Do not forget to examine the place of women in American society in the time frame of the novel. For instance, Marlena feels trapped in her homelife as her parents arrange a marriage for her with a middle-aged man. Desperate to escape this arrangement, Marlena joins a circus. Were there any other choices available to her at such a time?
Often the mentality of women in the 1920s and 1930s was that they could not support themselves as jobs were few and paid little for women. It may be this mentality that makes Marlena tolerate the abuse of August. It is only when she finds Jacob, then she begins to consider other possibilities.