Based on the experiences of a real young woman named Sarah Bishop, O’Dell’s novel is engaging because of its heroine. While Sarah is not a heroine in the classic sense of accomplishing a single spectacular deed, she is a heroine because she survives and does so through the strength of her own character, an important message for female readers and male readers alike.
As the novel opens, Sarah has already lost her mother, but the specific circumstances are not revealed. Almost immediately, Sarah’s father is killed and her brother enlists, leaving Sarah on her own. As one could imagine, Sarah has a difficult time accepting her father’s death, especially such a preventable and excruciatingly painful one as being tarred and feathered, and so tries to maintain her family by searching for her brother. When she finally earns enough money by working at the Lion and Lamb tavern, she goes in search of him, only to discover that she is hours too late to see him and that he has already been buried at sea. Lost and now truly alone, she is used as a Patriot pawn of the British troops and is held responsible for starting a fire. She escapes to the wilderness, where she uses the solitude and abundance of nature to nurture her spiritual well-being.
An interesting aspect of her personality is her abrupt departure from her earlier reliance on the church and the teachings of the Bible as these life-altering events occur in her life. Before Sarah leaves town to find her brother, Mrs. Jessop gives her a Bible. As Sarah settles into her new home, she admits that she has “no desire to read the Bible,” and she realizes as she reads aloud to Sam Goshen that she has only read from the Bible twice since her father’s death. It is clear that Sarah feels abandoned by everyone, including God, and for a time does not find solace in the religion that had once comforted her. Such questioning of values is appropriate for an adolescent, however, even one whose experiences have not been so trying.
The serenity and life-renewing forces of nature do mend Sarah’s heart. She hunts only to eat and is quite comfortable with all of nature, especially those...
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- Critical Essays