The Sister-Sister Bond:
Creating Drama and Growth for Female Characters in Fiction
The bond of biological sisters is often considered the second most important bond of a woman's life, being only slightly less important than the bond built with ones parent. The sister-sister bond, as it will be referred to throughout this essay, is of great importance to a young girl as it helps her define who she is and who she will become. Because this bond is integral to many women's development it is only natural that authors, especially women authors, include this relationship in their writing.
There are many examples throughout the history of Literature where women writers have used this bond to help develop the character of the women in their fiction. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and Alice Walker's Color Purple all contain examples of this bond. While each of these texts has much to offer, for reasons of discussion, we will focus on Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and Toni Morrison's Beloved. In order to better understand this theme in relationship to these two novels we shall explore why the sister-sister bond is important to each of the girls and what happens to the individual sister when the bond is compromised.
Although, there are several examples of the sister-sister theme in Housekeeping, the most prominent and seemingly important is between the sisters Ruth and Lucille, as the story mainly revolves around their life. In Beloved the theme is somewhat harder to see because the character Beloved is portrayed as something more than human. While we should keep this in mind, it is not of great significance to the discussion at hand; as the character is portrayed as the ghost of Denver's dead sister and therefore the sister-sister bond is still effectively introduced in the novel.
First, let us look at the similarities between the sets of girls to find the reason for the importance placed on the bond. In both books each set of girls has several things in common: the absence of a father figure, a grandmother that helps to raise them, and poverty. These circumstance in and of themselves would bond many siblings but these girls also have other factors that help explain the depth of their bonds: the role the mother plays in their life and the social companionship they lack in the small communities within which they live. These two commonalities are apparently reasons for the girls professed loneliness and the depth of the bonds they share.
Let us first look at the mother in Housekeeping. Helen, the mother of the girls leaves them with their grandmother and then as we see in the following passage commits suicide. Robinson writes, "Then she went back to the car and drove north almost to Tyler, where she sailed Bernice's Ford from the top of a cliff named Whiskey Rock and into the blackest depth of the lake (22)." This abandonment leads to five years of living with their grandmother, who then dies leaving them in the charge of two elderly great aunts. Finally, they are left to Sylvie, their mother's youngest sister. During the period prior to and even after Sylvie's appearance in the story the two girls bond is strengthened by the simple fact that they only have each other for emotional support and companionship.
In the following conversation penned by Robinson, we see that the bond has become so important to Ruth that she will risk punishment at school just so that Lucille doesn't have to spend the day alone:
"I'm not going to school," she said. (Lucille)
"What are you going to tell Sylvie?"
"Maybe I won't go home."
"Where will you go?"
"Down to the lake."
"It will be cold."
"I'll go, too," I said.
Lucille said, "Then we'll both be in trouble (78)."
This conversation shows the reader that not only is Ruth willing to risk reprimand for her truancy but she is also willing to brave a day of cold weather to support Lucille and her decision not to...
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