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  • 31 Mar 2015 at 7:00 pm #6811

    Peter Josyph

    Boy do I need help here.

    Am I wrong in understanding that the point of GILEAD is that the narrator is mentally deranged?

    I base this on what he says on pp. 42 – 43 about the great Spanish Flu being a sign from God that men should not go to war. The sermon stating this, which he burned and didn’t deliver, “might have been the only sermon I wouldn’t mind answering for in the next world” (43).

    This is so crazy in so many ways that one does not know where to begin.

    Forgetting the German forces of fanatical aggression that drove all the violence of WW1, he interprets that horrible disease as “rescuing foolish young men from the consequences of their own ignorance and courage” (42).

    Ignorance of what?

    That the Germans were just joking and really had no intention of taking over Europe and then the rest of the world?

    In very much the same vicious spirit in which the religious Right sees AIDS as God’s vengeance on homosexuality – as if God created everything excepting a few things that the Right doesn’t care for (or doesn’t wish to admit to) – GILEAD’s preacher believes that “their deaths were a sign and a warning to the rest of us that the desire for war would bring the consequences of war” (42), as if draftees started WW1, and as if only “foolish young men” about to go off to fight were the only significant factors in all the deaths from the Spanish Flu, which killed from three to six percent of the population of the earth, infecting 500 million people and killing an estimated 50 to 100 million including people in Japan, India, New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, Samoa, Indonesia, Ethiopia.

    The very notion that young men drafted out of college ought to have seen the Spanish Flu and said: “O, look at these men dying before my eyes – that must mean I shouldn’t report tomorrow,” or: “O lots of disease, I guess God wants me AWOL,” makes no sense at all unless one is crazy. And for a sign apparently aimed at young men to have been that ambiguous (not to mention that unsuccessful) but also to have included the horrible deaths of non-combatants all over the globe, as well as pregnant women especially, makes a monster out of the God of whom the narrator is so profoundly fond.

    I must admit to doing a triple take at this passage. I let it go at first, refusing to believe my ears and my eyes (for I am both reading and listening to the book). Now I see that I saw and heard correctly.

    So: is this the point of the novel — that this minister has been driven mad by religion? Or that his madness has found a comfy home there?

    From what I’ve been given to understand about Robinson’s non-fiction, I suspect that this might not be the case.

    Which leaves me wondering what the hell I’m supposed to think of this whack-job wingnut… for what he says about the Spanish Flu is not the speech of a man in his right mind… not even remotely…

    I’ll add only this: if this novel is meant to endear religion or a man of religion to its readers, it’s done the opposite with me. I am still with Twain: “Heaven for climate, Hell for society.”

    31 Mar 2015 at 8:04 pm #6812


    1) The opening line of the very next letter is “I’m not entirely sure I do believe that”.

    2) Ames does not equal Robinson.

    3) The narrator isn’t supposed to be entirely trustworthy/objective/”right”. Pretty sure Marty told you that on the other thread.

    4) Correct me if I’m wrong; I’m no student of history: But Germans taking over Europe and then the rest of the world? That sounds a hell of a lot more like WWII than WWI.

    01 Apr 2015 at 5:29 am #6818

    Markus W.

    Unfortunately, I’ve not yet read any of Robinson’s books, though I’d been meaning to since Rick recommended her when writing about “Angels in the Wilderness” on the Cowboy Junkies Nomad series. This thread actually reminded me of finally buying Gilead.

    I’m not really sure about the Spanish Flu implications, but the role religion played in World War I is, I think, a complex problem. For one, then-pope Benedict XV was desperately working for peace during WWI, which he called “the suicide of civilized Europe” — and he was largely ignored by Protestant as well as Catholic majority nation states, where local priests and church dignitaries were often only too happy to align themselves with the worldly powers and fan the flames of war with religious sanction.

    Wilfred Owen wrote a great poem that I think captures a lot about the religious problem:

    The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
    So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
    And took the fire with him, and a knife.
    And as they sojourned both of them together,
    Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
    Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
    But where the lamb for this burnt offering?
    Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
    And builded parapets and trenches there,
    And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
    When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
    Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
    Neither do anything to him. Behold,
    A ram, caught in the thicket by its horns;
    Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

    But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
    And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

    From what you’re quoting above, I suspect there may be two conceptions of war mixing together — one sacrificial/mythological (as something imposed from outside, by divine forces) and one properly Christian/apocalyptic at work that identifies war as the “desire” of men themselves, which has to be resisted…

    But as I said, I have not read the novel and don’t know whether that’s a line of thought worth pursuing…

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  Markus W..
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  Markus W..
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  Markus W..
    01 Apr 2015 at 10:43 am #6822

    Peter Josyph


    1. That Ames is not entirely sure he DOESN’T believe it, and that he believed it enough to write a sermon about it that MIGHT be the one he would defend in the afterlife, and that he considers it worth repeating, now, for two and a half pages, is enough for me to certify the man as quite seriously demented. To me it’s a bit of a copout for Robinson to have him say, after that: “Boughton would say, ‘That’s the pulpit speaking.’ True enough, but what that means I don’t know.”

