Themes and Characters
A girl of twelve or thirteen years begins The Midwife's Apprentice without mother, name, or home. She is a stranger to soft words who has known only curses, kicks, and blows. One would need to read widely to find a heroine on the verge of womanhood with a less promising future, yet by the end of the novel she has moved far beyond the desperate struggle just to survive and become a person who knows ". . how to try and risk and fail and try again and not give up." She has put herself in position to learn everything about being a midwife—physical techniques, herbs, potions, superstitions, spells and charms—and, even more importantly, has unlocked her capacity for compassionate intelligence which will add the grace of tenderness to her future ministrations.
It was as cold and dark inside her as out in the frosty night. . . .She knew only that hunger and cold cursed her life and kept her waking and walking and working for no other reason than to stop the pain.
This is the dire poverty of circumstance facing the girl known in the beginning only as Brat. She digs herself into a village dung heap to keep warm on a gelid night and is woken in the morning by hunger pangs and the most downtrodden of the local boys who torment her with cries of '"Dung beetle! Dung beetle! Smelly old dung beetle sleeping in the dung.'" A woman comes by, scatters the taunting boys, awards Brat the new name Beetle, and meagerly...
(The entire section is 1786 words.)
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