The idea of hope permeates nearly every aspect of Feathers, including the title, a reference to the Emily Dickinson poem “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Frannie, the novel’s protagonist, becomes obsessed with the poem after her teacher reads it to her sixth-grade class; Frannie is so taken by the poem because the circumstances of her own life make it difficult to retain hope. At school, she has to watch Trevor bully the new kid in school, who has done nothing to deserve such treatment; when she is with her deaf brother Sean, she witnesses his embarrassment and dejection when girls reject him after realizing he cannot hear. At home, the shadows of a dead infant, two miscarriages, and her mother’s subsequent depressions hang over the house, and the announcement of a new pregnancy leads Frannie not to hope, but to fear another disappointment. As Frannie says, if she could talk to Jesus, she would ask him how he can have hope “when there’s always a Trevor somewhere kicking at somebody. When there’s always a mama somewhere who maybe wasn’t thriving.”
In contrast to Frannie, her friend Samantha begins to harbor a deep, fervent hope that Jesus Boy actually is God’s son returned to earth. Frannie is struck by the fact that Samantha can so easily believe the boy is really Jesus, while Frannie cannot. However, when Jesus Boy reveals his very human, flawed nature by striking out at Trevor, the situation reverses, as Samantha loses all her hope at once. As Samantha puts it, “when you don’t have that thing to believe in anymore, you don’t have anything.” In response to Samantha’s despair, Frannie, hoping to comfort her friend and refusing to see the world in black-and-white terms, finally finds some hope of her own. She suggests to Samantha that perhaps Jesus is inside of all of us, allowing us to be kind even in the face of cruelty; perhaps Jesus is hope itself.
At the end of the novel, Frannie has clearly come to accept this new idea of hope. She shares a loving moment with her pregnant mother, refusing to worry about what could go wrong with the baby, and instead enjoying the love, warmth, and happiness—and hope—of that moment. Frannie realizes that such moments themselves are a form of hope, a hope that will remain in your memories and that you can never lose. “Each...
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