Aunt Carrie. Let's see. Is she's Papa's sister, or Mama's? Has she always lived with the Pecks? What are her hopes and dreams?
Sorry, Shmoopers, we don't have the answers.
So why's she in the book at all, then, if she's just stuck in the background without much to do? Great question! We're glad we asked.
Aunt Carrie's a bit on the conventional side, so she often serves as the voice of the conservative community finding fault with anything that goes against expectations. Rob tells us that she takes "quite a stock in appearances" (2.31), which means everyone should probably look and dress the way she thinks is right. And more notably, she majorly objects to the relationship between the widow Mrs. Hascom and her hired man, and she's not afraid to voice her opinion:
"Shameful. Them two living under the same roof, without benefit of clergy. You know well as I what's going on in that house, right under our very noses." (9.5)
Man does this lady love her some gossip.
And you might remember that Mama doesn't buy it. (Check out Mama's "Character Analysis" for more on that.) So through Aunt C, we get to see how different Mama is from the rest of the crowd. Aunt Carrie is a lot closer than Mama to the stereotypical idea that many of us might have of an uneducated, small-town woman—moralistic, gossipy, rigid in her thinking. (Anyone remember Aunt Bee?)
Why do you think the two women are so different? What accounts for their differences? Does the book give us any ideas, or do we just not have much to go on?
One thing Mama and Aunt Carrie do have in common is their love for Rob. Even in the few details we get about Aunt Carrie, we can tell she puts her nephew first.
When Rob is getting ready to go to the fair, for example, Aunt Carrie secretly makes a point of giving him a dime so he can ride the merry go-round. "[W]hen Mama wasn't looking," Rob tells us, "Aunt Carrie slipped me the ten cents… 'Don't lose it,' she whispered to my ear" (10.2-3). With times being so tough for all the members of the Peck family, Aunt Carrie's generosity is that much more moving.
Why do you think she gives Rob the money? And why do you think she keeps it a secret from Mama and Papa? Would they be angry about it? Or is it just that she likes sharing a secret with Rob?
No matter what her motivations are, we just can't help but have a little soft spot for Aunt Carrie.