37 pages 1 hour read

Marilynne Robinson

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Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2008

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

The second novel in her series of four novels, Home by Marilynne Robinson chronicles the return of Glory and Jack Boughton to their hometown of Gilead, Iowa. Published in 2008, Home retells the events of the first novel of the series, Gilead, from the perspective of Glory Boughton. Gilead earned the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005. A finalist for the 2008 National Book Award for Fiction, Home has been awarded the 2008 Los Angeles Book Prize and 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction. Robinson’s novel employs third-person limited narration to offer a nuanced exploration into what it means to journey home.

Plot Summary

Glory Boughton returns home to her hometown of Gilead, Iowa to take care of her dying father. A former English teacher, Glory recovers from her failed, five-year engagement to a married man. An emotional person, Glory struggles to adapt to life in Gilead, especially with the arrival of her estranged brother Jack who returns home after 20 years. Glory’s father, the retired Reverend Boughton, eagerly awaits Jack’s return.

After overcoming her initial mistrust of Jack and his intentions, Glory attempts to make Jack more comfortable. Jack begins to work on an old car and anxiously waits for the mail. He sends off mysterious daily letters. Glory becomes overwhelmed by memories of the past, including Jack’s impregnation of a young local girl whom he abandoned. Glory was the only Boughton sibling present during this time and has, at her father’s request, kept Jack’s indiscretion a secret. Glory begins to seek out Jack’s companionship at her father’s request. They grow closer and begin to confide in one another.

Jack watches the news obsessively for updates on the protests happening in Montgomery, Alabama. Glory purchases a television for their home. Jack comments on Glory’s habit of reading the Bible daily. She begins to question her own beliefs. At their father’s request, Jack plays the piano to soothe him. After a distressing conversation with their father, Jack asks Glory to sit with him to keep him from drinking alcohol. The two share secrets. Jack never graduated from college, and Glory admits that she has lied to her family about being married.

Jack reads a newspaper article about local burglaries. Jack grows increasingly self-conscious of his reputation and his own delinquent past. He continues to ask Glory to help him stay sober. While watching the news, Jack and his father argue about the murder of Emmett Till. The next morning, Jack announces his intention to attend church at the church of Reverend John Ames, a close family friend and Jack’s namesake, who dislikes Jack. Nervous, Jack is too afraid to enter the church. The family has Sunday dinner with the Ames family, including Reverend Ames, his young wife, and their young son. Jack shares with Glory a little about his common-law wife Della whom he met nine years prior.

The next Sunday, Jack successfully attends Ames’s church. Ames’s sermon on Hagar and Ishmael disturbs him as it discusses the father’s abandonment of his child. Jack and Glory’s father is upset over Ames’s sermon. Jack attempts to reconcile the two families by sharing an interesting article on religion. The men debate, and Jack questions the concept of predestination.

Glory discovers that Jack’s latest letters to Della have been returned unopened. At Jack’s request, Glory burns them. Jack falls into a depression. Glory confides in her father about Jack’s relationship. She recalls memories of Jack’s abandoned daughter dying of an infection. Jack attempts to seek counsel from Reverend Ames. Disappointed, Jack drinks excessively and attempts suicide by stuffing his clothing in the tailpipe of the car in the garage. Glory saves him and cleans him up. Their older brother Teddy, a doctor, arrives early the next morning to check on their father and greet Jack. Teddy admits to searching for Jack six times over the past 20 years. Jack asks Teddy for his advice on how to comfort their dying father.

Jack concocts a plan to write to a mutual friend of his and Della’s to connect with his family. He plans to leave after 10 days. Jack, Glory, and their father have an intense discussion. Their father airs his grievances with Jack and questions why Jack did not attend his mother’s funeral. Distressed, Jack shares more details of his past with Glory, including his time in prison and how he met Della.

Jack and Glory’s father becomes more confused and does not recognize Jack. He grows angrier and confronts Jack again about his disappointment. He reveals that he will leave the family home to Glory. The next morning, Jack calls Teddy to inform him of their father’s worsening condition. Jack makes plans to leave before Teddy’s arrival and to seek counsel from Reverend Ames one more time. He successfully speaks to Reverend Ames and receives a letter from Della. Jack completes his tasks around the house and takes their father on one last ride around Gilead. He leaves Gilead forever.

Two days after Jack’s departure, Glory greets Della and her young son Robert, who are looking for Jack. Glory is surprised that Della and Robert are African American. Noticing how uncomfortable Della feels in Gilead, Glory empathizes with her and promises to let her know if she hears from Jack. The novel ends with Glory daydreaming about Robert returning to Gilead as an adult. 

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