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Partly as a result of her disadvantaged beginnings, Molly learns the importance of humor both as a survival mechanism and as a device for self-advancement. She employs it in elementary school to become best friends with her first crush, Leota. She uses it in middle and high school to become popular among her wealthier classmates, managing to avoid their resentment even though she is smarter, more beautiful, and more athletic than they are. As Molly grows older, she uses humor to make her controversial opinions and behavior more palatable. Her amusing social observations to Polina about how sex sells not only bring Polina around to her point of view but also make Polina feel more comfortable about having sex with her. Throughout the novel, Brown uses humor as a method of inclusion and persuasion. The constant joking wins readers’ loyalty, even as Brown casts a critical eye at how society mistreats women, gays, minorities, and the poor.
Brown gives many of her characters names that reveal something significant about their personalities. Molly’s surname, Bolt, suggests that Molly surges with energy, much like a bolt of lightning. It also suggests that Molly anchors her convictions with steadfast stubbornness, just as a bolt that fastens two things together. In both senses, Bolt aptly characterizes Molly’s plucky resolve. The similarity of Paul and Polina’s names implies that they are facsimiles of each other, an idea that gains credence as they both reveal their penchant for academic debate and transsexual fantasies. Likewise, the similarity of the names Holly and Molly suggests that despite their frequent airing of differences, the two women are more alike than they think. Molly criticizes Holly for her social climbing, but she is just as guilty of it when she is a teenager—she is thrilled to have sex with Carolyn because she is the head cheerleader. And though Molly disapproves of Holly’s idea to go to Paris to clear her head, Molly herself makes a ritual of escaping her problems by leaving New York.
Molly narrates the story in the past tense, from a time just after the novel’s final events. However, she occasionally shifts into the present tense when depicting a particularly remarkable scene or strongly felt emotion in order to signify that her impressions during that specific moment are still very much with her. This narrative trick helps reveal particularly vulnerable aspects of Molly’s life and puts us right in the moment with her. In these sections, Molly’s feelings take on an immediacy that distinguishes them from the rest of the text. This technique works particularly well when Molly recreates her reaction to Carrie’s calling her a bastard in Chapter 1. Her lapse into the present tense demonstrates how strongly Molly feels her illegitimacy as a seven-year-old girl—and continues to feel it even as a twenty-something relating the story.
Brown often uses roles and role-playing to highlight Molly’s struggle to define her identity. Strangely, the role-playing that occurs during scenes of actual stage acting tend to have a stronger basis in reality than do the scenes in which Molly is forced to play roles in real life. Cast as the Virgin Mary in her sixth-grade production of the Nativity, Molly finds herself in a position like Carrie’s: a mother caring for an illegitimate child. Molly’s fight in this scene with her school rival Cheryl, who plays Joseph, and the subsequent breakdown of the play dramatize the effect that Molly believes she has at home, where she witnesses Carl and Carrie fight over her. Molly’s casting as one of the Weird Sisters in her high school production of Macbeth, along with her best friends Carolyn and Connie, also seems revealing, given Molly’s sexual relations with Carolyn.
Molly’s sexual identity as a lesbian forces her to play various phony roles in her real life. The greatest acting Molly undertakes involves convincing the university psychiatrists that she is normal enough to rejoin society after being hospitalized for her lesbianism and aggression toward Dean Marne. Similarly, Molly finds that in the trashier gay bars in New York, lesbians typically take on gender roles in matters of behavior and sex. For example, there are “butch” lesbians, who assume a man’s role and become the active, aggressive partner in a sexual encounter. There are also “femme” lesbians, who assume a woman’s role and become the more passive partner. Molly is femme, but she lies that she is butch to a butch lesbian named Mighty Moe in order to avoid her advances. Through these experiences, Molly comes to distrust the idea of roles in real life because they limit one’s individuality by dictating behavior.
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