Presence in absence
The spectre of race in Gilead and Home
in Marilynne Robinson
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Building on the ideas of Jacques Derrida, this essay explores how the unseen haunts the landscape of Robinson’s novels, Gilead and Home, making the reader bear witness to a politics of absence figured as racial. The negotiation between the visible and invisible, the material and the metaphysical enables Robinson to construct a radical reimagining of the history of the Midwestern landscape in her narratives. Drawing on an original, unpublished interview with Robinson, this chapter argues that what is at stake in reimagining the landscape of Iowa in the Civil War from the perspective of those on the cusp of the civil rights movement is the ability to remember and learn from history. For Jack, in particular, the landscape of Gilead is inscribed with his personal hopes and desires for his loved ones writ large in the history of his hometown and region; his alienation is one that stems in part from a struggle to feel at home in a nation that denies them existential value.

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