Study Guide

Gilead Genre

By Marilynne Robinson


Autobiography, Family Drama, Pastoral

"I've often been sorry to see a night end," Ames writes to his son, "even while I have loved seeing the dawn come. Tree sound different at night, and they smell different too" (1.6.1-2).

Gilead is an epistolary novel (that's a novel made up of letter) about a family across generations. It's also about the small town in Iowa where they lived. It's autobiographical, at least in the sense that Ames shares his own story with his son. It's a pastoral novel as well, full of quiet observations about the sound and smell of trees or the Midwestern dance of fireflies:

…I walked him out to the porch, and there were more fireflies out there than I had ever seen in my life, thousands of them everywhere, just drifting up out of the grass, extinguishing themselves in midair. (1.7.1)

The heart of the story, however, is a family drama involving the Boughton and Ames families. Years of loneliness, miraculous romance, forbidden love, and a familial disgrace come together in Ames's letter.

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