Housekeeping Final - Sylvie alone has the distinct ability...

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Sylvie alone has the distinct ability to teach Ruthie that the impermanence of life is an element which should be respected in Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Housekeeping . Ruthie and Lucille’s childhood is characterized by unpredictability as evidenced most prominently by their mother’s suicide. Life has forced the two girls to adapt and accept their surroundings, while constantly maintaining a level of suspicion. “Sylvie’s coat made us think she might be leaving, and we were ready to perform great feats of docility to keep her.” (49) Sylvie is hardly ever separated from her coat which mirrors the temporariness of the girls’ past relationships. At the surface, Housekeeping appears to be an uncomplicated novel about three women. On the other hand, Marilynne Robinson has constructed a text that is multifaceted in that it echoes the biblical stories of Adam & Eve, Noah’s Arc, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Each story contains a theme that can be extracted in Robinson’s novel. As Lucille reaches adolescence she becomes a victim of the standardization of society and shuns Sylvie’s exterior randomness. Ruthie, on the other hand, grows towards Sylvie and is able to accept those difficult counter cultural messages taught by her caretaker. The pinnacle of Ruthie’s growth comes at the deserted home in the wilderness. “Sylvie is nowhere, and sometime it will be dark. I thought, Let them come unhouse me of this flesh, and pry this house apart.” (159) Ruthie is forced to confront the loneliness of life. She feels her physical body has failed to give her shelter from the realities that most do not face until they are much older. This struggle enlightens her to the fact that “…once alone, it is impossible to believe that one could ever have been otherwise.” (157) Ruthie is wrestling with the idea that those experiences in the past have no relevance once they have passed, and that loneliness is the prevailing factor of life. Sylvie’s role in Ruthie’s life is to remind her that she still has someone in
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the flesh, who can allow her to live in the present. In Ruthie’s eyes, Sylvie’s strangeness was refreshing. Lucille is presented as much more of a traditionalist, but Ruthie states that, “…Sylvie always brought us treasures.” (94) It is these treasures that culminate in Lucille’s alienation, and Ruthie’s growth. Similar to the effects of satire, Sylvie’s extreme nature teaches Ruthie and us that social norms are not always the most valuable characteristics of life.
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