4. I felt the shadow still there, over me. It wasn’t just my father, but the generations who made my father whose weight was still upon me.
This passage, given by Sara as the final line of the novel, suggests that despite her profession, her romantic partner, and the many gains she has made for herself, Sara’s struggle for an independent identity is far from over. Her once mighty father has become frail, and despite the alternatives Sara has tried to set up, the weight of expectation is pushing her into taking him into her own home. She knows it is what she has been taught to do, and the fiancé who has already moved her closer to cultural acceptance is so aware of the proper way of doing things that he assumes Reb Smolinsky will be moving in without a word of discussion. Though Sara can see the tyranny that will reenter her life, Hugo doesn’t understand, seeing only the community belief that serving their elders, particularly their male elders, brings blessings into the younger people’s lives. Despite how far she has come in developing her identity, the life her culture requires and expects is still waiting for her, ready to take advantage of the slightest slip in her vigilance.
Despite her dread, Sara still feels tied to her family. Her efforts to gain an education separated her from her family for six years, and the guilt she feels about coming back when her mother is dying lead her to promise to fulfill her mother’s last wish: to take care of her father. Feeling as though she failed her mother in life, Sara feels she has to sacrifice her own independence in order not to fail her mother in death. Also, Sara begins to teach herself to see her father through her mother’s eyes and to see that, despite his faults, he is a lonely old man whose internal candle is flickering out. Sara remembers this flame she was once so in awe of and wants to keep it lit, but to do so would bring Reb Smolinsky under her own roof and, she fears, restore to him the power he once had over her. In a way, her love proves to be just as solid a trap as her culture.