The Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Toni Morrison, is hailed as “the last classic American writer , a major figure of national literature , and simply the best writer in America.” “ Morrison is at her complex and commanding best in this mysterious tale, as she presents a unique perspective on American history and leaves her dazzled readers shaking their heads over all that is perpetually inexplicable between men and women, rich and poor the tyrannical and free spirited.” The statements above are merely personal opinions and have yet to be proven true. After reading Toni Morrison’s Paradise, I came to the conclusion that these remarks are over exaggerated. This is based on my opinion that Paradise is not the writings of a Nobel Prize award winner and should not be considered one of her best works. After all of the vivid descriptions of her work, I can say that I was fairly disappointed. Paradise was the first and the last of Toni Morrison’s novels that I will read. After doing research into others analysis’ of the novel, I realized that I was not alone in my judgment of Paradise.
“I find myself troubled by this novel and how difficult it is to follow. I don’t mind reading slowly, in fact, I have no objection to taking my time with anything; however, this is simply trying my patience. I wanted to keep going because I had invested so much of my time into reading the novel, but I find myself making excuses for not reading it. I wish Ms. Morrison had thought about the impact of making the reading so challenging and had eased up on us just a little bit. I am worn out from focusing on every word, but if I don’t, then from one sentence to the next, I lose sight of a character, and then I am lost too! I just hope I can hang on long enough to get to the finish line, where, I know I will have to start all over again!” I think this is the universal thought that goes through most minds after attempting to read Paradise.
I am not saying that the whole novel was awful because it was not. I thought the theme of the novel was incorporated well through out the novel. The problems were with the organization of the story line, and the development of the characters.
The opening sentences of Paradise were attention grabbers. “They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they can take there time. No need to hurry out here. They are seventeen miles between it and any other. Hiding places will be plentiful in the Convent, but there time and the day has just begun.” The opening chapter is basically the climax of the plot. That is, a group of former law abiding male citizens attacks a group of unarmed women. This is what makes the story line confusing. That is, the beginning of the novel is the ending. Now the opening scene was good; but, instead of continuing from there, the story skips to the abandonment of Haven and the founding of Ruby. The problem was Ms. Morrison choose to tell the story in flashbacks. The story kept going back and forth in time and in different characters point of views. This is how the story began to lose me.
Paradise focuses on the all black town rural town of Ruby and the families who reside there. There were nine original families who founded the town. They are the Morgan, Blackhorse, Poole, Fleetwood, Beauchamp, Flood, Cato, and the two DuPres families. The descendants of the nine original families create a version of paradise, hence the title of the book. The nine original families encouraged marrying among themselves to preserve the 8-rock blood. The 8-rocks were the pure blacks who did not have one drop of white blood. These were the families with the dominance in Ruby. The Morgan’s financed the founding of the town, owned the town bank and most of the land. Because of this, they felt they were the most influential and powerful people in town. The families were tight knit and did not react well to outsiders.
The other characters are the women of the Convent, a former Catholic foster outside of Ruby that has become a refuge for five women seeking an escape from the despair, abuse and emptiness of their lives. They are Consoleta (Connie), Mavis, Grace (Gigi), Seneca, and Pallas. I thought these characters were underdeveloped. As soon as the readers start to think that they can fully understand the characters and their struggles, the novel takes a turn and goes in a different direction.
Many of the characters in the book were mentioned and never talked about again so what was the point of putting them in there in the first place. I found the chapter on the families of Ruby confusing. How does the author expect the reader to follow along with all the members of the different families without a family tree? I thought this chapter could have been omitted because even though it provided background it left the reader puzzled and bewildered. You are trying to figure out who is who while still trying to keep up with the plot.
“Morrison in all her of her self-conscious effort, has written a tale so complex that and so multifaceted that it lacks a firm center. There is nothing for the average reader to hold on to. (English teachers love this sort of book it gives them something to talk about.) She foregrounds to many themes and places equal emphasis on all of them so that we, the readers, are left without a definite direction of what is going on. One can “get” a theme here and there but, I have yet to meet someone who understands the novel as whole.”
The themes that I found were intolerance, and prejudice. It is because of these two qualities in some of the characters that causes the outcome of the story. Intolerance was the major theme of the story. An example of the intolerance would be how the adults reacted to the youth’s idea of changing the words on the Oven, which was the town’s symbol, from “… the furrow of his brow” to “Be the furrow of his brow.” This was the motto on the symbol of the town and the elders were very protective it. They felt it was disrespectful to change a powerful meaning after all the years it has been there. This intolerance leads to the attack on the women at the Convent.
Another theme in the novel was prejudice. The people traveled from to Ruby to escape “the white man’s law.” They were trying to find their own secluded little world were they wouldn’t have to deal with the problems of the real world. Prejudice was one of their main reasons for their journey. There was discrimination by they dark-skinned blacks against the light skinned blacks. “ Look what the did to Menus, forcing him to give back or return his the woman he brought home to marry. Menus lost (or was forced to give up) the house he’s bought for her and hadn’t been sober since.” This was an example of how the towns’ narrow-mindedness affected the citizens. So, while the characters resented whites for discrimination, they behaved just like them.
The plot of Paradise was one that I found complex after I finally figured out what it was. The descendants, Deacon (Deek) Morgan, Steward Morgan, K.D. Morgan, Arnold Fleetwood, Jeff Fleetwood, Wisdom Poole, Sargeant Persons, Pious DuPres, and Harper Jury of the original families are finally feed up with the evil women of the convent. “The survivors of the original founders see their Paradise slipping away and blame the society of women at the Convent. In order to maintain their Paradise the men of Ruby agree to perform an evil attack on the women at the Convent, risking the wrath of God, (the furrow of his brow), in whose name they created their Paradise.”
I did not understand the last chapter of Paradise. I am still left with so many unanswered questions. Like, who was the white woman that the shot first? Who was killed and how to the rest of the women in the novel manages to escape unnoticed? When Connie left the basement if the Convent what ever happened to Pallas’s baby? Why does Mavis act as if nothing between her and her daughter when they reunite? As I recall her daughter was going attempt to kill her, or was that not one of the reasons Mavis ran away from her family.
After attempting to re-read the ending I came to the conclusion that the white woman could not have been Connie, Steward shot her. The woman was not Mavis, Gigi, Seneca, or Pallas, because the novel ended telling what happened to each woman after the massacre at the Convent. Because as I recollect none of the above were described as white women. Only Connie was depicted as being light-skinned. So, was the woman some one I missed out on while trying to figure out the rest of the cast of characters that were thrown at me.
After finally finishing the novel, Thank God, I felt as if I had no idea what I just read. May be this is because throughout the entire book I kept thinking am I almost finished In my opinion a good novel should not have to be read twice in order to achieve some sort of basic understanding. Paradise was puzzling, complex and to me a complete waste of time. The novel is quite difficult, but as we are told , everything worthwhile is. The fact that the novel is challenging and requires a lot of time, patience and energy is hardly the point . The question is “Is it worth the effort?.” My answer to that question is no.