An investigation into life in Ruby, the city at the center of Toni Morrisons Paradise, must start with an understanding of the government or lack thereof internal and external to Ruby. It is not immediately evident why so many of the residents of Ruby seem unable to leave the town and willing to give up their enfranchisement, or why the founders of Ruby react with such violence to the Convent on the outskirts of town. External to Ruby, the surrounding world is an America hostile to black freedom and dangerous to black livelihood.
Inside Ruby it is safe, but its citizens have yielded the power of governing Ruby to Deek and Steward Morgan, two founders and the bankers of the town. However, due to the incestuous closeness of the town, the rule of Deek and Steward evolves into feudalism. This feudal order is evident in the way the brothers set and maintain the unwritten rules and history of Ruby, and especially in the viciousness with which they attack the Convent on the outskirts of town. In the years immediately following the Civil War, the freedmen participated fairly freely in the Reconstruction governments of the Southern states by voting and holding office.
However, after federal troops were withdrawn and the Republican Party switched its attention to the economic depression of the time, the freedmen lost these rights. The perpetual threat of white violence on little or no pretense combined with a complete lack of freedom of movement or possession created a situation not unlike the second century AD, when large private estates worked by slaves were broken up and given to peasant farmers, who were forced to fend for themselves against barbarian hordes.
These farmers, for their own protection, formed pacts with other landowners for protection, and gradually the larger landowners gained complete loyalty from smaller landowners. Eventually, Constantine I, in AD 337, established serfdom legally, and serfs could not marry, change occupations, or move without their lords permission. Toni Morrisons Paradise depicts a group of freedmen and their descendants who, when faced with rejection and violence by the world, attempt to protect themselves by creating a Haven away from the outside world.
They forge castle walls by founding Ruby in the middle of nowhere and discouraging outsiders from settling or even staying for a few hours. However, this boundary between Ruby and the rest of the world a belief that within Ruby is good, and without is evil and dangerous allows for those in charge to rule in any way that keeps Ruby safe. Deek and Steward Morgan lead the men to Ruby, and establish themselves as the bankers and set themselves up to be the major property-holders of the land.
Thus, their self-perceived stake in the success of Ruby as a safe community is greater than anywhere else is, and they take steps to control the town. Reverend Misner, as an outsider, can see this dynamic better than any of the town residents who have inherent biases. An argument between Misner and Anna Flood, the descendant of Ace Flood, one of the Founders, illustrates: Its sort of [Deeks] town, wouldnt you say? His and Stewards? They founded it, didnt they? Whove you been talking to? Fifteen families founded this town. Fifteen, not two. The money, said Misner.
The Morgans had the money. I guess I should say they financed the town not founded it. You wrong there too. Everybody pitched in. The bank idea was just a way of doing it. Families bought shares in it, you know, instead of just making deposits Misner nodded Anna refused to understand the difference between investing and cooperating . Misner understands the situation completely: Deek and Steward convinced their peers in Haven to come with them to found Ruby, and then secure their own wealth by controlling the bank and having everyone invest in it.
What Anna doesnt understand is what she views as neighborly cooperation actually becomes an investment in the future power of the banks owners. Deeks wife, Soane, witnesses the growing of the bank, and yet she doesnt understand why Deek wasnt worried enough by their friends money problems to help them out. Why, for instance, couldnt Menus have kept the house he bought? (Morrison, 107). The answer to Soanes questions is that Deek and Steward will certainly lend money to help the citizens of the town stay solvent; however, they are not interested in cooperation now that they are receiving the homage due their feudal power.
Furthermore, the support of the other founders of Ruby is guaranteed not only because of their financial dependence on the banking brothers, but also the fact that the brothers have been in charge from the beginning, have come from the same history as the other founders, and have delivered on their promise of a safe community. Deek and Stewards method for control is based on their knowledge and experience, which is based in the history of Haven, passed down in the strong oral tradition.
The history of Haven is rooted in the fact that their 8-rock blackness puts them at the bottom of the racial order in the external world. In reaction, as Pat Best describes, the original Father of Haven, Zechariah, imposes not a raceless order, but a race order that is the exact opposite of the one in the external world. This blood rule in Ruby serves both the purpose of excluding (and identifying) outsiders, and elevating the status of the Founders (Morrison, 195). Deek and Steward use the history of Haven in more ways than to define a racial order.
Its parables are presented as close to religious/Christian in the Christmas pageant, and its story is elevated to the level of myth. But that story is entirely controlled by Deek and Steward, as it is their Grandfather Zechariah who is the leader of the founding of Haven. They use and control that history to for their own use. As Deek says, Nobody is going to mess with a thing our grandfathers built. They made each and every brick one at a time with their own hands And we respected what they had gone through to do it Tell them, Sargeant, how delicate was the separation, how careful we were Tell them, Fleet.
You tell him if Im lying. Me and my brother lifted that iron. The two of us (Morrison, 86). Deek takes control of the history, by pointing out that he is a direct descendent of the original founders of Haven. Then, he recognizes the specific value of the other men who were there who could offer their own versions of the history, but are pacified by his attention. Finally, Deek points out that the real leaders of Ruby are he and his brother. In the isolation of Ruby, this is the only history that is told, and the history belongs to Deek and Steward.
