Study Guide

My Sister's Keeper What's Up With the Epigraph?

By Jodi Picoult

What's Up With the Epigraph?

Prologue:
No one starts a war—or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so—without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.
– Carl von Clausewitz, Von Kriege

Monday:

Brother, I am fire
Surging under ocean floor.
I shall never meet you, brother—
Not for years, anyhow;
Maybe thousands of years, brother.
Then I will warm you,
Hold you close, wrap you in circles,
Use you and change you—
Maybe thousands of years, brother.
Carl Sandburg, "Kin"

Tuesday:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
– Edna St. Vincent Millay, "First Fig," A Few Figs from Thistles

Wednesday:

I will read ashes for you, if you ask me.
I will look in the fire and tell you from the gray lashes
And out of the red and black tongues and stripes,
I will tell how fire comes
And how fire runs as far as the sea.
– Carl Sandburg, "Fire Pages"

Thursday:

You, if you were sensible,
When I tell you the stars flash signals, each one dreadful,
You would not turn and answer me
"The night is wonderful."
D.H. Lawrence, "Under the Oak"

Friday:

Doubt thou that the stars are fire;
Doubt thou that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt that I love.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet

The Weekend:

There is no fire without some smoke.
– John Heywood, Proverbes

Monday:

How great a matter a little fire kindleth!
The New Testament, James 3:5

Tuesday:

A little fire is quickly trodden out;
Which, being suffered, rivers can not quench.
– William Shakespeare, King Henry VI
Wednesday:

Yet form those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible.
John Milton, Paradise Lost
Thursday:

One fire burns out another's burning,
One pain is lessen'd by another's anguish.
– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Epilogue:

When along the pavement,
Palpitating flames of life,
People flicker round me,
I forget my bereavement,
The gap in the great constellation,
The place where a star used to be.
– D.H. Lawrence, "Submergence"

This book is not epigraphically challenged in the least. Every section begins with some sort of literary quote, usually involving fire or stars, two of the book's main symbols (so be sure to swing by the "Symbols" section). The first one (the epigraphiest of all the epigraphs) is the only one that doesn't have to do with flames or deep space, and it perhaps sums up the book the best. What Anna does from the very beginning starts a war—with her own family.

However, we don't think Anna does a good job following that quote. She has no idea what she intends to achieve, or how to go about it. After hiring an attorney, she constantly waffles back and forth on whether or not she wants to go through with the lawsuit or not, because she's not sure if she's ready to face the consequences.

The rest of the epigraphs, as we said, deal with our major symbols, so definitely check out their pages in the "Symbols" section. We do wonder why the epigraphs seem to get shorter and shorter. Is this because the family problems start to get tied up the farther we get into the book, or did Picoult just get tired typing them? We'll let you mull that one over.

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