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Gender, Racial Discrimination, and Exclusion in Toni Morrison’s “Paradise”


Racism and other forms of discrimination are among the major social issues affecting millions of people in modern society. Toni Morrison addresses these issues by narrating a story about African Americans who move to the town of Ruby. Here, residents lack trust in outsiders, especially people of other races. In Ruby, people of color repeat the same mistakes they witnessed in Haven because of the psychological conditioning they received. This problem could have been solved by providing them with therapy and addressing such issues as a community. The failure to take these steps has led to Ruby’s residents turning against one another and hurting each other. This paper, therefore, seeks to highlight some of the central mistakes repeated in Ruby, how they would have made the world different, and why the town’s residents repeated these mistakes.

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Racial Discrimination

One of the central mistakes that people from Ruby repeat is racially discriminating individuals from other communities. Toni Morrison depicts the tension, which exists between the white supremacists and blacks who are trying to resist them (Kakoti 1). In Paradise, people of color are moving from Haven to Ruby so they can start their community, away from white supremacists and also exercise autonomy. According to Morrison, people of color no longer wanted to live in Haven. The author adds that people of color are moving from Haven and seeking another home where they could embrace their habits and culture and be able to contain themselves. However, once they arrive in Ruby, African Americans start promoting racism. Ruby’s residents believe that they should not marry white people from other communities. For instance, an individual seeking to marry a white person will be reminded how they are “bringing along the dung” they had left behind (Morrison 201). In this society, the difference between a white person and an enemy is a mere technicality.

Gender Discrimination

Another error that individuals in Ruby commit are the oppression of women. Women are still oppressed in Ruby, just as they were in Haven. A person may believe that the town’s residents respect women because of their close ties with their gender. Ruby is named after Steward’s sister. However, the place of women here needs more discussion to fight for their rights and freedom. In Paradise, the author highlights some of the problems that women in Ruby face. Some of these issues include oppression and discrimination, among others. The novel starts horrifically with the author stating: “They shoot the white girl first. With the rest, they can take their time” (Morrison 3). When readers visualize this scene, they see how women are being ill-treated and discriminated against by men. Even though the author starts narrating the story by telling the reader that the white girl was the first to be shot, she does not hide the fact that black women also received the same treatment. Here, she addresses what is most meaningful to her, the black community, before broadening her scope to other parts of the community and the world.


Another error committed is excluding themselves from the rest of the American community. Before moving, African Americans were living in Haven, together with people from different parts of the world. However, their primary reason for moving from Haven was the mistreatment they were receiving from white supremacists. Tired of the ill-treatment, African Americans moved from Haven and founded a town, named it Ruby, and settled there. People of color in Ruby reserved this settlement for themselves and white individuals were rarely allowed to settle among them. The black community in Ruby views whites as “the dung they had left behind” (Morrison 201). This act indicates that despite these people seeking a new life in Ruby, they have not healed from the mistreatment they received in Haven, thus excluding themselves from the outside world. Ruby lacks connection to major roads, television and radio stations, and newspapers. News that arrives in the town must be carried in person, and when an individual seeks to send a message within the community, they must start a fire. The lack of roads in the town has been noted to lead to several deaths. For instance, Patricia Best believes that her mother died in childbirth because the eight-rock men did not want to bring a white man into town or begone for help (Morrison, 198). The exclusion of the community from the rest of the American community indicates that blacks are not willing or ready to socialize with individuals who belong to other races.

Things Ruby Residents would have Done to Make a Better World

One of the things that the inhabitants of Ruby would have done to make a better world would have been to address the issues of abuse and discrimination. Everyone in society has the right of living happily and free from racial abuse. When an individual feels that someone is being racist toward them, they must keep themselves safe and talk to another person whom they trust. The person that the abused individual talks to should be an influential individual in society or one who has connections with such a person. However, when African Americans are racially abused, they often did nothing to address this problem and would not express their feelings either. Women also failed to report or talk about the mistreatment they were receiving from men. African Americans failed to address this problem and chose to hurt emotionally and mentally, too. People of color sought to move away from Haven instead of continuing to live there and seek solutions to the problem and address it in the best way possible.

Ruby inhabitants could also have considered being welcoming to individuals of all races and social classes in their town as a way of making the world better. Once African Americans moved from Haven to the new town, they excluded themselves from the rest of the world and sought to be independent. White people who visited the town were unwelcome. Black individuals within Ruby who welcomed people from other races were treated as if they hailed from other towns. This segregation led the black people to discriminate one another based on how “light” their skin was. According to Morrison, Ruby inhabitants saw a new separation by witnessing fights between light-skinned and black, and this was a serious consequence for the black community (104). Welcoming outsiders into the town would have proven that the world could be a better place if people knew how to co-exist in peace.

Even though the black community in Ruby would have made the world a better place by welcoming people of other races into the town, they repeated Haven’s mistakes because of the psychological conditioning. According to Cooke et al., social experiences like slavery and discrimination made the affected showcase their supremacy over others (31). Cooke et al. state that the legacy of racism calls for the examination of the fact that they inspire intense personal and institutional brutality and cruelty (31). Based on this argument, one can state that the several African Americans in Ruby sought to exhibit their power by being cruel. Such characters also promoted the oppression of women in the community; thus, women were seen as weaker human beings as compared to men. However, this issue could have been dealt with the same way women in Covenant did with their fractured selves.

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Opening up about their fears and emotions as a way of healing themselves would ensure Ruby inhabitants lead happier life. Being truthful is one of the ways through which women in Covenant are mending their broken selves, and African Americans could copy this technique. For instance, one of the rules at Covenant is that lies are not allowed there (Morrison 38). The women who meet in Covenant open up about their past and fears, thus being able to overcome them as they receive therapy as they stay at the place. When applied to the town of Ruby, this technique could have helped ensure that African Americans do not hurt themselves because of their past experiences. As seen, the major mistakes that Ruby’s inhabitants commit are discriminating against others based on their gender and race and excluding themselves from the rest of the world. Rectifying these issues will help promote peace and tranquility in the town and positively enhance its relationship with other communities in the United States of America.

Works Cited

Cooke, Benson G. “Creating a Stereotype of a Race as Dangerous, Unintelligent, and Lazy: Examining Consequences of Cultural and Psychological Conditioning in America.” Socio-Economic and Education Factors Impacting American Political Systems: Emerging Research and Opportunities. IGI Global, 2018, 1-28.

Kakoti, Jiban, J. “Negotiating Racism and Sexism Through Spaciotemporal Lens in Toni Morrison’s Paradise.” European Journal of English Language and Literature Studies. Vol. 8, No. 3, 2020, pp. 1-11.

Morrison, Toni. Paradise. Knopf Publishers, 1997.

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