Study Guide

Gilead Letter 2, Section 21

By Marilynne Robinson

Letter 2, Section 21

  • Jack Boughton has a wife and a child. His wife is a black woman. This surprises Ames.
  • When Jack arrives, Ames excuses himself to go clean himself up.
  • Not offered a chair, Jack stands waiting. He helps Ames move a box.
  • Jack doesn't want to upset his frail father, so he's come to Ames instead.
  • Jack shows Ames a picture, telling him his wife is a fine woman and his son a fine boy.
  • Apparently, Jack's wife's family did not take well to their marriage.
  • Jack and his wife have lived together for seventeen months, but they've been married in "the eyes of God" for eight years.
  • At this time, interracial marriage was actually illegal in some places, though not in Iowa.
  • Jack's wife's father, a minister, wants his daughter to marry someone else.
  • Jack's wife and son are in Tennessee. He's had a hard time looking after them.
  • Jack's wife name is Della. Her father believes that Jack is an atheist, which isn't exactly right.
  • Della apparently believes she can change Jack. Her first impression of him was that he was a man of the cloth.
  • Here's the story of how Jack and Della got to know each other.
  • After getting to know Jack some, Della invites him to Thanksgiving dinner. He shows, but he's late and drunk. Dinner is cold.
  • Jack leaves, but Della follows, and they go back to her place.
  • When the school year ends, Della's brothers came and take her home.
  • Jack finds Della's father's church and attends a service. He's the only white man present, and he's noticed.
  • Della's father tells him Jack should leave his daughter alone.
  • Jack says he will.
  • Della is impressed by Jack's gallantry.
  • In the fall, Jack sees Della again on her street. He tips his hat, she bursts into tears, and they consider themselves man and wife.
  • Della's disowned. She becomes pregnant and lives with Jack in destitution.
  • Della and Jack stay at a rundown hotel with a clerk who charges them extra for him to turn a blind eye.
  • Della's father comes and takes her home.
  • Jack is relieved. Della notices and is hurt.
  • Jack works to save up money and borrows from his father, who sends more than was asked for.
  • At a revival, Jack wonders if he can be a suitable father.
  • Jack gets to Memphis a day after the baby is born. He waits for Della's father to come home.
  • Della's father assumes that Jack is the descendent of John Ames, the veteran minister from Kansas (the narrator's grandfather).
  • Jack says he's heard stories of that John Ames, but he doesn't specify which.
  • Della's family treat Jack respectfully, but they don't respect him.
  • Della moves to Lorraine's place, where she lived when Jack met her. Jack has his own place nearby.
  • When things get difficult, Della goes back to Memphis for the child's sake. His name is Robert Boughton Miles.
  • In time (two years ago), Jack gets a job that pays some. He moves into a house with Della and Robert. They stay there eight months, but then Jack's boss sees him with a black wife and insults them. Jack assaults him.
  • Police come to speak to Jack about the law against cohabitating. That means there's a law that prohibits white and black people from living together as a couple.
  • Jack sends his family to Memphis, rents out the house, and comes back to Gilead.
  • Jack wants to introduce his family to his father, but he's afraid this will kill him.
  • Ames can't say what Boughton's reaction would be.
  • Jack remarks on Ames's "scandalous" marriage.
  • Ames reminds Jack that Boughton took to Jack's first child.
  • Jack turns white.
  • Ames apologizes.
  • Jack gets up to go.
  • Ames goes to him, puts his arms around him, and tells him he's a good man. Jack says there are worse.
  • Jack asks if Gilead would welcome his new family.
  • Ames doesn't know.
  • Ames prays for Jack and explains in the letter why he's noted all of this. He wants his son to know there was beauty in Jack Boughton.
  • On Sunday, Ames preaches.
  • Jack is there, dressed in a weary suit and tie, sitting with Lila.
  • Ames reads his sermon. It doesn't apply at all to what Jack has told him.
  • Ames wishes he had grounds for his old dread concerning Jack. He's amazed by this.
  • Ames reflects on Gilead as a town—why does it exist?
  • Ames's mother and father left, moving in with Edward down on the Gulf Coast. His father had intended to come back, but he returned only to visit—twice. He didn't preach anymore, and he told Ames he didn't have to be loyal to Gilead.
  • Ames fell into sorrow and never left Gilead.
  • Back in the present, Ames tries to give Jack some money to help him out.
  • Jack refuses and says he is leaving. Glory comes to talk to Ames about it.
  • Ames doesn't reveal Jack's secrets.
  • Later, Ames sees Jack off at the bus stop, giving him a copy of a book, a little money, and a blessing.
  • Keeping a promise, Ames goes to see Boughton.
  • Ames prays for his son.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...