Paradise ends without justice for the people affected by the violences which occur in the novel. Dr. Beth encouraged us to consider what the effect of, what some people in class have described as, an unsatisfying ending. Specifically, what this absence of justice pushes us to consider as students at a state school on occupied land. As Dr. Beth called attention to the absence of justice and reparations given to peoples violated by a historical through-line of state-sponsored violence, I glanced up at the whiteboard in the classroom with “Happy Thanksgiving!” sprawled across it. According to indigenous historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, it is important to consider Thanksgiving next to the many federal holidays which celebrate “… a genocidal regime under the guise of democracy” which work together as “a part of that mythology that attempts to cover up the real history of the United States” (Democracy Now!). According to Dunbar-Ortiz, Thanksgiving was originally a holiday intended to bring together families and provide a space for them to mourn the dead and celebrate life. Over time, this mythology was constructed and normalized as truth in order to hide the violence which saturates this government’s history and present. Similarly, in Paradise a narrative is constructed that there’s no need for justice because the bodies of the brutalized are unseen: “When they learned there were no dead to report, transport or bury, relief was so great they began to forget what they’d actually done or seen” (298 Morrison). As the historical memory shifts to speak only for the empowered, the pain inflicted on the people which their power is built on is erased and there is no justice.
So, how can both the lack of justice and the celebration of this day exist? How can I both give and receive “Happy Thanksgiving’s!” and absorb information about the on-going abuse of Indigenous people by militarized police? Mostly, I don’t know. I’m going to take a dose of humility as suggested by activists on the prison culture twitter. However, Dunbar-Ortiz suggests that we can continue the original celebration of family and life while we also unlearn the mythology about this country and face the truth about the on-going injustices and state- sponsored violences against historically marginalized peoples (Dunbar-Ortiz).
It feels important to me for the tension to exist between Thanksgiving and the struggle at Standing Rock. This tension is a through-line to the façade of a “prison calling itself a town” in Paradise and the uprising return of the women (308 Morrison). There’s a hope that the women in Paradise were “biding their time, brass-metaling their nails, filing their incisors”, ready to return and ready to rise like the warriors across the country who refuse to be satisfied with injustice.