Study Guide

Gilead Old Age

By Marilynne Robinson

Old Age

One of the big questions facing John Ames in Gilead is how to convey a life's worth of experience and wisdom to somehow he loves and will soon have to leave.

Ames is an old man with a bad heart writing a letter to his only son, a boy still in the single digits. Ames decides to convey as much of himself as he can, and he's not shy about talking about his old age. He dislikes being old, and he dislikes that his son knows him only as an old man. Nevertheless, he doesn't try to paint a youthful picture of himself in his letter. He wishes his son had known him in his prime, but he's up front about the pains time brings to the body and the soul, and he's honest about who is now and how he came to be that way.

Questions About Old Age

  1. When does Ames first appear old to his son?
  2. Would Ames trade his family to have his youth restored to him?
  3. Why does Ames push himself even as an old man?
  4. Why does Ames pray that his son learn how to be useful?

Chew on This

Ames cannot be an ideal father at his age.

Ames has found a different way to be an ideal father, in spite of his age.

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