Quote 1

A few blocks south lay the Walnut Street Prison, where Blanchard had flown that remarkable balloon. From the prison’s courtyard it rose, a yellow silk bubble escaping earth. I vowed to do that one day, slip free of the ropes that held me. Nathaniel Benson had heard me say it, but did not laugh.

Matilda narrates this daydream in Chapter One, describing the bustling city of Philadelphia as her mother scolds her in the background for not being ready for work. Matilda desires escape from the confines of her responsibilities, which she views as a prison. She wants to rise from the prison and escape just like the famous yellow balloon. The freedom Matilda desires will come, but it won’t look anything like she imagines. The balloon foreshadows Matilda’s own journey but not towards freedom, as she believes. Instead, the yellow color of Blanchard’s balloon symbolizes the fever that will strike. At the end of the story, Matilda reflects on the balloon again. In her maturity, she realizes the ropes of the balloon aren’t her family and responsibilities tethering her down. Instead, they keep her grounded. She learns that traveling isn’t true escape as problems always follow. Freedom is a day full of possibilities that she is fortunate to face.

Quote 2

Tears threatened again. I sniffed and tried to control my face. No one could ever tell what Mother thought or felt by looking at her. This was a useful trait. I needed to learn how to do it. There were so many things she had tried to teach me, but I didn’t listen.

Matilda narrates this moment in Chapter Nine where her first role reversal with Lucille takes place. The moment is particularly devastating because only a short while ago, Lucille was tossed into the street on the verge of death and Matilda was left alone as the sole person to watch over her. This is the first time Matilda must let go of her selfishness and care for the person who has always cared for her. It is this immense responsibility that kickstarts Matilda’s transformation into maturity by allowing her to understand and have empathy for her mother’s perspective. Mother is protective because she loves Matilda and is terrified of losing her. To be Matilda’s protector, Lucille had to learn to set aside emotions so she could make rational decisions despite what she felt. Whereas Matilda once thought this trait showed her mother’s cruelty, she now wishes to have the same kind of strength.

Quote 3

The shape of my face looked for all the world like Mother’s, her nose, her mouth.

But my eyes were my own. I blinked.

A scullery maid? Ridiculous. I was Matilda Cook, daughter of Lucille, granddaughter of Captain William Farnsworth Cook, of the Pennsylvania Fifth Regiment. I could read, write, and figure numbers faster than most. I was not afraid of hard work.
I would set my own course.

Matilda narrates this quote in Chapter 26 as she examines her reflection in a shop window. As she begins to lose hope that Lucille is alive, Matilda contemplates what will become of her and fears the worst. Her outlook is grim and grants the power over her life to others, showing that for all of her wishing to be treated as an adult, deep down she still feels like a child with no control over her life. She fears she will be forced into the life of a scullery maid. As if for the first time, Matilda notices her own resemblance to Lucille and realizes she’s inherited her mother’s strength and her grandfather’s bravery. She also possesses enough intelligence to accomplish any goal she sets for herself. It’s this realization that changes Matilda’s outlook on the future. No matter what difficulties are sent her way, her innate ability to overcome obstacles will guide her. She doesn’t need anyone else to tell her what to do with her life because she has internalized the lessons of her family and is capable of navigating life without them.