In Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, what is the religious significance of Lucille's expulsion as mentioned in the text quoted below? Ruth says,"I pass again and again behind my grandmother's...

In Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, what is the religious significance of Lucille's expulsion as mentioned in the text quoted below?

Ruth says,"I pass again and again behind my grandmother's house, and never get off at the station and walk back to see if it is still the same house, altered perhaps by the repairs the fire made necessary, or if it is a new house built on the old site. I would like to see the people who live there. Seeing them would expel poor Lucille, who has, in my mind, waited there in a fury of righteousness..."

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Ruth, Lucille's sister is the narrator of Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. She recalls the lives of three generations; her grandmother's era, her mother's and her own. Ruth and Lucille, due to circumstances, are cared for by various female relatives during their childhood and their mother's sister, Sylive, who has strange and somewhat eccentric housekeeping methods, has the greatest influence on them. The novel maintains a spiritual presence throughout as the unconventional "family" tries to make the best of their situation.

Lucille longs for a "normal" life and works hard to improve her education. Ruth is most like her aunt Sylvie, and has a pragmatic viewpoint but suffers from her feelings of abandonment which she de-compartmentalizes in an effort to cope. When Lucille leaves, Ruth accepts that, " I had no sister after that night," much as she accepts other events in her life, such as the fire. Ruth notes that it is "the will of the wind," that the house burns down and notably, the barn does not.

The significance of burning the house down - the ultimate feminine representation of the home- and Sylvie and Ruth's rejection of the town folks' standards and the traditional female role- ensures that the reader understands that some women cannot manage successfully within the patriarchal society that pervades the day. It also highlights the absence of males in the novel which is purposeful and significant.

The quote above is spoken by Ruth as she presupposes how Lucille would cope with the situation as she "hurries to open the door, too eager to wait for the bell..." Ruth imagines Lucille in her own "home" environment and also imagines  her own and Lucille's reactions to the possibility of a new family in their old home, after the fire. Lucille would, Ruth imagines, be furious that her own family, in terms of her conventional understanding  failed and, seeing another family would "expel poor Lucille..." Lucille, "in a fury of righteousness, cleaning and polishing..." has always tried so hard to conform to the ideal of a perfect family.

Spirituality, or religion, is more significant than actual "fact" which Ruth remarks "explains nothing." There is far more to a person than meets the eye and, even the well-meaning citizens of the town, cannot accept Sylvie's methods of caring for Ruth. Therefore, the fire holds religious significance as, fire not only destroys but also renews, a point not lost on Ruth but which Lucille probably would not appreciate. Just as Jesus was rejected, despite his goodness and his attempts to help the poor and the dejected and even social outcasts so too will Lucille be rejected by society because of her association with her less-than-conventional aunt and sister. 

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