The Connection and Analysis of Paradise to Today

In Toni Morrison’s Paradise, there is a conflict that seemingly reflects Dante’s divine justice in Paradiso. In Paradiso, the Eagle is a significant figure that is a combination of souls derived from those that are just. The oven in Ruby from Morrison’s Paradise relates to the situation between the Eagle and Dante in Paradiso because the younger generation believes that the oven is a symbol that represents God and by them believing in this, they feel as if they maintain their own divine justice, just like the Eagle portrays to Dante. The older generation believes that the younger generation is full of piety, the elders don’t see it that way because the younger generation sees this symbol (the oven) as a sense of portrayal to them that they are a part of God, those that are part of the older generation do not see it that way.  

The oven in Morrison’s Paradise was moved from Haven to Ruby by the men who made it and it is used in a way that gives people a sense of comfort, control and self-support. This gives the people of Ruby somewhere to go and feel as if they are having their voices heard. The oven stands as a symbolic gesture of self-reliance and a sense of isolation from the rest of the world. The oven is covered in graffiti, with a symbol of black power on it that offends some people (Deek and Steward). There is tension between these two points of meaningfulness that show that the oven is an important object to the citizens in Ruby. The residents of Ruby believe that the oven is a materialistic reminder of the things and stories that have taken place through their ancestral members that have been passed down through each generation in between Ruby and Haven. It also holds the prized possessions of the difficulties, struggles and situations that the founders of Haven and Ruby have faced. The oven will always be a historical thing that will hold extreme significance no matter how far in generations they go, “Then act like it. I just told you. That oven already has history. It doesn’t need you to fix it” (Morrison, 86). 

The younger generation and the older generation have a small argument about the oven. The older generation believes that the younger ones do not fully understand what the oven truly means, they don’t have the respect and they don’t know what it truly stands for. They were not the ones that are ex-slaves so they couldn’t possibly know what the significance of it really is. The younger generation sees that the older generation believe that they are the ones that give the oven life because they feel as if they are descendants of the oven since they are ex-slaves.  

The residents that reside within Ruby interpret and know that the oven is a place that represents each generation in a different way. The generation that is older, uses the phrase “beware the furrow of his brow” as a way to bring them back to what is known as their past and the younger generation uses the phrase “be the furrow of his brow” uses the phrase to show that they are a part of Him (God) and as a way of showing demand. This phrase creates a sense of self-control instead of control that is conducted by Him. There seems to be a need of control from the people that are in the older generation. The men feel as if they have power over the women and that the women should know their role to play, the men want the most power that they can possibly possess because they think that it is their “responsibility”. Morrison’s Paradise has shown that the interpretation that the people of Ruby possess through the oven is a way to essentially “deal with” the women in the convent. The older generation of Ruby rely a lot on self-reflection, the power of their morals and everything that has meant something to them because of their past. There is an argument between the younger and the older generations about the significance of the meaning of the oven to each of them. I found it interesting how both sides were so different from one another. Like I have mentioned, the older generation believes that the oven helps them remember and to bring them back to their past and the younger generation believes that the oven helps them show that they are a part of God. But, the difference between these two are so significant because it shows that there are two whole different sides to the oven and that even though there may be some people who think their own thing about what the oven does from them, there are two clearly defined sides to this convent. To me, the older generation sees this as a part of a vow to be mindful of judgement and power that they want to maintain but only God can have. The younger generations don’t have this same mindset, they only think that God leads them and that they believe in Him. The oven’s lip has a stream of text on it and it is often interpreted as a sign that is a perception of God and that the Convent is destroying the town. 

The oven’s readers use collaboration to try to reconcile the interpretive disagreement by understanding that the oven is “standing” its ground for each individual in possibly a different way because they each have their own reason as to why they think the way that they do about it. There are many different views on this but there are two that significantly stand out, the vision of being a part of God and the sense of remembrance. The disagreement was not necessarily fought out, it was more of a conversation that, to me, ended in agreeing to disagree. There is a common ground that gives the readers the sense that everyone feels as if this oven sets the tone for support and comfort. The collaboration as a whole seemed sort of subtle to me as it was there but it was not like fought out. Like I have mentioned prior, it seemed like they agreed to disagree because they knew that they were not going to be able to see eye to eye about what it meant to each side since they are so different in the ways of viewing it due to their experiences and differences. 

From reading Paradise and other novels written by Toni Morrison, I have learned to really analyze text that I read and that almost everything included is written for a purpose as it potentially leads into another idea or that it loops back around to a different connection. There were many questions that I have come across while reading the novels although many of them did not have answers specifically spelled out for us readers, they were left unanswered which allowed me to make different connections and taught me that I can come about my own answers to tie the ends. Throughout each Beloved, Jazz and Paradise, I have seen small character connections between the two books that in turn have helped me answer questions that were left upon us. Through collaboration, in class discussions and self-assumptions, I have learned to view things in different aspects instead of just my own view, it has taught me to think about what others may see it as and then how to include that into my own insights. Personally, I struggled with making connections because it took me a while to find where they all lead to but after doing a lot of analyzing, re-reading and collaborating, I was eventually able to see them come together.

