I love Rass Island, although for much of my life, I did not think I did, and it is a pure sorrow to me that, once my mother leaves, there will be no one left there with the name of Bradshaw. But there were only the two of us, my sister, Caroline, and me, and neither of us could stay. (P.6)
It's pretty interesting that the author decides to put this right smack at the beginning of the book. Louise is going to have a whole lot of hatred for her home, but we also know that she's going to come around in the end. Home sweet home.
I suppose I knew that there was no future for me on Rass. How could I face a lifetime of passive waiting? Waiting for the boats to come in of an afternoon, waiting in a crab house for the crabs to shed, waiting at home for children to be born, waiting for them to grow up, waiting, at last, for the Lord to take me home. (4.18)
Being a girl on Rass Island is pretty frustrating—there's not much Louise can do and this drives her crazy. Sure, this is home, but it's starting to feel a bit like a prison, too.
Now that the strange old man was there, the house was no longer empty, and the whole island was trying to unravel the mystery. All the old people agreed that Hiram Wallace was in his youth the hope of every island maiden's heart, but that he had left Rass with his father's money and blessing to go to college. It was an unusual enough occurrence that even someone from our island who had gone to college fifty years ago was remembered for it. People also recalled, though this point was discussed at considerable length, that he had returned home without a degree, and that he had, in some indefinable way, changed. He had never been too sociable before he left, but he was positively silent when he returned. This only made the hearts of the young girls beat the harder, and no one had suspected that anything was wrong with him until the day of the storm. (5.23)
This is the gossipy story that Louise hears about the Captain, and we suspect it's pretty close to being true. The Captain left his home on Rass Island a long time ago and now he's back and a changed man. What can Louise learn from someone who's seen the world and came back to where he started?
I had formulated a plan for escape. I was going to double my crab catch and keep half the money for myself, turning over to my mother the usual amount. My half I would save until I had enough to send myself to boarding school in Crisfield. On Smith Island to the south of us there was no high school, not even the pretense of one that we had on Rass. The state, therefore, sent any Smith Islanders who continued school after the elementary level to a boarding school in Crisfield. The prices were not out of sight. Too high, it was true, for an island family without state aid to contemplate, but low enough for me to dream and work towards. It seemed to me that if I could get off the island, I would be free from hate and guilt and damnation, even, perhaps, from God himself. (6.13)
This is actually a pretty solid plan. Louise would probably benefit from getting some much-needed time away from home. The longer she stays on Rass, the more bitter she gets about her lot in life.
"There's plenty," Daddy went on, "that aren't so lucky. A lot of the boats not sunk are all tore up. It'll be a hard year for many." Our crab house was gone and the floats as well, but we had our boat. "The dock's tore up right smart, but folks got their homes.
"Not the Captain." Caroline said it so quickly and loudly that no one else had a chance. It didn't seem right to me that the Captain should be robbed of the chance to tell his own tragedy. He had nothing else to call his own. He should have at least had his story. But Caroline was like that, snatching other people's rights without even thinking. (11.43-44)
So, the Captain comes home after all those years only to lose his house within a few months. That's irony right there.
"I—I was trying to think—we could never afford this school in Baltimore, but maybe Crisfield. We could borrow some- thing on next year's earnings—"
"Why should Caroline go to Crisfield when she has a chance—"
"No, not Caroline, you. I thought we might send you—"
She did hate me. There. See. She was trying to get rid of me. "Crisfield!" I cried contemptuously. "Crisfield! I'd rather be chopped for crab bait!"
"Oh," she said. I had plainly confused her. "I really thought you might like—"
"Well, you were wrong!"
"Momma, would you just get out and leave me alone!" If she refused, I would take it for a sign, not only that she cared about me but that God did. If she stayed in that room— She stood up, hesitating. (15.24-31)
Okay, so this was totally Louise's plan just a few chapters ago, and now she's screaming at her mother for even suggesting it. As Louise gets hit with more and more bad news, she clings tighter to Rass Island and her anger. Hey, why let go of all that familiar negativity when you can sit at home and fester in it for the rest of your life? Sounds nice. Oh, wait…
"Tell me where you been and what you saw."
"I think I seen every island in the world," he said.
"And you come home to the prettiest one of all," I answered.
"Yeah," he said, but his focus blurred for a moment. "The water's about to get her, Wheeze."
"Only a bit, to the south," I said defensively.
"Wheeze, open your eyes," he said. "In two years I've been gone, she's lost at least an acre. Another good storm—"
It wasn't right. He should have been more loyal. You don't come home after two years away and suddenly inform your mother that she's dying. (16.41-47)
This conversation between Louise and Call shows that no one talks bad about Louise's hometown. No one. Louise's identity is so tied up in the injustices on Rass Island that she can't bear to think it will be gone one day. Where will that leave Louise? Where would she find her place in the world?
A mountain-locked valley is more like all island than anything else I know. Our water is the Appalachian wilderness, our boats, the army surplus jeeps we count on to navigate our washboard roads and the hairpin curves across the mountains. There are a few trucks, freely loaned about in good weather to any valley farmer who must take his pigs or calves to market. The rest of us seldom leave the valley. (19.18)
Surprise, surprise—when Louise has the chance to find a new home, she picks one that's weirdly similar to her old home. It might not be an island, but the valley in Truitt is about as close to home as she can get.
I began to tell him quite matter-of-factly about Rass, where it was, what it looked like, slipping into a picture of how it had been. I hadn't returned to the island since entering nursing school except for two funerals, my grandmother's and the Captain's. Now as I described the marsh as it was when I was a child, I could almost feel the wind on my arms and hear the geese baying like a pack of hounds as they flew over. No one on the mainland had ever invited me to talk about home before, and the longer I talked, the more I wanted to talk, churning with happiness and homesickness at the same time. (19.32)
This is the first moment Louise realizes that she actually misses home. Sure, she and Rass Island might have had their differences, but she loves the place. She's just not going to move back there anytime soon. We don't blame her—some homes are best admired from a distance.
"Of course you may leave. You never said before you wanted to leave."
And, oh, my blessed, she was right. All my dreams of leaving, but beneath them I was afraid to go. I had clung to them, to Rass, yes, even to my grandmother, afraid that if I loosened my fingers an iota, I would find myself once more cold and clean in a forgotten basket. (18.42-43)
And now, it all makes sense: Louise thinks she wants to leave home, but she realizes that she's been using Rass Island as a crutch. As long as she stays home, nothing has to change—she can be miserable and unhappy and never have to risk anything. Well, that's not going to work.