What is Jack Boughton really like? How will he respond to Reverend Ames’s blessing as he gets on the bus to leave Gilead again? Will he embrace the grace and forgiveness of the blessing? Or will he return to his old ways?
Questions like these have run through the minds of readers of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead when I’ve led book discussions with students, laity and clergy over the past four years. Some people fervently believe that Jack will turn a new leaf; they are hoping against hope that people do change and are transformed by grace.
Others argue fervently that Jack’s character is too firmly entrenched to change—after all, didn’t he flee town again, abandoning his dying father? Can a leopard change its spots? Even Jack wonders; he once asked Reverend Ames whether there were some people who are simply predestined to perdition.
A. M. Stroud III, a former prosecutor in Louisiana, expresses regret for the role he played in sending Glenn Ford to death row in 1984. “I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.” Stroud says he presented dubious evidence from a forensic pathologist, precluded black jurors from the trial (Ford, since exonerated, is black), and ignored the fact that the appointed defense attorney had never before tried a criminal or capital case. “I . . . hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford,” Stroud said in a letter to the editor of the Times of Shreveport. “But, I’m also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it” (ABA Journal, March 25).