Gilead is an epistolary novel, written by a pastor in his 70s to a son who is too young to receive all the wisdom an old man wants to share. So the Reverend Ames writes his son a long letter that includes important episodes in family history, summaries of important sermons, practical admonitions for daily life, digressions on topics of theological interest, and many expressions of personal affection. Ames writes to share with the young son of his old age "things I would have told you if you had grown up with me," with the goal of leaving "a reasonably candid testament to my better self." The minister is not without his faults, of course, including some he openly acknowledges (like his covetousness, or his difficulties in loving the people he is called to pastor), and some that are apparent only to the reader (his racism, for example, as revealed in his casual dismissal of a black congregation that left Gilead after its building was damaged by arson). But Ames also bears witness to his "better self." He is an admirable man whose ministry upholds many of the highest ideals of gospel ministry. Thus Gilead presents one of the more positive portrayals of pastoral ministry in literature.