Analysis: Chapter 18

When Ida’s relationship with Clara turns sour, it is Ida’s first experience with betrayal. Clara, whom Ida believes is her close friend, turns out to have been looking out only for herself. Clara thrives on the attention the nuns give her and shows little or no concern for Ida. Ida’s indignant attitude toward Clara now seems largely justified, but Dorris’s technique of eventually revealing why each character behaves the way she does makes it hard to pass judgment on Clara. In the same way that Rayona’s indignation toward Christine seems baseless once Christine has the chance to tell her story and Christine’s indignation toward Ida seems misplaced now that Ida is giving her viewpoint, we cannot help but wonder whether Clara might also be vindicated if she were given an opportunity to tell her story. It is difficult to exonerate Clara completely, however, because after Ida tells her story Dorris leaves no room for Clara to explain her own motives.

In this chapter Dorris illuminates the origins of several details that appear in Rayona and Christine’s narratives, and once they are explained we realize these details demonstrate Ida’s genuine affection for Christine. One such detail is Ida’s scar, a mysterious discolored mark on her face that Christine first notices the evening she expects the world to end. Ida does not notice the ladle burning her face because, as she is so deeply attached to Christine, any contact between Clara and Christine completely distracts her. Ida has previously tried to avoid or deny her affection for Christine by making Christine call her “Aunt Ida,” as if putting some distance in their family relationship would bring about emotional distance. However, as we see in the narratives of Christine and Rayona, Ida’s insistence on the title of “aunt” is only partly successful and even backfires. Ida’s command that Christine call her “aunt” does not prevent Ida from feeling like a mother to Christine, but because the burn mark and other signs of Ida’s love are difficult to interpret, Christine never understands that Ida genuinely loves her. Ironically, Ida openly shows signs of her love for her adopted daughter, but because these signs cannot be understood without knowing Ida’s story, Christine never realizes that her presumed mother does care for her.

Ida’s relationship with Father Hurlburt reveals that Ida is constantly plagued by the fear that the things and people she loves will be taken away from her. Her close connections to Christine and Father Hurlburt frighten her. The priest is the one person who truly treats Ida with respect, and because he is a party to Ida’s family secret he has the ability to at least partly understand what Ida is going through. Even so, Ida has the irrational fear that Father Hurlburt will stop visiting her if she lets him know how much she enjoys his company, and she even tries to push him away so she will not mind losing him. Such fears prevent Ida from forging any strong relationships, especially during the two and half years before Clara returns from Colorado, and they cause her to turn inward and avoid depending on anyone other than herself. After trusting Clara and her parents only to see them betray her, Ida now fears to show affection toward anyone.