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Use of Irony
An undercurrent of irony runs through the whole novel to expose the hypocrisy of the characters and conflicts raging within them. Johnís life is itself an irony. From his childhood, he had bee told that he should become a priest when he grew up and he had accepted the idea. However, on his fourteenth birthday, he awakens with the thought that he may like to do something different from what his father or society expects from him. With a spirit of rebellion, he goes out to enjoy his freedom and taste the forbidden. As he watches the movie, he identifies himself with the haughty heroine who thwarts the affection of her faithful lover. He feels the need to overpower others and ascertain his right. However, as he walks back home, he feels guilty to nurture sinful thoughts.
He reaches home only to be chastised by his father. He also witnesses
the scene where his father abuses both his mother and brother. He is outraged.
In this mood, he goes to the church to clean its premises and also offer
his evening prayers. He meets Elisha, his teacher but gets provoked by
the latterís words and picks up a fight with the young priest in the temple
of god. Elisha pardons him and John feels repentant. He had transferred
his anger against his father on Elisha.
Soon after the Sisters of the Church, his parents and aunt arrive the 2evening service begins. Johnís mind is in turmoil. He is angry, guilty and miserable. He feels helpless. He is not sure whether he should experience the life of the outside world or surrender to god. His earlier rebellious mood leaves him and a divine force ensnares him to seek the mercy of the Lord. His fears about his sins weigh him down and he is afraid he will be unable to get up and face the Lord. His conscience tears him apart and he goes through the agony of realization. He almost loses hope but a sudden voice beckons him to try and exert himself to stand up before god. Slowly but steadily, he gains strength and courage to rise up and seek the blessings of the Lord. John, who had expected punishment from god, is saved and redeemed. The boy who had desired to experience the pleasures of life and gain power in the morning of his birthday, now is overpowered by the grace of god and excited about working for the almighty.
Baldwin has used irony to expose the hypocrisy of Gabriel. He uses the biblical saying ĎSet thine house in orderí repeatedly in the novel to remind the characters about its significance. Gabriel uses these words profusely in his sermons and to people to correct their mistakes and repent for their sins. Florence and Elizabeth take the words seriously and regret the hasty actions they had committed in the past as they stand before god. However, Gabriel who advises others about to wipe out their sins and seek forgiveness, ignores his own blunders and feels hesitant to confess his sins. He criticizes the conduct of his family members but behaves arrogantly towards them and punishes them for their simple lapses. He puts fear in the minds of others but seems fearless about the wrath of god. Only when Florence confronts him about his shameful past, does he feel disturbed. However, instead of accepting his weaknesses, he chides her for digging his past unnecessarily. After being in the service of the Lord, Gabriel has failed to learn the lessons on humility, generosity and kindness. He has failed to set his own self and house in order.