Throughout chapters one and two of Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, the narrator of the novel, Ruth, compares and contrasts the parenting styles of both her grandmother and great aunts towards her sister Lucille and herself. The girls have been between two different parenting styles, one that was caring but cautious, and another that was well-meaning but indifferent. The styles of parenting presented to Lucille and Ruth by the women in their life play an important role in how the girls will learn receive love and care in their lives.
They have learned so far that love is fragile and true relationships cannot be forged in a day-dream manner. Slyvia’s parenting style is the best example of the day-dream concept. After losing her husband in a train accident, Slyvia (the girl’s grandmother), tries her best to nurture her granddaughters in an orderly but distant manner. The years that she raised her girls in this fashion was effective in the present, but the result of her surface level interactions with her daughters left her estranged from them in her old age.
Ruth and Lucille’s grandmother sees her opportunity to take care of them after their mother’s death as a second chance to fix her past mistakes as a mother. Their grandmother believes that she never really fostered a strong bond with her daughters, she was able to learn her daughters’ routines in the house and have them do their chores in an orderly manner, but she never got to know who they were as people, and most importantly “She had never taught them to be kind to her. ” (Pg. 19) This quote emphasizes the idea that Slyvia never taught her daughters how to truly love.
I think it is the lack of intimacy she shared with her daughters that she regrets the most. Because Slyvia regrets her inability to know her daughters as people, she now wishes to distance herself from her daughter’s inner thoughts, most likely from the fear of shock. “Perhaps she did not wish to learn by indirection what Helen did not wish to tell her. ” (Pg. 20) Lucille and Ruth’s mother was proven to be unstable, and her suicide shed light on the internal suffering she must have been enduring before she killed herself.
Slyvia, I feel, does not want to ponder the idea that her daughter was severely unhappy, especially given the fact that she felt her time spent with her daughters in their youth was full of serenity. Ruth realizes that their grandmother is over-consciousness but she believes it’s due to her heightened sense of perception. “I think that she was aware of too many things, having no principle for selecting the more from the less important, and that her awareness could never be diminished, since it was among the things she had thought of as familiar that this disaster had taken shape. ” (Pg. 5)
Ruth and Lucille’s grandmother has always been cautious in her parenting style because she is afraid to lose her charges like she lost her husband, fleetingly and without notice. And, it is this nervous cautiousness that has harbored a sense of quiet awareness and self-duty both her daughters and granddaughters. The self-duty becomes even more necessary for the girls to carry-on with their lives after their grandmother passes. They are handed off to their great aunts Lilly and Nona after Sylvia’s death, and their awkward pretentious sense of nurturing leaves an even bigger sense of distance in mother figures for the girls.
Lilly and Nona had no genuine compassion for their god nieces; they simply were taking care of the girls because it was the dutiful thing to do. An example of their stiff compassion can be shown on page 29 of the novel “They were, though maiden ladies, of a buxomly maternal appearance that contrasted oddly with their brusque, unpracticed pats and kisses. ” The quote is describing the two aunts as motherly appearing figures, but in contrast they were actually very far from being as warm and affectionate as true mothers are capable of being.
Ruth’s conclusion after staying a few days with her aunts of their temperaments can be seen in the following quote. “Lily and Nona, I think, enjoyed nothing except habit and familiarity, the precise replication of one day in the next. ” (Pg. 32) The two aunt’s like routine and they dislike anything disrupting that routine especially children. They have no patience or energy for doing new things, and they are not willing to adapt to Ruth and Lilly’s home town wholly, they often talk about moving the girls back to their own home. The contrast in the grandmother’s and the great aunt’s parenting style is self-explanatory.
The grandmother’s affection was overzealous while the great aunts’ display is hollow. The girls are affected in a way that paints their image of love, their grandmother taught them to be intuitive of other’s feelings, while their great aunts’ have shown them that people are not always selfless. The most important thing the girls have yet to experience in a parent/child relationship however is a true bond of love and full awareness of who the other is as a person. The girls so far have been taught to feign emotions that are proper, and to show surface level respect for their mother figures.