Moon Over Manifest
by Clare Vanderpool
Miss Sadie is probably the most misunderstood, tragic character in all of Manifest. (And there sure are a lot of 'em.) From the moment she first set foot in America, she's had her heart torn apart and trampled on, and the pain doesn't stop until Abilene finally helps her through it.
All You Need Is Love?
When Miss Sadie lands at Ellis Island with Ned, her four-year-old son, he is healthy and allowed to stay, but she has an eye infection and is forced to go back to Hungary—without him. In utter panic, she has to say goodbye:
"In here," she says, pointing to her heart, "I have a compass that always points to you. No matter where you are, I will find you." (41.9)
That dedication to her son never once wavers, not for the rest of her life. She leaves Ned with a friend who will live in New York, and promises to come back to him as soon as her eye is better.
From that moment on, her life becomes one of pain, searching, longing, and aching. But when she's finally allowed into America, Ned is nowhere to be found. Her friend has died, and no one knows where Ned was taken. As she tells us in her story:
For a whole year, the young woman walks the streets of New York. She knocks on doors of churches, orphanages, hospitals. No one can help her. No one has seen her son. (41.13)
Can you imagine the agony? We'd rather not.
Looking For Love in All the Wrong Places
When she finally finds out that her son was sent out West on an orphan train, she doesn't give up. She just follows her little boy out there:
As she goes farther west into America, she draws attention. People frown at her thick accent. They raise their eyebrows at her dark skin. […] She is shunned and called a Gypsy and a fortune-teller. She asks about a boy and they hold their children behind them. (41.14)
But her determination to find her son never falters, even through all the pain of discrimination. And at last, she finds her little one—only to learn that he's been adopted and seems happy. She tells Abilene her dilemma:
If she reveals herself as his mother, she will bring shame on him. They will shun him the way she has been shunned. So what does she do? […] She watches. She waits. She loves. (41.16)
Sounds to us like the purest, most self-sacrificing motherly love ever. She settles in Manifest—where people continue to shun her—just to be near her son. And she just loves him from a distance.
So when Ned dies in war, she's devastated. She holds the pain inside, letting it fester. But with Abilene's arrival, she finally has an outlet
Kneeling beside her, I held the hot blade to her wound and pierced it, letting all the pain flow out. (40.8)
Telling Abilene her story allows Miss Sadie to come to terms with the pain she's suffered all these years. Talk about catharsis.