Study Guide

Gilead Letter 1, Section 2

By Marilynne Robinson

Letter 1, Section 2

  • The boy and his mother blow bubbles at the cat.
  • The mother tells the boy that his father is writing his begats. He's pleased.
  • The father gives us his name: John Ames.
  • (Geographical interlude: Ames is a city in Iowa.)
  • John Ames has lived seventy-six years, all but a few of them in Gilead, Iowa.
  • When John Ames was twelve, his father, also John Ames, took him to see the grave of his grandfather, also John Ames.
  • So that's three characters named John Ames.
  • The family had been living in Gilead for ten years.
  • Ames's grandfather had gone off to be an itinerant preacher and had died in Kansas.
  • Ames's grandfather and father had parted in anger and never reconciled.
  • Ames insists on going along with his father. His mother objects, but his father permits him to be a partner on the road.
  • Ames Junior and Senior travel by train, then wagon, then their feet. A farmstead woman gives them food and shelter.
  • The Ameses find the grave in the evening and so return to the farm. When they return to the grave, Ames's father prays before it.
  • When the sun sets and the moon rises, Ames remarks on the beauty of the place.
  • A month after leaving home, the Ameses return to Gilead, thinned and travel-worn.
  • Ames's mother bursts into tears.
  • The Ameses been shot at and had seen other dangers.
  • Ames afterwards senses the trouble he'd have caused if he'd been injured or killed. His mother doesn't want to know what they went through.
  • Ames's mother cleans him and feeds him and subjects him to a health routine she's convinced is authoritative.
  • John Ames had married young, but his wife died in childbirth, and the child died with her.
  • Their names were Louisa and Angeline.
  • Boughton baptized Angeline.
  • Boughton is younger than Ames but appears much older.
  • Ames has supper at his home. Boughton's daughter lives there after a failed marriage. She tells Ames that Jack might be coming home soon.
  • Ames has to think about who that is.
  • Unlike his father, who preached from notes, Ames writes out his sermons word for word. He's kept them in boxes in the attic.
  • Writing to Ames feels like praying—he feels he's with someone.
  • Ames has written a total of 225 books.
  • Ames reminisces about the first time he met his wife and the day he baptized her.
  • As kids, Ames and Boughton had baptized a litter of cats. This act led to discussions among the boys about the nature and proper form of baptism.
  • Ames writes about his admiration for Feuerbach, an atheist philosopher. His brother, Edward, had given him a book by Feuerbach, hoping to unsettle his faith.
  • The congregation in Gilead had taken a collection to send Edward to college in Germany. The young man came back an atheist. Then he married and had six children, now grown.
  • Not surprisingly, Edward and his father grew apart.
  • Ames tells his son that he admires Feuerbach and has left his book to him, hoping he reads it.
  • Ames remembers a time he witnessed a young couple walking ahead of him after a heavy rain. The young man had grabbed a branch of a tree, showering the two of them. They took off running.
  • Ames wonders if water is made primarily for blessing.
  • Ames walks to Boughton's to see what his friend is doing.
  • Ames is anxious about his son Jack returning. He fears leaving his wife and son without the means to live.
  • Ames's grandfather had been a generous man, giving so much away that it literally hurt his family.
  • Ames's mother tried to keep the peace between her husband and his father.
  • On a stormy day when she lost the day's work, Ames's mother joked about it being a blessing, which was an allusion to her father-in-law's statement about losing an eye in the war.
  • Ames's son has begun to hang out with a Lutheran boy named Tobias. They have a sleepover.
  • Boughton mentally prepares for his own death. He'd like to see an angel.
  • Ames writes of the ways people have gotten the wrong idea about him, assuming he's better than he really is.
  • Ames has kept most of his sermons, storing them in boxes in the attic. One sermon he burned: it was an anti-war reflection in response to the First World War. His audience would have been mostly mothers, wives, and widows.
  • Ames won't mind answering for the sermon in the next world, but he's not entirely sure he believes what he said—or would have said.

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