Study Guide

Edward Ames in Gilead

By Marilynne Robinson

Edward Ames

Edward is Ames's older brother by ten years. Dead by the time Ames is writing his letter, the memory of Edward still remains close to Ames. He's kind of a mentor figure to Ames, despite the fact that he eventually became an atheist.

If he had lived into the age of social media, Edward would probably have become the type to take to Facebook in an effort to provoke his still-religious relations. One thing he did actually do was give Ames a book called The Essence of Christianity by the German philosopher Feuerbach, hoping to shock his younger brother out of his "uncritical piety" (1.2.38).

Edward is smart. He left home at sixteen to go to college, which was paid for by the congregation. He studied in Germany, published a book in German, and came home an atheist. So, yeah, maybe it was a church collection not well spent…

Edward can also be mean about his loss of faith. When his father asks that he respect the religious customs of the house, Edward doesn't simply say he doesn't believe in them; he quotes and twists Scripture to make his point. Citing Corinthians, for example, Edward says that now that he's a man, he's "put away childish things"—like religion (1.2.40). That's attacking your enemy with the enemy's own weapons.

As time passes, though, Edward becomes less hostile. He's a good, ethically minded man, so much so that Ames doesn't worry "about the state of his soul" (1.5.18). In fact, Ames strives to live up to Edward's ideals. Although Ames himself doesn't abandon his faith, he does try not to live in uncritical piety. He subjects his beliefs to intellectually rigorous criticism, and he comes out stronger in his faith.

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