Mrs. Winterbottom's quest for reconciliation with her past and self-renewal challenges the roles of all her family members, especially Mr. Winterbottom. For the first time, he realizes how much the functioning of the household depends on her, and, as the days pass and she does not return, he becomes more and more aware of how much he depends on her emotionally, finally breaking into tears, though Phoebe has never before seen him cry. When Mrs. Winterbottom returns, he worries that she may be having an affair—he becomes visibly upset when Prudence tells him Mrs. Winterbottom is bringing a man with her when she returns home and frets over his wife's reaction to the house. When she does finally arrive, his voice and hands tremble, and he defied Mrs. Winterbottom's understanding of him by avowing that he does not care whether she is respectable, he only cares whether or not she feels she can communicate with him. Mrs. Winterbottom's decision to leave has forced him to reexamine his role as father and husband.
The two girls, before facing up to their respective challenges, mimic Phoebe's mother by spitting into the road. This act symbolizes Phoebe's decision to accept and even embrace Mrs. Winterbottom's defiance of the role and behaviors she herself, with the reinforcement of her husband and daughters, has thus far in her life prescribed for herself. Moreover, it shows Phoebe, with Sal's support, relinquishing some of her own overly developed sense of propriety. The significance of Phoebe's decision also indicates the significance of Sal's decision to talk to Margaret Cadaver. Although Sal downplays this decision by withholding the details of the encounter from us at this point in the narrative, this confrontation takes as much courage and resolve as her decision to travel to Lewiston to see her mother. The girls' spitting recalls a compact, in which two partners spit in their palms and shake. Together, the two girls agree that they must, on their own but with the support of the other, face their dragons.