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In Walk Two Moons, Mrs. Partridge, Margaret Cadaver’s mother, leaves messages on Phoebe Winterbottom’s porch. The first of these messages reads, “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” As Salamanca tells Phoebe’s story, she walks in Phoebe’s moccasins, and she learns not only about Phoebe but about herself as well. She declares that “beneath Phoebe’s story was another one. Mine.”

The two primary themes in Walk Two Moons, separation and love, are strongly intertwined. The first theme, separation, reflects the basic developmental task of adolescence: separation from the mother. Creech clarifies this theme for readers with Sal’s memories of her dog, Moody Blue. She remembers how Moody Blue would not let anyone touch its litter of puppies during the first week after their birth. Gradually, the dog allowed its puppies to be touched but would always carefully herd them back. When they were six weeks old, however, Moody Blue pushed them away. Sal thought that Moody Blue was terrible, but her mother explained the dog’s behavior by telling Sal, “They have to become independent. What if something happened to Moody Blue? They wouldn’t know how to survive without her.”

Walk Two Moons examines the related themes of separation and love through the stories of Salamanca, Phoebe, and, to a lesser extent, Ben. Their mothers have all left home, either temporarily or permanently, and, as Salamanca gives voice to her own thoughts and experiences or tells her grandparents the story of Phoebe, readers come to understand why these young people react as they do. Sal remembers how, after Phoebe’s mother left, Phoebe showed her things such as a handmade birthday card and a photograph of Phoebe and her mother, and how she explained that she and her mother had painted the violet wall in Phoebe’s room. Sal had clung to memories of her own mother in much the same way. She knew why Phoebe, all evidence to the contrary, insisted that her mother had been kidnapped. Phoebe could not allow herself to believe that her mother would voluntarily abandon her. To do so would be to admit that her mother did not love her.

As the story progresses, Sal and Phoebe learn that their mothers’ reasons for leaving were personal and unrelated to their relationships with their daughters. Both left to discover their identities apart from their families. Phoebe’s mother returned, and perhaps Sal’s mother would also have returned, had she not died. As Sal finally realizes, “Maybe my mother’s leaving had nothing whatsoever to do with me. It was separate and apart. We couldn’t own our own mothers.”

For children around Sal’s age, the issues surrounding separation, so realistically portrayed in this novel, are particularly relevant. Preadolescent children are beginning to crave independence, yet they are still young enough to need mothering and to believe that things happen because of them. By walking in the moccasins of Sal and Phoebe, young readers begin to see their mothers as separate from them, with their own lives and their own needs. Children come to recognize that they are neither responsible for—nor can they control—the actions of their parents.

Walk Two Moons is about people who love and care for others under trying circumstances. The love between Sal and her grandparents is strong and shines out of every page, as does the love between Sal’s parents. Phoebe and her father come to realize, during Mrs. Winterbottom’s unexplained absence, how much they love her. Thus, Mr. Winterbottom is able to accept his wife’s illegitimate son into their family. Love is reflected in the friendship between Sal’s father and Mrs. Cadaver and in the caring between Ben and Sal that blossoms into first love. Creech’s poetic prose weaves her two themes of separation and love into an unforgettable story.

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Critical Context