Last Updated on January 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 718
The Complexities of Friendship
Aubergine and Clara share an especially close bond. From the beginning, when Aubergine sees bruises on Clara, she is compelled to help her, and an immediate friendship is sparked. They set off on an adventurous life together, always watching out for each other and sharing equally in the spoils of their “prospecting.” They notice each other’s intimate needs, carefully reaching to straighten a bun or smooth a hemline in a casual gesture. Yet Aubergine comes to realize that the friendship isn’t as equal as she’s always believed. In fact, she comes to an epiphany that she has used her friend in perhaps worse ways than all the men have:
I’d used her bruises to justify leaving Florida. I’d used her face to open doors. Greed had convinced me I could take care of her up here, and then I’d disappeared on her. How long had Clara known what I was doing? I’d barely known myself.
Aubergine’s revelation shows the unbalanced nature of friendships, with one friend or the other sometimes holding more power. In this friendship, Aubergine has made the decisions, using her friend’s talents to propel her own goals. Without even realizing it, she has put her own needs above Clara’s, and Clara has accepted the nature of their relationship.
The Difficulty of Seeing the Truth
On this night, the girls realize that the men they meet at the lodge are dead, and most of them do not even realize it. The girls fear being swallowed by death if the reality of their situation comes to light before the dawn; therefore, they dance and laugh to pretend that all is well, and the dead men remain clueless about their situation. As Aubergine spends more time with Lee, she begins to lose the truth about herself. She cannot recall giving him her name, yet he calls her “Jean,” a nickname given to her by her parents and that she actually prefers over “Aubby,” the nickname that Clara calls her. It is interesting that she shares this information with a dead stranger, yet her best friend is seemingly unaware of this basic truth. Aubergine begins to believe that living at the lodge, and therefore choosing death, wouldn't be so bad—that she and Clara could live as “sisters” that way. Early in the story, Aubergine gives Clara her sweater to cover up Clara’s bruises, and they eventually run away to escape the abusive situation that Clara is caught in, yet Aubergine never learns who was abusing Clara. At various points in the story, the truth becomes blurred and hidden, with characters evading the truth of their situations.
The Randomness of Fortune and Misfortune
Aubergine and Clara themselves showcase the randomness of fortune through the differences in their backgrounds—Clara has wealthy parents waiting for her back in Florida; Aubergine does not. This duality continues on the mountain, where there are two lodges. One is celebrating great success, and the other is a burial site for a group of young C.C.C. workers. The girls have heard stories of the farmer who panned a fortune out of a river, a clerk who just dug it out of the ground, and a blacksmith who discovered enough gold to make himself richer by a hundred grand in a single hour (adjusted for inflation, that would equal around $1.5 million today). There are fortunes to be claimed, and some people find them. And then there are others, like Aubergine and Clara, who try to stake their claim on the world and instead go to bed with rumbling stomachs instead of full pockets. Even Aubergine’s name serves as a reminder of this theme. Her father learned the word aubergine during his wartime service in France and found it beautiful, believing that it translated to “dawn.” She notes that “a name like that, they felt, would envelop me in an aura of mystery, from swaddling to shroud.” Yet in a restaurant one evening, a fellow diner told her parents that she had quite an interesting name: the French word for “eggplant.” The plot reveals the seemingly haphazard way life rewards some people—allowing for riches and long, happy lives—while others are left with little and find their lives cut tragically short.