Gilead: A Quest for Freedom



The word freedom has its own definitions for different individuals. To some, freedom refers to the freedom of speech, freedom of thoughts and expressions and over all the realization of personal freedom or individuality. On the other hand for many others, freedom refers to none of these and only to the freedom of soul- that is freedom of spirituality. Marilynne Robinson in her novel “Gilead” has keenly observed and depicted these variations of freedom in human life and made two of the characters of the novel behave in a way that the thematic concept of freedom becomes very vivid and important element to the readers and also to the novel. These characters are the narrator’s brother Edward and Jack Boughton. The quest for freedom by these characters progress in the novel in a way that eventually “Gilead” becomes a novel of the free souls who did not care about what society and their families had to say to them and rather listened to their heart looking for freedom of mind and the freedom of their souls.

As described in the novel “Gilead”, Edward, the narrator’s elder brother who was ten years older than him studied in Germany and became a remarkable person of knowledge and personality in the narrator’s eyes “Edward studies at Göttingen. He was a remarkable man.” (28). He spent the early years of his life in Europe and returned with the European touch of lifestyle carrying atheism with him. This is surprising and strange to see that Edward grew up in a very religious environment where his father and his ancestors were engaged in preaching and believing God but how Edward separated himself of that long cherished family belief and faith on God. Moreover, he published “a monograph of some kind on Feuerbach” (28) who was “a famous atheist” (27) and Edward also claimed to be an atheist at any rate (29). However, the conflict begins between Edward and his father when Edward’s father expected his son to become a preacher like him and Edward refusing that wish of his father “the belief was general that he would be a great preacher” (29) and it was more shocking for his father and for others when “the congregation took up collection to put him in college and then to send him in Germany. And he came back as an atheist.” (29). Edward’s becoming a non-believer in God was shocking because he proved himself as being very nice and intelligent child in his childhood and thus the expectations were much higher from him that what he tried to give being an atheist.

Now if we think of the reasons that why Edward, being a preacher’s son, refused to be a preacher than we would see him saying “when I was a child, I thought as a child. Now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things.” (30). This implies that when Edward was a child, most of his thoughts were occupied with what his parents had given and wanted him to think and as he grew up seeing his father being a religious preacher, his thoughts were clearly influenced by religion and his father. As a child we do not get to think beyond what we see in our family and in our closest surrounding and the same happened with Edward. On the other hand when Edward moves out of his religious family boundary and experiences the real world outside, his experiences of the world conflict with his thoughts that was imposed by his surrounding and religion on his mind ever since he was a child. This is probably when Edward looked for freedom of mind, that is freedom of what has been imposed on his mind all these days and also the freedom of being an individual to choose what is good and what is bad for him. He definitely did not want to go with what others believed and wanted him to believe the same rather he wanted to believe something that he feels like believing of his own. So, the search for freedom in Edward is quite similar to the search of Jack’s freedom and different from the search of the narrator’s grandfather’s freedom because the freedom that Jack