Collaboration With the World: Dante’s Eagle and Morrison’s Oven

Dante’s imperial eagle is formed in the sphere of heaven known as Jupiter, this sphere is specifically linked to the idea of divine justice. The eagle is formed of the souls of human rulers who had been deemed just during their reign. The imagery of the eagle stands out to me, it is meant as a representation of God’s justice. The Romans were pagans who worshiped many different gods but one of their most notable gods is Jupiter, the king of gods, and the god of sky and thunder. The animal most closely associated with Jupiter is the eagle. 

The eagle is a bird that takes prominent roles in many belief systems around the world, they are signs of power and courage. It is sometimes considered the closest connection to the divine because it flies above all other things. Some believe that it is a messenger to and from the divine. It was used to symbolize Roman emperors, as a way of showing their connection to Jupiter and cementing their authority.  Dante’s decision to connect such a strong spiritual symbol, such as the eagle, to God’s divine justice is a conscious one. An Eagle is both a bird who draws awe when seen Physically and respect when invoked spiritually. 

The oven in the center of Ruby is of great importance to the town and the people who live there. It came originally from the settlement in Haven, where it was built by the founder with brick and iron. It was built to represent the town’s unity. They relied on the oven and its function to birth their community’s success and for a while, it did just that. The oven sustained the life of their settlement, but over time it became less of a necessity and more a symbol.  When Haven eventually fell, the settlers of Ruby took the oven with them sacrificing space for it over more practical supplies. Once they founded Ruby they reconstructed the oven to be the center of their town, where it took the mantle as a symbol of everything they had overcome.  The most prominent feature of the oven is the writing forged on the front of it. Time has taken its toll on the oven leaving only “the Furrow of His Brow” on the front of it.

.Paradiso 18 – Digital Dante

I found the image above in another translation of Dante’s Paradiso. The eagle in this image is directly in the center. It stands as the most prominent thing in the image.  Much like the oven in Ruby the eagle of divine justice is prominent in Dante’s heavenly sphere of Jupiter. In the Musa translation, we get a zoomed-in look at the eagle’s face and particularly his brow. I did some searching on the names of the people in the brow and found that each soul was a human ruler who was considered to be just and good. The question that stems is what does it mean to be just and good? In Ruby, the men who control the town seek justice on the women of the convent for embracing a lifestyle different from their own. Some of the rulers in the eagle’s brow were known for the expansion of their kingdoms and conquering but they were also known for the peace that existed during their reigns.

The most prominent feature of the oven is the writing forged on the front of it. Time has taken its toll on the oven leaving only “the Furrow of His Brow” on its lip. This is where the town comes to an argument over the oven. The older generation of Ruby’s residents stick to tradition that the oven said “Beware the Furrow of His Brow,” and the younger generation wants to change the slogan to “Be the Furrow of His Brow.” The older generation sees the slogan as a warning to be wary of the righteous justice that God can bring down upon someone. The younger generation sees the slogan as a code of arms in a way, a mantra for them to take justice into their own hands. Their ideas intersect at the idea of justice but diverge at who the justice comes from. There is an interesting BOTH/AND present here. We see that the older generation wants to support the belief that justice is God’s to take but they are the ones leading the raid on the Convent at the beginning of the novel. It is they who choose to “Be the Furrow of His Brow.” They have the meeting to make the decision of taking justice into their hands at the oven. 

This idea of taking things into one’s own hands is also present in the women of the convent. Mavis, for example, decides that she is not going to sit and give up after her car runs out of gas. Instead, she takes her survival into her own hands and becomes like the hitchhiking women, making her way to the convent. The convent is much like Ruby in its isolation from the outside world but inside the convent, women learn from women and embrace more self-expression and freedom. Gigi is another girl who spends her journey seeking self-expression and freedom, as shown by her desire to find the copulating people in an obscure town or the trees that look like they are making love but is led to the convent. During K.D. and Arnette’s wedding reception the Convent girls show up wearing clothes that are very different from what the residents of Ruby wear, like short skirts and revealing tops. The convent girls leave the reception and go to the oven to dance where other people have already begun to gather. The convent girls are eventually asked to leave the wedding because of their behavior. This reflects on how Ruby’s residents react to anything that is outside of their normal. 

The residents of Ruby meet to discuss their disagreement about the oven and its words but it ends with the older generation and the younger generation getting into an argument. Each side seems unwilling to hear the argument of the other. They are not willing to collaborate with each other, it is either their way or no way. This leads to the people of Ruby seeking out others to blame for the divergence that is happening inside their town.  It shows that in collaboration it is important to hear the points of every person to grow the group as a whole. We may interpret things differently but it is important to hear what others are saying and try to understand the meanings each person is interpreting. We can not truly collaborate if we are unwilling to bend our views. 

  It is at the oven where the men rally to blame the growing tension in their town on the convent, claiming them as evil. While the men prepare to raid the convent the other townsfolk gather at the oven when its foundation is weakened from rain. They hope that the men won’t do anything but chase the women away. The slow deterioration of the oven is representative of the community’s deterioration as it refuses to collaborate with the changing times. Ruby is scarred by the actions that were taken against the convent women. The oven is left-leaning because of its destabilization with graffiti on it now saying “We Are the Furrow of His Brow.” It is no longer to beware or be, they are the furrow now. My interpretation of this is that Ruby has caused the furrow in his brow, and now must face divine justice. Ruby sees its first death since the woman it was named after, the death of a child. The attack on the convent has brought God’s divine justice down on Ruby. Perhaps the men should have taken more heed to “Beware the Furrow of His Brow.” It is because of their refusal to listen and collaborate with the others in the town that they have brought punishment down on the town of Ruby.

Morrison’s collaboration with Dante, throughout her trilogy,  relies on the interpretation of the works by the readers and writers. Morrison was a reader first. She engaged with Dante’s work and was able to draw meaning from it that she could apply to her own. Morrison did not simply take what she interpreted from Dante’s work and lay it on the surface of her writing for her readers to see, instead, she buried her interpretations deep beneath the surface of the text. This act of burying the meaning allows readers to form their own interpretations of the text they are engaging with.  As the writer, Morrison joins Dante in collaboration as their readers interpret and pull apart the texts they have created. Their work is in conversation with more than just one another, whether it is about sin, spiritual improvement, or justice, as authors and readers we are engaged in this greater conversation with ourselves and the world around us. Morrison’s stories start with seeds from the reality that existed around her, just as Dante’s Inferno is rooted in history and myth of Dante’s time. It is the conversation between every component that intrigues me the most about Morrison and Dante’s collaboration.   As a creative writer, who focuses mainly on fiction, I want to engage my readers in similar conversations with the world around them. I want them to be able to dig deep beneath the surface of my work and find something that makes them look at the world in a different way then when they began reading. I will also try implementing some form of collaboration and discussion like this in my classrooms when I start working as a teacher, with Teach For America, in September 2021. One of the biggest things I learned about collaboration throughout my time in this class is how it can be both affirming, in how others can agree and support your initial ideas, and eye-opening, in how others can point out profound things that you had overlooked.  I want my students to have that experience with collaboration, to learn how much can be created when we work together in good faith.