Study Guide

John Ames, Sr. in Gilead

By Marilynne Robinson

John Ames, Sr.

Ames's father, also named John Ames and also a preacher, had a powerful effect on our protagonist's upbringing. Whereas Ames's grandfather preached the sanctity of violence in certain kinds of war, Ames's father was a pacifist who sat with the Quakers (a pacifist denomination) after returning from the army.

Despite the rift with his father, this John Ames went out to Kansas in an unlikely quest to find his father's grave. He's a man who longs for restoration, even with the dead. We see this longing when it comes to his son Edward, our protagonist's brother. Edward falls away from the faith while at school in Germany, but he stays in communication with his family. When Edward writes to John, their father reads the letters and keeps an eye and ear on John for any sign of heterodoxy. He argues with John as if John were Edward—that is, as if were trying to get Edward back into the fold.

Eventually, Ames's father's faith begins to falter. He reads the books Edward recommended to John "almost as if he wanted to be persuaded by them" (1.15.115). When Edward leaves Gilead for the South, Dad and his wife go with him. Dad tries to convince John to follow, even going so far as to disparage Gilead in attempt to get his son to leave it. Ames isn't impressed by the changes in his father.

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