Summary and Analysis September 1977

Summary

Phoebe, Doro, and Caroline host a party. Phoebe has just been confirmed at church, Caroline and Al have been married for five years, and Doro is going away with her lover. Al comes home from work, and Caroline is overjoyed, waiting to tell him good news: Doro has given them her house. Phoebe says she wants a cat, but Caroline says they can’t get a cat because Doro is allergic.

That night Doro and Caroline say their goodbyes to each other. Al gives Caroline a small wooden heart he made, and Caroline hands him a house key as a way of telling him that the house is theirs. Al is apprehensive. He asks about Phoebe’s future, wondering whether she’ll ever live on her own. He also wonders about his and Caroline’s future: He feels claustrophobic imagining a lifetime in the house. For the first time, Caroline tells Al Phoebe’s origin story and adds that David Henry now wants to meet Phoebe.

Al leaves the next morning, and Phoebe and Caroline argue about getting a cat. Phoebe goes to the porch in the rain to eat breakfast. Minutes later, Caroline realizes that Phoebe has run away. Eventually Caroline finds Phoebe stuck in a large pipe where she’s gone to catch a friend’s kitten. The pipe is filling with rainwater, and Caroline pulls Phoebe out. Flustered because she almost lost her daughter, Caroline resolves not to write to David again.

Analysis

Up to this point, Caroline has been a model of compassion, always willing to turn life’s surprising tragedies into something better and always willing to see and adjust to others’ needs. In this chapter, however, she begins to slip into a mind-set of control that will complicate her life later. Now that Doro has given Caroline the house, she senses the possibility of living a “normal” life, being a “normal” mother, and this possibility tempts her toward the protectiveness we have seen in David, a longing to keep things from changing.

Caroline’s protectiveness expresses itself most strongly in her desire to keep Phoebe from becoming an adult. When Al asks about Phoebe’s future, Caroline responds, “She’s just a little girl.” And when Al hesitates at the thought of living in the house his whole life, Caroline says that she doesn’t want freedom like she used to. The woman who wanted to become a medical missionary now wants to be a housewife.

This chapter opens with happiness and tranquility but soon descends into the same kind of confusion that Paul experienced in the last chapter. Again the confusion is reflected in a mixing of water and bone imagery. Phoebe runs out into the rain seeking a kitten to love but almost drowns in the rising waters. When Caroline rescues her daughter, she sees her house as a “raft in the dangerous world.” She seeks something solid to protect her from the shifting power of water. As Caroline strokes the kitten’s “bony” head, she decides to stop communicating with David. Caroline has good reason to want stability and permanence after over a decade of wandering and scraping to get by, but the world doesn’t tend to give people stability, at least not for very long.



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