’s minister to chastise the people of the town and question the attack at the Convent. That attack seemingly broke a deal with God. The novel ends as the spirits of the Convent’s women appear to people from their pasts.

The novel’s title points to one of the book’s most important themes:the search for a personal paradise. Characters seek their paradise in the towns and in the Convent, with varying degrees of success. The book comments on the nature of paradise, and what it takes for someone to be truly happy.

The town of Ruby and the Convent both force—and allow—their inhabitants to remove themselves from the world. The novel comments upon the powers of inclusion and exclusion by highlighting the effects of this isolation. Ruby has the added caveat of being exclusively black, whereas the Convent is more welcoming.

Another important theme is the role memory plays in the ways we think about ourselves, along with memory’s influence on the stories that shape our identity.

Paradise was the first book Morrison published after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, and according to Morrison, is the last book of a trilogy that includes Beloved and Jazz.