Sarah, Plain and Tall Characters
by Patricia MacLachlan

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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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Anna, the narrator of this story, misses her deceased mother and must cope with an unruly younger brother. Caleb is a chatterbox who also misses his mother, even though he never knew her. His constant questions make him a pest to Anna, and he realizes that his desire for attention sometimes makes him a problem for others. When Sarah comes, he is afraid that he might drive her away.

Papa, Jacob Witting, is a lonely and hard-working man. Like his children, he misses his wife, but he realizes that eventually he must move on with his life. Therefore, he places a newspaper advertisement "for help." "You mean a housekeeper?" Anna asks. "No," her father says. "Not a housekeeper. A wife." Papa receives a reply from Sarah Wheaton, who lives in Maine. Although she loves living by the ocean, Sarah accepts Papa's offer to move inland and try living with him and his children.

The story focuses on Sarah and her new family getting to know one another. Sarah is under no obligation to marry Papa and is free to leave if she so desires; much of the story's suspense depends on whether or not she will decide to stay. Sarah describes herself in a letter to Papa as "plain and tall." Upon arriving at the farm, she proves to have good sense, an interest in helping with even the most physically demanding chores, and a quiet, warm personality.

Sharing is one of the important themes of the book. It is through sharing that Sarah slowly makes herself part of the family, and it is through sharing that the children come to know and love her. The children are at first unsure of whether they should share part of themselves with Sarah. Caleb thinks his unruly behavior might drive Sarah away; thus, he keeps his distance from her. Anna is afraid that Sarah will miss the ocean too much and will leave the farm to return to New England; thus, she is slow to commit her love to Sarah. Only the...

(The entire section is 508 words.)