Student Question

Why does the author use Agatha's viewpoint to narrate chapter 2 in Saint Maybe?

Quick answer:

The author makes the decision to use Agatha's viewpoint to narrate chapter 2 in Saint Maybe in order to illustrate Lucy's breakdown. By portraying Lucy through her young daughter's eyes, and describing the increased responsibility Agatha is forced to take on in their home, Tyler is able to vividly communicate to readers just how much of a toll Danny's death has taken on Lucy.

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The omniscient narration of Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler takes an interesting turn in chapter 2, when events are described from seven-year-old Agatha's viewpoint and Lucy's frightening meltdown is made vivid and real.

Agatha and Thomas are both always looking to their mother for cues as to how they must behave. They began learning to do this after their father divorced their mother and she began looking for another man to marry. For awhile she dated a Mr. Belling, whom Thomas could not like and who gave them a whole dollar to spend on candy at the drugstore downstairs while he was with their mother. Danny, her second husband, represented happy days for the whole family, but Agatha is determined not to think of him now that he is dead, even though Thomas forgets three mornings in a row that he has died.

The tight, careful way in which Agatha holds herself, trying to match her mother's moods and instructions exactly, is the thread that binds together the whole chapter. Her struggles to change her baby sister's diaper, and causing a disaster in the form of a clogged toilet; her trying to get Daphne a bottle of milk; her admonishing her brother for getting his shirt buttoned up wrong; and her handing her mother a glass of Coke into which she has spooned some coffee—all these are heartbreaking examples of a child who has to take on responsibility for a whole household in a frightening and depressing fashion.

Agatha stands out as the one ever-vigilant person in Lucy's home, the one who is listening to her mother pace up and down or the clink of ice cubes in her glass of Coke. She reads the signs and expressions in each encounter her mother has with anyone, remembering to look attractive and not let her mouth flop open, even for the pharmacist, whom her mother doesn't spend too much time on. She has only a star at her bedroom window at night to which to offer up her prayer for everything to be all right. This is because every time she suggests to her mother that Lucy turn to Grandma Bedloe for help or advice, she meets with refusal. There are boundaries imposed by notions of self-respect and pride between adults that Agatha is unable to cross, even with the best of intentions.

Nothing could have painted the picture of Lucy's struggles, isolation, loss of hope, and ultimate decline like the assumption of huge responsibilities by her daughter Agatha. When Agatha is mean to Thomas, she is taking out her frustration and pain at her situation. As the chapter proceeds, the reader begins to ache for Agatha to be able to close her eyes and sleep peacefully, but she remains unable to drift off to the lyrics of "Clementine," haunted as she is by stark images of abandonment from "Hansel and Gretel."

Through Agatha's perspective, Tyler paints a vivid picture of an adult breaking down and unable to find a way through circumstances stacked against her. The impression of a child stepping in to fill the gaps is reinforced through Agatha's words and actions throughout the chapter. Even when her mother leans close to her and kisses her goodnight, Lucy is actually seeking to confide in Agatha about the perfidy of men and her own horror at having to fend for herself in the world. Agatha, forced into the position of a confidante, remains loving and forgiving. She reassures Lucy by saying, "No, Mama, you didn't do anything wrong." What is much more evident, however, is that Agatha herself hasn't done anything wrong, even when bossing Thomas around.

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