In addition, Deek and Steward have given their history a distinctly fundamental aspect by integrating it into the religious story of the first Christmas. Instead of the traditional scene of Mary and Joseph trying to find a place to sleep, Rubys pageant depicts the future founders of Haven seeking shelter. In this way, Deek and Steward are directly connected with the word of God. In fact, it is more than that Deek and Steward can actually mold the word of God, as the number of families is lowered from nine to seven over time.
Pat Best correctly surmises that each of the original families who violate the blood rule by mating with those of a lighter skin are removed from this true history of Ruby (Morrison, 216). Deek and Steward get their way by controlling the history of Ruby and elevating its status to the divine. It is clear that Deek and Steward are in charge of Ruby. They are responsible for the protection of Ruby from external forces and internal dissent, and have control over the bulk of the towns money, and much of its property.
In exchange for the protection of Ruby financially, racially, and bodily Deek and Steward demand the obedience of their townspeople. However, they have a fundamental biological problem with their rule: to perpetuate their race, their town, and their prosperity, they must have offspring. As Pat Best explains, [i]n that caseeverything that worries them must come from women (Morrison, 217). The Convent is a home where women live in safety. It begins as a traditional Convent that provides safety for at least one girl, Consolata.
After the death of Mother Superior, it becomes the only place where Mavis, Grace, Seneca, and Pallas can live. The Convent is also self-sufficient. The women raise their own food, and sell their peppers for purchasing items in the outside world. As a safe and independent community, the Convent functions similarly to Ruby, or at least the vision of Ruby. Thus, the citizens of Ruby and the women of the Convent frequently interact. More importantly, the interactions always prove the Convent superior in safety and independence. Deek and K. D. come to the Convent for the gratification that the women of Ruby cannot give them.
For Deek, the seduction of Consolata is suggestive of his droit de seigneur. In addition to the desire fulfilled at the Convent, Billie Delia and Sweetie come for protection from Ruby. The entire town comes to buy the peppers. The presence of more beneficent and powerful lords within the isolation of Ruby threatens Deek and Stewards feudal power. That is, although the fiscal control they have over the citizens of Ruby will remain, their control on the lives of the citizens of Ruby is in danger. The history of Haven and Ruby is moving out of the control of Deek and Steward.
The youth of the town seek to redefine the motto of the town, from the fearful Beware the Furrow of His Brow to a kinder, and more personally empowering Be the Furrow of His Brow. In other words, the youth wish to change the dynamic of the town from a system of fearing the wrath of God and His servants to a sense that Gods power can be felt individually. This undermines the direct connection that Deek and Steward have made between their history and God, and they can only control the situation by threatening I will blow your head off just like you was a hood-eye snake (Morrison, 87).
This is the clearest evidence of a loss of control for the Morgans. Steward is telling his serfs that if they attempt to change the way he has told them their history, he will consider them white even worse, a hood-eye member of the Ku Klux Klan and because whites have no safety under their feudalism, they will be slaughtered. Although this sentiment from the youth is more inspired by Reverend Misners teachings of the Civil Rights Movement than the Convent, the Convent does provide a haven for the youth of Ruby from the Founders of Ruby for Arnette and Billie Delia.
Furthermore, it is clear that the Convent is a source of empowerment for the women of Ruby. Soane finds a close friend in Connie and Sweetie finds a brief respite from the stifling atmosphere of her house. The Convent is a safe home away from the strictures of Ruby. It may not seem clear why it is that the Founders of Ruby move to annihilate the Convent when they do. After all, the Convent had been functioning as an independent and safe place for years before the attack comes. The necessity arrives when the women in the Convent begin to freely tell their stories.
U]nlike some people in Ruby, the Convent women were no longer haunted (Morrison, 266). Their pasts, tales of sin, horror, and embarrassment free the women in their telling. The male voices saying saying forever saying push their own down their throats are now countered by female voices telling their own history (Morrison, 264). This is no small problem for the Founders of Ruby, because their ability to narrate the history of Ruby allows them to define and control the homage of the inhabitants of Ruby.
However, their exclusive rights on history could be shattered by the voices of their wives, who also carry the oral history but it is not the same history the Founders relate. The Oven, for the women, is quite different. [P]rivately, they resented the truck space given over to it rather than a few more sacks of seed or even a childs crib (Morrison, 103). The connection the women of Ruby have with the Convent, combined with the new influence of telling stories threatens to topple the power of the Founders.
Immediately after the incident at the Convent, instead of only Deek and Stewards history of what happened, there are at least two competing versions spoken around the town. For the first time, a new story is told in Ruby, and it shatters much of the feudal power that Deek and Steward have. Deek seems to finally understand how out-of-control he was, and begins to reexamine his own history by confessing to Reverend Misner. Steward is still trying to keep control, but the potential consequences of his actions if the bodies had been found bring his own safety and freedom into question.
This feudal interpretation of the life and political structure of Ruby is derived from a male point of view. This, however, it not necessarily the way that Morrison builds the story. The feudalism of Ruby is rigid, linear, and polar. People are outsiders or townspeople, founders or debtors, 8-rock or violators of the blood rule. Paradise itself is nonlinear, constantly changing the meaning and perceptions of events within, and based around the stories of women. However, the women of Ruby live under the control of men. Therefore, it is the foundation of Deek and Stewards feudal order that controls all life and politics in Ruby.