Paradise Summary and Analysis of "Save-Marie"


Richard Misner presides over the funeral of Save-Marie, the youngest of Jeff and Sweetie Fleetwood’s sick children. The eldest, Noah, was named for a great-grandfather, but Save-Marie’s name was a plea. It is now November, and much change has taken place in Ruby since the July massacre of the Convent women. For example, there is now a sense that the deal between God and the citizens of Ruby guaranteeing their immortality has been broken. Save-Marie is the first death in Ruby in twenty-three years, and there is an expectation of more to come. Sweetie refuses to have Save-Marie buried on Morgan land, which most assume to be because she resents the Morgans for involving Jeff and Arnold in the trouble at the Convent. Pat Best, however, wonders also whether Sweetie’s public refusal of the Morgans is not also calculated to gain some reconciliatory favors from them.

Misner and Anna returned to Ruby two days after the attack and struggle to get clear and consistent reports of what happened. Richard does not believe any of the stories being publicly circulated by the group of men and their families. Only Deek remains silent. Lone’s version of events is widely dismissed as unreliable, even though the DuPreses, Beauchamps, and Sandses corroborate her story. This bothers her, but she keeps to herself what she believes to be true: that the disappearance of the victims and therefore the erasure of the crime represents God giving Ruby a second chance. She wonders whether the citizens of Ruby will heed the signs.

Pat Best decides that, although the evidence of the attack is invisible, its consequences are not. Jeff is now the proud sole owner of the Fleetwood furniture store, as his father Arnold has retired following his injuries in the assault. Sargeant Person has been able to realize his dream of taking over the Convent land and maximizing his profits. Harper Jury is unrepentant. Menus is the worst off, succumbing rapidly to his alcoholism. Wisdom Poole’s family has chastised him to a breaking point. Arnette is pregnant again, and she and K.D. hope to cement their position of power in the town. Oddly, the superficial appearances between Deek and Steward have dissolved. They look more alike than ever, but in fact they are more estranged from one another than they have ever been. Soane and Dovey have also developed a coolness between them, because of the ongoing conflict over who shot Connie. Most surprisingly, Deek appears to have formed a friendship of sorts with Richard Misner, whom he notably seeks out one September day, walking barefoot to his house. Misner does not understand much of what Deek says on this occasion, but sees that he is suffering. Deek tells Misner that Zechariah, his grandfather, a founding father of Ruby, and formerly known as ‘Coffee’, had a twin named ‘Tea’. Once, when the twins were out walking, some white men threatened them with a pistol if they would not dance. Tea obliged, but Coffee did not, and was shot in the foot. This point marked a divergence for the brothers. When Coffee began to make plans to found a new town, he did not invite his twin, of whom he never spoke again. Deek tells Misner that he always thought Zechariah was wrong for abandoning his twin, but that now he wonders whether Zechariah was right, because perhaps he saw something frightening in his brother that he feared was also in himself. Misner suggests that to choose to lose a brother is worse than any preceding shame.

Anna and Richard, doubting the stories and the disappearance of evidence, decided to go out to the Convent themselves weeks after the attack to investigate. However, they found no sign of recent inhabitance, except for food and a new crib in a room marked ‘Divine’. Anna speculated that perhaps some of the women survived, were able to escape, and took the bodies of the dead with them, but Richard was not sure. They saw, or rather sensed, a kind of portal in the yard. There was no question that it was there, but they disagreed about what it was: Anna felt it was a door, whereas Richard believed it was a window. After a moment, they left. Anna agreed to marry Richard.

Back at the funeral of Save-Marie, Richard thinks uncharitably of the men who committed the attack. Regardless of their lineage, he feels, they have betrayed it and the tradition of the town with their actions. Injured by one kind of prejudice, they became hateful themselves. He imagines that soon Ruby will be like any other rural town, with the young seeking to go somewhere else. However, Richard is also warmed by the thought of change. Ruby will inevitably become enmeshed in the outside world, when Roger Best builds his gas station and television comes to town. Richard decides he will stay in town, partly because Anna wants to stay, but also because he believes he can make an important difference. Sensing the distraction of the mourners at the graveside, he prepares to conclude his eulogy. However, he is suddenly compelled to say: “Do you think this was a short, pitiful life bereft of worth because it did not parallel your own? Let me tell you something… love and care enveloped her so completely that the dreams, the visions she had, the journeys she took made her life as compelling, as rich, as valuable as any of ours and probably more blessed” (307).

