Katherine Paterson

Jacob Have I Loved

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Jacob Have I Loved Summary

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Acclaimed American author Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved (1980) follows one girl’s feelings of being less loved than her twin sister. The children’s book won the Newbery Medal, the top honor for young people’s literature. The title comes from the bible verse, “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:13). Paterson wrote the book after reading a history of Chesapeake Bay near Maryland and wanting to place a story in the area. Paterson is also well known for Bridge to Terabithia (1977). The themes of Jacob Have I Loved (1980) include favoritism, fate, and forgiveness.

Rass Island is a peculiar crab fishing town on Chesapeake Bay. The narrator, thirteen-year-old Sara Louise Bradshaw (who goes by her middle name, Louise) talks about helping her father with crab fishing in the summer of 1941. She has a best friend, McCall “Call” Purnell, who is a year older, plain looking, rarely emotional, wears glasses, and is on the chunky side. Unlike Call, Louise is tall, blonde, and beautiful. Louise likes Call because she can gossip freely with him. She tries to improve his sense of humor by telling him jokes. They sell some crabs for a good price, then head home.

At home, Louise is not greeted warmly by her Grandma Bradshaw or her twin sister, Caroline. Grandma tells her not to track in so much dirt and Caroline says she smells awful. The twins’ mother, Susan Bradshaw, a well-educated lady and former school teacher, makes them all crab soup. Caroline brags about how she will write her memoir from that summer because she is going to be famous in the future. Louise rolls her eyes, though she is sad to know Caroline has talent that she lacks and that Caroline’s story will only obliquely mention her.

Louise was born a few minutes before Caroline, a rare victory for her. But soon enough, the family’s habit of prioritizing Caroline over her is established. Caroline had several health problems when she was born, and she became more endeared to the family because they were under constant threat of losing her. While Louise understands this, she wonders who was taking care of her when the family was tending to Caroline. Grandma Bradshaw can tell in-depth stories about Caroline but claims to recall nothing about Louise’s childhood.

From a young age, Louise’s father, Truitt Bradshaw, appears to be less caring toward Louise and treats her like a boy. Meanwhile, Caroline is favored by the town. Her talent with the piano is evident, and a teacher offers to give her free lessons, which is great as the family could never afford the lessons otherwise.

Louise’s family hears of the attack on Pearl Harbor and realizes that the United States will be entering WWII. Louise starts hating her sister for mocking a fellow student and giving her the nickname of “Wheeze.” Caroline never helps bring in the groceries, and Grandma Bradshaw acts as if she can do no wrong. One day, Louise will have her revenge and, like Joseph and his brothers in the Bible, Caroline will return home and ask for her help.

A strange sailor in his mid-60s, Hiram Wallace, comes to Rass Island. Call and Louise find out that he went to college and was very popular in town fifty years ago, but he remains haunted by the role he played in his father’s death. They come to call him “Captain,” as he owns a ship but never reveals his name.

Louise gets her period a full year after Caroline does, furthering cementing the impression that Caroline is more feminine than she. Meanwhile, Call grows emotionally close to the Captain and further from Louise.

A terrible storm wrecks the Captain’s ship. He has since revealed that he is Hiram Wallace and the love interest of an elderly woman next door, Auntie “Trudy” Braxton, whom he eventually marries. Hiram stays with the family for three days while he looks for other accommodations; when Grandma Bradshaw, Caroline, and Louise are forced to room together, conflict ensues.

After a stroke, Auntie Braxton dies. Grandma Bradshaw makes the bizarre claim that Hiram and Louise poisoned her. Call drops out of high school to make money to support his family. Hiram, who has inherited some money from Braxton, misinterprets some words from Louise and ends up paying for Caroline to attend a private music school in Baltimore. Grandma Bradshaw quotes Romans 9:13 to Louise. Louise starts to think that, like Esau, she is cursed and God hates her.

About the time Caroline leaves for Baltimore, Louise drops out of high school to focus on crab hunting full time. Call joins the Navy to fight in WWII. Discontent, Louise stops going to church or trying to dress like a “lady.”

Caroline is accepted to Juilliard in Manhattan. Call returns home from the war. He is now attractive and masculine, and Louise is attracted to him. While they visit the Captain (Louise has put on her very best dress) Call tells Louise that he is in love with Caroline, and they will be married on Christmas Eve, 1946.

Louise stays home with Grandma Bradshaw during the wedding. It is revealed that Grandma Bradshaw had an unrequited crush on the Captain years ago, and Louise feels some sympathy toward her grandmother. Louise invites him over. He encourages Louise to make good things happen to her, rather than wait for them to occur.

Louise has a real talk with her mother. She says she has to leave Rass Island. She asks her mother if she will be missed as much as Caroline, and her mother replies even more than Caroline; finally, Louise feels some validation.

Louise enrolls at the University of Maryland, but, after being told she will not get into medical school, moves to Kentucky to become a nurse. She marries Joseph Wojtkiewicz, a kind man who tells her that God had planned for her to move here. This brings some peace to Louise; she never felt that a higher power had any sort of plan for her.

Louise’s father dies, but she cannot go to the funeral as she is nine months pregnant. After her child is born, Louise is back at work as a midwife. She helps deliver twins one day. As with her and Caroline, the older one is fine while the younger one is in danger of dying. Louise helps take care of both equally and instructs the family to do likewise. In this process, she forgives Caroline.