Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 476

One of the important techniques that Prose uses in telling her story is the device of juxtaposition. Joseph’s skill at cards, for example, is juxtaposed with Catherine’s lack of cooking skills. At the wedding celebration, a female guest asks whether it is true that, one way or another, women win their husbands in card games. The question actually has been answered earlier when the dead Zio, manifesting himself to his wife, says that man deals but God stacks the deck.

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This admixture identifies the holy and the secular as myths by means of whose strictures people order their lives. Sometimes the juxtapositioning points to the comic, and indeed the surreal, as when Catherine’s dead baby looks to Joseph (who has been described as a bantam rooster) like a freshly slaughtered baby chicken; or when Catherine miraculously whips up a perfect batch of sausage at about the same time that she and Joseph whip up a new baby.

By the midway point in the novel, Prose has established a set of symbols and symbolic events that will guide the actions of the characters to complete the pattern, mainly through such juxtaposition. Joseph makes the point clearly at the end of the book. Theresa is, she tells her mother and father, playing pinochle with God, Jesus, and Saint Therese. God and Jesus are winning, however, and it looks to Theresa that Saint Therese is passing to God and Jesus every card she has. Moreover, God is cheating. After the game, God whispers to Theresa that of all the great miracles His favorites are tipping scales and cheating at pinochle. This has to be the way everything ends, Joseph insists; there must be a pattern by which he and Catherine, and now Theresa, are being governed. Indeed, it does seem so.

Catherine does everything that she can to direct Theresa toward a secular life. At Eastertime, Catherine dyes eggs and buys marshmallow bunnies. Theresa eschews these secular offerings and insists upon celebrating Easter as a time to reflect upon death and Resurrection.

Theresa’s death is an occasion for another piece of the pattern to fall into place. When Joseph and Catherine enter the hospital after they have been informed of their daughter’s death, they each perceive a strong scent of roses. Joseph finds on Theresa’s wrists evidence of a stigmata; Sister Cupertino, the nurse, suggests that in another era people might have called Theresa a saint.

Yet there are other pieces of the pattern still to fall. At the funeral, every surface is covered with roses. Now even Catherine sees the pattern. First her own wedding “at Cana,” then her daughter’s shower of roses. Perceiving the pattern leads Joseph to bitterness, Catherine to anger. For Joseph, God was stacking the deck; for Catherine, her life was being planned without her being consulted.

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