What is the moral knowing, moral feeling, and moral action in the novel Jacob Have I loved by Katherine Paterson?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved centers around the consequences of child favoritism. Two fraternal twin girls are born on Rass Island in the Chesapeake, Sara Louise, the eldest, and Caroline, the youngest. Sara Louise, also the book's narrator, was born just fine, but Caroline was born ill. As a consequence, their family devoted a great deal of time to Caroline, even taking her to frequent doctor's visits, but absolutely ignored Sara Louise. As a further consequence, Caroline grows up being loved and admired by all for her charm, her beauty, and even her singing talent, while Sara Louise grows up being treated like the black sheep of the family, the unattractive tomboy. Moral feeling would be any feeling that develops within a person to give one an idea of what is morally right, or ethical. Hence, the moral feeling Paterson is trying to portray through the book is the need for children within a family to be loved equally rather than that parents develop a favorite child, which happens in many families.

Moral action would be any actions that can also be seen as showing what is morally, or ethically, correct. Sometimes moral action can be viewed through it's opposite--immoral action. The moral action, meaning the action that shows us what is moral,  also surrounds not only the actions of the girls' parents but around the actions of Caroline herself. Basked in attention, she fails to see her own selfishness and mistreatment of her sister. One example can be seen with respect to the Pond's hand cream. Sara Louise, who devotes a great deal of time to helping out with the family lobster and oyster fishing business, develops the rough, weathered skin of a seasoned fisherman. In an effort to beautify herself like Caroline, she orders a jar of Pond's hand cream. One day she enters her and her sister's room to find Caroline selfishly and unthinkingly lavishing her own hands with the Pond's, saying, "I didn't think you'd mind," which rightfully infuriates Sara Louise. Another example of Caroline's selfishness can be seen in the fact that she accepts Call's marriage proposal. Call was Sara Louise's best and only childhood friend and someone that Sara Louise herself had fallen in love with herself. Hence, Paterson clearly shows that parental favoritism can lead to selfish, unfeeling behavior, and it is Caroline's selfish, unfeeling behavior that represents the moral action.

By the end of the book, it is Sara Louise who teaches the reader the moral knowing she has developed over the years as a consequence of being mistreated by her family and Caroline. Moral knowing or knowledge can be seen as any knowledge that also allows to see what is morally, or ethically, correct. Sara Louise eventually moves away from the island and becomes a midwife in a small valley town. One night she helps birth fraternal twins. Like herself, the first baby boy is born just fine, but like Caroline, the second baby girl is born ill. While tending to the baby girl, she realizes that the baby boy had been forgotten not only by herself but by his parents. When she asks the family where the boy is and is informed that he's sleeping in his basket, she commands them to "hold him, keep him warm, and love him." Sara Louise's moral command to the parents helps prevent the boy from growing up in the same way she did, all alone and unloved, showing us that the moral knowing in the novel centers around the need for all children to be loved and valued alike.

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