Paradise Summary and Analysis of "Consolata"


Connie, eight years after the arrival of Mavis and years after the death of Mother Mary Magna, has succumbed to a kind of depressive alcoholism. She wakes in her cellar bedroom disappointed not to have died in the night. Despite the gift Connie has shown for coaxing stories out of and comforting the girls who arrive at the Convent, we learn that Connie actually has difficulty telling them apart: they all seem the same to her, “broken girls, frightened girls, weak and lying” (222). She is tired of their foolishness and their lack of industry.

Connie ended up at the Convent because of her relationship to Mary Magna. As a young nun, Mary Magna had picked up the abandoned Connie in 1925, then nine years old, from the streets of Brazil. Quickly, Sister Mary became attached to Connie, and instead of placing her in an orphanage brought Connie with her to her newest assignment: a school and asylum for Indian girls in an isolated part of Oklahoma. Connie worked hard and served Mary Magna devotedly for decades, forgetting her native language and country. Her loyalty stems from an episode right after Mary Magna had taken Connie from the streets: Connie fell ill and Mary Magna watched worriedly from her bedside. Connie reflects that “it was worth getting sick, dying, even, to see that kind of concern in an adult’s eyes” (224).

Many years later in 1954, the founding families arrived at the site of Ruby seventeen miles away and began to settle it. The interactions between the Convent and the town were limited, but Mary Magna was glad to have a pharmacy close by. Connie accompanied Mary Magna on one of these trips, where she spotted Deek Morgan. The sight of him seemed to stir up a memory deep inside her, and she could not stop thinking about him after. She worked hard to distract herself, but eventually Deek showed up at the Convent. They began an affair. At thirty-nine, Connie was ten years Deek’s senior. Though Connie was not a virgin - she was raped as a child in Brazil - she had never experienced passionate romantic love before. They met once a week for two months. When Deek missed a week, Connie worried that he was dead, and set out toward Ruby to find him. She was intercepted, however, by Steward Morgan, who offered her a ride. Connie accepted the ride, believing Steward to be Deek and not knowing that Deek had a twin, but was confused and horrified when Steward proved to be a stranger.

As the weather cooled, Deek and Connie could no longer meet in the burned out, abandoned house where they used to conduct their trysts. She entreated him to meet her at the Convent, where she promised to set up a room for them in the basement. Out of excitement, she bit his lip, which disgusted Deek. He was frightened by the intensity of her desire and the sensation that Connie could eat him up. He never came to the Convent, and Connie became desolate. Soane, however, came, pretending to need an abortion. Connie realized that she was coming to threaten her about the affair, and that the affair was over. Connie defied Soane, but Soane told her that Deek “can’t fail at what he is doing. None of us can. We are making something” (240). Soane did not intend to lose the child, but she had a miscarriage anyway. After Connie and Soane later became close friends, Soane told her that she believed the miscarriage was because of the malice in her heart. Despondent, Connie entered the Convent’s chapel and renounced Deek. Mary Magna told her she should never speak of him again. As Connie left the chapel, she was blinded by the sun and began to see best in the dark.

One day, Connie, forty-nine years old, began to sweat uncontrollably and was overcome with dizziness that caused her to faint. She was found by Lone DuPres, come to buy peppers. Lone explained to her that she was undergoing ‘the change’, likely menopause. Lone practiced a kind of magic that she viewed as part of her ordinary faith. During a visit from Lone, Scout and Easter Morgan and July Person had a car accident near the Convent in which Scout was seriously injured and seemed to die. Lone told Connie that Connie could “wake him up” (245). Lone told Connie that Connie was gifted with the ability to prolong life and raise the dead, though Connie was ambivalent about this gift and the source of it. Lone called it ‘stepping in’, Connie ‘seeing in’. Soane came to thank Connie for saving her son, and this was how they become friends. Connie did not use her gift again, except to repeatedly extend the life of Mary Magna when she fell ill. Connie’s manipulation of the light inside Mary Magna was why the old woman glowed so intensely until her death. After Mary Magna died when Connie was fifty-four, Connie felt adrift in a way she never experienced before.

