Paradise Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What does "Paradise" mean in the context of the novel?

    "Paradise" has many meanings in the context of the novel. One is the paradise that the citizens of Ruby attempt to create by founding the town. The town is supposed to be a self-sufficient haven away from the racism of the outside world. Ironically, however, in seeking paradise the citizens of Ruby ultimately come to wreak a kind of hell. Many of its citizens suffer as a consequence of its closed-mindedness (Menus Jury, Delia Best, and Billie Delia Cato among them) and the Convent is destroyed.

    Another meaning is the paradise that the women forge for themselves at the Convent towards the end of the novel. Though not perfect, the Convent is a comparatively idyllic refuge for the women from the traumas they have experienced in their past lives, often at the hands of men. The Convent is an open and non-judgmental space where the Convent women learn from and care for each other.

  2. 2

    What is the significance of the town's name, 'Ruby'?

    The town is named after Ruby Morgan Smith, the sister of Deek and Steward Morgan. She is the first person to die in (or near) the new town. In a medical emergency, her brothers, who always tried to protect her, are unable to get help for her because the hospitals are segregated and the doctors decline to treat her. At the time that she dies, adding insult to injury, the brothers learn that the nurse had been looking for a veterinarian to treat her: under the racist system of segregation, their sister was on the same level, if not below, an animal.

    The fact that the town is named Ruby could be considered coincidental; she died at a time when the town was searching for a new name. However, it actually communicates volumes about the way in which Ruby views itself, and the beliefs upon which the project of Ruby is founded. Over the course of the novel it becomes clear that a central reason why Ruby was founded was not just to provide a space away from the racist outside world, but specifically away from the racist outside world that degraded the status of black women and the ability of men to protect them. It rankled Steward and Deek that they were unable to protect their sister and ensure her dignity.

    However, simply because Ruby was founded in response to the degradations black women experience in the outside world does not mean that Ruby is not patriarchal. In fact, Steward in particular has a very strong idea of what women should be and how they should behave, leading to his hatred towards the women of the Convent.

  3. 3

    What is the meaning of Dovey's "Friend"? Is he real or imagined?

    It is unclear who Dovey's "Friend" is. It is characteristic of Morrison's style - what can be termed ‘magical realism’ but which she prefers to call ‘enchantment’ - that it is neither confirmed nor denied that the Friend is a "real" person. The Friend does appear to have a corporeal presence, as Dovey on one occasion gives him food to eat. He is, however, associated with a kind of mysterious magic: a cloud of orange butterflies heralds his first appearance, and Dovey has only ever seen him in a single place. She has never seen him with other people, nor does she know him, suggesting that he cannot be a resident of Ruby since the town is so small.

    The Friend is a valuable and valued presence to Dovey because he allows her to unburden her interiority. When he appears, Dovey finds herself speaking without end of things she did not realize she had on her mind. Dovey appears to be happy in her marriage to Steward, and stands by him rather than aligning herself with her sister at the end of the novel. However, the presence of the Friend suggests that Ruby and its social structures (including her marriage) provide few outlets for her intellect, opinions, and emotions.

  4. 4

    Contrast the relationship that Connie has with Mary Magna with the relationship she has with Deek. What is the significance of each to her?

    Connie describes Mary Magna as the love of her life: the first as well as the last. Mary Magna picks Connie up from the streets of Brazil when she is nine years old and living as an orphan. Mary Magna provides Connie with her first experience of redeeming love. When Connie falls ill soon after Mary finds her, Mary Magna displays a concern for her that is new to Connie and that earns Connie's reciprocated loyalty forever. Mary Magna teaches Connie to be patient, gracious, and to place her spirit above her body. The relationship Connie has with Mary Magna, Connie believes, is one purely of the spirit.

    Connie is drawn to Deek because he taps into some forgotten element of her past. When Connie comes to the United States with Mary Magna, she quickly loses the language, culture, and memory of her childhood, but occasionally finds herself caught in a liminal space between the past and present. When she sees the citizens of Ruby for the first time, they are uncharacteristically festive, holding a horse race in commemoration of the founding of the town. The sight of the celebration and the sight of Deek remind her of her childhood and awaken a kind of natural sensuality inside of her. When Deek leaves her, she goes to the Convent's chapel and tells God: "Dear Lord, I didn't want to eat him. I just wanted to go home" (240).

    Connie struggles throughout her life with the division of the body and the spirit, and with the difference between her attraction to Mary Magna and her attraction to Deek. However, towards the end of her life, she realizes that body and spirit are inseparable. She was as attached to the body of Mary Magna after she died as she was to Deek's, even though Mary Magna had taught her that the body meant nothing.

  5. 5

    What is the significance of the Nativity play in "Patricia"?

    Though it is commonplace in Christian tradition to perform Nativity plays at Christmastime, it is clear that the Nativity play in this instance has a very special significance to the people of Ruby. It is a clear allegory for the Disallowing, an event that has shaped all of Haven and Ruby history. We can see that the play has been structured specifically to mirror this event because instead of one Holy Family - one Joseph and one Mary - there are many, in theory one family for each of the original founding families. That the citizens of Ruby would compare the Disallowing to the Nativity indicates a great deal about how they view their mission. The Nativity play as performed in Ruby places the act of founding the town on the same level of holiness as the act of Mary seeking a place in which to give birth to Jesus, the savior of mankind.

    The Nativity play also reflects Ruby in that it changes over time to reflect the consequences of the color hierarchy. Richard Misner notes that there are only seven couples in this year's Christmas play, when there were nine original families. Pat Best theorizes that every time an eight-rock individual breaks the unspoken color rule and marries outside of the eight-rock families, that family is then erased from the play. However, she is unable to determine which of the families has been most recently cut out.