As I have begun to loop throughout texts and come back to one another, I often found myself wondering, “Is this what I am supposed to think? Is this right?” and often second guessing my revelations. Realizing that the texts often included open ended questions was big for me because it also made me realize that that is supposed to happen (me questioning my answers). The author left them unanswered to make us (the readers)  find ways to conclude and for us to create the closure that we are looking for. Being able to collaborate and discuss (in person and remotely) was significantly helpful to me because it helped me see not only my visions and thoughts but others perspectives too. I often found myself keeping what I had to say to myself until I heard what my peers had to say first because like I mentioned in the previous chat, I was scared of saying the “wrong” thing but most of the time, my peers had pretty similar thoughts and conclusions that I had, wish was refreshing to see that I was able to make connections and that I didn’t really need to be “scared” to say what I was thinking. 

From what we have learned about the differences between the older generations and the younger generations, it is simple to see that there is an underlying disagreement that comes off very subtly. This, to me, relates to today’s world and situation as we deal with this pandemic of the Coronavirus. In my views and newly acquired experiences, I have seen that the younger generations and the older generations are butting heads so to speak a little bit here, subtly as well. I have seen many people my age (in their 20’s) acting as if they are invincible and acting as if nothing is going on in the world and I have seen people my parents’ age (in their 50’s), acting the way people should be, cautiously and safely. This ties into the situation with the oven as the generations do not agree with one another and they seem to believe different things but will not listen to each other. 

Compassion and Confusion: Morrison, Dante and the Transition to Distance Learning

As I mentioned in our English 424 class, something I immediately noticed as I looked at The Eagle of Divine Hope the first time was that there was a key of sorts presented along with it, telling those perceiving it how they should go about perceiving it. It especially interested me because all of the stars are the same, so the distinction being the only thing to differentiate them felt like something that stuck out for a reason, although I’m not quite sure why yet. It did remind me of something I’ve also noticed in Morrison’s writing as well as Dante’s, and that’s the idea of the author having control of the lens while you are consuming their work. Although it may seem open for interpretation and that it is at the reader’s discretion to determine how to digest the material, the author is able to manipulate the perspective of the reader without them realizing it. Confusion has been something that has felt like a struggle throughout this course for me personally, particularly as I navigate these texts on my own in this online format. However, through Dr. McCoy’s guidance I have come to see this as something that I can utilize to my advantage and work with in order to better understand the material and what I am learning from it.

The oven in Morrison’s Paradise is representative of something larger than itself, similarly to the Eagle. One way that this is made clear by Morrison throughout Paradise is her use of capitalization. It it portrayed as a sort of entity rather than an object, and it is regarded in different ways by different groups of people inhabiting the town. This is something that interests me in conversation with what I wrote about the Eagle, and the way the key of sorts guides the perception of it. This reminds me in a way of Dante, his circles of hell and the guidance this structure and the structure of the cantos gives to the reader as they embark on the journey with him. 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. My peer, Micah, mentions that it is easy to get used to the capitalization of the Oven when reading the novel, and that its significance can go over one’s head as they read.

Beware the Furrow of His Brow or Be the Furrow of His Brow: these two interpretations of what is written on the Oven, separated by generations, mean completely different things. However, they are derived from the same thing, which I find very interesting. The same can be said about literature. We may all be reading the same texts, but our perspectives differ based on what we carry with us into our interpretation and understanding of it.

Speaking of interpretations: the fact that there are so many interpretations of the word interpret feels ironic to me. A word that is all about perception is perceived in so many ways, and none is more accurate than another. They are all accurate in different contexts. Perhaps the same could be said about the differing interpretations of the text on the oven’s lip. They are nearly composed of the same words, however, hold entirely different meaning. The youth of ruby interpret “being the furrow of his brow” as a sort of “justice” (87) while the older residents feel this is not accurate. Although there is a subtle difference in language and phrasing, the entire idea behind the text itself and what it signifies is flipped.

Collaboration is the through line of this course. It’s something I entered college afraid of after experiencing projects in high school that were meant to be a group effort and ended up becoming my individual work or the work of me and a couple other students because the group members would not contribute equally. The English department and this course in particular have emphasized for me the value behind collaboration and the meaning behind showing up for yourselves and your peers. 

This idea of collaboration is relevant within Morrison’s text because the oven’s readers need to utilize it in order to come to understand what the oven says and its significance. There are two opposing perspectives in this case, which can cause conflict and disagreement. These varying interpretations, in this case, mean very different things. However, Morrison emphasizes the subtle differences of these interpretations and how such a small difference in phrasing can make such a huge difference in meaning. Interpretation is a necessary step before collaboration: Morrison emphasizes that this generational difference is what causes these groups to enter into a collaboration, bringing their interpretations to the table in aim to best decipher this message and create meaning. Bringing differing interpretations to the table can be a trigger for conflict, certainly, but it also can allow for the meaning that is made to be much more wise and significant due to the varying perspectives coming into the process. 

In Paradise, Morrison writes, “Now they will rest before shouldering the endless work they were created to do down here in paradise.” To read this line of the novel now was incredibly validating. To know that paradise isn’t some perfect, ideal world, free from struggle or burden; rather having that responsibility and shouldering that burden is the whole purpose, the entire point. Collaboration, for me, has become liberating. It has become less about the individual with each day, each meeting; with this pandemic. It has become more about a conscious effort to focus on creating something powerful together, not just in spite of circumstance but perhaps even because of it.

While Paradiso functions on a larger scale than Paradise, they both ask questions about morality, punishment, and justice, and each attempts to answer them in their own ways. Something valuable I learned in working with these texts is that confusion is valuable and meaningful and not something to run from. Confusion was purposeful, it was something I was able to use to my advantage during this time rather than view as a roadblock, or something holding me back. Everything we attempt to accomplish during this time has come with its fair share of new obstacles. This is new territory for all of us. However, these circumstances and realities very greatly for all of us. This is always true, not just in a pandemic. And this, to me, is reflective of the work my classmates and I have embarked upon with these texts. Though the context may be more challenging for some than others, more familiar for some than others, our varying understandings allowed us to all come together and create something, to share an understanding and to grow as thinkers and humans.

