Toni Morrison's Paradise, exposes the power of religion and the influence it has over people's lives. Morrison presents a dichotomy of two isolated communities seventeen miles apart from each other. As we discussed in class, Ruby is a patriarchal, all Black town with three Protestant churches and a population of 360. The twins, Deacon and Steward Morgan are at the top of the hierarchy because they have financed the town. An old mansion evolves over the years as an embezzler's folly, then a Catholic Convent, a school for Arapaho girls and finally as refuge for lost troubled women. It is a peaceful, democratic, female-dominated place. The Convent has exerted itself as power position as place of commerce by providing the town of Ruby with food items that don't have.
It can be seen as a motif for feminine power, spirituality and female goddess worship. The women are seeking an escape, from abuse and male oppression. The Convent becomes a safe haven and vehicle to paradise. "The whole house felt permeated with a blessed malelessness, like a protected domain, free of hunters but exciting too" (177). The women claim their subject position and individual autonomy by relinquishing their obligatory roles as a caretaker. They find acceptance, inner peace and gain agency. It is in the Convent where the women form a new identity and have a spiritual transformation. "They all came to see that they could not leave the one place they were free to leave" (262). Unmarried, racially mixed and with no conventional religion the women are deemed outcasts and referred to as "detritus" (4). The broken women are seen as the problem in the text "a house full of women. Not women locked safely away from men; but worse, women who chose themselves for company, which is to say not a convent but a coven" (276). The women are seen as evil, accused of practicing witchcraft and being a part "of some other cult" (11). Alcohol, abortion and lesbianism are seen as blasphemy. Because there is no traditional hierarchy in the Covent, the people of Ruby see the women as the Other and fear them.
The nine families that made the original journey from Fairly, Oklahoma, only to be thrown out and cast away, went on to found Haven and then Ruby. The eight-rock people believe they are the chosen ones and have an elitist attitude that having blue-black skin is superior. Religion is used to control the women and preserve the pure eight-rock bloodline. By segregating and isolating themselves away from others to prevent racial tampering, they resort to inbreeding which causes serious complications such as infertility, miscarriages and "damaged infants" (11).
The men of Ruby believe men have the power because they carry the family name yet women create life. They fear midwives and anyone that can tamper with their offspring. The town leaders are outraged by how these self-sufficient, independent women live their lives uncensored. "These here sluts out there by themselves never step foot in a church and I bet you a dollar to a fat nickel they ain't thinking about one either. They don't need men and they don't need God. If they stayed to themselves, that'd be something. But they don't. They meddle. Drawing folks out there like flies to shit and everybody who goes near them is maimed somehow and the mess is seeping back into our homes, our families. We can't have it, you all. Can't have it at all "(276). The tension between Ruby and the Convent is fierce. The men of Ruby oppose the Convent yet are also drawn to it. They resist and also benefit from it. If Ruby was paradise they would have everything they need and would not need to leave. The hypocrisy of their beliefs and actions contradict one another. K.D. has a love affair with Gigi. Steward is obsessed with the purply black peppers that Ana Flood calls "black-as-eight-rock- peppers" (120) "that grow nowhere outside the Convent's garden" (81). Deek comes to the Convent for some hot peppers and is drawn to Connie, a Portuguese woman with sundown skin, green eyes and tea-colored hair. Their secret tryst conflicts with the town's morals and belief systems. Alcohol is not prohibited in Ruby which is in contrast with the Convent's cellar containing "walls of prisoner wine" (237). Soane is drawn to the Convent as well and develops a friendship with Connie. "That ravenous ground-fucking woman who had left his life but had weaseled her way into Soane's affections and, he suspected, had plied her evil potions to make her less loving than she used to be "(280).
Connie has devoted her life to Mary Magna, who worships Mary, Jesus' mother. "Never break them in two. Never put one over the other. Eve is Mary's mother. Mary is the daughter of Eve. When Mavis is first introduced to the Reverend Mother she observes "the whiteness at the center was blinding" (46) and can't figure out where "in a house with no electricity, the light in Mother's room came from" (48). The conventional Christian town Ruby worships a black male figure, Jesus Christ. When the eight-rocks storm the chapel they discover "in a place that housed Christians---well, Catholics anyway---not a cross of Jesus anywhere "(7). Consolata Sosa has supernatural powers and worships the spiritual female deity Piedade. As the maternal figure, she leads the women on spiritual path to free them from the bondage of their tortured memories. The women are instructed to lie down on the cellar floor as she traces the outline of their naked bodies. She forces them to transfer their pain onto the template of themselves on the floor. The women begin the healing process by reliving their trauma and purging their pain. After this outer body experience the women have healed their emotional wounds. "Unlike some people in Ruby, the Convent women were no longer haunted "(266). The Ruby women are stagnant and lack equal rights while the Convent women grow to become very powerful. Ultimately, the Convent poses a threat to the town of Ruby. Any power outside of Ruby is a threat to their insular society. Since power is only associated with masculinity, they view the women as men. Reverend Cary's sermon raises the question of "whose power is stronger? Why don't they just get on out, leave? Something's going on out there, and I don't like any of it. No men. Kissing on themselves. Babies hid away "(276). The eight-rock men believe that is god's will and that are left without a choice but to extinguish these harmless women viewed as "witches" (276).
There is huge gender division in this text. Morrison is suggesting that Paradise cannot be found in isolation. The women achieve paradise as a state of mind.