Sylvie, Lucille, and Ruth's mysterious young aunt, represents an alternative to conventional housekeeping. Unlike the traditional image of the homemaker, she has never been rooted to a place, to a home, or to possessions. Until she appears to care for Lucille and Ruth, she has been a lonely wanderer, a tramp, anything but a conventional 1950's domestic goddess.
Sylvie is a different kind of goddess. She can't understand how to "housekeep" in the conventional way: she hoards junk, doesn't feed the girls properly, and buys them flimsy shoes covered in sparkles rather than sensible, sturdy oxfords for school. She is a person of whimsy and mystery, like a wood sprite often disappearing, then returning with no explanation. She doesn't fit into society and so represents the "other," the free, generous, misunderstood shadow side too often repressed in the domestic woman.
In an important chapter right after Lucille leaves to live with a conventional family, Sylvie takes Ruth for the first time to her island hideaway. It is a rite of passage, an initiation of Ruth into Sylvie's world of aloneness and austere beauty. Ruth is abandoned all day by Sylvie in a bitterly cold place by a collapsed house, a symbol of an inverted domesticity. There Ruth discovers the loneliness that is part of all existence:
Because, once alone, it is impossible to believe that one could ever have been otherwise.
After this, Sylvie can burn the house down and take Ruth with her to wander as a fellow traveller, a ghostly opposite of all housekeeping implies. Sylvie offers an alternative to the stifling life of Fingerbone conventionality, but also shows the price a woman pays for independence and freedom.