Study Guide

Jacob Have I Loved Identity

By Katherine Paterson

Identity

Chapter 1

I was sitting there, basking in the day, thinking how pleased my father would be to come home from crabbing and smell his favorite soup, bathing my sister and grandmother in kindly feelings that neither deserved, when Caroline said, "I haven't got anything to do but practice this summer, so I've decided to write a book about my life. Once you're known," she explained carefully as though some of us were dim-witted, "once you're famous, information like that is very valuable. If I don't get it down now, I may forget." She said all this in that voice of hers that made me feel slightly nauseated, the one she used when she came home from spending all Saturday going to the mainland for her music lessons, where she'd been told for the billionth time how gifted she was.

I excused myself from the table. The last thing I needed to hear that day was the story of my sister's life, in which I, her twin, was allowed a very minor role. (1.90-91)

This pretty much sums up Louise's entire identity. She is the least favorite twin. The least gifted. The slightly dim one. It's not a great place to be.

Chapter 2

My mother, seeing my distress, said, "You were a good baby, Louise. You never gave us a minute's worry." She meant it to comfort me, but it only distressed me further. Shouldn't I have been at least a minute's worry? Wasn't it all the months of worry that had made Caroline's life so dear to them all? (2.17)

Poor, second-rate Louise. Grandma doesn't even remember anything about her (or pretends not to, anyway). Louise's mom tries a little harder, but Louise would like someone to worry about her for once. Is that so much to ask?

Chapter 13

Caroline kept the Jergens Lotion incident to herself, so no one else suspected that I was going crazy. I kept the knowledge locked within myself, taking it out from time to time to admire in secret. I was quite sure I was crazy, and it was amazing that as soon as I admitted it, I became quite calm. There was nothing I could do about it. I seemed relatively harmless. After all, I hadn't thrown the lotion bottle at anyone, just the wall. There was no need to warn or disturb my parents. I could probably live out my life on the island in my own quiet, crazy way, much as Auntie Braxton always had. No one paid much attention to her, and if it hadn't been for the cats, she would have probably lived and died in our midst, mostly forgotten by the rest of us. Caroline was sure to leave the island, so the house would be mine after my grandmother and my parents died. (With only a slight chill I contemplated the death of my parents.) I could crab like a man if I chose. Crazy people who are judged to be harmless are allowed an enormous amount of freedom ordinary people are denied. Thus as long as I left everyone alone, I could do as I pleased. Thinking about myself as a crazy, independent old woman made me feel almost happy. (13.1)

Louise is kind of right here—at least about the way crazy people are treated. If she truly is crazy, people are going to give her a wide berth. Hey, she'll be able to grow old alone and do whatever she wants. That's not such an awful fantasy for someone who's used to being forgotten, now is it?

Chapter 15

"Just have to see something." I took my Bible from our little crate bookcase, and bringing it over to the light, looked up the passage Grandma had cited. Romans, the ninth chapter and the thirteenth verse. The speaker was God.

I was shaking all over as I closed the book and got back under the covers. There was, then, no use struggling or even trying. It was God himself who hated me. And without cause. "Therefore," verse eighteen had gone on to rub it in, "hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth." God had chosen to hate me. And if my heart was hard, that was his doing as well. (15.11-12)

This is a pretty horrible moment for Louise. She realizes that all the bad stuff in her life is God's fault—dude just hates her. Wow. Moments like this will really shatter your sense of self. Like, majorly.

Chapter 16

Exactly what Call's return would mean to me, I could not say. I had not despised my life of the past two years, but I began to realize that it had been a time of hibernation, for I felt stirrings I had almost forgotten. Perhaps when Call came home—perhaps—well, at the very least when he came I could turn over my tasks to him. My father would be overjoyed to have a man to help him. And I—what was it I wanted? I could leave the island, if I wished. I could see the mountains. I could even take a job in Washington or Baltimore if I wanted to. If I chose to leave—there was something cold about the idea, but I shook it away.

I began to cream my hands each night, sloshing lotion all over them and sleeping in a pair of mother's worn white cotton gloves—perhaps the pair she was married in. Is that possible? It was stupid, I decided, to resign myself to being another Auntie Braxton. I was young and able, as my exams had proved. Without God, or a man, I could still conquer a small corner of the world—if I wanted to. My hands stubbornly refused to be softened. But I was determined not to give up on them this time. (16.8-9)

Louise is really at a crossroads here. Caroline is gone, which is a good thing, and Call might be coming back, which is also a good thing. Maybe Louise can turn this whole bitter and sad life around? Maybe she doesn't have to mope around on Rass Island all alone? If only she can use enough Jergens…

Chapter 17

"What is it you really want to do?"

I was totally blank. What was it I really wanted to do?

"Don't know?" It was almost a taunt. I was fidgeting under his gaze. "Your sister knew what she wanted, so when the chance came, she could take it."

I opened my mouth, but he waved me quiet. "You, Sara Louise. Don't tell me no one ever gave you a chance. You don't need anything given to you. You can make your own chances. But first you have to know what you're after, my dear." His tone was softening.

