Summary and Analysis February 1965

Summary

Norah and David have moved into a nicer house, partly in order to escape the memory of Phoebe, for whom Norah still hasn’t been able to grieve openly. Their old house is up for sale. Norah has been working like mad to redecorate the new house.

Norah waits for David to come home so they can enjoy the big anniversary dinner she has prepared. However, David’s office calls and tells her that he has to stay late at work to tend to some teenagers who were injured in a car wreck.

Bree comes to pick up Paul, who’s now almost one year old. The two sisters drink and talk, first about whether Norah’s efforts around the house make her a “Suzy Homemaker,” and then about David’s having to stay late at work. Seeing that Norah is depressed, Bree takes Paul so that when David finally comes home they can enjoy privacy.

Alone, Norah gets drunk and grows more depressed. She takes David’s anniversary present, a camera called “The Memory Keeper,” to their old house. There she takes pictures of the house so full of the memory of her dead daughter, cuts her foot on a broken flashbulb, and leaves. On the way home, she crashes her car into a trash can and cuts her head on impact. When she gets home, David is there and terrified. He tends to her cut carefully, but Norah thinks that he is just as careful with all his other patients: His care is administered not with a special tenderness but with a professional manner.

David gives Norah an emerald necklace to match her engagement ring. Norah momentarily thinks of the old mill where David proposed. Yearning to save her marriage, she chooses to block out the past and to take an offer on their old house.

Analysis

Norah is experiencing depression, which society has trouble accepting, just as it does with Down syndrome, Phoebe’s condition. Though Norah will one day recognize her gloomy feelings as a medical condition, right now she only knows that she is not feeling the way she is “supposed to.” Her depression closes her off from everyone except Bree, who counsels her to make time for mourning.

But the sisters’ relationship has its own problems, centering on female gender roles. Norah feels both defensive and envious when Bree calls her a “Suzy Homemaker.” She’s hurt that her efforts around the house are demeaned by progressive culture, and yet she doesn’t want to be defined only by her efforts around the house. The pain caused by this tension in the sisters’ relationship makes it harder for Norah to trust Bree.

Though they may seem rather different, Norah and David are dealing with Phoebe’s “death” in similar ways. David throws himself into the traditionally masculine role of providing for the family, working long hours and earning enough money to buy a nicer house; Norah throws herself into the traditionally female role of homemaking, working long hours to fix up the new house. Both are trying to deal with Phoebe’s absence by controlling every detail of their lives without dealing with their guilt and pain.

In this house of compulsive controllers, “The Memory Keeper” camera is a symbol of control. The camera’s role for Norah—and later for David—is its ability to capture what’s lost and to keep that from changing. In other words, photographing things allows Norah to enjoy a moment of absolute control over a subject, to save it from disaster and to seize it in its beauty.


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