Study Guide

Grandfather John Ames in Gilead

By Marilynne Robinson

Grandfather John Ames

Ames's grandfather was a man of great generosity and fiery passion: 

My grandfather never kept anything that was worth giving away, or let us keep it, either, so my mother said. He would take laundry right of the line. She said he was worse than any thief, worse than a house fire. (1.2.59)

This guy was a preacher too, but he was a much different kind of preacher from either his son or his grandson:

There were Sundays when he would ride his horse right up to the church steps just when it was time for service to begin and fire that gun in the air to let people know he was back. They'd find him standing in the pulpit, with his eyes red and his face pale and dust in his beard, all ready to preach on judgment and grace. (1.7.123)

Ames's grandfather got involved with anti-slavery militants prior to the Civil War, and he even killed a man while trying to help out some Abolitionists. To him, both the violence before the war and the war itself were righteous and pure because the cause was righteous and pure. This guy preached to the men of his congregation to take up arms in defense of the cause. This stance put him at odds with his son, Ames's father, who believed the way of violence was antithetical to the way of Jesus. They grew apart, and Ames's grandfather left Iowa for Kansas.

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