The Sacred Journey: A Catholic Sacramental Reading of the Protestant Theology in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead

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Stacy Ann Sathaseevan


In this paper, I undertake a reading of the Catholic sacraments within Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel Gilead, analyzing symbolic representations of the seven sacraments. Whereas we would expect to find only two sacraments, given its Protestant setting, I explore and demonstrate the presence of a broader sacramental framework through an analysis of various textual vignettes for each of the seven sacraments. I argue that Reverend John Ames and Jack Boughton illustrate the reception and rejection of the grace of the sacraments, respectively. Both characters are surrounded by the beauty of the sacred (manifested in community, family, love, and the small pleasures of the world), but whereas Ames embraces it, Jack eludes it, almost literally running away from grace at the end of the novel. The reasons why Jack refuses grace remain a mystery (Is he unwilling or unable to receive it? Does he reject it freely or is he predestined to reject it?), but create the fundamental theological problematic that drives not only Gilead, but also the other novels in the trilogy.


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