Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Housekeeping Analysis

The most remarkable feature of Marilynne Robinson’s novel is its lingering, rhythmic language and distinctive style. In Housekeeping, Robinson’s language refreshes her readers’ understanding of reality by making them see the world anew. She transforms the simple metaphors of house, lake, and train into a beautiful meditation on the nature of security, loss, and transiency.

Ruth is a survivor. The first line of Housekeeping—“My name is Ruth.”—echoes the beginning of another survivor’s tale, Ishmael in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851). Both novels can be read as Bildungsromans, novels chronicling a young person’s journey from adolescence to maturity. Throughout the novel, Ruth, whose name means sorrow, mourns her mother. The omnipresent lake dredges up the unwelcome changes and dislocations that Helen’s suicide brought upon Ruth and Lucille. Nature itself represents the change and impermanence that Ruth fears. On her outing with Sylvie, Ruth imagines her mother coming back from the lake. She longs for the wholeness that her mother represents. Yet, Ruth acknowledges the futility of her dream and concludes, “It is better to have nothing.”

At a critical moment in their relationship, Ruth and Lucille disagree over memories about their mother. Ruth remembers her as indifferent, while Lucille thinks that she was orderly and sensible—the perfect mother that she wishes Helen had been....

(The entire section is 549 words.)