I am extremely grateful for the humanity that was shown to me in this process. My peers and I are dealing with circumstances outside of this academic work and have been able to support each other through these challenges, even when it wasn’t about the coursework. This kind of camaraderie is a side effect of collaboration that I have always taken note of since starting at Geneseo, but it has become particularly important to me in these strange circumstances. I am grateful for a department that fosters such growth and compassion, and I am grateful to have worked with such kind and intelligent people throughout the course of this semester, and to have gone through these transitions with so much support behind me. I am also proud of my own ability to push through these circumstances and to navigate complex texts to the best of my ability and to contribute among personal and global challenges.

Crafting a Paradise on (Im)Possibilities through Collaboration

When Dante enters the Heaven of Jupiter, he encounters the eagle of divine justice and the five souls which form the constellation of the eagle’s brow. These souls are arranged in this particular constellation because they embodied divine justice while on Earth and now, in paradise, finally understand its true nature. Though these souls now bear an intimate understanding of divine justice, they warn Dante that it cannot be fully comprehended by human beings. Despite this impossibility, Dante does learn something about divine justice. Through the eagle’s recounting of the experiences of the souls which constellate its brow, the eagle reveals that human beings can and do participate in divine justice through their expressions of “fervent love” and “living hope” (20.95). Indeed, the eagle claims that  “The Kingdom of Heaven is subject to violence / from fervent love and from living hope” (20. 94-95). These lines are shocking, as violence does not seem to have a place in paradise. However, according to Dr. Ronald Herzman, these lines potentially refer to the work of Aristotle, who defined violence as unnatural motion. Thus, the violence in question does not signify harm, pain, and violation, but rather unnatural motion: unexpected reciprocity through the mediums of hope and love occurring between humankind and the divine. This reciprocity sheds light on one particular, decipherable aspect of divine justice: its participatory nature. Such is further exemplified by the experiences of two souls in the eagle’s brow, Trajan and Rhipeus, who hold a place in Dante’s Christian conception of paradise, though they lack Christian faith. Trajan and Rhipeus’ seats in paradise are secured through human participation in divine justice, specifically, through the love of justice these two souls expressed in their time on Earth. The eagle of justice thus illuminates the allegedly “unnatural” participatory aspect of divine justice.

The eagle also emphasizes the fact that divine justice’s nature is indeterminable during one’s time on Earth. This incomprehensibility creates an opening for interpretation; for human beings to attempt to define divine justice themselves. Additionally, the participatory nature of divine justice allows and encourages individuals to act on their own interpretations of such. While this participatory process could lead to justice and potentially the formation of paradise on Earth, interpretation can also, unfortunately, give way to injustice and destruction, as individuals may interpret divine justice in such a way that creates terrible injustice and great harm for others. Interpretations of divine justice can be extremely dangerous and capable of unleashing injustice upon the world, thereby turning the violence of unnatural motion, that is, the reciprocal exchange of hope and love, into a harmful violence that causes damage and destruction, as is demonstrated in Morrison’s novel, Paradise.

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Sameness and Difference in a Time of Coronavirus

The eagle of Divine Justice, while most pertinent in the Heaven of Jupiter in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth cantos of Paradise, has its precursors earlier in Paradiso, primarily in Canto VI. The Byzantine emperor Justinian states that “Constantine had turned the Eagle/counter to heaven’s course” (Paradiso VI.1-2). In this context, the Eagle represents empire, implying that empire must follow the course of heaven from east to west; in moving the capital of Rome east to Constantinople, Justinian implies that Constantine was defying the will of the divine. Justinian subsequently moved the capital westward in an attempt to reunite the East and West Roman Empire, thus showing an understanding of the need for unity in empire and an understanding of the relationship between the spiritual and the political (that is, that the spiritual guides the political). 

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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. 

Collaboration using Dante and Morrison

The novel Paradise by Toni Morrison is the tale of the town of Ruby once thought of as a safe haven for its citizens but now facing a generational divide.  This novel, like many of Morrison’s works, draws heavily from Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy”, in particular the cantos from “Paradiso”.  One important part of “Paradiso” is the eagle of divine justice, which Dante meets in the nineteenth canto.  The eagle is described as being made up of souls “like a ruby”, an obvious connection to the name of the town.  Many other group members noticed this connection as well, though there are deeper connections to be made about the eagle.  One of these connections has to do with what the eagle really stands for, that being divine justice.  It makes the readers of Paradise wonder if the citizens of Ruby enacted their own version of divine justice when they decided the fates of the women living in the convent outside town.

Another important part of the symbolism of Paradise is the brick oven that stands in the middle of Ruby.  It was originally built in the town of Haven, where it was often used for cooking.  After Haven died out, the oven was moved brick by brick to Ruby.  The oven is meant to be a symbol of how the men of Ruby are willing to let go of the past.  An inscription on the oven was mostly lost in the move but a few words remain: “the Furrow of His Brow”.  The elders of Ruby believe it read “Beware the Furrow of His Brow”, meaning that humans should be fearful of God.  The youth of the town believe it to read “Be the Furrow of His Brow”, meaning that they are acting as God’s instruments on Earth.  One group member pointed out that this divide goes further than just generational because of how the men of the town are obsessed with the oven while the women “see it most literally as a large object that isn’t needed anymore”.  Morrison could have crafted the phrase “the Furrow of His Brow” from the eagle of divine justice because of how the brow of the eagle is made up of stars representing great past rulers.  The night that the men of Ruby kill the women of the convent the oven begins to slide off its foundation, showing how Ruby is falling apart because of their actions and how divine justice is crumbling.

