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Paradise by Toni Morrison: Summary & Characters

Instructor: Joe Ricker
''Paradise'', Toni Morrison's first novel after her 1993 Nobel Prize, is an impassioned story of reckless violence. Similar conflicts about women's rights echo the premise of ''Paradise.''

Not Quite Paradise

Ruby is a community of African-Americans who have established the town with the hopes of creating their own version of the Garden of Eden or a utopia. A former convent, which is several miles away, is a safe-haven where several women have fled to over the years and currently live. The black communities in the novel have developed an intolerance for outsiders, which is how Ruby was settled in the first place. Paradise is told through various characters, and gives brief histories as to how they arrived at either the Convent or in Ruby.

During the year before the novel opens, strange and bizarre things have been happening in and around the town of Ruby. In a secret meeting with members of three area churches, nine men have concluded that the women of the Convent are responsible for the strange or scandalous events, and they decide to take action against the women residing there. And by action, that means a massacre.

'They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take their time.'

The Journey to the Massacre

The second chapter, ''Mavis'', describes the journey of Mavis Albright, a woman whose infants have died after being left in a vehicle, as she travels to the Convent from her home in Maryland, where she is taken in by Connie, later identified in the novel as Consolata. Connie is the matriarch of the Convent, and is believed to have special powers.

The next chapter, ''Grace'', shows the arrival of Gigi, who is essentially stranded at the Convent, which is how she becomes a resident there. On her way through Ruby, Gigi catches the men's eyes with her 'outsider' appearance. Gigi is referred to as looking like a tramp by Arnette, a young girl who's become pregnant with K.D. Morgan's child. Throughout the chapter, K.D. attempts to push blame on Arnette for her pregnancy. He feels that he is blameless because she 'seduced' him. This male perspective is quintessential in the underlying male vs. female theme of the novel. Also in this chapter, Reverend Misner plays a role in negotiating a deal between the Morgans and Arnette's relatives to deal with her unplanned pregnancy. Misner is a young preacher whose progressive perspectives raise questions. It's decided that Arnette and K.D.'s baby will be left at the Convent and Arnette will go off to college.

Before the reader's introduction to ''Seneca'', Reverand Misner holds a meeting with the town residents. At this meeting it becomes more clear that the ideals between young and old are different, and the recurring theme of how the young are a much worse generation resonates with debate over the town slogan. Meanwhile, Arnette has returned from college and confines herself to her bed. K.D. Morgan continues his lustful pursuit of Gigi. Seneca enters the story as a stow-away in a truck passing through during a blizzard. When the people in the truck stop to ask a seemingly troubled girl if she needs help, Seneca slips from the truck and attempts to help the girl after the truck drives off. Seneca is driven by her own experience with being abandoned, but the girl, know as Sweetie, disregards Seneca's attempt to help. Seneca accompanies Sweetie to the Convent where she decides to stay on and takes on the role of mediator between Gigi and Mavis.

In ''Divine'', opinions clash between clergy about the meaning of love during the wedding of K.D. and Arnette. The wedding serves as a battle ground for the conflict of opinions between the people in town, and despite the expectation that the wedding will be a joyous event, it becomes nothing more than a breeding ground for more contempt and rising tension between the people of the town. Another girl has arrived at the Convent--Pallas Truelove, who is in attendance at the wedding with Mavis, Gigi and Seneca. A short time later, an argument between Mavis and Gigi escalates into a physical altercation.

''Patricia'' is the character of focus in the chapter following Divine, which is appropriately titled Patricia. In this chapter, Patricia is working on a genealogy project and thinks about how her father broke an unwritten rule about marriage and color. Patricia's mother was light-skinned, and many of the people in town worried that her skin color was too pale in comparison with the other black residents. More tensions arise with Billie Delia, who is seen as promiscuous. Reverend Misner vocalizes his beliefs that young people should be educated on their African roots, which other residents of Ruby disagree with. Patricia abandons her genealogy project by destroying the papers.

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