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In Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinso, Categorical Confines: Societal Boundaries in Opposition of Happiness

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In Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, the story follows Ruth and Lucille as they pass through the care of their mother, grandmother, great-aunts, and finally their mother’s transient sister, Sylvie. While Ruth is generally passively accepting of the care or lack thereof that she receives from these women, no matter how unconventional, Lucille purposefully sets herself against Sylvie. After existing outside of the boundaries that society imposes for the majority of her adult life, Sylvie is unable to provide the structured normality to which Lucille so desperately cleaves. In their own methods of seeking happiness, Sylvie prefers a fluid way of housekeeping, while Lucille needs strict adherence to convention. The polar relationship that…show more content…
Even while Sylvie is trying to live without boundaries, in the way that she claims makes her feel the most at peace, she contemplates suicide. “She walked up the bank, and stood looking across the bridge for a moment, and then she began carefully, tie by tie, out onto it. Slowly she walked on and on, until she was perhaps fifty feet out over the water… ‘I’ve always wondered what it would be like.’” (81-82) Sylvie knows that the only way to live unrestricted is to die, much the way Helen did. In reality, however, society even places restrictions death. While the decedent may not be sentient and aware of such things, the categories of natural death, accidental death, and suicide are all seen within Housekeeping, and are a way of defining the lives of those who die after their deaths. However, it is her earthly restrictions – her obligations to Ruth and Lucille – that prevent Sylvie from committing suicide.
In extreme contrast, Lucille has boundaries, and if society has an expectation, Lucille is going to follow it. Though the community did not peer through the windows at suppertime, Lucille requires complete normalcy from herself at all times. “She insisted on light at suppertime. She found three place settings of china and began demanding meat and vegetables.” (102) These demands are not unreasonable, but for a child to be requiring such things rather than grilled cheese sandwiches is odd – what kid
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