Mother's transformations manifest themselves most clearly in her increasing awareness of her own sexuality. Doctorow writes, "She was in some way not as vigorously modest as she'd been. She took his gaze. She came to bed with her hair unbraided. Her hand one night brushed down his chest and came to rest below his nightshirt." This highly dramatic passage addresses not only the ways in which Mother and Father have changed in each other's absence, but also the differences on their perspectives on sexuality. Father seems to experience a profound sense of immorality in deriving pleasure from sex, as evident in his fear of God's judgment. In this sense, as well as in many of his other social views, Father represents a traditional male at the turn of the century, incapable of real change, resentful of the altered world around him, which is beyond his control, and rigid in his conceptions of morality. Doctorow writes, "Father related it to the degrees of turn in the moral planet. He saw it everywhere, this new season, and it bewildered him."

The little boy possesses an enormous curiosity about the world around him and consistently expresses engagement in it. Doctorow writes of the stories of Ovid, "They were stories of people who became animals or trees or statues. They were stories of transformation. Women turned into sunflowers, spiders, bats, birds; men turned into snakes, pigs, stones and even thin air." These stories engage the little boy's imagination and in addition "propose[d] to him that the forms of life were volatile and that everything in the world could as easily be something else." In addition, in the course of the novel the boy also undergoes the physical and emotional transition into the beginning stages of manhood. His increasing self-awareness attests to this growth.