This interpretation of the text on the oven’s lip seems to drive the town farther apart.  The elders claim that the youth do not understand their interpretation because they weren’t there when Ruby was first built, just as the eagle of divine justice claims that humanity will never understand what divine justice truly is.  Another important part of this interpretation is that one person in Ruby thinks about the oven reading “the Furrow of Her Brow”, especially when the oven is defaced with an image of a black fist with red fingernails.  Women in this story seem to get the short end of the stick, with men running Ruby and deciding to keep the oven and eventually the women of the convent being shot.

The oven’s readers have a difficult time using collaboration to reconcile their differences in their interpretations of the oven.  When a meeting is called to settle this matter, the elders talk over the youth and preach about holding onto tradition and rejecting change to their way of life.  An important part of collaboration is listening to other ideas as well as stating your own, but the people of Ruby aren’t considering the other side’s interpretation in favor of their own interpretation being right.

Paradise’s appropriation of Paradiso tells us a lot about the both/and of interpretation and collaboration.  Both/and is used when comparing two different views of the same thing, like how the citizens of Ruby were quarreling over the meaning of the words on the oven.  Both groups had good meanings for their interpretations, the elders believing it has to do with where Ruby came from, while the youth believe it means that they are the only ones that can control their lives.  The elders claim that the youth will never understand their interpretation and how Ruby came to be, just like how the eagle of divine justice tells Dante that humanity would never understand God’s justice; though the eagle is made up of “soul[s] like a ruby”.

In a way this essay is like Morrison’s appropriation of Paradiso, taking parts of the story and putting it into our own work, albeit with permission.  When I was presented with the fact that we would be writing collaborative essays in this class, I was a bit skeptical because I wasn’t sure how multiple people could write one essay.  It turned out to be not as difficult as I thought.  I enjoyed hearing what others thought of a point that I was struggling to understand.  It helped knowing that I wasn’t doing this essay completely alone. 

Even though the collaboration in Paradise ended in murder, ours didn’t.

We Must Listen, in Order to be Heard

The illustration of the eagle of divine Justice has me thinkING about the Oven and the conflicts that have risen in Paradise by Toni Morrison due to the generational divides over what the slogan should be. The Oven is symbolic throughout the novel and seems to be the center of the town, similar to how David is represented in the illustration of the eagle of divine Justice as the center, or the eye.

Looking back at Paradiso Canto 19, I am struck by the unity of the voices that make up the eagle. Dante refers to each one of these souls as a “ruby” and describes the eagle as a “handsome image” with “united souls” which can be contrasted with the division of generations seen in Morrison’s Paradise. The Oven is supposed to bring people together since it “didn’t belong to any one denomination; it belonged to all.”  The oven in Toni Morrison’s Paradise, although once located in Haven, now stands in the center of the town Ruby. David, in the eagle of divine Justice, is also in the center with the stars surrounding him representing Trajan, Hezekiah, Constantine, William II of Sicily, and Rhipeus. The people of Ruby, especially the older people, seem to worship this oven and which is evident in the capitalization of the “o” throughout the entirety of the book.

The oven was transported by the “new fathers” of Ruby and was a place where people would come together to hang out and spend some time with one another. Some feel that it is a symbol of the town’s resilience, as mentioned in the novel, “even in 1934 when everything else about the town was dying; when it was clear as daylight that talk of electricity would remain just talk and when gas lines and sewers were Tulsa marvels, the Oven stayed alive.” The conflict over what the slogan should read surfaces in the chapter Seneca. The elderly strongly feel that it should read “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” whereas the youth believes it should read “Be the Furrow of His Brow.” Although these differences in language are subtle, the meaning behind what the phrase is saying changes immensely. Destry argues that rather than trying to be God, by the slogan stating “Be the Furrow of His Brow,” the people of Ruby will be his voice and retribution. The younger people feel that the “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” suggests that they are scared of him and should be “ducking and diving, trying to look out every minute in case He’s getting ready to throw something at us, keep us down.” This clash shows the generational divide between the elderly and the youth and the elderly’s resistance to change. The elders invalidate many of the younger people’s opinions and seem to bash them for their feelings. 

Steward in particular feels that the youth “had no notion of what it took to build this town” but Soane argues that the oven has lost its significance and that “minus the baptisms the Oven had no real value. What was needed back in Haven’s early days had never been needed in ruby.” She also explains that although the women agreed back then to having the Oven moved to Ruby, “privately they resented the truck space given over to it — rather than a few more sacks of seed, rather than shoats or even a child’s crib.” 

The oven’s readers try and use collaboration to reconcile the interpretive disagreement by picking a side, the young or the elderly. The younger people came together to voice their opinions, since they often feel like they are silenced and their opinions are not valued. The Reverend Pulliam seems to be the mediator in this conflict. He acknowledges that it is the way in which they talk to one another that is the real problem. He says, “We’re here not just to talk but to listen too” which is something both the young and the elderly seem to have forgotten. Morrison’s Paradise addresses the importance of interpretation and collaboration and by showing that we must listen to one another in order to be heard. There is no wrong interpretation to anything. In the Seneca chapter of Paradise, everyone seems to be just talking over each other instead of absorbing and thinking about what the other is talking about. 

