Why does Sal resent Margaret Cadaver? What emotional breakthrough helps her overcome that resentment? Why is this breakthrough so crucial?
Sal resents Mrs. Cadaver because she suspects that she is taking her mother's place in her father's life. Sal feels angry that she and her father left the farm in the first place. In fact, only Sal's insistence prevented her father from selling the farm outright in order to be rid of the place filled with so many painful reminders of his beloved wife. Sal, who often must struggle to understand the complexity and ambiguity of adult behavior, perceives his desire to sell the farm and leave as a betrayal of or attempt to forget her mother, not as an attempt to lessen his overwhelming pain. Sal perceives his alliance with Margaret Cadaver in the same light, and, although this friendship was actually borne of Mrs. Cadaver's friendship with Sal's mother, resents her father for being unfaithful to her mother's memory. Sal's refusal even to hear the story Mrs. Cadaver's and her mother's friendship signals her disapproval of her father's actions as much as her dislike for Margaret.
Sal resolves to put this resentment behind her after witnessing Mrs. Winterbottom's dramatic homecoming. Phoebe's bravery and resolve to learn about and come to terms with the "new" Mrs. Winterbottom inspires Sal to accept and face up to the changes in her own life. Moreover, her alliance with Phoebe has taught Sal about her own mother and the complexity of emotions she experienced before her departure. Part of Sal's refusal to move on and let go of her memories of her mother stemmed from her urge to idealize her mother and to blame her father and herself for not doing more to stop her mother from leaving. Mrs. Winterbottom's transformation teaches Sal that mothers, too, are people who struggle to define themselves in a way that feels true and to honor competing loyalties and emotions. These realizations, perhaps the most important in the book, not only allow Sal to make amends with Margaret Cadaver, but give her the strength to embark upon her journey and face its challenges.
Why are the Winterbottoms so unhappy? How will Mrs. Winterbottom's return change them? Why do you think so?
Socially constructed roles and concerns confine the Winterbottoms. Mr. Winterbottom is a stereotypically distant, upright, breadwinning father, Mrs. Winterbottom is a dutiful and powerless housewife, and Phoebe and Prudence, severely confined by what they perceive to be "proper" and "normal," are typical teenage girls, selfish and thoughtless, worried about gaining weight and making the cheerleading squad. The four, so caught up in their own concerns, rarely seem to connect with each other except in moments of anger and criticism. Mrs. Winterbottom, especially, attempts, by performing her duties so faithfully, to communicate her love for her family, but her family, by and large, takes her work for granted and does not see it as an expression of love.
When Mrs. Winterbottom leaves, her family realizes for the first time how integral her work was to their everyday lives. The family grows increasingly desperate as the days pass, and by the time Mrs. Winterbottom returns, this fear has catalyzed a desire to communicate with her genuinely: they do not simply long to have her back the way she was before, they are ready to accept her on any terms she sees fit. Mr. Winterbottom, who dismisses Mrs. Winterbottom's concerns about respectability, feels most concerned with the difficulty she had communicating with him, and her daughters each resolve to accept their "new" mother. These behaviors indicate that the Winterbottoms desire change and greater communication. Mrs. Winterbottom's admission of her secret past will likely pave the path for greater honesty, communication, and acceptance amongst her family members.
Why is Sal's mother so devastated by her miscarriage? What role does the miscarriage play in her decision to leave?
The miscarriage has a complicated effect on Sal's mother. First and most simply, it drains her profoundly both physically and emotionally—she has lost a baby and nearly lost her life. Secondly, the resulting hysterectomy has precluded the possibility of her having any more children. This in and of itself may have devastated her, as early in their marriage, she and her husband looked forward to filling the house up with children. At the same time, the novel parallels Sal's mother with Mrs. Winterbottom, who feels overwhelmed by the smallness of her life as a wife and mother. Perhaps Sal's mother also felt confined by the role of mother, and her inability to have any more children resulted in conflicting feelings of relief, inadequacy, and regret. If she could not be a mother again, whether this was a relief or not, she had to re-evaluate her life, since Sal was growing up and would not need her much longer. Thirdly, Sal's mother may have been struggling with her own emotions regarding Sal's role in the early labor and miscarriage. She saved one child, Sal, but may have sacrificed another as a result. Sal's mother perhaps could not handle this conflict: it emphasized her feeling that she was not as perfect as her husband by demonstrating that she could not be a good mother for Salamanca and the new baby.