    2. As my question implies, I am asking, first, about Ames, not Robinson, and then about Robinson by extension. You haven’t addressed this question at all. Which is fine, as I am really just having a bookchat to stimulate the Forum and I appreciate the contribution.

    3. Suggesting that perhaps the author does not intend the narrator to be right or trustworthy is effectively taking my question, saying it in a softer and more general way, and then not answering it. The question being, is he so unright that he is supposed to be off his rocker, or are we to believe that perhaps there is some sense in his horrid, egregiously inhumane and almost sadistic notion… and then, further, how does this relate to the religious beliefs and ideas in Robinson’s non-fiction. This seems to me to be a quite legitimate question based not at all on missing something about the nature of complex narration: in fact I am respecting that complexity by phrasing my question in what are, of course, clearly provocative terms, but not as a joke; no, to provoke an examination of how people view this guy and how that relates to what Robinson might be up to in her work. Quite similar questions have been raised on this Forum about characters in McCarthy, most famously the Judge. Separating the Judge from McCarthy doesn’t tell you much. For one thing, it’s false, for everything we have of the Judge in BLOOD MERIDIAN OR THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST is McCarthy or else he wouldn’t be known to us: he is ALL McCarthy. Saying that if you meet McCarthy for breakfast he might not have been smashing heads against rocks also doesn’t tell us much about the Judge or what he meant to do with the Judge. Robinson’s Ames is all hers, but that doesn’t mean that Ames’s Robinson is ours. Still, I am asking about what kind of monster would say such a thing as we have on pp. 41 – 43… and it naturally makes me wonder about Robinson herself, for I tend to think about the authors of interesting books.

    4. For someone who is NOT a student of history, it’s rather a bold suggestion that someone else might be confusing the two world wars. In any case, I am a student of history, and in fact in researching a series of four novels set in that time, I researched WW1 up the kazoo. Look to your Germans and you will see.

    And so I still have two questions for you and for every other Robinsonian on this Forum:

    1. What is your own opinion of Ames’s view of the Spanish Flu as a sign saying something about war and the young men who fought it?

    2. Further, what is your opinion of Robinson’s view of Ames’s view?

    01 Apr 2015 at 12:35 pm #6823


    I don’t want to hijack the thread, but the charges brought against Germany need to be addressed.

    It was Russia, not Austria-Hungary or Germany, who first mobilized for war, then France (who had an alliance with Russia) followed suit. This stampeded Germany into doing the same as they naturally feared encirclement.

    Then Britain stepped in and demanded that both Germany and France respect Belgian neutrality, which Britain had pledged to uphold. It was absolutely imperative for Germany to seize Belgian railways, however. If they didn’t, France would happily do so, and Germany would be flanked. In a shrewd move France held their forces back to make sure that the world would see Germany as the aggressor.

    It’s true that once WWI started German soldiers lashed out viciously against France in particular (partly because of how the French had treated the Germans during the Franco-Prussian war), but the same is true for the other armies involved. It’s also true that there was an organized effort on the Allies’ part to make Germany the Enemy Against Humanity (which culminated in the US entering the war) by exaggerating and sensationalizing stories of German brutality. For instance, Lord Northcliffe (the Rupert Murdoch of his day), who founded the tabloid Daily Mail actually resorted to using photos of old Russian pogroms against Jews as proof of German brutality in Belgium.

    Germans were the first to use chemical weapons in WWI, but remember that both France and Britain (and the US, incidentally) responded in kind. France and Britain even continued to use chemical weapons in colonial conflicts after WWI.

    In 1917, exhausted by Verdun and Somme, when Germany was prepared to enter peace negotiations, they were flatly rejected by all the Allied powers who believed that Germany was somehow wholly to blame for the outbreak of the war and needed to be humiliated. By now, rabble-rousing propaganda had made peace talks near impossible.

    This is all very condensed and boiled down obviously. Sorry if it’s terse.

    01 Apr 2015 at 2:14 pm #6826



    There was nothing “bold” in such a suggestion. It was only a question. I hardly imagine you’re implying that by virtue of me admittedly lacking in my historical learning, I should hesitate to ask for clarification if I feel I need to.

    That said: Just read the book. Robinson’s not crazy. Ames is not crazy. Just read the book. There are reasons why Ames has such a hardon for war. They are addressed. Not only are they addressed, but IMO that background forms the core of the novel. Ames is not perfect. In fact, to me, one of the beautiful things about Gilead is the way Robinson depicts a man failing to live up to his own ideals. And he’s usually ignorant of this failing. Highly ironically, late in the book he says

    “Every single one of us […] has our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable—which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy and by which we struggle to live.”

