Collaboration as a Tool for Interpreting Justice and Ourselves

The eagle of divine Justice is a constellation creating of words from Canto 18, “Diligite Justitiam” (91) which means to cherish justice. Although the message is to cherish divine justice, Dante’s inquires make it clear that the term is open for interpretation. In Paradiso Canto 18, Dante equates the eyes, more specifically Beatrice’s eyes, as an image into Paradise: “Turn to him and listen—for / not only in my eyes is Paradise” (lines 20-21). Paradise can also be interpreted differently according to the eyes of the beholder as readers see in Morrison’s Paradise and the community’s different interpretations of what Ruby is supposed to stand for. In Paradise, the different generations within Ruby argue whether the inscription on the oven is “Beware the Furrow of His Brow? [or] Be the Furrow of His Brow?” (93). This debate can trace itself back to Paradiso and whether the souls that make up the eagle’s eye should be the goal or the warning. One of the souls on the eagle’s brow is Constantine who, according to Dante, went against Heaven when he moved the capital of the Roman empire from the West to the East which is in direct disagreement with the cosmos. However, even though Constantine went against Heaven, his soul can be found among the stars because it was his intentions that were good and that is what he was judged on. In Canto 19 of Paradiso, the eagle of justice claims that justice is beyond our comprehension because we are unable to see it in its full capacity: “vision that your world receives / can penetrate into Eternal Justice / no more than eye can penetrate the sea” (58-60).The different interpretations of what the words on the oven continue throughout the novel with the different interpretations of justice. This is especially prevalent when the community in Paradise justifies the massacre of the woman of the Covent and whether these actions were truly just. This raises even more questions on if their intentions were for the good or a reaction out of fear and the disappearing of the bodies may hint that the souls of the fallen were redeemed. 

           Paradise tells the story of a community called Ruby from the stories of various other characters. The novel itself is actually a collective whole made up of different parts similarly to the makeup of both the oven within the novel and Dante’s eagle. While Dante’s eagle is created star by star to create a constellation, the oven is constructed brick by brick. Both the eagle and the oven both represent something larger than themselves as well and have been created by souls preceding those whom the readers see the story unfold in front of. These messages, however, are subjected to different interpretations. The eagle calls into question what justice is and if the true justice that allows souls to move to heaven are judged by the actions or intentions. However, although the question of justice is brought into play with the massacre of the women of the Covent in Paradise, the oven’s message can be directly tied to the brow of the eagle. The debate between generations on whether the inscription on the oven is “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” or “Be the Furrow of His Brow” or even “We are the Furrow of His Brow” (298). The true meaning was lost long ago, yet each generation that rebuilds it, brick by brick, creates their own meaning for it. Similarly, justice cannot be viewed as a whole by people, but only glimpses are caught, and people create their own definitions from those moments of limited understanding. Even the title Paradise allows for different interpretations of the town Ruby and if this community built is paradise or in fact, it holds the opposite. When the oven is center of the community, the heart, but its usefulness has died out and yet the community continues to persist with it. This interpretation extends to the readers as well as fellow peer Katherine Johnson remind me: “The oven is subject to the perception of people based on their background and experiences, as is the eagle. However, the eagle has a key of sorts, which directs people to perceive it in a certain way, and the oven does not.” Dante guides the readers through his journey and through his perspective while the citizens of Ruby are left with a deteriorating structure to guide their varying interpretations. 

           The residents’ interpretations of the writing on the oven’s lip seems to differ from generation as the closeness and experiences of those who build the oven increase in distance over time. As beautifully pointed out by my classmate Cal Hoag: “After arriving at Ruby the oven had to be reassembled, but like the town itself there’s no telling if the assembled product is the same as what was there to begin with. The oven was no longer the town’s uniting force and its function had become purely symbolic…” Although the writing has worn to the point of ineligibility, there is a clash between what has been traditionally understood as the motto by the older generation versus what the younger generation believes the inscription should represent about the town: “Beware the Furrow of His Brow? [or] Be the Furrow of His Brow?” (93). The only difference in the words themselves is the ‘ware’ after Be, but these four letters change the meaning completely. The former serves as a warning while the latter offers itself as a guide for the community. Although Ruby as a community has shared beginnings and experiences, how the individuals perceive these experiences as well as going through their own has resulted in different understandings from the same piece of iron. In the end, both parties respect their ancestors and want the significance of the oven to continue as a connection between Him and the inhabitants of Ruby. The older generation views the relationship between themselves and God as his children, meant to obey the commands while all the power rests within Himself, an understanding. However, the younger generation’s interpretation falls under the definition of a performance of the ideas of Him and they believe in order to obey Him, they must become His vessel. These two groups of people literally fall under different interpretations of the word interpretation

