Study Guide

Gilead Tone

By Marilynne Robinson


Familial, Personal, Theological

John Ames, the narrator, is a preacher. As you might expect, his narration reads like a good sermon: lovingly expressed, intimate and personal, and accessibly theological. He'll transition from an analysis of a biblical episode to describing his son at play or observing the face of his wife. Notice, for example, the way Ames builds a metaphysical observation on a physical one here, finding grace in nature and mixing together the material and the spiritual:

I have great respect for the uprightness of our character and the goodness of your heart, and your mother could not love you more or take greater pride in you. She has watched you every moment of your life, almost, and she loves you as God does, to the marrow of your bones. So that is the honoring of the child. You see how godlike it is to love the being of someone. Your existence is a delight to us. I hope you never have to long for a child as I did, but oh, what a splendid thing it has been that you came finally, and what a blessing to enjoy you now for almost seven years. (1.12.13)

As you can see, John Ames's style is, well, kind of preachy. This is the language of a sermon, adapted slightly for Ames's special purpose. It makes sense: Ames won't be around to teach his son to be a good man, so Ames has to teach him his lessons through the written word.

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