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Serena is anything but serene. In fact, she's manipulative, cunning, and completely devoted to the timber business. Murderously devoted, to be exact. So it should come as no surprise that Serena rubs some people the wrong way.
Let's take a look at our introduction to this gal. We expect Serena to be shocked and a little put out by the fact that her new hubby's baby mama shows up at the train station to welcome them home. Instead, though, we see Serena encourage a fight and then callously dispose of the knife:
"Here," Serena said, holding the knife by the blade. "By all rights it belongs to my husband. It's a fine knife, and you can get a good price for it if you demand one. And I would," she added. "Sell it, I mean. That money will help when the child is born. It's all you'll ever get from my husband and me." (1.86)
Well then. After this, we know Serena is a force to be reckoned with. She can take down a bear, fire workers, and even kill an old widow, all without working up a sweat. In fact, it seems like there's nothing that Serena won't do to make sure she gets her way. (Maybe that's why so many people compare her to Lady Macbeth). We're even a little afraid of her cold-hearted attitude, and we're just reading about her.
When Serena gets knocked up, she doesn't back off either. The doc (and Pemberton at times) encourages her to take it easy, but it falls on deaf ears—she knows her baby can take it. Listen to what she says about her unborn child: "I believe it still applies to the essence of our natures. Fire found fire when Pemberton and I met, and that will be the humor of our child" (19.56). In short, you'd best fall in line, fetus.
Serena is certain her kid will be feisty. We don't doubt that for one second (if solely because feistiness might be essential for survival), but we never get the chance to see if Serena's right because she loses her baby boy, almost dying herself in the process. It's hard not to feel badly for her, especially because she's told she'll never be able to have another child. We're not saying this excuses what she does in the rest of the novel, but we know that not being able to have a baby is tough on anyone… especially a control freak like Serena.
Serena does what she knows how to do best, though, after this crisis: She picks herself up, dusts herself off, and murders anyone who steps in her way.
By anyone who steps in her way, we're totally including her husband. We're a little shocked when Serena kills Pemberton, not because we didn't think she was capable (she more than proves herself in this department) but because the two of them are so close earlier in the book.
Eventually even Pemberton crosses her, though, or so she thinks—she interprets his small gesture of kindness toward his own son as betrayal. Most of us would see sending some money your kid's way as just doing the right thing, but not Serena. She arranges Pemberton's funeral (read: poisons him) so she doesn't have to be vulnerable anymore. As she tells her hubby earlier in the book, "others can make us vulnerable and the sooner such vulnerabilities are dealt with the better" (25.26). If there's one thing she hates, it's being susceptible to other people. Even her man.
Did you notice that Serena doesn't witness Pemberton's murder or carry it out herself? We can't help but wonder whether this indicates that she still feels something toward Pemberton, even if she doesn't want to admit it to herself. It's clear that she genuinely cares for her husband and wants to be with him—she's always trying to reinforce their team—despite being disappointed by his softer (ahem, human) side.
Do you think Serena still loves Pemberton? Does she just have Galloway murder him out of convenience? Over to you, Shmoopers.
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