The Last Girls

by Lee Smith

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512

They expected to be taken care of. Nobody had yet suggested to them that they might ever have to make a living or that somebody wouldn’t marry them and look after them for the rest of their lives.

A reader curious about the title The Last Girls needs only to look at this quote to understand what it means. The novel is about grown women, each having made her own way through life. However, they all came of age in a time when a woman was essentially expected to remain a “girl” all her life—dependent on a man, defined by the relationships she cultivates and not by her accomplishments. College was just a step toward meeting higher-quality men to marry. This, then, was the girlhood that formed the characters.

These stories were seriously discussed in the workshop and then published in the college literary magazine. It was easy. Anna was amazed. Everybody thought she was tough, like her stories, but she wasn’t. She didn’t understand where these stories were coming from but they poured out of her onto the page like milk from a pitcher. They scared her.

Human beings are often unaware of their own deepest traits and qualities. In this quote, Anna is revealed as someone who does not truly understand herself. Her stories, dark and intense, reflect a part of her that is hidden. She does not even connect with them herself, yet somehow they come from her imagination, and she is frightened by her own creations. Success has its price, and for Anna it is the inexplicable source of her stories.

Sometimes we fall into situations we are made for, as was the case with Russel and the law.

In this single sentence, readers come to understand that Russel never had aspirations to become a lawyer. However, once he found himself in the profession, it was a perfect match. With the words “Sometimes we fall into situations we are made for,” the author portrays Russel’s story as a common one for people, whether they have accidentally fallen into the perfect job, home, or relationship.

She looks up from the sleeping man beside her to watch the sun make its fiery trail across the water straight to their window, a shining path so wide and straight that she imagines stepping out onto it and walking across the water and into the trees on the other side. She imagines the mud and the vines and flowers, and the smell of honeysuckle and rotting fish. She knows exactly how it would be there.

This passage paints a picture of the scenery outside: a heavy Southern atmosphere, humid from the water, rich with greenery, fragrant nature all around. Moreover, it suggests that Catherine is slipping into a daydream of escape. She easily imagines herself stepping out, away from her life and the man beside her, heading off alone onto the far bank of the river. It captures Catherine’s desire for escape while lying beside someone she cares about, and the tension of feeling caught in between.

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