Acceptance of Change in Morrison and Dante

In Paradiso, Dante writes the Eagle as a symbol of divine justice as shown through Cantos XVIII through XX. The Eagle, composed of the souls of the just, spells out a message “DILIGITE IUSTITIAM QUI IUDICATIS TERRAM” (Canto 18, 91-93) meaning “Love justice you who rule the earth” (Barolini). Thus, the understanding of social justice on Earth is paralleled with the heavenly imagery of the Eagle as the figure of divine justice. The message is directed at Dante as a command that all must follow the rules of justice. However, as emphasized throughout Canto XIX, the Eagle speaks of God’s plans for divine justice is incomprehensible to all beings, and it would be futile for any man to presume such knowledge. Dante reflects on the idea of how justice can be righteously executed. He uses the fate of the virtuous who had not heard of God as an example (Canto 19, 73-78 ) to which the Eagle replies that all of the inner-workings of justice must be accepted and if God wishes to extend salvation, he will do so. The Eagle can be interpreted as an effigy formed through the words of Gods, and representative of justice in that humans can assume morality through following his spiritual and philosophical practices. 

In Canto XX, there is a direct focus on the Eagle’s eye and the souls that make up the eye to discuss how men were able to enter Heaven despite not following religious practices before their time. This Canto ties all the questions Dante presents, showing that any those who have faith or have the ability to believe in a higher power are shown to be examples of divine redemption, and free of punishment. It is only with the opening of one’s eyes to the will of God that one can learn what is righteous. Dante, in turn, is in search of spiritual fulfillment and through the tracing of movement and the workings of guides, he explores the hierarchy of power within’ the understanding of divine justice and human comprehension of justice. In reading the conversation between the eagle and Dante and the eagle’s recounting of stories of salvation, one can understand how to achieve atonement for their sins either through strict punishment or the belief of God. 

The purpose of the Oven has shifted over the years depending on who it was passed down to. The Oven was multi-purposed, used communally amongst women to make food, a meeting place to talk about what was going on in the town, and a witness to baptisms. The Oven served as a symbol for the community as it “didn’t belong to any one denomination; it belonged to all” (83). The transferring of the Oven from Haven to Ruby brought along with it, many conflicts between men and women. The women in Ruby noted that they secretly despised that it was brought to them instead of necessities like food. The history of the Oven was failed to be passed on as it just sat idly. There is also general confusion leading to arguments about the inscription on the Oven that is important to note. Some interpret the message as, “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” and others believe it is “Be the furrow of His brow” (86). The older men, namely, Reverend Pulliam and Steward, argue that the word ‘beware’ is “an order” (86) straight from God. Thus he makes the connection to the divine world through this inscription. The argument is cut to Dovey’s, the female perspective, who believes that one should only be concerned with the meaning behind the inscription, not the exact words because “specifying it, particularizing it, nailing its meaning down, was futile. The only nailing needing to be done had already taken place. On the Cross” (93). The difference of opinions goes to the men demanding that all must adhere to the traditions set up whereas the women are more satisfied with their belief of God and shaping a new future for themselves. Looking at Canto 19-20 in Dante’s Paradiso, there are connections to ideas of transformation, migration, and knowledge of what is righteous. As the souls of the just leaders and the Eagle says, “Who are you to sit upon the bench, to judge…” (Canto 19, 79-80) because the idea of divine justice and laws on Earth can only be interpreted by God himself. 

Morrison uses the men of Ruby as a cautionary tale of how not to behave according to God’s laws. They say it is God’s authority that commands them not to change the words on the Oven, which is masked with the fear that they will soon lose their hierarchy of power in the community. It is their refusal to accept that the younger generation wants change that ultimately creates a division between these groups. The presence of the Oven is thoroughly embedded in the community and the focus of members in the community. The difference in interpretations between two generations of age and gender reflects a difference in opinion of how society should be run. The older men have been passing down their outdated values hoping to keep their positions of power while the women wish to reinterpret the inscription as a way to communicate their collective and more forward way of thinking. The men of Ruby blame the women for the fall of their society because they believe the women are subverting the words of God and thus, are immoral. The attack on the Convent is, therefore, an attack of the unknown and a perceived evil the women have. 

This division led to violence as there will always be blame placed on one group as a result of disagreement and shame. The men place shame on the women because they do not comply with their apparent knowledge of God’s will. Thus, the men are the ones subverting this idea of “Paradise” by making it so that only those who follow their own idea of righteousness can stay in their community and those who oppose it are excluded and subsequently, attacked. Morrison draws attention to this divide and criticizes those stuck in their ways and the hesitations people have in changing history. By drawing attention to interpretive disagreement, she urges readers to have discussions about the text and more importantly, that being fixated on one interpretation can lead to the destruction of society. She asserts that no one group should be stuck in their own beliefs, but rather celebrate a collaboration of opinions and diversity. Like in her previous novel, Jazz, Morrison welcomes readers to “remake” the story and be open to self-improvement. Paradise asks us to consider all interpretations, to envision a society that rejects exclusion. 

Paradise’s appropriation of Paradiso ties together what Dr. McCoy has been telling us all semester- to think, unpack, and consider the both/and. As a student, collaboration surrounds and makes up our college community. In this class particularly, collaboration directly affects our work by building discussion and deeper thinking. Despite the switch to remote learning, this collaboration has not been lost and as expressed by many in the weekly chat, has been beneficial to many, including myself. Living through this pandemic has been difficult as everyone is experiencing different levels of stress, tragedy, and uncertainty. I remember saying at the start of the semester was that our lives are non-linear, and that applies now more than ever. No one could have ever anticipated the severity of this crisis or how it would affect the lives of every person around the world, but it is these challenges that will shape us and show how we can show tolerance during this time. My future has been made uncertain because of this pandemic and I am sure many of us are feeling this sentiment. Our acceptance of this change and our willingness to adapt did not come easy, but given the circumstances, it is a responsibility that must be shouldered by everyone. 

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