Paradise Summary and Analysis of "Divine"


“Divine” opens with a sermon about love. Reverend Pulliam has been invited as a guest preacher at the wedding of K.D. and Arnette, over which Reverend Misner will preside. Pulliam delivers a fiery speech, telling the assembled “Love is divine only and difficult always… If you think it is natural you are blind… You do not deserve love just because you want it” (141). He continues: “God is not interested in you. He is interested in love and the bliss it brings to those who understand and share that interest” (142). The sermon is well received by some, and poorly received by others. Anna Flood wonders who it is intended as a criticism of, settling on Richard Misner as the target. The wedding has been anticipated as the conciliatory union of two families - the Morgans and the Fleetwoods - that have been hostile for years, the hostility centered on the baby Arnette lost. Anna wonders why Pulliam would threaten the moment.

Misner, meanwhile, is furious. Misner believes that love is “unmotivated respect,” that “God loved the way humans loved one another; loved the way humans loved themselves” (146). Unable to look at Pulliam directly and unsure what he ought to say as “anodyne to the poison Pulliam had just sprayed over everything” (145), Misner opts not for words - which he believes would betray his injury - but for a gesture. Unhooking the large cross from the back wall of the church, he holds it in front of the congregation silently. He does this for a long time, and the silence becomes extremely uncomfortable. K.D., too, is livid, but he is livid because others keep using his wedding as an occasion to make political gestures when he just wants it to end: so his uncles will stop bothering him, and so he can stop thinking about Gigi, whom he loved for years without his affections being returned. Beaten down by Gigi’s indifference and brought into line by his uncles, K.D. finally returned to Arnette, who had not stopped pursuing him all those years. She, too, is disappointed at the wedding to discover that the man and the union she had desired so strongly - because “he was all she knew about her self” (148) - will not be able to fix the aching absence inside her.

Billie Delia also scoffs at the idea that the wedding will pave over the conflict between the families. Though she has returned out of loyalty to Arnette to serve as her bridesmaid, she has great contempt for K.D., who she knows had no interest in Arnette until Gigi left him. Billie Delia remembers an incident from her childhood that has followed her throughout her entire life. When she was a toddler and still too young for underwear, she used to get rides on Hard Goods, Nathan DuPres’ horse. The adults would laugh at the enjoyment Billie Delia got from riding the horse as the little girl gripped onto the animal’s back. One Sunday, however, when Billie Delia was three, she saw Nathan and Hard Goods and ran out into the street and pulled down her panties in anticipation of a ride. She received a whipping from her mother that she did not understand and was from then on ashamed for a reason she did not understand. Her entire life she has been shunned and regarded suspiciously in Ruby as promiscuous, even though she is a virgin, and even though it is in fact Arnette who slept with K.D. at the young age of fourteen. Billie Delia is in love with a pair of brothers, Brood and Apollo Poole. She has moved out of Ruby to Demby, and would have moved further away if not for her connection to the brothers. After a violent fight with her mother, who believes her to be dangerous like everyone else, she stayed for a time at the Convent.

Misner continues to hold the cross as we turn to Steward. Though not a patient man, he feels surprisingly calm watching Misner’s act. He reflects on how the stories and experiences he has had have shown him that a cross is “no better than the bearer” (154). Deek becomes increasingly impatient. Soane, sitting next to him, prepares to stop him from rising, but Misner finally lowers the cross and begins the ceremony. Simultaneously, Soane realizes she has made a huge mistake. The goodwill brought about by the wedding has been destroyed, and the tension will only be made worse at the reception at her house, to which Soane has invited the Convent girls without telling anyone. The reception gets off to a quiet start, but then the Convent party arrives. Connie does not come, but the younger women do: Mavis, Gigi and Seneca, and a new girl, Pallas. They are dressed in stark contrast to the other guests, in shorts, miniskirts, revealing tops, makeup, and jewelry. Finding no alcohol at the reception, they go to the Oven, where they begin loudly playing Otis Redding. The women dance in a way totally unfamiliar and shocking to the residents of Ruby.

Away from the wedding, Richard Misner regrets his handling of his anger. Though he has great respect for men of God, especially given their common persecution throughout history, he notes that Pulliam - or perhaps the strange town of Ruby - has incited in him an uncharacteristic rage. He notes both the beauty and isolation of Ruby’s townspeople: every citizen is “handsome, some exceptionally so” - and “except for three or four, they were coal black, athletic, with non-committal eyes” (160). He wonders whether the great suspicion and hostility that Ruby has traditionally had towards outsiders has begun to be inwardly directed, and what his role in that might be. He wonders why, though the residents of Ruby revel in telling stories of past heroism, they have no stories to tell about their present selves. On his way to join the wedding reception, he sees Mavis’ Cadillac speed past - the women have been asked to leave the wedding.

Inside the car, Pallas Truelove, the newest girl, sits silent. She is glad to be leaving the wedding. It is her second day at the Convent, during which time she has spoken to nobody. She seems to have had an experience of near-drowning that causes her to fear that if she opens her mouth, dark water will seep in. She continues to shiver endlessly despite the temperature, and so Seneca embraces her in her arms. Pallas remembers a crazy woman she saw a year earlier around Christmastime, when she had been the happiest she had ever been. She felt a kind of identification with the woman, even though their lives were nothing alike. Pallas is the teenage daughter of a wealthy entertainment lawyer. She ran away from home with Carlos, a handsome older sculptor who worked as a janitor at her high school, to stay with her estranged mother, a painter. Pallas’ mother, known as ‘Dee Dee’ (short for ‘Divine’), welcomed them. Months later, however, Pallas discovered Carlos and Dee Dee making love, and she ran away again, horrified.

