What self-accusations does Kathy make against herself and are any of them accurate or not? How do these accusations affect her behavior and the conflict and impact themes within the novel? 

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Kathy Nicolo is not given to making overt, direct self-accusations. She is not prone to overtly making self-accusations like, "I'm so stupid," or "I always do what's wrong," or "I will always be unloved." These sorts of statements, whether said out loud or in one's mind, are overt, direct self-accusations.

What Kathy does do, however, is to indirectly imply self-accusation. Some of the kinds of things she says that imply indirect statements of self-accusation are that she skips work, implying the self-accusation of laziness; that work prevents her from drinking too much, implying the self-accusation of alcoholism, a condition which she also directly asserts when she talks about AA bumper stickers and the alternate RR positivist method; and that she spends too much time wallowing in her problems, implying the self-accusation of impotent ineffectiveness.

Another of these indirect, implied self-accusations is her comment about her dislike of the RR drug and alcohol recovery method. She says her trouble with the program is that there is no self-love for her to find when she digs way deep down inside. The two ultimate indirect, implied self-accusations, the two that affect her behavior the worst, are that her family will know she is lying to them and that they will know she is a failure: "Kathy Nicolo hasn't changed; two steps forward and four steps back ...."

The things Kathy says about herself are indeed accurate. She is a very accurate observer, thus a reliable narrator. At times, these implied self-accusations, since they are true, help Kathy to motivate to function at least at some level, even if only at a low functioning level. Yet, when things start to unravel for her, when she begins to see that her impotent ineffectiveness has consequences that cannot be reversed--that she and her house cannot be saved by someone else or by some other program--these implied self-accusations, especially the latter two relating to her family, drive her to destructive behavior that accords with her futile, hopeless situation.

The impact on the central theme of Kathy's implied beliefs and impotent or destructive actions is that the theme of founding one's life upon moral virtue, wisdom and honorable behavior is (negatively) embodied in Kathy's tragic life (the negativity of the theme's embodiment in Kathy's failure--when the theme speaks of the successes of moral virtue and honor--mirrors the negativity of the AA 12-step approach, as described by Andre Dubus, when contrasted with the positivity he describes in the RR self-love approach).