The understanding of Dante’s eagle of divine Justice doesn’t come easy to mortal beings. We simply can’t just look upon it and firmly grasp at all there is to tell us without having done either outside research and/or atoning for our sins and learning the true meaning of justice as in the pilgrim’s case. Dante’s journey began as he was wandering around in a forest, lost from the righteous path as he questions why his lover was taken from him as well as how proper justice is determined amongst individuals. He attempts to get her back, avoiding the necessary trials to do so, which lands him a place in hell, with Virgil, sent by his lover to guide him through his journey to Paradise, and ultimately to her, being a changed man who now sees the rights in his wrongdoings.
If that sounds familiar in today’s world, it should. Like Dante, we as a society are lost in our own forest. We wrongfully question why we must be separated from one another, and try to find ways to hang out in person, despite being told by higher authorities that it’s wrong and careless to do so. Our judgments are clouded, and a select few care more about partying with friends than flattening a healthcare curve we can’t tangibly grasp at or see. If there was ever a time to read Dante’s Divine Comedy Trilogy it would be now. Like the pilgrim, we have been put into a hell that we could never have imagined taking place: quarantine and social distancing due to COVID-19.
Dante and the eagle meet and converse in Paradiso throughout cantos XVIII, XIX, and XX of which Dante is in the sixth sphere of Heaven. The eagle is comprised of those who ruled with justice, namely David, Constantine, Trajan, William the II, Hezekiah, and Ripheus. Dante learns that humanity’s concept of justice is far from the divine, and that one simply can’t understand it as a whole by themselves. The souls of the rulers speak of God being the source of all that is good, and that believing in him is merely just a part of the whole truth, much like how the souls alone were great leaders in their own right, but together form a divine and devote being.
This all ties into Morrison’s Paradise with the core lesson being community and collaboration help strengthen us and keep us on the path of morality, and only by helping one another can we all reach heaven. Simply put, one can’t make it on their own as they lack the knowledge and truth of the divine justice. Located at the heart of the town of Ruby, an all-black town, is the communal Oven with a faded inscription “the Furrow of His Brow.” The Oven was built to serve all, nourishing the community members by saving resources and representing the strength and achievements of the people. After Haven, the town preceding Ruby, fails, the families that leave forsake other supplies to move and rebuild the Oven, using it as a commual meeting place for all.
There’s a rift forming in Ruby between the older, “more pure” residents and the younger, “more rowdy” generation as they argue behind the meaning of the inscription, and what it represents. Whether the word before is “be” or “beware,” both have a significantly different interpretation that widens the rift between the generations and is causing Ruby to held down the same fate as Haven. The question over who holds divine justice is Morrison’s modern interpretation of Paradiso and Dante’s learned understanding of it: is the power of justice only held through God’s will and his alone, or through the collective souls of the people who worship him?
The older generation believes that “beware’ means that He alone holds the power and that it shouldn’t be questioned, but rather feared. They warn of such power and that the events that led them here are sealed and they should follow in the footsteps of the previous generation to avoid the wrath of God as seen in the old testament. To question Him, in this case the Morgan twins, Steward and Deek, who make up the leadership of the town, is to question the ability to lead, and the power and respect they have. On the other side, the younger generation takes from the new testament, in that Jesus was sent by God to be a symbol to the people, and that His will stretches beyond that of himself. Instead, it is the duty of every individual working together in a less rigid leadership to take action and make sacrifices to help the town prosper and grow. They seek the Morgan twins to do more than just lead, and that if the “all” follow a select “few”, the path to heaven will diverge, becoming Dante lost in the forest, unable to achieve or find what he seeks.
The main difference between these interpretations is how to handle problems that have arisen, and how to avoid others from coming about in the future. Is it one’s duty to sit back and let fate play out as deemed by God, using fear and power as their tactic, or should they work together to fix the issues now, and avoid being like the ones who came before: prejudiced and discriminating towards outsiders and their beliefs.
The peak of the problem is how to handle the Convent, an all-female homestead who the elders believe to be the root of their problems. The Convent serves as a safe-haven for runaways, be it from abuse or neglect from husbands, or violence and betrayal from family and friends. However, nine men who can’t see through the smoke and mirrors massacre the Convent one night, reportedly killing many on sight, including a white woman, while taking injuries themselves. They deny responsibility for what has taken place, yet also fear trouble will come from white law. This causes a separation of power as Deek decides to take the blame unlike Steward, but then upon investigation, the bodies of the women are unable to be found and everyone has a different account of what actually took place, meaning justice and proper execution of law cannot be upheld.
It’s important to note that before this event, the town of Ruby lacked a jail or cemetery as death and sin have never come to Ruby, hence the belief of the older generation that they should keep doing as they have been. As Reverend Robert Misner and Anna Flood, wanting to know the truth of what happened, look through the Convent mansion and it’s surrounding land for any signs of struggle or death, they come upon an empty crib in a nursery with the word “Divine” on the door, which ties together the ideas of sacrifice and justice of God’s will as Save-Marie, a disabled child, has died and a funeral takes place for the first time in Ruby, signaling great change will inevitably come as faith, along with leadership and power distribution is now questioned by the townspeople.
Acceptance, that’s the first step to solving any problem. It’s taken me so damn long to accept that this is life now. It’s remote, online learning, and I have to use the strengths I have gathered throughout my life to keep me going. I very nearly fell apart this semester. Just when I thought things were going well, another obstacle came to block my path. The town of Ruby, while good on paper— no need for jail or cemetery, strong community, efficient use of resources, etc. — has underlying flaws that stem from decision making, differing beliefs, and a deunified justice system. Morrison shows the strength a community can achieve. Each individual is prospering on their own, each town on their own, but coming together causes an unforeseen clash that could have been avoided from the start if the towns weren’t built upon isolation and denying of outsiders.
Being in a current state of isolation, it’s important to keep collaborating and working together so that when the time comes, we can build a stronger bond between each other, holding accountability and respect for our wrongdoings to avoid, or in this case, better handle issues that are likely to arise. Nobody is right on their own. It takes a wide arrangement of differing viewpoints to see the whole picture. We can’t see what’s behind us without either looking back, in which we lose what’s in front of us, or standing back to back with our community, speaking what we see and what we have learned in order to achieve divine justice and find our Paradise together.