"When I was younger I wanted to go to boarding school in Crisfield—"

"Too late for that now."

"I—this sounds silly—but I would like to see the mountains."

"That's easy enough. Couple of hundred miles west is all." He waited, expecting more.

"I might—" the ambition began to form along with the sentence. "I want to be a doctor."

"So?" He was leaning forward, staring warmly at me. "So what's to stop you?" (17.76-85)

Finally, someone asks Louise what she wants and—surprise, surprise—she doesn't know the answer. She's been so focused on what she doesn't have that she's never thought about what she could have. Louise is surprised to learn that anyone thinks she's capable and strong, but that's what we've been seeing all along. There's hope for her yet.

Chapter 18

"You came to Rass instead of going to Paris?"

"It seemed romantic—" She began scrubbing again as she talked. "An isolated island in need of a schoolteacher. I felt—" She was laughing at herself. "I felt like one of the pioneer women, coming here. Besides—" She turned and looked at me, smiling at my incomprehension, "I had some notion that I would find myself here, as a poet, of course, but it wasn't just that."

The anger was returning. There was no good reason for me to be angry but my body was filled with it, the way it used to be when Caroline was home. "And did you find yourself here on this little island?" The question was coated with sarcasm.

She chose to ignore my tone. "I found very quickly," she scratched at something with her fingernail as she spoke, "I found there was nothing much to find."

I exploded. It was as though she had directly insulted me by speaking so slightingly of herself. "Why? Why did you throw yourself away?" I flung my rag into the bucket, sloshing grey ammonia water all over my ankles. Then I jumped from my chair and wrung out the rag as though it were someone's neck. "You had every chance in the world and you threw it all away for that—" and I jabbed my wrenched rag towards Grandma's face watching us petulantly from behind the glass.

"Please, Louise."

I turned so that I would not see either of their faces, a sob rising from deep inside me. I pounded on the side of the house to stop the tears, smashing out each syllable. "God in heaven, what a stupid waste."

She climbed off her chair and came over to me where I stood, leaning against the clapboard, shaking with tears of anger, grief—who knew what or for whom? She came round where I could see her, her arms halfway stretched out as though she would have liked to embrace me but dared not. I jumped aside. Did I think her touch would taint me? Somehow infect me with the weakness I perceived in her? "You could have done anything, been anything you wanted."

"But I am what I wanted to be," she said letting her arms fall to her sides. "I chose. No one made me become what I am." (18.24-32)

This is the big conversation about identity in the novel. Louise is annoyed because her mother doesn't see her life as a failure when Louise knows it clearly is. Her mother has the same life Louise does, and yet she's not holding onto the bitterness. Could that be the difference?

Chapter 19

"I knew there was something different about you. I kept wondering ever since you came. Why would a woman like you, who could have anything she wanted, come to a place like this? Now I understand." He left off stroking his daughter's hair and leaned forward, his big hands open as though he needed their help to explain his meaning. "God in heaven,"—I thought at first it was an oath, it had been so long since I'd heard the expression used in any other way—"God in heaven's been raising you for this valley from the day you were born."

I was furious. He didn't know anything about me or the day I was born or he'd never say such a foolish thing, sitting there so piously at his kitchen table, sounding for all the world like a Methodist preacher. (19.35-36)

Seems like Louise's future husband actually knows a whole lot about her. Louise might have thought God so hated her that she was forgotten and left behind, but it's not true at all. She has strength. She has determination. She has a purpose. You go, Sara Louise Bradshaw.

But it was I who killed you! I wanted to scream it out, whether to confess or frighten, I don't know. I beat you with my pole. I'm a murderer. Like Cain. But [Caroline] was breathing quietly, no longer bothered by my dream or by me. (6.10)

And Louise's image of self begins to change. She's not just the forgotten twin; now, she's a sister killer. Sure, Louise isn't going to actually go through with any of this—and feels terrible for even thinking it—but there's a weird power in this dream. Maybe Louise could become the center of attention once again … by becoming a murderer.

I suppose if alcohol had been available to me that November, I would have become a drunk. As it was, the only thing I could lose my miserable self in was books. We didn't have many. I know that now. I have been to libraries on the mainland, and I know that between my home and the school there was very little. But I had all of Shakespeare and Walter Scott and Dickens and Fenimore Cooper. Every night I pulled the black air raid curtains to and read on and on, huddled close to our bedroom lamp. Can you imagine the effect of The Last of the Mohicans on a girl like me? It was not the selfless Cora, but Uncas and Uncas alone whom I adored. Uncas, standing ready to die before the Delaware, when an enemy warrior tears off his hunting shirt revealing the bright blue tortoise tattooed on Uncas's breast.

Oh, to have a bright blue tortoise—something that proclaimed my uniqueness to the world. But I was not the last of the Mohicans or the only of anything. I was Caroline Bradshaw's twin sister. (14.1-2)

Of course, Louise wants to be special and unique like Uncas in The Last of the Mohicans. Caroline plays the Cora part well (damsel in distress), but Louise is the warrior ready to fight for her birthright. Or, at least, she thinks she might be.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...