Study Guide

Caroline Bradshaw in Jacob Have I Loved

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Caroline Bradshaw

Caroline Bradshaw is the star of this book. OK, she's not really the star, but she certainly manages to capture a whole lot of our attention. As her sister, Louise, will tell you, she has a way of stealing the spotlight—it's kind of Caroline's thing.

Caroline Takes the Stage

Louise sees Caroline as a major thorn in her side. The girls may be twin sisters, but they are super different. While Louise is average and awkward, Caroline stands out as beautiful, graceful, poised, charming, and talented. Everyone on Rass Island knows and loves Caroline. She sings and plays piano so beautifully that it nearly moves people to tears. To tears, Shmoopers—the girl has serious chops.

Louise starts out being proud of her sister, but after a while, she just can't take it anymore. To be fair, it does seem like Caroline gets everything, and she has from the moment they were born:

When my mother and grandmother told the story of our births, it was mostly of how Caroline had refused to breathe. How the midwife smacked and prayed and cajoled the tiny chest to move. How the cry of joy went up at the first weak wail—"no louder than a kitten's mew."

"But where was I?" I once asked. "When everyone was working over Caroline, where was I?"

A cloud passed across my mother's eyes, and I knew that she could not remember. "In the basket," she said. "Grandma bathed you and dressed you and put you in the basket."

"Did you, Grandma?"

"How should I know?" she snapped. "It was a long time ago."

I felt cold all over, as though I was the newborn infant a second time, cast aside and forgotten. (2.4-9)

If Caroline is sick, she goes to see a doctor on the mainland. If Caroline needs piano lessons, she gets them. Singing lessons in Crisfield? Of course. All this even though the family struggles to put food on the table—everyone, it seems, is willing to sacrifice to help Caroline on her journey to greatness. Louise, however, is pretty tired of it. We can't say we blame her.

Caroline Tries Her Best

So, is Caroline annoying? Sure. She's a beautiful and talented person who knows she's beautiful and talented. She loves the spotlight and she's actually kind of vain about herself, plus she's hopelessly patronizing to other people. She's the kind of person who announces she might start writing down her life story at 13 so that later, when she's famous, people can look back and know where it all began. Yeah, it's pretty obnoxious.

But, is she so annoying you might want to kill her? We're not sure about that. Louise starts to resent Caroline when they both become teenagers, but her view of her sister quickly skews. She interprets even the mildest comment Caroline makes as the end of the world:

I would come in from a day of progging for crab, sweating and filthy. Caroline would remark mildly that my fingernails were dirty. How could they be anything else but dirty? But instead of simply acknowledging the fact, I would fly into a wounded rage. How dare she call me dirty? How dare she try to make me feel inferior to her own pure, clear beauty? It wasn't my fingernails she was concerned with, that I was sure of. She was using my fingernails to indict my soul. Wasn't she content to be golden perfection without cutting away at me? Was she to allow me no virtue—no shard of pride or decency? (6.2)

Yes, Caroline has tons of advantages—loads of them, really—but she's never actually cruel to Louise. She doesn't mock her sister and she doesn't ignore her, nor is she ever intentionally mean like Grandma. Heck, she even sticks up for Louise and tries to comfort her at times. In fact, sometimes it seems like Caroline really wants to be Louise's friend … if she'd only let her.

Despite all of this, Louise just cannot let her sister in. She sees Caroline as the one thing standing in the way of all her happiness. Caroline is the reason she will always been seen as second best. If Caroline is the perfect one, what does that leave for Louise? It's an unfair interpretation of her sister, but still, it's how Louise sees things for much of the book.

Caroline Triumphs in Her Weakness

Who is Caroline, really? Is she the perfect and super special twin who can do anything? Not really. She's actually the weaker sister of the two, the one who needs everyone's help and pity. Where would she be without it?

Louise sees all the help and special attention Caroline gets and really stews over it, but in the end, she realizes that Caroline has gotten so much attention because she's needed it. Caroline nearly died as a baby; Caroline was always sick and had to see a doctor; Caroline couldn't excel in music without help from a teacher; Caroline can't even make it out there on her own in New York City without Call by her side.

Louise, on the other had, is strong. She is independent, and she never needs help from anyone. Well, almost never needs it. She discovers that she can live the life she wants. She can do anything she sets her mind to, and she doesn't need help or good luck like Caroline. Louise can pull herself up by her own bootstraps.

In the final moments of the book, Louise thinks back to her sister's singing after caring for the little baby that stands in for Caroline. She's finally able to appreciate why her parents did so much for Caroline and, in wrapping her head around this, she's able to forgive her sister. Sure, Caroline might be obnoxious and arrogant at times, but Louise knows she can't keep holding onto that as an excuse. It's time to make way for some sisterly love and affection.

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