Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Although The Jailing of Cecelia Capture begins with Cecelia’s incarceration and ends three days later with her release, Janet Campbell Hale also uses the jailing as a metaphor for the “prison” in which Cecelia has lived throughout her life. Most of the chapters begin in the present in the jail, but Hale soon has her protagonist remembering events from her past. These flashbacks, which occur in associational rather than in chronological order, fill in the details of Cecelia’s life, her case history. That history is one of entrapment and confused identity—the novel depicts the protagonist’s journey toward freedom and selfhood. Cecelia Capture Welles becomes Cecelia Capture, which involves the shedding of her “white” past and acquired “white” identity and the embracing of her American Indian heritage.

Cecelia spends her first twelve years on an Indian reservation in Idaho, where her father’s past shapes her life. Because of his failed “white” academic and athletic career at Notre Dame, he desperately wants a son to become the lawyer and athlete he tried to be. Cecelia senses his disappointment and attempts to become a worthy substitute for the missing son. Will Capture insists that she speak English and enrolls her in public school, where the white students make her miserable. Knowing that she must be better than they, she overachieves academically and athletically; but when she loses at a track meet, she understands that her lack of self-confidence has cost her the race....

(The entire section is 619 words.)