Study Guide

Jessaline O'Harris in One Whole and Perfect Day

By Judith Clarke

Jessaline O'Harris

Ever feel pressured to participate in a school activity, take a particular class, or even choose a college major because it's what your parents want you to do? That's exactly what Jessaline, Clara's friend in her dorm, struggles with throughout One Whole and Perfect Day. Big time.

While her parents, who teach at the college, think she's a respectable linguistics major, Jessaline has a big secret: She's planning to ditch dialects and language for the school's hospitality program, which is kind of like a culinary school with customer service skills thrown in. It's not exactly the hoity-toity intellectual career her parents have hoped for.

Jessaline's main issue is that she's so focused on pleasing her parents that she nearly forgets about her own happiness. Even when she does officially decide to change her major, she does so with fear that her parents will find out, or that one of their friends in the administration building will tell on her. "They would sit by her bed and argue," Jessaline imagines, "they would disapprove, and if Jessaline didn't give in to them, they would get… plaintive […] as if she, their only child had done them wrong" (32.8). Like Lily, Jessaline thinks she has other people figured out.

Eventually, though, her love for cooking wins out: "She'd have to have it out with them sometime, so why not get it over with? 'It's my life, not yours!'—that's what she'd say" (38.5). And you know what? She does just that. And in this, Jessaline offers a bit of contrast to Lily. While Lily thinks she's knows what's up with everyone and uses it as an excuse to try to micromanage her family's life, Jessaline works to step up and take control of her own life, no matter what her family thinks.

Jessaline's storyline, while small compared to the other characters, helps illustrate the novel's theme of family, particularly what right parents have to comment on their children's choices of careers, interests, and even life mates. She may be timid at first, but Jessaline's dream of owning a restaurant and the pull she feels toward the homey atmosphere of the hospitality school ultimately lead her away from her desire to please her parents. For more on this, be sure to swing by the "Themes" section.