Analysis: Chapter 19
Ida tells her story to Willard Pretty Dog but alters it. This alteration strips Ida’s confession of the therapeutic effect Rayona feels when she confesses to Evelyn. In speaking with Evelyn, Rayona takes a step into real life for the first time in months. Afterward, Rayona no longer has the weight of a lie upon her, and thus feels relieved. Ida, however, tells her story to Willard because she wants to prove to him that she knows about suffering, and that his exaggerated self-pity is unmerited. In order to do so, Ida needs to show Willard that they have some common ground, so in her story she constructs an image of herself to please Willard. Though Ida’s suffering has been real, she adds to her facade several attributes that are not true to her personality and pretends to be stupid and ignorant in an attempt to massage Willard’s ego. Unlike Rayona’s confession, therefore, Ida’s talk with Willard actually takes her a step further into a life controlled by others.
It is only after Ida realizes she no longer wants Willard and is no longer concerned with pleasing him that she begins to act like her real self again. Ida’s self-assertiveness is one of her lasting legacies to her family. After debasing herself to please Willard, Ida becomes determined to show Christine that it is acceptable to be smart when men are around. Both Christine and Rayona adapt Ida’s advice and refuse to act stupid to please anyone. In fact, it is Christine’s and Rayona’s fiercely independent streaks that get them into trouble more often than anything else.
The people Ida is closest to react in varied ways to her affair with Willard, and their reactions are often the opposite of what we might expect. Pauline is judgmental and worries about what other people will think; it appears that some of Lecon’s fixation on appearances has rubbed off on Pauline. Father Hurlburt, on the other hand, does not judge Ida when he learns that Willard has been living with her. Since both Pauline and Father Hurlburt are strongly connected to the church, we expect them to hold similar positions on Ida’s life, but they actually hold almost contradictory opinions. Both see pros and cons in Ida’s relationship with Willard, but Pauline is more concerned with the relationship’s appearance of impropriety, whereas Father Hurlburt sees the positive effect of the relationship on Ida’s well being. Father Hurlburt knows Ida and understands her, and he recognizes how badly she needs companionship. Although we expect Father Hurlburt to take a very moralizing stance, his sense of friendship allows him to set aside religious dogma and rules when he realizes Ida’s relationship is doing her good.
Ida learns she is pregnant immediately after learning of Lecon’s death, which can be read as a sign of the end of one era and the beginning of another. We have already seen this coincidence with Rayona’s birth, which occurs the same day Christine learns that Lee has been killed in Vietnam. Indeed, throughout the novel we see this pattern of life following death. Lecon’s death is a symbolic end to Ida’s parents’ generation and releases Ida from the confines of secrecy that her family has imposed on her. Likewise, Lee’s birth represents the advent of a new generation and of a new set of responsibilities for Ida. With Lecon’s death, Ida no longer has to take care of her family and their secrets, but in place she takes on the role of a real mother. The past proves resilient, however, and some traces of it remain even after Lecon is laid to rest. For example, even though she makes every effort to escape the past, Ida names her son Lecon. The name becomes “Lee,” but the fact that Clara can persuade Ida, against her better judgment, to name her son after her father reveals the extent to which the past still has a hold on her.