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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 242

The Jailing of Cecilia Capture by Janet Campbell Hale follows a thirty-year-old Native American woman who was arrested for drunk driving. Much of the novel comprises her recollections from childhood. At the opening scene, Cecilia has been booked in prison and laments the likelihood of her mugshots making her look ugly. She recalls how her parents influenced her conception of femininity (her mother, emotionally abused by Cecilia's father, concluded that women's only avenue to success was via their looks). She grew up on an Indian reservation with a Native American father and a white mother.

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Cecilia learns that she will not be released on bail, owing to an unpaid welfare assessment dating from when she was working while receiving a stipend for her child born to a drafted soldier (with whom she had an affair as a teenager). Her previous life bore such differences from, but left many unresolved tensions with, her current life as a successful law student.

Cecilia recalls the circumstances of her having been pulled over: she was celebrating her thirtieth birthday at a bar after law school, where she flirted with a stranger before driving home. When she is released from prison, her husband must pick her up, and they agree to divorce. Cecilia, on the brink of suicide, learns that she will not have to return to jail, because her case has been dismissed. Resolved not to kill herself, she visits the grave of her first lover.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 724

Drawn from the author’s experiences of growing up as a Native American in a white-dominated society, The Jailing of Cecelia Capture consists of the reflections of the title character, who is spending a weekend in jail after her arrest for drunk driving. She scans her entire life, discovering that in many ways she has been repeatedly imprisoned by her society and culture.

The novel begins in jail. Cecelia’s immediate fears center on the compulsory mugshots: They will make her look ugly, because she could not fix her face and hair. She recognizes that only a woman would care about this, and only in a culture that disproportionately glorified female attractiveness. In a cell with a white prostitute and a black thug, Cecelia realizes that, like them, she has spent her life trying to attract men. She bypasses the chance to call her husband for help, reassured that she will be released as soon as she sobers up.

Gradually, she pieces the past day, her birthday, together. As usual, she had forced herself through the deadening routine of law school, alleviating the pain with a rare thermos of wine to celebrate the day. The alcohol brings little relief; only the pressures of professional school keep at bay the emptiness of her life. She lives in a shabby apartment with few pleasantries; her husband—by now a husband in name only—and children are hundreds of miles and several months away; she has no transportation in the rainy winter of San Francisco Bay; her life consists of unrelieved study; she feels overweight and unattractive. Her most recent effort at romance lasted one night with a nameless man. At school, she has to confront a lover whom she reluctantly left after learning he already had a permanent relationship. Yet the wine at least gets her through the day.

After school, she makes the rounds to celebrate. She toys with a man who tries to pick her up. The experience reminds her of a game she plays with her husband in which they act like strangers who discover each other in bars. Remembering Nathan, she recalls what their marriage has become. That thought drives her in tears out of the bar. Her car is stopped...

(The entire section contains 966 words.)

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