All Souls is a group bildungsroman for the novel’s major characters. None of the characters is developed enough to offer profound insights into any one of them individually, so the lessons they learn must be considered collectively, focusing on the lessons and not the characters. In a novel about teenage girls, one expects to find the stereotypical backbiting and gossiping that exists even among so-called friends, yet Astra Dell illustrates the meaning of true friendship. Although Astra is a member of the popular crowd, it is the outcast girl, the scholarship student Marlene, who visits Astra every day bringing her the homework assignments, not Astra’s “in-crowd friends.” Marlene is described as a “dirty” girl who picks her nose, a lazy student, the “one girl in your class that you hate,” yet Astra always allows Marlene to stay in her hospital room, even when she is asleep. In this way, Astra befriends Marlene as best she can while still coping with her disease. When Marlene steals Astra’s letters from Carlotta, Astra pretends to be asleep. Astra instinctively realizes that stealing the letters is somehow helping Marlene. The more Astra recovers, the less Marlene relies on her and by the end of the novel, Marlene is doing well in school, dressing with taste, and looking forward to the future. Astra’s disease separates her from the phonies and allows her to befriend Marlene. Astra’s friendship then slowly transforms Marlene. Marlene even considers returning Astra’s barrette, a talisman that she has kept hidden in her pocket during Astra’s illness. Noticing the positive changes in Marlene, her mother realizes that “Those in need can give others purpose.” This statement applies to both Marlene and Astra.
Astra’s best friend since nursery school, Carlotta, is so troubled living with her dysfunctional mother and occasional father that she develops an eating disorder. The most the anguished Carlotta can do for her friend Astra is write gloomy letters, yet when Astra goes into remission, she exhibits understanding and grace toward the suffering Carlotta and does not even mention that Carlotta has only visited her twice. The girls pick up and continue the close friendship they had before Astra became sick. As children, Astra and Carlotta had pretended to be sisters, but when Astra becomes ill, Carlotta loses her only support system. Carlotta’s mother does not understand Carlotta nor is she capable of helping her with her eating disorder because she is obsessed with keeping herself thin. Plus, unknown to her mother, Carlotta has been struggling with guilt over her father’s drunken sexual advances. Carlotta finally shares this information with Astra when Astra goes into remission and is healthy enough to be her friend again. Astra comforts Carlotta, stroking her hair, when Carlotta naively blames herself for her father’s advances. While sick, Astra has been talking with her deceased mother who just so happens to be named Grace. Grace sends Carlotta a message from beyond: “embrace the world.”
Wealth and Privilege
Siddons School is a place where when a teacher asks, “Who do you think you are?” the reply is “A Du Pont.” There are levels of unfairness even among the privileged, however. Lisa Van de Ven is as smart and as talented as Suki Morton, but the Mortons are a tad bit richer than the Van de Vens and have donated millions to Brown University. Suki is accepted at Brown, but Lisa is on the wait list, “a courtesy” Lisa complains to Miss Wilkes. Most parents must listen to their children’s complaints about teachers but Siddons parents do so while sipping martinis in corner apartments with southwestern views “of Park Avenue’s islands bedded with begonias.” Siddons is indeed a school for debutante girls born with silver spoons in their mouths, but life is often unfair and...
(The entire section is 1598 words.)