When thinking of Toni Morrison’s Paradise in terms of interpretation and collaboration, I am immediately brought back to the conflict over the oven and what slogan is represented. It is clear that the problem lies in the generational divide between the younger and older generations of Ruby and I cannot help but see something similar nowadays. Greta Thunberg, a 17 year old climate crisis activist, being mocked by the president is just one of many examples. Rather than encouraging the voice of the youth, adults tend to find ways to silence them. I constantly think about my future as an English teacher and hope to encourage my students to keep speaking and voicing their opinions, regardless of who is trying to stop them. This idea of adultism is not something that should be tolerated and we should work with one another to progress as a society. It is clear in Paradise that without considering the art of interpretation and collaboration, progress is not possible. 

Moving from face-to-face learning to distance learning this semester was definitely difficult and I thought it would take away from one of the main goals of this class: collaboration. All of our lives were abruptly interrupted and we still found time for each other, to set up zoom calls, to work with one another, to listen to one another, and give support during such a tough time. Collaborative writing is challenging, especially during a pandemic, but it is always rewarding. Hearing others shed light on something you would have never thought of or did not notice in a text is fascinating. By listening to one another, we were able to put together amazing work.

Dante & Morrison’s Reminders about Control, Communication & Kindness Amidst the Pandemic

Morrison’s Paradise seems more relevant than ever in the face of a global pandemic that emphasizes the need for collaboration, at personal, local, communal, interstate, and global levels. What’s fortunate for this class (while remarking on the privilege that we bask in, being able to keep food on the table and shelter above our heads), is in this time of enormous uncertainty and anxiety, Morrison provides not a blueprint for a way out of this mess but a place for discussion.

Paradise, ironically enough, is not a Paradise. Built off the labour and sweat of many men and women who escaped persecution based off solely their skin, the older generation seem righteously proud and stubborn in the way that they hold onto tradition and markers of progress. Morrison embodies this in the Oven, a device that enabled the Founders of Haven (and later Ruby) to survive. The Oven is a physical manifestation, literally, where the generations collide. It is something that has been with the families of Paradise since their founding, proof of their struggle in the years when the original founders had worked “eighteen-to-twenty hour days Haven people once needed just to keep alive” (111) versus the younger generation who “could hunt quail for pleasure rather than the desperate pleasure needed to meet a wife and eight children at table without shame” (111). As quality of life improves, so does what is needed to thrive, from Haven to Ruby. As time goes on and the people of Haven relocate to Ruby, what is needed in Haven is no longer needed. On page 103, Morrison writes “Minus the baptisms the Oven had no real value. What was needed in Haven’s early days had never been needed in Ruby”. There is also the mention that during its move from Haven to Ruby, the women “resented the truck space given over to it – rather than have a few more sacks of seed, rather than shoats or even a child’s crib”.

These sentiments boil over in the inscription over the lip of the Oven, something that is not even remembered in full, or otherwise transcribed. The older generation states that the message, as they remember it, is “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” whereas the younger generation state that logically, it should be “Be the Furrow of His Brow”. The difference comes down to Beware and Be. The former, touted by the older generation, preaches respect of ancestors (filial piety?) and a fear of straying from tradition, whereas the latter seeks to challenge those same traditions set in stone (or metal).

I think as in real life, each generation has their ways – in a closed off community such as Paradise, these issues become even more intensified. As it says on page 103, in Ruby, the Oven had “no real value”, except for baptisms. As Ruby grew and Haven became a distant memory, “what was needed back in Haven’s early days had never been needed in Ruby”. The Oven had been an essential part of their life – “that had witnessed the baptised entering sanctified life – an was now reduced to watching the lazy young”. What gets lost in the intergenerational communication is perhaps both sides’ refusal to compromise – the older generation refuse to bend their stubborn minds, and the young, in all their haughty behaviour, are bend on being disrespectfully hanging around the oven, climbing it.

So, what to do? Should each generation come together in a mutual understanding that the town they share is something to be treasured, and that everybody has good intentions for the others, at the end of the day? One would hope so, but one does not read Morrison for a bubbly understanding of the human condition. An instance of collaboration (or lack thereof) is in Seneca’s chapter, during the “losing battle with Reverend Misner over words attached to the lip of the Oven … an argument, fuelled in part, what nobody talked about: young people in trouble or acting up behind every door”. The young are misbehaving, coping with past traumas by disappearing into thin air (Billie Delia), getting drunk to deal with memories from the Vietnam War (Menus), not leaving their bed (Arnette) and many others. As each denomination and the town of Ruby gathers around the Oven for this conversation, it is clear that collaboration is out of the question. The young “did not want to discuss; they wanted to instruct” and the older generation emphasizes mannerisms over communication with the young “You say ‘sir’ when you speak to men”, to which the young reply “What is talk if it is not ‘back’?”. That last retort is an all-too familiar reply by those called “smart-mouths” by stubborn adults, something I can empathize with.

Once again, the older generation’s arguments come down to tradition and heritage; Pulliam states that “Nobody is going to mess with a thing our grandfathers built. They made each and every brick one at a time with their own hands …. They dug the clay, not you … when their own shelter was sticks and sod …. And we respected what they had gone through to do it”. Where collaboration refuses to happen is the moment when they disagree on the intent of the writing on the Oven. Reverend Pulliam proclaims “Motto? Motto? We talking Command!” to which Destry, speaking for the young, replies “God’s justice is His alone… If we follow His commandments, we’ll be His voice”.

