Summary: Chapter 75

On the plane home, Elaine sits next to two old women playing cards together. They laugh carefreely. Elaine realizes that this image of two women happy together is what she misses the most about Cordelia: something that she will never have.

Analysis: Chapters 71-75

While at the retrospective, Elaine has gained perspective and emotional distance from her trauma. Beyond forgiving figures who haunted her past, like Mrs. Smeath, Elaine stops reading the worst motives into Charna and her teenage fan’s behavior, signaling that Elaine no longer fears other women. The chronological presentation of the paintings offers one possible explanation for Elaine’s newfound calm. Throughout the novel, Elaine has followed emotional time, allowing various scenes from her life to surface in her mind based on where in Toronto she was and what memories were triggered. Now she sees her art, through which she expressed her emotions at various points in her life, laid out linearly, in chronological time, which allows her to emotionally remain in the present as she looks at them. She can, in effect, put the past behind the present. Unlike at the school yard, where she viscerally felt trapped at nine-years-old, she can step back from her old emotions enough to look at Mrs. Smeath with new, more compassionate eyes. Elaine can also feel secure in the young fan’s praise and not dwell on the sting of the girl unintentionally calling her old because she no longer feels under attack. 

Cordelia’s absence from the exhibition finally forces Elaine to begin forgiving Cordelia. Elaine believes she needs to see Cordelia because Cordelia offers the key to understanding which of them has come out on top, The repetition of “you’re dead” evokes the war games Elaine played with Stephen, which suggests Elaine believes at least in part that she and Cordelia to have been locked in a game. Just as Stephen’s war games were childish misunderstandings of the horrors of war, Elaine’s competition with Cordelia reflects her misunderstanding of sisterhood as a power struggle. Without Cordelia there to see her artwork and achievement, Elaine cannot have the satisfaction of showing Cordelia how famous and powerful she has become. Worse, Elaine realizes she has lost Cordelia for good and will never reconnect with her. Given Cordelia’s fragile state during their last meeting, Elaine has reason to believe Cordelia may even be dead. In seeing the two women on the airplane at the end, Elaine regrets that her desire for vengeance ruined a possibility of a future with Cordelia. She has lost the possibility of them finally becoming the eccentric old women they once admired on the streetcar. 

Elaine finally processes her guilt by returning to the ravine that crystalized her trauma. In recreating the trauma, she imagines nine-year-old Cordelia in her place, recognizing that Cordelia at nine felt just as lost as she did, with a bully of her own at home. Elaine has resisted admitting that Cordelia had also been a victim as a child because she thought it would weaken her, causing her to lose the all-or-nothing power struggle between them. Now understanding the pitfalls of justice, Elaine offers mercy and compassion to Cordelia. Elaine takes on the role of the Virgin Mary in this recreation for several reasons. First, the Virgin Mary generally represents mercy, and Elaine now offers mercy. In addition, the black dress Elaine wears recalls the Virgin of Lost Things, emphasizing that Cordelia has transitioned to a lost part of Elaine’s life. Finally, the Virgin Mary represents Elaine making peace with her own adulthood. Throughout the novel, Elaine has panicked about getting older, but here she rewrites her story with herself in the role of an adult protector. The Virgin Mary represents a version of adult womanhood that Elaine admires and finds strength in, and so in taking Mary’s role, she accepts that adulthood for herself.