Billie Delia, at the funeral, misses the Convent women. She wonders not where they are, but rather when they will return to stamp out Ruby, which she views as a hateful town that has nearly destroyed several generations of her family. In essence, she thinks, she is hoping for a miracle, which she believes might be possible since a smaller kind has already occurred: Brood and Apollo have made up, agreeing to wait for her to decide which of them she wants, although they all know she never will.

In the final section, the Convent women appear to figures from their traumatic pasts. Gigi appears in army-style clothes to her father, Manley Gibson, who has been in prison since she was eleven. Pallas, bearing a sword and her baby, appears to her mother Dee Dee. Dee Dee, who is no longer with Carlos, tries to speak to her but is unable to form real words. Mavis appears to Sally, her daughter, who apologizes to her and tells her that when she was young she was always afraid. Sally tells Mavis that she has always loved her; Mavis says she knows that now, and she tells Sally that she thought of them all the time and would visit their school to see how they were doing. Jean, who Seneca thought was her sister but was actually her mother, is now married with another child and has been trying to find Seneca. Seneca appears to Jean in a stadium parking lot in 1976, but does not remember her. By the ocean, Connie rests her head in the lap of a singing woman, Piedade. They rest in anticipation of all the work they have to do, “down here in Paradise” (318).


Though Misner is ostensibly eulogizing Save-Marie, at the conclusion of the funeral he is suddenly moved to make remarks that also describe the Convent women and the tragedy of the attitudes that the leaders of Ruby hold towards them. “Do you think this was a short, pitiful life bereft of worth because it did not parallel your own? … the dreams, the visions she had, the journeys she took made her life as compelling, as rich, as valuable as any of ours and probably more blessed” (307). Although the lives of the Convent women were generally short and troubled, the love and care shared between them and offered readily to outsiders made their lives valuable. Likewise, Misner’s description of dreams and visions recalls the women’s practice of loud dreaming. The effect of his remarks is to indict the exclusionary pride practiced in Ruby, where citizens readily condemn and condescend to those who do not act in the same way that they do.

The idea that the attack of the Convent broke a kind of deal with God that protected the residents of Ruby from death is an example of Morrison’s usage of surreal or supernatural elements, a literary effect that some people call magical realism and that Morrison prefers to call ‘enchantment’. Anna and Richard’s perception upon visiting the Convent that there is a kind of portal in the backyard - they disagree over whether it is an open window or a closed door, but they agree that it is incontrovertibly there - is also in this category. Though the meaning of the symbol is unclear, it suggests a means by which the Convent women might have left the property.

The change in Deek concludes the arc of his development, and shows the conflict between his urge to perfectly mirror his twin Steward and the limits of his own individuality. He seeks out Richard Misner for a kind of confession, an uncharacteristic gesture that is all the more surprising because the usually punctilious Deek walks to Misner’s house barefoot. This evokes both his newfound modesty as well as all the women who have walked the road between the Convent and Ruby over the years. Deek hints at his feelings about Steward in telling the story of Zechariah Morgan’s forgotten twin, Tea, whom Zechariah disowned for capitulating to white men. Deek feels that perhaps Zechariah was right after all to separate himself from a weakness he perceived in his brother – a weakness that he feared was also in himself. One possible interpretation of this is that Deek fears Steward’s moral weakness in situations of crisis, as evidenced by the shooting of Connie.

The Convent women’s appearance to figures from their past acts as a kind of closure - both emotionally for the women (if not for the loved ones they appear to), and narratively, for it serves as the conclusion of the novel. It is left unclear whether the women are really alive or dead; the disappearance of their bodies suggests that they are not exactly either alive or dead. Billie Delia hopes at the funeral that the women are “out there,” and that they will “reappear, with blazing eyes, war paint and huge hands to rip up and stomp down this prison calling itself a town” (308).

Indeed, the women appear to the figures from their past in battle attire. Gigi wears camouflage-patterned army fatigues, a black t-shirt, and heavy boots, leading her father to ask her if she has joined the army. Gigi laughs him off, claiming that anyone can buy these clothes. Dee Dee sees Pallas bearing a sword, fulfilling her name’s promise - the Greek goddess of wisdom, justice and war, Athena, is often referred to as ‘Pallas’. Dee Dee’s sense that Pallas has a “beatific” smile (311) solidifies Morrison’s suggestion that the women are holy warriors and martyrs for their cause. For the first time, the women are not running away from their pasts, but in some cases are in the position of benevolently granting mercy: Gigi acts warmly towards her father, who has been in prison almost her entire life; Mavis and her daughter Sally apologize to each other.