 The younger generation seems to resent the lack of pragmatism that the older generation brings to arguing about the Oven – in the stubbornness, the emphasis on mannerisms over actual debate, the way they are shot down by Deacon and authority. This is reflected in Dante’s writing, the first connection in verse 93 of Canto 18 of Paradiso, as translated by Baroliniano as “Love justice you who rule the Earth”, and the reluctance that the older generation, often translated through Steward, has in accepting change that the younger generation’s haughty remarks against the perceived conservative ways o the older generation. Baroliniano further describes the two “challenges” put forth by Dante to the Eagle, asking “Where is the justice that could condemn a man” / “Where is his fault if he does not believe?” to which the Eagle answers “Accept your limits as a human and give up trying to understand that which human intellects are not equipped to fathom”.

The relevant cantos accompanying Paradise, are obviously Paradise but beyond that, Dante takes us on a journey that describes dowries, clothes, sport, language, shares stories of origins, family names, and much more about Florence. These cantos take on a “peculiarly epic nature of the transmission and preservation of a specific people and their culture”. Rereading Patricia within Paradise shows that this novel too is an epic – it describes a people and their familial histories, the origins, ways and everything in between.

Paradiso Cantos 18-19 is a parallel to page 87 of paradise, where the older generation, voiced by Nathan DuPres, the Reverend and Misner and the young on the other side of the side of the conversation, arguing that “If we follow His commandments, we’ll be His voice, His retribution, As a people —”. The young in Ruby, just like Dante in Paradiso, question the logic of keeping the inscription / name of The Oven the same, saying that faith is in doing and following “His commandments”, not rituals passed down generations and the elders argue that “God’s justice is His alone”. Along these lines, Dante struggles with how a just God can be just, if he damns a “perfectly virtuous soul who was not exposed to the teachings of Scripture”, to which the Eagle answers “Accept your limits as a human and give up trying to understand which the human intellects are not equipped to fathom”.

The Oven that had birthed Haven and eventually been rebuilt in Ruby, had “was now reduced to watching the lazy, young”. I’m not quite sure the relations to Dante Eagle, but I’ll add to this (late) response with more after rereading Dante. 

On a personal note, this response reminded me of some politics in South Korea. Much like the United States, the “progressive” party in Korea relies on the votes of the educated urban demographic, while the “conservative” party relies on the votes of the rural workers whose lives are primarily spent farming. During my time as a draftee, I was told several things by my captain & other officers;

1) That the sole purpose of the South Korean army was to last three days, in the face of an invasion, until the U.S army could be there

2) That if there was an invasion, the only branch of the SK army / navy / air force that could last the necessary 72 hours, is the Navy

3) And that statistically, the North Korean forces outnumbered the South Korean forces 2:1 

But in the context of the poli-sci courses I had taken, general knowledge and the history I knew of the Korean conflict, I also knew that any hostile action, in this day and age from North Korea, would be a suicide move for the regime. In addition, I often overheard fellow draftees talk about how redundant and frustrated they were that they had to even be in the draft. After some talks with my sister who majored in sociology and political science in undergraduate & graduate school, I realised that the political machinery of Korea relies on the myth of the Korean War – whenever the conservatives hold majority votes in government, the draft sentence stays the same or is increased – and vice versa for the progressive party. 

To take it a step further, those who fought actively in the Korean War are old and will pass away soon – the generation that ran away during the war are old, as well. Many of the new generation and youth know this conflict as an inconvenience, much like the youth of Paradise see the struggles of their ancestors as theoretical, conceptual stories than anything else. Though a niche point, I thought it was an interesting connection to Paradise and my lived experiences. 

As an Creative Writing English major graduating in a week (as unreal as this all feels), I am reminded that writing is a solitary act – but the stories I write cannot exist in a vacuum. Human experiences, particularly the niche set of experiences that I alone inhabit, are what make me a writer. My writing about generational differences in regards to myself and my parents, perceptions of the Korean War, experiences as an international student (especially the last) cannot exist without the writings of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”, or countless stories of Korean-Americans’ immigrating to the U.S, whether it is in prose or media like “Kim’s Convenience”.

Something that was said in class on a Wednesday (I am not sure which) is that Toni Morrison’s appropriation of the classic works of Dante are not indicative of Morrison’s omniscience in all things life, race, or Dante but rather an attempt to create discussions and discourse around such topics. This is the same for Dante, whose depictions of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven (no matter how much they were a personal diss track toward his political enemies) were attempts at recreating these places, rather than him proclaiming his writing to be the next blueprint for the afterlife.

In that vein, while the act of my writing is a solitary act, it doesn’t live in a vacuum – whatever stories I write that are influenced by Morrison, shaped by Dante, all show that writing, even after publication, is a collaborative act.

At the macro, global level, there is a pandemic raging through the world. As I type this sentence on the 9th of May  at 6:34 pm, I am seeing tweets about a COVID-19 patient in Seoul who despite knowing that they have the disease, decided to go clubbing in Itaewon (the ‘American’ side of town where the first American military bases were created after the Korean War), and has exposed countless people to the disease. This has led to all bars and clubs closing throughout Seoul, just as social distancing rules and orders were lifted about a week ago. As I scroll through Facebook, I see that a man in Pennsylvania decided to drive his truck into a ceremony honouring EMTs and others on the frontline; there are also protests to reopen America through the United States, and presumably if a vaccine was to be perfected, anti-vaccine believers who would hinder the spread of such vaccine. I am reminded that creativity is a collaborative effort – but also that public safety and our very lives are. As South Korea gets COVID-19 under control, individual states are purchasing masks and other equipment from Korea, and I am seeing tweets about other nations who have shipped pallets of equipment to fight COVID-19 with beautiful poems about coming together in times of hardship.

