Gilead Literary Elements



Setting and Context

Gilead, Iowa; Ranges from antebellum era to 1950s

Narrator and Point of View

First-person from the perspective of John Ames

Tone and Mood

Luminous, serene, contemplative, thoughtful, slow, and cerebral.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: John Ames; Antagonist: Jack Boughton

Major Conflict

While conflict is rather limited in this thoughtful, placid work, the major conflict would be whether or not Ames can forgive Jack Boughton and think of him as a son.


The climax is when Jack tells Ames the truth about his current situation: "Jack Boughton has a wife and child" (217).


-In the fictional work that Lila and Ames read, the young woman loves the old man forever; this is indeed what happens in reality, as Lila does not fall in love with Jack as Ames fears.
-There are multiple comments made foreshadowing Boughton and Ames's eventual deaths.


"This is an interesting planet" (Ames, 28).


-Edward memorizes a whole book of the great American poet Longfellow (25).
-Ames talks often about the famous atheist thinker Feuerbach and the famous theologian Karl Barth.
-Edward quotes 1 Corinthians 13: "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things" (26).
-Ames talks of major historical events, such as the Spanish Influenza, the Depression, the Civil War, WWI, etc.
-Ames thinks of Sennacherib, a biblical Assyrian king whose death was seen as divine retribution for the sins of his wars against Babylon.
-Ames often compares Jack to the biblical prodigal son.


See Imagery section of this ClassicNote.


It is paradoxical that as Ames grows older and his life begins to come to a close, he appreciates it more and more, is more attuned to its marvels, and sees time slow down as it is running out.



Metonymy and Synecdoche



-"It has been my experience that guilt can burst through the smallest breach and cover the landscape, and abide in it in pools and danknesses, just as native as water" (Ames, 82).