Mavis and Gigi argue about the wedding. Mavis is worried about how their behavior reflected on Soane, a friend of Connie’s and the Convent. The fight turns physical, and the women get out of the car to continue brawling on the dirt. Back at the Convent, Gigi assesses her injuries, which remind her of a demonstration in Oakland, California she was once involved in that turned violent. She remembers a little black boy she saw who was shot. Mavis, in another bathroom, reflects on how the Convent has changed her. Fighting Gigi, like the sophisticated cooking she does at the Convent, is a thrill to Mavis: it proves to her that she is no longer the defenseless, incapable young woman she once was. She still hears the voices of Merle and Pearl in the house.

Seneca takes Pallas down to the basement to meet Connie. Connie, who lives in darkness drinking wine from the mansion’s untouched cellars, is able to elicit from Pallas the story of how she was hurt, though it comes out piecemeal and out of order. After she ran away from her mother’s house, she was pursued by a group of boys, from whom she hid in a lake. Some strangers picked her up and deposited her at Billie Delia’s clinic in Demby, where they promised she would be taken care of. Both the strangers who picked Pallas up and Billie Delia believed Pallas to be pregnant. Billie Delia brought her to the Convent to stay a while, telling her that they once helped her in a time of need. Pallas, once she recovered her words, made a plan to call her father and go home. That night, Arnette shows up at the Convent bearing wedding cake and asking for her baby.


K.D. and Arnette’s wedding is a political event above all else. We learn through the points of view of several different characters that many expect, or at least hope, that it will resolve the growing tensions in Ruby. Instead of a reconciliation between the differing camps, however, Reverend Pulliam takes the wedding as an opportunity to deliver an explosive cautionary sermon that so angers Reverend Misner that he feels he must rebut Pulliam’s message with his gesture of holding up the cross. The conflict over the sermons is very much a recapitulation, and perhaps a direct consequence of, the conflict over the Oven.

The wedding is also a political event rather than an earnest marriage ceremony because the couple is not entirely sincere in their love for each other. K.D. principally wants the wedding to be over “so his uncles would shut up; so Jeff and Fleet would stop spreading lies about him, so he could take his place among the married and propertied men of Ruby… But especially so he could flush that Gigi bitch out of his life completely” (147). The marriage for K.D. is principally a means for him to be able to take up the role he intends to play in Ruby: to play this role, he needs a respectable wife. The narrator also casts doubt on the sincerity of Arnette’s feelings through the statement “she believed she loved him absolutely because he was all she knew about her self” (148). The qualifier “believed” opens up the possibility that it is not the case that she actually loves K.D. The mood of the wedding is one of resignation, verging on bitterness.

This section provides the first substantial characterization of Billie Delia. Previously, she has been used as a tool of manipulation and negotiation by K.D. during the Morgans’ discussion with the Fleetwoods. K.D. strategically references the friendship between Billie Delia and Arnette knowing that it would make the Fleetwoods nervous, since it is widely believed that Billie Delia is “the fastest girl in town and speeding up by the second” (59) - that is to say, the most licentious and promiscuous. However, we get a new point of view in this section, learning about a childhood incident with the horse Hard Goods that has stained her reputation unjustifiably and forever. The development of Billie Delia’s character is typical of Morrison’s method of unfurling information and new perspectives over the course of the novel. Billie Delia is another example of how things in Ruby are not as they seem or are widely reported to be. She is also an example of how, despite Ruby’s intentions to be an inclusive paradise for those who live there, the inclusivity of the town in fact rests on the exclusion of certain individuals.

The question of interpretation of dreams and visions is an important one in the novel. Characters often believe that things they see are intentional signs from God, and wonder how to read them in the correct way. Soane’s dream of small, brightly colored feathers in her sink is among the novel’s significant dreams. That Morrison transitions without signaling from Soane sitting in the pews at church to Soane’s “dead sons… leaning against the Kelvinator” (154) shows the way in which the past can be as vivid as the present, and the way in which dreams and the supernatural or surreal have equal standing with the “real” world. It is not unlike the way in which Mavis feels that her dead twins Merle and Pearl continue to live on with her inside the Convent.

Like the Convent women who come from diverse backgrounds and have varied histories, the feathers are colored in a way unlike any bird Soane has ever seen. However, she realizes at the wedding that she focused on the colors of the feathers when she should have focused on their location: the feathers were in the sink, a place she would never have put them. Likewise, she realizes that the Convent women do not belong in her house. Soane’s mistake speaks to the differences between the town and the Convent. Soane is comfortable at the Convent, perhaps more relaxed than in Ruby - in “Mavis,” Soane seems to be a different, more stiff person to Mavis when they are outside of the Convent. However, it does not necessarily follow that the women of the Convent should be in Ruby. Though both are small, isolated communities, the Convent is open and welcoming, whereas Ruby is not.