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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 701

I am afflicted with the power of thought, which is a heavy curse. The less a person thinks and inquires regarding the why and the wherefore and the justice of things, when dragging along through life, the happier it is for him, and doubly, trebly so, for her.

Sybylla thinks...

(The entire section contains 701 words.)

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I am afflicted with the power of thought, which is a heavy curse. The less a person thinks and inquires regarding the why and the wherefore and the justice of things, when dragging along through life, the happier it is for him, and doubly, trebly so, for her.

Sybylla thinks this as she cares for the "poddies," the young livestock that have to be fed by hand. The context matters, because Sybylla will next express that she feels sorry for the poor little calves who are separated from their mothers by the "greed" of men and forced to get along on cold and unpleasant food. We can sense that Sybylla feels an affinity to the "poor calves" and sees her situation as not so different for theirs. The quote shows the youthful Sybylla's growing disillusion with life and the injustices she perceives people have to suffer. It expresses her growing feminism—she says it is "trebly" or triply important for women not to think if they want to survive their lot. The word "curse" in this quote is important as well—women's situation is often equated to a curse in this novel.

"I understand you, Sybylla," she said slowly and distinctly, "but you must not be a coward. There is any amount of love and good in the world, but you must search for it. Being misunderstood is one of the trials we all must bear. I think that even the most common-minded person in the land has inner thoughts and feelings which no one can share with him, and the higher one's organization the more one must suffer in that respect. I am acquainted with a great number of young girls, some of them good and true, but you have a character containing more than any three of them put together. With this power, if properly managed, you can gain the almost universal love of your fellows. But you are wild and wayward, you must curb and strain your spirit and bring it into subjection, else you will be worse than a person with the emptiest of characters. You will find that plain looks will not prevent you from gaining the friendship love of your fellows—the only real love there is."

Aunt Helen, a character of wisdom, stability, and compassion in this novel, says these words to the distraught Sybylla, who is in bed in tears, feeling "ugly and nasty and miserable and useless." Sybylla's main issue is realizing she is not beautiful and unlikely to marry. Unlike other people, Aunt Helen is able to comfort Sybylla with her words, because they are honest. They affirm that life is hard and that Sybylla must face it bravely. Aunt Helen doesn't try to tell Sybylla that she is beautiful but instead tells her she can have the kind of love that comes from friendship. She affirms Sybylla as a person of worth, words Sybylla needs to hear. Aunt Helen's wisdom foreshadows decisions Sybylla will make later on to reject romantic love.

In poverty you can get at the real heart of people as you can never do if rich. People are your friends from pure friendship and love, not from sponging self-interestedness. It is worth being poor once or twice in a lifetime just to experience the blessing and heartrestfulness of a little genuine reality in the way of love and friendship. Not that it is impossible for opulence to have genuine friends, but rich people, I fear, must ever have at their heart cankering suspicion to hint that the friendship and love lavished upon them is merely self-interestedness and sham, the implements of trade used by the fawning toadies who swarm around wealth.
Sybylla thinks this as her bankrupt family's farm and goods are sold out from under them by the bishop. They have been cheated by the bishop's agent, "a scoundrel," but they have no money to fight him in court. At this desperate moment, Sybylla shows maturity in being able to appreciate the relatives, neighbors, and bailiff who generously help them out in their hour of need. She also shows wisdom in her ability to see a silver lining—learning who your real friends are—in poverty.
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