Study Guide

Jacob Have I Loved Setting

By Katherine Paterson

Setting

Rass Island, the 1940s

Rass Island might be a fictional place, but it is based on real-life islands in the Chesapeake Bay. The way people lived together and earned their living in the 1940s is pretty accurate, too. Hey, we think crab catching would actually be pretty fun.

Home Sweet Rass Island

Life on Rass Island is pretty simple. The village is small, so everyone knows everyone. Men and women also have certain roles—men work (mostly as watermen catching crabs and oysters) and women tend to the home. The people here are Methodist, and church and the Bible have a big hold on the way they live. This is one reason alcohol isn't allowed on the island—or blaspheming. Of course, this never stops the Captain from partaking in both.

It's no wonder Louise has a rough time on Rass Island. Her family's been there for generations, and so she understandably feels a pull to the place. She wants desperately to fit in and do what she's supposed to, but her heart just keeps leading her in a different direction—much as she wants to feel completely at home on Rass, she just doesn't. On the island, Louise isn't supposed to act or dress like a boy. She can't earn a living like a man, and instead, she's expected to do things as a proper young Christian lady would. This is far easier said than done for our heroine.

In the end, then, Louise has to leave the island in order to figure out who she really is. While she's in her hometown she resents the place for how confining it is, but once she's gone and she comes into her own, she can appreciate how lovely and beautiful Rass Island actually is. Maybe this is why she decides to move to a town in the mountains that reminds her of the closed society on Rass Island. She just feels comfortable there. It's the type of place she's meant to be, even though she can't stay on Rass Island forever.

This Means War

Events in the 1940s also loom large over our story. Louise and Caroline find out about the bombing of Pearl Harbor from the radio, and then the United States joins up in World War II and everything goes wacky. Her teacher, Mr. Rice, enlists and Call does, too, though later on. Louise also imagines that the Captain might be a German spy. After all, why would a stranger randomly move to Rass Island during the war? Obviously he's selling secrets about a tiny island to the Nazis.

World War II is really Louise's first big dose of reality. It's her wake-up call to the fact that bad things can and will happen. It's no coincidence that this also happens when she's beginning to resent Caroline. Louise realizes she's drawn the short straw in life just as the world is falling apart around her. It's pretty good timing.

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