Summary and Analysis
March 1964 (II)
Caroline Gill, the attending nurse at the twins’ birth, hazards the snowy roads to take Phoebe to the institution as instructed by Dr. David Henry. She has a flashback about her upbringing. Her parents were older and never let her do anything dangerous.
Arriving at the institution, she senses that now, at the age of 31, her life is really beginning. She grew up hoping to do something heroic. For instance, she wanted to be a medical missionary, so she became a nurse. Then, at her first job, David Henry came into her life, and she had fallen in love with him. She remembers happening upon him while he was sleeping at his desk and feeling they had a special connection. She was disappointed when David married Norah.
Caroline leaves Phoebe in the institution’s lobby and wanders farther inside. Upset when she sees two nurses cutting the hair of a woman who looks very cold and miserable, Caroline heads back to the lobby, picks up Phoebe, and leaves without giving anyone her name. She stops at a store to buy items for taking care of a newborn, but when she returns to her car, the battery is dead. Caroline and Phoebe are left stranded in the parking lot after the store has closed.
Caroline’s reaction to Phoebe’s birth is the opposite of David’s. David’s childhood was complicated by his sister’s birth and the heart defect she was born with; Caroline’s older parents received their unexpected daughter as a gift to be protected, not a complication to be fixed. Caroline empathizes with Phoebe more easily. Caroline’s world doesn’t suffer from the type of detachment that David imposes on his world. Rather, echoing Phoebe’s experience, Caroline feels reborn when she leaves the institution with a baby in her keeping.
But Caroline’s motives aren’t necessarily pure. As an aging woman without children, she might be jealous of Norah Henry, who has the man she loves and the life that women are expected to have. Caroline’s ill will toward another woman is symbolized by the woman in the institution whose hair is being cut off by the nurses. This all-female scene, in which one outcast is having her long hair, a traditional sign of femininity, cut off, introduces a motif of women shaming and mistreating other women because they don’t adhere to the standards of society. One reason women mistreat each other is that the broader culture mistreats them as a group. Misogyny—prejudice against women—can be a failing of women as well as of men.