When the Mountain City book club decides to discuss The Scarlet Letter, Cate tells Nell that the novel “asks a very crucial question Can the individual spirit survive the society in which it has to live?’ ” The question is crucial to A Mother and Two Daughters also, as the three protagonists struggle to re-create themselves in a world where the rules are changing. The self-definitions at which they arrive and the adjustments they make represent the survival strategies of three strong-willed individual spirits.
Cate, the romantic truth seeker, finds that, in order to achieve her own goals, she must learn self-control; she must learn when rage is productive and when it is not. Her spirit compromises but does not give in. Lydia, who buys into society’s success story, is just as much her own creation as Cate but is rather less content, her spirit enslaved to some extent by her very success. Nell, who in the past protected the integrity of her individual spirit through critical detachment and self-defensive aloofness, establishes a more vital connection to her society through involvement and love. Perhaps because she has paid her social dues over the years, the little society of Mountain City is now ready to accept her on her own terms.
Certainly, all three protagonists recognize both losses and gains in the transitions they see going on around them. On the surface, the signs of disintegration are all too apparent....
(The entire section is 552 words.)