           It feels as though the conflict with the oven is an underlying problem of the community as a whole and Morrison seems to be suggesting that when differences in interpretations are present, effective collaboration can make a difference. There was an attempt to collaborate when gathering the town to discuss the oven’s inscription. However, the older generation stubbornly held onto the past and rejected what the younger generation had to say about change. Although Reverend Misner attempted to mediate, both parties were set on their interpretation. The oven has long lost its functionality, yet the community continues to value it as though it hadn’t and even rebuild it by sacrificing other necessities. What the oven represents appears to be much more valuable than the object itself which is why the motto inscribed matters to the people while the words have little effect on the object itself. A key to successfully collaborating involves respecting the opinion of others even in disagreement and this lack of respect is clear during the public discussion from both parties. However, this conflict within Ruby only leads to a crumbling foundation and the readers eventually see signs of the younger generation persisting with the graffitied “We Are the Furrow of His Brow” (298) on the hood of the oven.

           An important revelation I had about Paradise and the current circumstances came about through a post made by fellow peer Ashley Daddona: “The process in which the readers of the Oven interpret, agree/disagree and collaborate, though not flawless, is still a process moving forward.” Although the collaboration within Paradise appears fruitless at first, it’s important to acknowledge and value that talking is the first step forward and any step forward, despite how small, is still progress. Paradise puts the both/and questions on a smaller and more realistic scale for the readers and although the questions raised in Paradise are far from simple, they may be more manageable to most than those in Paradiso. The conversation around interpretation brings me back to the conversation surrounding intention as well. I keep wondering if good intentions can justify bad actions and learning how to still seek and respect interpretations even though I don’t agree with them. This justification. In Paradiso, interpretation, especially on justice, is taken to a larger scale with the readers exploring qualifications in entering heaven. In the grand scheme, Dante ponders whether good intentions triumph bad actions or even a lack of religion. These questions become easier to relate to when exploring Ruby in Paradise and the readers question whether the actions of the residents are justifiable as well and the destructive force of inefficient collaboration on differing interpretations. Although interpretation and collaboration appeal to me as an English major, I’m more drawn to the connection with my Education major and hopefully a career. Collaboration may seem more obvious, but it’s importance in education and the transference into life outside academics as well cannot be overstated. However, interpretation has taken me years to fully appreciate for myself let alone realize its importance to teach within the classroom. Students, especially in high school, often feel as though the teacher’s answer is the right or the only answer. However, students should feel that their interpretation is valuable and that the thinking that got them there is just as important. Collaboration can serve as a tool to respect and value other’s interpretation of course material and these skills can be transferred to life outside of school. I was always worried during class to participate and say the wrong thing because maybe I didn’t understand the material the way I was supposed to or as well as I thought I did. The lack of participation increased my lack of self-confidence and the vicious cycle continued until college. I would become more likely to participate in class when I felt as though I was close to the professor and the students in my class so sharing potentially stupid thoughts was still safer. This class is among the several classes at SUNY Geneseo where I enjoy the class because I can participate in small and class sized discussions surrounded by those I trust and these classes also increase my self-confidence with every contribution. The common thread between these classes is that I was able to collaborate with my peers, even if it was just discussions in small groups, and my professors respected my interpretation of the material. However, unfortunately, it’s the lack of effective collaboration due to a difference in interpretations have resulted in more chaos during this time of uncertainty. I hope that soon, the majority of people will be able to reach an agreement for the betterment of people’s lives and successfully collaborate on the solution rather than remain divided. However, I now have hope that despite appearance, society is moving forward and that the process may take longer than it should, but it will eventually meet its end goal.

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