What hinders collaboration most seems to be greed. I am reading articles about state governors who are keeping their PPE supplies & purchases a secret from the federal government, fearing that it would be seized. Next to these, I am seeing that Trump had stocks in a medical supply company who profited from his earlier statement that hydroxychloroquine is an effective way to combat COVID-19 – and many, many other forms of greed between the federal and state government’s. Trump’s touting that the economy needs to open up, for example, is driven by fear that without a strong economy and a sense of normalcy this summer and fall, he will not be reelected – another act of greed.

I think it’s naive to say that the world needs to remember that we are one, be united in our humanity and all those motivational speeches. Just as it would be naive for Morrison to write that after all those arguments, that the elder residents of Ruby bent their stubborn views on sexuality and embraced the changing mindsets of the youth – and that the youth started to respect and meet the elders halfway. Unfortunately, what seems to unify the bad news in the world is greed, xenophobia and sexism – which is unfortunately the case in Morrison’s writing, all throughout the trilogy. 

The Gibbs’ Cycle of Reflective Writing starts at a summary of what took place. Then evaluation, reflection, conclusion, and a plan forward. In quarantine with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company, I have spent a lot of time reflecting upon my four years as a student at Geneseo, and six years associated with the school (if I count the years away as association with the school). At the end of the marathon that is undergraduate studies, you really do only stand on that stage by yourself – but through it all are your peers. Whether it is advocacy through Student Senate, or organising events, or working for CAS (god forbid), or simply being a good partner in a team project (such as collaborative essays in ENG424), everything does come down to collaboration. This is hard to remember, given the physical distance (and emotional that comes with physical distance) in these trying times, but I think that it is an important thing to keep in mind.

What comes to mind is the Eagle’s caution that we must as accept our limits as humans and give up what we cannot know. In this time of uncertainty whether political (with the November elections coming up) or emotional or otherwise, I think that perhaps the Eagle was right; we must remind ourselves that we are only human, and only attempt to control what we can.

Interpretation is Collaboration: Toni Morrison’s Paradise and an exploration of working together while apart

In the conclusion to his Divine Comedy, Dante uses Paradiso to speak of the cumulative ideas of justice explored elsewhere in the trilogy. The poet accomplishes this particular task in Canto XVIII, where Dante meets an entity known as the eagle of divine justice. Paradiso’s eagle of divine justice is formed by the souls of just rulers in the sphere of Jupiter. The spirits in this sphere as a whole spell out the Latin words “diligite iustitiam qui iudicatis terram,which is a Dantean commandment of sorts for leaders to “Cherish justice, you who judge the earth.” It’s the souls that make up the phrase’s final letter—the M in terram—that ultimately rearrange in Canto XVIII to make up the eagle’s body. It’s ironic then, that the eagle of divine justice—the very being that preaches how incomprehensible God’s justice is to man—is born of a letter from the Latin word for “earth’s surface, as opposed to the heavens.” This speaks to the idea that, even when considering ideas of divine justice, the ideas themselves come from the earth and the humans who inhabit it.

The theocracy, lay people, and poets are all just humans attempting to interpret the divine word of God, and these interpretations are themselves collaborative acts of creation. The eagle of divine justice represents the culmination of these interpretations; born from terram the eagle is every just human’s feelings on justice combined to form the divine interpretation of the concept. I argue that every act of interpretation is a collaborative one, and this idea is supported by Dante’s eagle and further explored in Toni Morrison’s conclusion to her own sort of divine trilogy, Paradise.

In Toni Morrison’s Paradise, readers are introduced to a town called Haven, which was named such because the all-black town was a literal haven for its citizens. The town may have been a haven from segregation and discrimination from whites, but it wasn’t free from the disparate social structures that prevent lesser-developed communities to thrive in their individual homes. Lacking facilities necessitated the acquisition of a communal oven, and Haven’s Oven quickly became a source of warmth, sustenance, and community for the town and it took on a symbolic function as much as a practical one.

Despite the Oven, however, strife resulting from the second world war reduced Haven to a ghost town, so nine families decided to pack up, move, and start anew. A new town called Ruby was founded and the item that its founders considered essential to bring was Haven’s symbolic heartbeat. The Oven was deconstructed piece by piece and transported to Ruby, taking up space that could have been filled with more people or other essential materials. The method of transportation is telling, as it illustrates how Ruby is built on symbolic pride and ideals rather than any kind of actual empathy and care for the people living there.

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, the people of Ruby had their own individual methods to cook and stay warm. Within the novel, Ruby’s oven became a metaphor for the town’s status as a whole. On the night Ruby men attacked the neighboring Convent—a wayward home for lost women that the Ruby men believed had been practicing witchcraft—the Oven was sliding from its foundation due to heavy rain. This suggests that, like Dante’s eagle, the Oven is its own source of divine justice for the town of Ruby, and when that justice is blasphemed during the convent raid the Ovens begins sliding off its foundation and threatens disrepair.

