In reading Linda Krumholz’s essay “Reading and Insight in Toni Morrison’s Paradise” on Wednesday, I was struck by her connection of the Ruby residents in Toni Morrison’s Paradise and the biblical Adam and Eve during the Fall from Eden. A concept that has been percolating in my mind since taking an African American Literature class with Dr. Beth in the spring is “repetition and revision.” Krumholz states that in Paradise, Morrison “considers what the danger of repetition without difference might be” (21). While I can see what Krumholz is saying here, I also see repetition with revision in Paradise. Morrison subverts the gender norms of equating male with God and female with sin through the men of Ruby and the women of the Convent. These two interpretations depend on which perspective the reader taps into.
Krumholz taps into the perspective of the men of Ruby in seeing that otherness associated with woman and sin in the women of the Convent. She references the first chapter of Paradise which describes the women as “bodacious black Eves unredeemed by Mary” and then proceeds to point out that “From the men’s perspectives, the women, like Eve, embody a loss of innocence and an ejection from the Garden of Eden, the earthly Paradise” (22). Yes, from the men’s perspective, the Convent women’s choice to live on the outside of Ruby, in a different manner than the inhabitants of Ruby, they are dangerous. They threaten the paradise that Ruby is supposed to be. This perspective is consistent with the traditional biblical equation of woman with sin, leading to their otherness, heaping the blame on them singularly. It is this that reinforced the gender role norms that have been common throughout Western history.
There is another interpretation, though: the one that I automatically tapped into when reading Paradise. Krumholz acknowledges this, as well, when she writes that “the men’s act of hubris exceeds Eve’s original sin…The men become what they wish to destroy, and thus they destroy their own Paradise” (22). Throughout the novel, the reader comes to sympathize with the women of the Convent by their stories and seeing the harm the men have done to them. In writing this novel, Morrison effectively communicates that “the men of Ruby act as if they actually know God’s will” (22). They are confident in the goodness, the righteousness of their actions, and are convinced that they possess no culpability for the harm done to the women to bring about the otherness they see or the Fall of Ruby, itself. Through a reading of the women’s perspective, one can see their attempt to break away from the gender norms and assume control over their own lives. By being outside of the community and tradition, the women are doing something new and, therefore, frightening for those set in the old “normal” ways.
Thus, by reading through both the men’s and women’s perspectives in Paradise, a reader could take away either “repetition with revision” or “repetition without revision.” The men’s point of view provides stable repetition with no change; the Fall occurs again in Ruby, like Eden, and it is the women’s fault for breaking the “rules” of society. The women’s perspective supplies the interpretation of “repetition with revision,” because the women are not to blame for the sin, but the men. This means that the women are not to be blamed for the Fall, but the men are, subverting the original biblical story. The Fall is repeated, but part of the story has been revised.