Study Guide

Grandma Louise Bradshaw in Jacob Have I Loved

By Katherine Paterson

Grandma Louise Bradshaw

Grandma Bradshaw is a real treat to be around. Yes, that is sarcasm you're detecting. This lady is old and mean and no fun at all, especially for Louise.

At the start of the story, Grandma is pretty antagonistic to Louise. She clearly favors Caroline and even seems to take joy in needling her oldest granddaughter. She won't even give Louise any details about the day she was born:

"Was I a good baby, Grandma?"

"No worse than most, I reckon."

"What did I do, Grandma? Tell me about when I was a baby."

"How can I remember? It's been a long time."
(2.13-16)

To be clear, Grandma can talk about Caroline as a baby in great detail. Talk about withholding, right? And unfortunately, Grandma's behavior only gets worse as she gets older. Grandma always loved reading the Bible, spewing verses and judging others, but she kicks it into high gear as her mind starts to go. She starts making wild accusations against Louise, the Captain, and Louise's mother. Sure, some of this vitriol has a little truth—Louise does have a mini-crush on the Captain—but most of it is just the result of a lifetime of judging the heck out of other people.

Oddly enough, even though Grandma is the most religious character in the entire story, she's also the worst person imaginable. Her faith in God doesn't make her kind or nice or giving—it makes her harsh and cruel to those around her. Because she believes she knows the truth, she thinks she has the right to yell it in other people's faces. Oof.

In the end, Louise feels a little bit sorry for Grandma when she tells the story about how she got jilted by the dashing Hiram Wallace:

She flashed her eyes at me. "I would've growed," she said like a stubborn child. "He run off and left before I had a chance." Then she put her head down on her gnarled hands and began to cry. "I turned out purty," she said between sobs. "By the time I was thirteen I was the purtiest little thing on the island, but he was already gone. I waited for two more years before I married William, but he never come back 'til now." She wiped her eyes on her shawl and leaned her head back watching a spot on the ceiling. "He was too old for me then, and now it 'pears he's too young. After scatter-headed children like you and Caroline. Oh, my blessed, what a cruel man."

What was I to do? For all the pain she had caused me, to see her like that, still haunted by a childish passion, made me want to put my arm around her and comfort her. But she had turned on me so often, I was afraid to touch her. I tried with words. (17.27-28)

So, Grandma's hatred for the Captain isn't all about him being a heathen—she's mad he didn't have eyes for her. We agree with Louise: it's kind of sad that this grumpy old lady is still stewing over things that happened decades ago. She just can't get over her childhood slights. Hey, hold up—that sort of sounds like Louise, doesn't it?

Grandma represents everything that Louise doesn't want for her life. She's a bitter old woman who hates water even though she grew up on an island, and she seems to despise her family and deeply resent her lot in life. It's probably no coincidence that she and Louise share a name: Grandma represents Louise's future if she can't get off the Bitterness Express.

Thank goodness Louise is able to jump the tracks. No one wants to end up like Grandma.

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