Disagreements in interpreting the text on the Oven’s lip divided Ruby generationally, it “seemed at first to bless them; later to confound them; finally, to announce that they had lost,” (Morrison, 7). All that could be deciphered on the lip were to words “the furrow of His brow,” and older folk took a fire-and-brimstone, doom-and-gloom reading of those words. They believe the inscription reads “Beware the furrow of His brow,” but Ruby’s younger citizens take a more empowering reading by arguing they should “Be the furrow of His brow.” The first interpretation reads as a conservative, fearful warning to act as the town’s moral code. It’s also an act of submission; while the “Him” in question is obviously the divine, it could also be a stand-in for any person in a position of power—namely the men like the Morgan twins who run Ruby. “Beware the furrow of His brow,” then, is an interpretation that perpetually maintains the power of powerful men and so it is in their best interest to advocate for this interpretation.

On the other hand, the youth advocate that the text actually calls for people to “Be the furrow of his brow,” which is a more judicious and democratized interpretation that threatens the already-established power dynamics at play in Ruby. The divide then increases not only out of the moral argument between the two sects but because of the risk a changing mindset has on the Morgan twins and other powerful people that have cowed populations into submission because they beware their brows. The furrow of his brow imagery calls to Dante’s divine eagle of justice, which displays a prominent eye and eyebrow.

As previously stated, the eagle of divine justice is located in stars that spell the Latin for “cherish justice, you who judge the earth.” So, this guiding principle ties the two interpretations together as they both seek to morally guide the town and are both interpretations of what justice is. Therefore, the differing interpretations and the conflict arising from them are inherently collaborating to decide the moral direction Ruby will take. The question inherent in the division is who, exactly, are the people judging the earth. Is it the “Him” whose furrowed brow people are bewaring or is it the collective people striving to become the furrow of his brow?

The Oven’s readers attempt to reconcile the interpretive disagreement by brushing it aside altogether and instead finding common ground along the fact that the Oven’s general existence is important, regardless of what the words say. While Ruby’s citizens—old and young—remained unsure of what the Oven’s inscription read, the true surety was that “they could see the Oven; they couldn’t misread or misspeak that, so they had better hurry up and fix its slide before it was too late—which it already might be for the young people had changed its words again,” (Morrison, 298). This excerpt, and the wider Oven interpretive debate altogether, speaks to the intersection of interpretation and collaboration—which is to say that any act of interpretation is one of collaboration. Even when differing interpretations cause conflict, as they do in Paradise, the differing reads on a text continue to inform any individual’s personal interpretation of them and therefore makes that interpretation a collaborative act. Furthermore, any single person has their values, tastes, and personal sentiments raised by their upbringing and their community. Because those same things are what color and interpretation of any text, it results in those interpretations being a collaborative pursuit between everyone who has shaped individual people into who they are fundamentally.

The Morrison passage continues, going on to say “No longer were [the young people] calling themselves Be The Furrow of His Brow. The graffiti on the hood of the Oven now was “We Are the Furrow of His Brow,” which shows the collaborative experience of debating the oven’s inscription has further shaped their interpretation of it. Additionally, the passage speaks to the general mercurial nature of interpretation, illustrating how easy it is for those understandings to change and evolve. The both/and of collaboration and interpretation is that collaboration leads to differing interpretations, but the most important aspect is that there is a text to interpret in the first place. The oven’s readers reconcile their disagreement by coming to that conclusion themselves and realizing it’s in everyone’s best interest to save the Oven and ensure it’s possible for the discourse to continue.

Paradise‘s appropriation of “Paradiso” deals with the collaborative nature of interpretation altogether. In “Paradiso,” Dante discusses the nature of justice with a being composed of disparate souls—the divine eagle of Justice. The wisdom the eagle espouses in and of itself is a symbolic collaborative effort of all these legendary rulers and their collective understanding of divine justice and the being’s discussion with Dante then furthers this collaborative process. Morrison plays with this idea, but rather than exploring the 1:1 collaboration-to-interpretation relationship she explores the way that a more adversarial discourse can still lead to interpretations becoming realized. Even though the two sides aren’t working toward the same goal, the differing interpretations ultimately remain a collaborative effort due to how the people involved in the conflict influence one another.

Amid uncertainty, then, it is heartening to think about this and realize the varying faces collaboration can put on; it seems less daunting to try and pursue collaborative efforts while we remain separate once you realize that collaboration is never one specific thing. As I reflect on this class and the journey we’ve all taken together, what stands out is the mingled loss and joy inherent in our evolving collaborative efforts. Though we’ve been forced to separate, the shared mission we all undertook this semester remains and the support that transformed into was its own act of collaboration as it allowed us to continue the work at all. Even as the discussions became more strained and difficult, our relationships became about supporting and taking care of one another as much as it was interpreting text which is its own unique face of collaboration.

Looking forward to my career, I think about the Paradise passage about the sliding Oven. Ruby’s residents—old and young—concluded that it’s important to save the oven so they continue to have a text to interpret, despite the disagreeing interpretations. This reminds me of the cultural criticism career I’ve established during my time at Geneseo through The Lamron which is a thought process I intend to continue outside of school even if I can’t make it happen professionally. The nature of criticizing popular media is that, because potentially millions of people consume these works, it’s important to consider what messages the works are giving out. Yet, it’s rare to see different audiences or different critics ever agree on an interpretation or assessment, which is okay. Cultural discourse can often be toxic and adversarial, and the Oven conflict was toxic and adversarial, but even as people fight each other there is an underlying inherent sense of collaboration as those experiences color the involved individuals’ interpretations. When people are divided, whether by opinion or by physical circumstance, it is our intrinsic nature to remain collaborative.

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.