Pallas, in the present day, comes to say goodbye to Connie. She intends to return to her father. She has already left the Convent once before. Connie notes that Pallas is pregnant, but she refuses to acknowledge it. Connie remembers another pregnant young girl who had come to the Convent in the past - Arnette. The Convent women offered to take care of her, but Connie remembers the repulsion Arnette appeared to feel towards her own body and the second life it was supporting. Connie did not know until Arnette entered labor that during her stay Arnette had been beating herself in the stomach, even inserting mop rods inside herself, in an effort to kill the baby. Born prematurely and named ‘Che’ by Gigi, the baby survived only a few days before dying.

Gigi, in the bathtub, thinks again on her plan to run away with Seneca, who appears to be her lover. Seneca has been cutting herself, which she tries to conceal. Mavis, shopping in town, buys presents for Merle and Pearl, her twins. Connie prepares a meal for the women. She surprises them by declaring, “I call myself Consolata Sosa. If you want to be here you do what I say. Eat how I say. Sleep when I say. And I will teach you what you are hungry for” (262). Though the women are surprised, none of them leaves, finding they cannot. Over the coming months they lose track of time as Connie teaches them a ritual called “loud dreaming” (264). During loud dreaming, the women lie naked on the floor of the cellar in painted outlines of their bodies, and speak aloud the past traumas they have hidden. They paint and draw inside the figures pictures representative of their literal and figurative scars. They also counsel each other. The atmosphere in the house changes: “unlike some people in Ruby, the Convent women were no longer haunted” (266).


The “Consolata” section highlights the families that we create to make up for the ones we lack. Mary Magna kidnaps Connie as an orphan from the streets of Brazil, and the two women forge a strong bond that defines the remainder of Connie’s life. After a long period of depression following Mary Magna’s death, Connie leads the Convent women in creating a new family that substitutes the families they left behind or lost. Though the story of Connie and the Convent suggests the possibility of creating community, there is nonetheless a sense of loss that is never quite overcome. Connie, in her early adulthood, quickly loses “the rudiments of her first language,” and occasionally finds herself “speaking and thinking in that in-between place” (242). Likewise, the sense that Deek awakens in her of a buried element of her past is part of what draws her to him.

Connie struggles throughout her life with the division between spiritual or religiously inspired love and sensual love. The love rooted in the senses and the flesh is signified by her passionate relationship with Deek. Her love of the spiritual and religiously pure is represented by Mary Magna, whose concern over Connie when she falls ill as a child earns Connie’s loyalty forever. She is the first to make Connie feel redeemed through her love, and teaches her that “body is nothing” and ”spirit everything” (263). When Deek leaves Connie, she returns repentantly to Mary Magna, whom she describes as the first and last love of her life.

However, in the last stage of her life, Connie reaches a realization about the life of the senses and the life of the spirit. She tells the women during their ritual of loud dreaming that she was attached to Deek’s body, but that she was attached to Mary Magna’s too: when Mary Magna was sick, Connie would perform her gift of “reaching” in to prolong her life, and when Mary Magna died, she found that she could not stop mourning the body, “my bones on hers the only good thing… no different from the man” (263). She makes a Biblical allusion to communicate to the women how she has learned that the dichotomy between body and spirit is a false one: “Never put one over the other. Eve is Mary’s mother. Mary is the daughter of Eve” (263). Connie suggests that the fall of man through Eve’s decision to eat the apple is an inseparable part of the history that leads to the virgin birth of Jesus by Mary.

Like Connie, Deek also has a complicated relationship to desires of the flesh. He is sufficiently open - unlike his twin Steward - to initiate the affair with Connie. However, the intensity of Connie’s sexual desire and appetite for him is also what disgusts him and drives him away. He is unable to be with Connie for long before the other parts of his self - Steward, his mirror, and Soane, his wife - intervene.

The loud dreaming that Connie teaches the women allows them to speak aloud and excise the traumas of their past, understanding things about themselves and each other that they never have before (it is here, for example, that the women suggest to Seneca that the woman she believed was her sister might be her mother). The women draw figures on the floor that come to act as stand-ins for themselves, safe external outlets for the pain they have inside. Seneca, who has been cutting herself, paints her scars on the figure in blue paint and finds one day that when she “had the hunger to slice her inner thigh, she chose instead to mark the open body lying on the cellar floor” (265).