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Written by Sarah Bachhiesl
In the context of the early to mid-twentieth century, much of Marie’s early years are shaped by traditional gender roles. Her mother is in the home, keeping the family together and taking care of them all while her father goes to work and her brother’s education is highly encouraged. Marie is expected to obediently listen to her brother’s evening recitations, rather than encouraged to also partake in learning. When she reaches a certain age, her mother insists that she learn to cook so that she might one day keep a good and healthy home.
Marie notes that she has very rarely ever seen her mother sit still, since she is always doing something for the rest of the family, putting herself second. After her father’s death, her and her mother obtain jobs, but as soon as Marie is married and expecting her first child, she is no longer expected to work and her life becomes centred in the home again.
The theme of death is visited often throughout the book. It is usually not portrayed in a sinister way, but rather in an ordinary and simple way that reflects its natural place in any life.
Death comes to Marie’s neighbourhood intermittently, in much the same way it does to everyone. Some people die in accidents, such as Pegeen. Some die from medical complications or prolonged illnesses, such as Mrs. Hanson dying in childbirth or Marie’s father dying after a long battle with cancer. Some die in the war, and some commit suicide, such as Bill Corrigan. Then there are those that live a full life and eventually die of old age, such as Marie or her mother. In this way, death is shown in its many forms.
Marie even works in a funeral parlour, which in many ways normalizes death for her. While the overall story is about life and the seemingly menial events that shape it, mortality plays a large part of it, given its inevitability.
Community and Family
A sense of community is visited throughout the book, with Marie noting multiple times the ease of conversation she can have with someone who has shared even a small amount of history with her, simply from having grown up in the same neighbourhood.
Everyone knows each other in Marie’s neighbourhood of Brooklyn and everyone seems to share a common bond through this. Marie stays connected to this community in various ways throughout her life, such as remaining best friends with her neighbour Gerty, or marrying an old acquaintance of her brother’s.
The sense of comfort and support that is gained through having a community or a close-knit family is often the only things that helps the characters endure the losses they encounter in life.
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