The Last Girls

by Lee Smith

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Themes

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Last Updated on July 26, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 512

Friendship After Separation

The primary theme that Smith considers is the meaning of friendship and whether it can endure time and separation. The six women who were close while students at a Southern women's college largely went their own ways after school, but some still believe in the importance of that friendship. They feel obligated to accept Baby's husband's request to take charge of scattering her remains. Through their second river journey, various characters discuss what made them close in those days and the reasons they have been so separate since. Even despite the distance between Harriet and Baby after Jeff’s death, there is still a meaningful connection fostered through Harriet’s participation on the trip. After all, Baby wanted the group to reunite and recreate their trip. By embarking on this physical and metaphorical journey, the women honor the friendships that once meant so much in college. Clearly, there is something to be said about the endurance of friendship and the efforts it takes to make those connections last. The test of time may take its toll, though it is up to us as individuals to dig deeper.

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Memory and Nostalgia

Unsurprisingly, the different women's memories of their earlier times together vary considerably. The competition that Harriet believes existed with Baby over a man named Jeff has created a burden of guilt for Harriet, which she wonders if Baby felt as well, especially after his tragic death. Harriet's vision colors her opinion that Baby's death was a suicide while Baby's husband is convinced it was an accident. She brings her own perspectives and biases, as everyone does, and this alters her perception of her former friend. Anna, who has achieved fame as a writer, wishes to forget her past and hopes that the others will not remind her of it. The role of time and memory is particularly relevant throughout The Last Girls. Each woman has certainly changed substantially, and this trip is quite different than the first one.

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Romance and Marriage

Although most of the women have careers, their work has not necessarily brought them satisfaction. Of the six, only Harriet has remained single. Multiple marriages, health problems of husbands, and complicated relationships with lovers and spouses are among the struggles the women have experienced and discuss with each other on their trip. They are all heterosexual. Their greater concern with their marriages rather than their careers perhaps reflects the 1960s culture (when they were in school) or may be related to the type of college they chose to attend—one that was oriented toward young women with traditional aspirations. So, too, did their initial label as “girls” set them up for a life in which they were not perceived as “women” with ambitions. Instead, they were treated as girls who ought to settle down and look pretty, a notion very much in line with the time period of the sixties. Their lives and romantic entanglements haven’t exactly been smooth sailing, further proving that they cannot be limited to the ideal lives they were “supposed” to have lead.

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