The Gyre of Orthodoxy

Believe it or not I actually write like a real English major sometimes. Here’s the paper I turned in today analyzing Toni Morrison’s Paradise.

If you want some background on the book before you read this click here.

As I walked past the bus stop in front of the Wilkinson Center yesterday a girl stepped of the 3:00 bus wearing a mid-thigh length dress, four-inch wedge heels, and a lollypop in her mouth. I couldn’t help but notice how out of place she looked on BYU campus as she crossed the road to make her bus transfer. The contrast was slightly amusing, until the words “You don’t belong here” flashed across my mind. I recoiled from my thought. What was the difference between this girl on BYU campus and Gigi getting off her bus in Ruby? I started thinking, when did this thought originate in my mind? I wouldn’t have looked twice in any other city. If I did, it would be because her blue plaid dress and matching shoes were cute. So why were they now a symbol of her exclusion from “my” community?

When a strict orthodoxy is adopted by a community, automatic divisions are drawn between those who choose obedience to orthodoxy and those who rebel against it. This hierarchy is blatant to anyone within the framework; just like a profane word stands out if said in front of the JFSB—everyone notices, eyebrows raise. However, there are problems with creating a social structure based wholly on outward actions. By including dialogues about: the mantra written on the Oven lip, love, and genealogy, Morrison brutally attacks the hypocritical social structure installed by orthodox communities by focusing on visible obedience at the expense of internal morals.

Orthodoxy is based upon a text; this presents some problems in the city of Ruby because their text is incomplete. The very first word, the pretext of their motto, is missing; leaving them to remember, to interpret, and to extrapolate. This becomes the most apparent division within the town. Is it “Beware the Furrow of His Brow” (86) as Esther remembers it from her childhood? Or is it “Be the Furrow of His Brow” (87) as so many of the younger generation wish it to be? Because the traditional words represent the patriarchal power structure the town was founded on, the power structure Deek and Steward derive their control from, it must be preserved. If they allow this fundamental change, a restructuring may follow, and that is the last thing the want. The youth are responding to this with revision. By choosing to reinterpret the town’s ideals, the young adults are actually challenging the orthodoxy that exists and attempting to replace it with one in which they have more power. This war about doctrine has little to do with actual beliefs and everything to do with who wields power.

The wedding between K.D. and Arnette exemplifies the loveless social structure their orthodoxy perpetuates. Both bride and groom are products of a warring structure, their union is hoped to be the bridge that leads to community peace. However, that would infer that the two know how to create a meaningful relationship, something no one in the town of Ruby has the ability to teach. There is a lack of human intimacy in the world of Paradise despite the plethora of sexual images it includes. They are empty images, there is no fulfillment in them, and only devastation and frustration are found in their wake. Their problems derive from the fact that marriage is present in Ruby only to further the patriarchal order. Recognizing this, Pulliam prophecies: unless divine love is understood “their cleaving won’t mean a thing” (142) and no couple, no family, no community can remain unified without it. Their orthodoxies will not hold them together without love. There must be an internal anchor to inform their actions.

Genealogy is one way of presenting a social structure, especially when the structure is static—the same families holding the same roles. As Patricia sets about recording the lineage the families of Ruby find so important she explores not only the problems associated with their doctrine of excluding outsiders, outlined in detail throughout her narrative, but also the resulting problem of insiders: incest. As the founding families become smaller and smaller, the result of their inability to marry outside of the original founders else their blood and skin color become tainted, over the years they have accepted community endorsed fornication. They have set their community doctrine over the Christian doctrine they brought with them. The repercussion is community decay. Their children have been wiped out by disease, tornados, war. K.D., the child of a sister with an outsider, is their heir of last resort. But his ability to continue the family line seems doubtful as the marriage he attempts to form falls apart long before he and Arnette even marry.

The rigidity of their orthodoxy is ultimately their downfall. While orthodoxies must change, core moral values should be universal. These are lacking in Ruby, and everyone seems content to rely on their orthodoxy to instigate the reform that is necessary without taking responsibility for the lack of ethics. Their obedience to their founding orthodoxy teaches them that outsiders are the root of all problems, and so rather than attacking the problems where they really lie, they lash out at all available scapegoats: the Convent. However, the funeral illustrates that none of their problems are actually solved by the senseless massacre. Change, something that cannot be fully avoided, will gradually occur. In little ways at first, with Mechanic Shops and paved roads, then maybe eventually with the things that really matter. If not, their community with destroy itself—creating new outsiders to kill and polluting their gene pool with incest.

So that’s what I do with my time: read books and write things like this. My paper could be viewed as somewhat controversial in the orthodox community I live in. I hope it isn’t. The idea that orthodoxy is malleable is actually fundamental to the Mormon belief system. We believe that religious structure evolves—from the Law of Moses, to Christ’s higher law, preaching to Gentiles in the New Testament, the First Vision. As many parallels as we like to draw between ourselves and the Early Christian Church, we are different. However, the fundamental doctrines are the same. The key to keeping up with these changes is following the prophet God called to direct His people. He will not allow us to get off track. We will progress in the way which God designed, instead of decay in static dogmatism like the people of Ruby, OK.

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