The Traveling Pants represent the girls’ friendship and the powerful, positive influence it has in all four girls’ lives. The girls are all very different, with different personalities, interests, worries, and family situations. The Pants, which fit all four girls beautifully despite their very different body shapes, demonstrate that the girls’ friendship is so strong that differences don’t matter. In a way, their differences are what bond them, since they care about each other so much as individuals. Just as the girls support and inspire one another, the Pants help them to do things they find difficult or unpleasant. By putting on the Pants, the girls feel as though they’re surrounded by their friends, and this feeling gives them the power to move forward, take risks, and do what needs to be done. Each girl acts independently when she puts on the Pants, but she gains courage by knowing that her friends are behind her, if only in spirit. The Pants are like a physical form of the strong friendship among the girls.
The Pants are important to the girls during this significant summer. In previous summers, the girls spent all their time together, sharing clothes, hanging out, and discussing every small detail of their experiences. This summer, they’ll barely see one another at all. Having never spent any significant amount of time apart, the girls depend on the Pants to keep them connected. By agreeing to send the Pants back and forth, they guarantee to one another that they’ll stay in touch and constantly think about one another even as they spend the summer on their own. However, the girls don’t really need the Pants to stay close. The Pants help each girl feel as though the friends are together, but their memories of their friends—and not the Pants—are what really give them courage. When Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget put on the Pants and imagine what their friends would say or how their friends would act, they are drawing on the strength of their friendship, not on any true power of the Pants. Even without the Traveling Pants, the girls’ friendship would survive the physical distance that divides them this summer, because the friendship is so solid inside each of the girls themselves.
Tibby’s pet guinea pig, Mimi, represents the fragility of life and gives Tibby her first experience of death. Tibby has had Mimi since she was seven years old, and sometimes she compares herself to Mimi. Tibby envies Mimi when her own life is going badly, wishing she could be all alone in a box and not have to face her problems. When Tibby’s life is going well, she feels sorry for Mimi for having to just sleep and eat all day instead of being part of the world outside. Tibby loves Mimi, but she often takes her for granted, assuming Mimi will always be there. When Bailey meets Mimi, she helps Tibby to see Mimi in a new light. Tibby has been used to no one taking any interest in Mimi, and Bailey helps Tibby appreciate her all over again.
When Mimi dies, Tibby learns the importance of living life to the fullest. At first, she denies the truth, and she puts Mimi’s dead body in the freezer to avoid acknowledging that Mimi is really gone. At the same time, Tibby avoids acknowledging how sick Bailey is, preferring to just pretend that nothing is wrong. Only when Tibby faces the difficult truth about Bailey, and eventually goes to her funeral, does she understand how precious life is. Instead of turning away from life and its inevitable conclusion—death—Tibby embraces it. She buries Mimi near Bailey’s grave, wanting them to be together. Instead of wishing she could hide from life, as Mimi could in her box, Tibby decides to live as much as she can.
Tibby’s film, a documentary of her summer at home, represents the change in how Tibby sees the world. Tibby is disgusted that she has to stay home in Bethesda, Maryland, while her friends go elsewhere for the summer, and she is even more disgusted that she has to spend her time working at Wallman’s. Expecting to hate everything and everyone around her, Tibby decides to make a scathing documentary of her life—a “suckumentary,” as she calls it. Tibby sees the world through a sarcastic, biting lens that doesn’t allow any room for compassion or understanding. She assumes everyone is ridiculous and that she is better than they are. By making a film that makes fun of those around her, Tibby shows how superior she feels. However, Tibby’s film turns out much different than she expected. Because Bailey helps Tibby look more closely at other people and see what’s inside of them, Tibby finds it harder to make fun of people automatically. Instead, she begins to see that people have difficult lives and sad stories, and that they aren’t as worthless as she has once thought. Instead of a comical, meanly funny film about ridiculous people, Tibby’s film turns out to be a touching exploration of people whose lives are very different from hers. Tibby has learned to see the world in an entirely new way.