Study Guide

Gilead Love

By Marilynne Robinson


I want your dear perishable self to live long and to love this poor perishable world, which I somehow cannot imagine not missing bitterly, even while I do long to see what it will mean to have wife and child restored to me, I mean Louisa and Rebecca. (1.4.7)

Ames believes in eternal life. He also believes that love is eternal. Nevertheless, he has neither his head nor his heart stuck in the clouds of eternity. He's very much in the moment—in love with the passing and the transitory. With all his heart, he loves what won't last forever.

That was the first time in my life I ever knew what it was to love another human being. Not that I hadn't loved people before. But I hadn't realized what it meant to love them before. (1.4.12)

Why is it that Ames doesn't discover the meaning of love until late in his life, when he falls in love with Lila? What kept him back before that?

He is not the eldest or the youngest or the best or the bravest, only the most beloved. (1.7.2)

Why do you think Boughton loves Jack best among his children? What specifically makes him love Jack more than he loves others?

It strikes me that your mother could not have said a more heartening word to me by any other mans than she did by loving that unremarkable book so much that I noticed and read it, too. (1.12.3)

Lila is a young woman who marries an oldish man. She does it out of love; she doesn't secretly loathe Ames or regret the life she's chosen by marrying him. This sign of her affection and devotion comforts Ames more than he can say.

You see how it is godlike to love the being of someone. Your existence is a delight to us. (1.12.13)

A concise but deep statement, John Ames. Those who love find joy in those they love—merely because they exist. Babies, for example, cry and make messes, but this takes nothing of the joy of their existence away.

It is one of the best traits of good people that they love where they pity. (1.15.146)

What does pity look like when it's not accompanied by love? Does such unloving pity lead to different behavior from loving pity? Which is better?

If we can be divinely fed with a morsel and divinely blessed with a touch, then the terrible pleasure we find in a particular face can certainly instruct us in the nature of the very grandest love. (1.19.8)

You can get to know a lot about a person from observing his or her face. A slight smirk can communicate more than a wide wave of an arm, especially if we know the person and his or her quirks and personality. And, of course, the eyes, which are often called windows to the soul, can sometimes say more than any words can.

Love is holy because it is like grace—the worthiness of its object is never really what matters. (1.20.13)

We see this theme carried out in Boughton's love for his son, Jack. He loves Jack best of all his children, even though Jack is the most ill behaved of them. Is there a connection?

I love this town. I think sometimes of going into the ground here as a last wild gesture of love—I too will smolder away the time until the great and general incandescence. (2.21.147)

For Ames, Gilead is the place where time meets eternity, and he wants to be with Gilead in death as he was in life. It will be his final resting place—a place he's chosen because he loves it.

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