Though everything comes up Caroline in Jacob Have I Loved, the main character in the story is actually her sister, Miss Sara Louise Bradshaw. It's a good thing, too, since as far as Louise can tell, we'd probably ignore her completely if she weren't the narrator.
Louise sees herself as a minor player in the epic show that is her sister Caroline's life. Caroline is perfect and talented, but Louise is just an awkward nobody when she's standing by her side. It doesn't exactly bode well for sisterly affection.
The summer that Louise turns 13, she really starts to freak out about the differences between her and Caroline—and she starts to resent them a whole lot more. Why should Caroline get all the attention? Why should she be able to sing the best? Why should everyone love Caroline more? It's always Caroline, Caroline, Caroline.
To be clear, we're not saying that Louise is totally off base about this. It's just that she takes her resentment to an extreme level:
I often dreamed that Caroline was dead. Sometimes I would get word of her death—the ferry had sunk with her and my mother aboard, or more often the taxi had crashed and her lovely body had been consumed in the flames. Always there were two feelings in the dream—a wild exultation that now I was free of her and … terrible guilt. I once dreamed that I had killed her with my own hands. I had taken the heavy oak pole with which I guided my skiff. She had come to the shore, begging for a ride. In reply I had raised the pole and beat, beat, beat. In the dream her mouth made the shape of screaming, but no sound came out. The only sound of the dream was my own laughter. I woke up laughing, a strange shuddering kind of laugh that turned at once into sobs. (6.6)
Yeah, that's pretty intense. Living with Caroline can't be fun, but it's not like it's actually terrible—Louise might fall by the wayside, but she isn't the recipient of true cruelty. By this point, Louise just isn't thinking clearly. She's let resentment and bitterness take hold of her, and she is not going to let go, not for anything.
It takes years for Louise to forgive her sister, to get over the fact that Caroline got every advantage in the world while Louise got nothing. Once she's living in Appalachia and working as a midwife, Louise assists with the birth of twins, one of whom—like Caroline—struggles the moment she's born. When she's tending to this little baby who reminds her a whole lot of her sickly sister, Louise realizes the truth of the matter: Caroline needed all the help she got. Louise had strength all along; she just never realized it. With that, she finally forgives her sister. Phew.
Caroline isn't the only person in her family that Louise clashes with, though. Her grandma is quite a piece of work, too, and since Grandma seems to delight in criticizing Louise, they don't have the best relationship:
"Ain't you going down for the ferry?"
"I hadn't thought to."
"It wouldn't hurt you to think a little. Your mother's likely to have heavy groceries."
"Caroline's with her, Grandma."
"You know full well that little child ain't got the strength to carry heavy groceries."
I could have said several things but all of them were rude, so I kept my mouth shut.
"Why do you look at me like that?" she asked.
"With bullets in your eyes. Like you want to shoot me dead. All I want you to do is help your poor mother." (4.28-36)
See what we mean? And this is a fairly standard interaction between Louise and Grandma, both of whom have hard hearts. Louise has a better bond with her mother and father, though. Sure, they might do all kinds of things for Caroline, but Louise realizes that they don't love her any less. They might worry less about Louise, but they do care about her, so at least Louise has their love to fall back on, small comfort though it may be.
Even though Louise has a love/hate relationship with her family at times, she desperately clings to them. She can't bear the thought of leaving them, even when it's clear that she needs to go. Louise's identity as the poor, put-upon child is so much a part of who she is that she can't let it go. Hey, if she moves away from her family, how will she know she's the second-best daughter?
In the end, Louise learns to forgive her grandmother and parents for all the little slights. Sure, Grandma never really comes back into her good graces, but Louise understands why her parents lived their lives the way they did and why they raised her to be who she is. She knows that they've always seen her as strong and independent and it gives her the courage to move on with her life and let go of some of the warm, fuzzy hate she's been holding onto. That's always a good thing.
It isn't all family all the time, however, and Louise has some pretty key friendships in this story, though she's not always the best friend in return. She starts out with just Call by her side but then gradually opens up to include the Captain in her social circle. Of course, that's not without a fight:
If I'd been a more generous person, I'd have been happy that Call had found a man to be close to. He didn't remember his own father, and if any boy needed a father it was Call. But I was not a generous person. I couldn't afford to be. Call was my only friend. If I gave him up to the Captain, I'd have no one. (5.138)
Louise is possessive of Call and the Captain, especially when it seems like Caroline might move in as part of their friend group. She sees them as her property, so while she's not giving much in return besides an annoyed attitude, she expects a lot from them. Louise feels free to be her bitter self around them and doesn't really care much if they like it—she'd like them to remain available to her.
This all comes crashing down when both Call and the Captain marry other ladies. Heck, we'll even go so far as to say nicer ladies. Eventually, Louise has to discover what relationships are really made of. No one will be your friend or your boyfriend just because you want them to be—you have to treat others with kindness and love if you want them to do the same for you.
Does she learn her lessons easily? Nope, but in some ways, this makes it only more impressive when Louise finally sees the error of her ways. She might be stubborn, but she's not as stuck as she feels, remaining more open to new ideas and ways of relating to people than she sees herself as being. You go, Louise.