Summary and Analysis
March 1964 (III)
The day after delivering her twins, Norah Henry feels sad and depressed. She breastfeeds Paul and has a moment of relief and oneness with her baby. Struggling to recall the events following the delivery, she remembers asking David to see Phoebe’s body and David’s saying that Phoebe had been sent to Bentley’s farm for burial. Norah has had dreams of searching for something lost in frozen patches of grass.
Bree, Norah’s younger sister, is visiting to help with the baby. Bree is a feminist whose first marriage failed while she was a teenager. Norah despises Bree’s wildness but envies her freedom; Bree hates Norah’s traditional lifestyle. The sisters discuss how, since the delivery, David has been working a lot. Bree questions the wisdom of this, but Norah feels obligated to defend her husband.
Several women from church visit with gifts. One of the women accidentally mentions that another woman, Kay Marshall, just gave birth to a little girl, and the other women quickly change the subject. Norah longs to express her sadness but feels pressured not to. Flora, who makes quilts for newborns, gives Norah two wrapped packages. She made two for Norah because she suspected Norah was carrying twins. Norah hopes that both of the presents will be quilts because that would acknowledge her loss. Instead, she opens the packages and only one is a quilt; the other is a playsuit. Norah becomes distraught, demands to see the other quilt, and faints.
Bree urges Norah to plan a funeral service for Phoebe. The suggestion energizes Norah, who calls businesses to set up the funeral. When David hears about her plans, he tells Norah that she’s overreacting, but she angrily resolves to carry on.
Norah is caught in a whirlwind of expectations from all sides. Her feminist sister expects her to question her husband’s authority and stand up for herself (something she has never done), and her old-fashioned friends expect her to be a perfectly happy mother, not a woman struggling with depression and grief. Because of his guilt, David buries himself in his work. To make matters worse, Norah herself doesn’t know what sort of woman she wants to be. Her complex, envious, judgmental, loving relationship with Bree shows how confused she is about her own identity.
This chapter develops some symbolism that has been present in the previous chapters. When Norah breastfeeds Paul, she experiences a connection with him that is described in fluid imagery: water and flowing liquids. In the novel, water imagery represents togetherness, connection, or the longing for connection—the imagery of compassion. By contrast, Norah’s dreams about the daughter she lost feature the imagery of ice, which is hard and cold. David trusts in the stability and durability of bones, but for Norah, a rigid world of ice, like the rigid world of bones into which David plunges himself, serves only to separate people from one another. Bones and ice represent the impulse toward control.