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The Patriarchalism Which Permeates in the Town of Ruby

The main setting for the story in Paradise is Ruby, a fictional all-black town in the State of Oklahoma, in which eating activities intensify the ruling system of patriarchy.8 Ruby is a highly exclusive community, which dark blacks established after being deeply humiliated both by white people and light-skinned black people. Inhabitants in Ruby are proud that their women are “free and protected” (Paradise 8) from outside violence; therefore, when a white stranger passing through the town sexually harasses town girls, his act is expressed as

“this most militant of gestures” and doing “as much serious damage to colored folks as he can” (13). Here, we see that the dignity of black men depends on the

chastity of black women. In addition, the town is so safe that a woman can walk around at midnight alone: “A hiss-crackle from the side of the road would never scare her because whatever it was that made the sound, it wasn’t something creeping up on her. Nothing for ninety miles around thought she was prey” (8). In the extract, appears an imagery of hunting, in which a man, rapist, is depicted as a predatory animal and a woman as a prey. These two examples of the safety of women in Ruby show that men outside the town endanger women in Ruby and that town’s men are supposed to “protect” them.

The outside menace to the women in Ruby appears in the description about the kitchen. The following extraction is reminiscences of the older generations, who established the town and founded the Oven for common use.

They were glad of the completion of the Oven, their own kitchen, since black women’s work in white people’s kitchen suggested a risk of being raped by white masters:

They [the Old Fathers] were proud that none of their women had ever worked in a whiteman’s kitchen or nursed a white child.

Although field labor was harder and carried no status, they believed the rape of women who worked in white kitchens was if not a certainty a distinct possibility―neither of which they could bear to contemplate. So they exchanged that danger for the relative safety of brutal work. It was that thinking that made a community “kitchen” so agreeable. (99)

The important point to note in the extraction is that women’s work in the kitchen

to serve foods to their masters is closely connected with being sexually harassed by them. Black women in Ruby have escaped from the kitchens of white “masters”

in the past, but they still work in the kitchen of black “husbands” and are under the obligation to offer foods and their bodies to them. To put it in a slightly exaggerated way, black women’s subordinate position remains, even if its form changes from “slavery” to “domesticity.” In this restraining function of a kitchen in Ruby, we will find a mechanism of patriarchy: to protect women from the outside and to deprive them of their freedom inside. In this sense, we see that men’s belief in women’s safety, that is, the belief that they are “free and protected,” contains a contradiction between the two ideas: “free” and “protected.”

What has to be noticed is that Ruby’s women who are under the obligation to serve foods cannot resist their husbands. The example of this servitude is an extract from a narrative of Soane, a wife of Deacon, one of the leaders of Ruby. It is useful to quote from Soane’s monologue when she is waiting in the kitchen for her husband’s return from hunting, which is followed by the scene after Deacon’s returning home:

“Look out, quail. Deek’s gunning for you. And when he comes back he’ll throw a sackful of you on my clean floor and say something like: ‘This ought to take care of supper.’ Proud. Like he’s giving me a present. Like you were already plucked, cleaned and cooked”

(100).

Shooting well that morning had settled him and returned things to the way they ought to be. Coffee the right color; the right temperature. And later today, quail without their brains would

melt in his mouth. (107)

It will be clear from those extracts that there is a complete contrast between Soane, who is reluctant to cook a hunted quail, and her husband Deacon, who, being satisfied with his victory in hunting and drinking coffee which is well prepared according to his preference, is going to eat the quail which is cooked by his wife. We should notice that hunting in this quotation functions as a means of letting out Deacon’s pent-up feelings, which suggests the assault (a disastrous event in which Convent’s women were shot to death by Ruby’s extremists) on the Convent in a sinister way. Furthermore, a quail which is shot dead and eaten by Deacon can signify not only Convent’s women, who will be shot to death by assailants including Deacon, but also Soane, who is an object to be “eaten” in the sense that she satisfies her husband’s appetites and sexual desire (here I use the term “appetites” to refer to one’s desires for foods, which is distinguished from sexual desire). When her twin sister Dovey is worried that she cannot cook good foods to gratify her husband, Soane says to her jokingly: “[i]f he [Dovey’s husband Steward]’s satisfied in bed, the table won’t mean a thing” (82); however, as the extracts above show, it is important for a wife to satisfy the appetites of her husband, including his sexual desire. It seems reasonable to suppose that the reason why we cannot find any description of women’s own eating in Ruby is that Morrison accentuates rather their obligation to fulfill the needs of her husband as a wife, than their eating. That gives a striking comparison to the Convent’s women whom we deal with next.

3. Eating Women in the Convent

The Convent, another stage of the novel, which is seventeen miles apart from the town of Ruby, is a deserted mansion which missionary sisters once used as a dormitory of Native American girls. Now only Consolata remains behind in the place, and four other women take up residence there one by one as the story goes. These four women, who respectively have the experience of being sexually repressed in the outer world, are released from men’s dominion after arriving at the Convent. The important point to note is that their trauma and the healing of it are expressed through their mattersof eating.

The good place to start is considering a Morrison’s irony that the pious sisters use the mansion, which was once used for an obscene motive, as a convent, that is, a religious, sexually strict place. Although the women are without men in the Convent, both in the house and in its furniture lies a symbolic meaning: that their bodies can still be outlets of men’s desire. In spite of sisters’ efforts to remove them, indecent furnishings remain everywhere in the house, such as “the female-torso candleholders,” a painting of “the nursing cherubim,” “the nipple-tipped doorknobs,” or a faucet of “the brass male genitalia” (72). More noteworthy is a picture of “Saint Catherine of Siena,” who serves her breasts on a plate. The picture is important as “a food porn,” which depicts women’s bodies as foods in order to appeal to men’s appetites/sexual desire. It is interesting to note that Saint Catherine of Siena, who was famous for her small eating, is depicted as

“an eaten woman” who satisfies others’ desire. When Gigi, one of four women living in the Convent, notices that K.D., a boy from Ruby, is tempted by the sight of her breasts, she cannot enjoy the boy’s desire for her as she usually does, because, without intending to, she compares the woman in the painting to herself.