    Robinson very much depicts him struggling to live by his own notions. But Ames is not a monolith. Just because he says some things objectionable does not mean he has no wisdom elsewhere. I think he has a great deal of it.


    01 Apr 2015 at 2:30 pm #6827


    I should also add: Pace Rick, I think a good chunk of Robinson’s philosophical preoccupations are nigh identical with McCarthy’s. Now, Robinson’s far less cagey than McCarthy about what she thinks about things (cf. her nonfiction). A lot of her metaphysical speculations (in particular as expressed by Ruth in Housekeeping, whom I don’t mind at least partly identifying with her author) are almost exactly the kinds of things McCarthy talks about in The Crossing via the expriest, the blind man, and the gypsy. And while I’m *far* less comfortable identifying McCarthy with any of his characters or their philosophies (or even with any particular philosophy in general), if forced at gunpoint to make my best guess I’d probably have to say he’s not too far from those three. Certainly moreso than, say, the judge, Chigurh, White, etc.

    The upshot: IMO Robinson and McCarthy have great sympathy with each other. Reading each has given me some great insight into the other. At the very least you should consider Robinson as potentially worthwhile for that.

    01 Apr 2015 at 4:44 pm #6828

    Rick Wallach

    (Munches popcorn)

    01 Apr 2015 at 5:07 pm #6829

    Peter Josyph

    All I will say about Mackenna’s view of the First World War is that there is no answer to “the charges against Germany,” and that to say that Russia and France stampeded Germany into war because Germany feared encirclement is one of the strangest things I’ve ever heard.

    Perhaps some of the pro historians of the Forum would care to weigh in on how Germany was stampeded into war…

    Meanwhile, getting back to Ames’s view of the Spanish Flu and its relation to dead young men amongst the decimation of three to six percent of the world’s population as a sign from a merciful God, I am hoping that Marty, or Rick, or someone will be willing to address this descent into religious dementia in the scriptorium of their hero.

    One of the ways that I read books that I’ve been urged to treat seriously is to notice when they stop me cold and to ponder. In this instance, I’m pondering in public. I don’t take well to anything to do with religion, and I’ve been stopped quite cold by pp. 41 – 43 and am not able to move on yet, for I am not so sure I wish to spend another day with this raving lunatic. I dearly wanted to like and admire this guy and to find some virtue in his sanctification of the quaint, if for no other reason that two of my oldest pals have fallen in love with the guy (in a manner of speaking), but that sermon is religion at its vainest, its most absurd, and, alas, its most sadistic. Thus for me pp. 41 – 43 go beyond “some things objectionable.”

    Still, I appreciate the effort to address my dilemma… especially in a world in which everybody’s got more important things to do than to help Peter Josyph get to p. 44 of GILEAD. Actually, I have, in fact, gone beyond that passage but I am still seeing 41 – 43 in front of me. “Doctor – my eyes!”

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  Peter Josyph.
    01 Apr 2015 at 7:06 pm #6831


    Again, apologies for going off on a tangent here, but Mr. Josyph has made some pretty bold claims that shouldn’t go unaddressed.

    Make no mistake, Germany was as much a victim as anyone else in WWI, if not more so. Although much is made of her increasing power, the numbers don’t lie. Her armies were greatly outnumbered by the Entente. The Russians openly supported a rogue terrorist state in Serbia and France was steamed up with anti-German hatred and itching for a chance to reverse the humiliation of the Franco-Prussian War (a war the French started, by the way).*

    Russia and France were the first to mobilize, with an agreement to attack Germany within fifteen days of her own mobilization. In point of fact, Germany tried to take the heat out of the situation by pushing Austria-Hungary to find a happy medium with Serbia, the Russians to demobilize, and also proposing neutrality in Western Europe, which France and Britain in turn rebuffed.

    Only then did Germany declare war on the Entente, and sidestepped French defenses by going through Wallonia. The Germans did this out of fear, not aggression.**

    What drew the British into the conflict was the warmongering Churchill who persuaded the British cabinet to go to war by citing a tenuous 75-year old treaty with Belgium. It was also in Britain’s best imperial interests to side with the Entente rather than Germany, the latter of whom posed no colonial risk to the Empire. Russia on the other hand wanted Constantinople, which would make Tsar Nicholas II ruler of all Orthodox areas.*** Britain feared that such Russian expansion would threaten their influence in the Middle East, which was their link to India.

    It’s sad that so many seem to view WWI as some sort of Child-killing Jerries v. apple-cheeked Tommies-scenario. Germany did what any reasonable individual stuck in a corner would do and pre-emptively attack before she was steamrolled.

    But I’ll shut up now.

    (Admins please feel free to delete this if you think it’s grossly off-topic.)

    *In fact, until Russia and France mobilized the dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia was just yet another Balkan war, one instigated by Serbia.

    **But even if this wasn’t so, why should it be acceptable for Britain, Russia and France to have empires but not Germany?

    ***Note the abundance of Russo-Turkish wars through the centuries.

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