"The House of Your Church Is Burning": Race and Responsibility in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead

LEE SPINKS
2016 Journal of American Studies  
This article examines Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead in dialogue with her speculative reflection upon Dietrich Bonhoeffer's theology to read the novel as a radically ambivalent text which exposes an aporia at the core of the Reverend Ames's Christian ethics. This ambivalence appears in the way that Ames's version of his own family history works assiduously to expiate the perceived violence done to ethics by his grandfather's support for abolitionist violence while remaining haunted by the
more » ... g haunted by the thought that in the unforgiving context of Bleeding Kansas simply to insist upon an absolute distinction between violence on the one hand and ethics and law on the other may be irreconcilable with the workings of good faith and the ends of justice. Reinterpreting Ames's narrative in the light of Jacques Derrida's reflection on the paradoxical structure of ethical responsibility, the article argues that the violence done to Ames's ethical reflection by the memory of the grandfather, John Brown, and the excluded black body reveals the agonistic location of the ethics of abolitionist history between two kinds of violence on the uncertain border between justice and law which defines the ground of every genuinely ethical decision.
doi:10.1017/s0021875816000633 fatcat:gpeetb5ckfbbxbdwul26biepce