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KxBurns
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THEMES: Obligation and Guilt

THEMES threads are for open discussion of themes throughout the entirety of the book. If you're worried about stumbling across spoilers, read no further!

What role does a sense of duty or obligation play in the events of the book? What about guilt?

Which characters shirk their obligations and what are the repercussions? Are they greater or less than the repercussions for those who live up to their duties?

Karen
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tmhoyle2
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt - SPOILER

Marking this as a spoiler in case people don't realize we're discussing the themes from the whole book.

I was floored when Grace felt such obligation to Hannah as opposed to her want and agreement to get married and chose to stay with Hannah. Talk about obligation to put someone you're serving over your own possible happiness.
Tina.

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wendyroba
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt - SPOILER



tmhoyle2 wrote:
Marking this as a spoiler in case people don't realize we're discussing the themes from the whole book.

I was floored when Grace felt such obligation to Hannah as opposed to her want and agreement to get married and chose to stay with Hannah. Talk about obligation to put someone you're serving over your own possible happiness.




I agree 100% - it was almost a shock to realize how much Grace would give up for her obligation to Hannah.
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glycerinefire
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt

I think something that really surprised me, though I understand why it occured, was that Grace finding out about her parentage didn't change anything for her. If anything, she felt a stronger sense of devotion to Hannah (as a "secret sister"), and she just assumed that Hannah already knew (which I seriously doubt). I think most people, upon discovering they are the illegitimate child of a lord, would seek some sort of respect or acknowledgment from the father and/or siblings. Not necessarily monetary recompense, but just acknowlegment. But Grace continues serving, walking blindly into the demise of her own happiness. I don't believe it is guilt that drives her, but a twisted sense of obligation as a sister.
"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination." ~Oscar Wilde

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rstjm4
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt

I haven't finished the book yet so I can't yet comment on the entire book, but soon.

One of the biggest was as mentioned the obligation Grace felt toward Hannah when she realized Frederick was her father. I think she stayed as an obligation to Hannah as her sister, not as her maid. I don't think Hannah knew at this point that Grace was her sister so it wouldn't have meant as much to her as it did to Grace.

I think that Frederick has a sense of guilt because he has not lived up to the responsiblity as a father where Grace is concerned. I think he actually loved Grace's mother more than his wife and feels bad about it. But then after her mother died why didn't he come forward and tell Grace? It was very noble of her to not go after him for some type of compensation when she found out.

There is also a stong sense of obligation betwen Hannah, Emmeline and David. They were very close as siblings and Hannah felt that David was rejecting them when he signed up for the war. Emmeline felt that Hannah was abandoning her when she married Teddy.
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vivico1
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt - SPOILER


wendyroba wrote:


tmhoyle2 wrote:
Marking this as a spoiler in case people don't realize we're discussing the themes from the whole book.

I was floored when Grace felt such obligation to Hannah as opposed to her want and agreement to get married and chose to stay with Hannah. Talk about obligation to put someone you're serving over your own possible happiness.




I agree 100% - it was almost a shock to realize how much Grace would give up for her obligation to Hannah.


Do you think she really did it out of obligation, or the obsession she has had with Hannah since the first? Other servants get married. Other may even say they wont leave, but life changes. I think it was more of which was Grace's stronger desire, where was she more drawn to, not obligation because she said she was waiting for this moment with him and would have married him. It wasn't the obligation of servitude that was her choice, nor a promise not to leave. It was this new info she had about who she and Hannah were to each other and her desires to really be just that with Hannah all along to the point of obsession, that made her choice for her. Had she not found out what she did at just this same time, I think it would have been different, because she was waiting for him to ask.
Vivian
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Popper19
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt - SPOILER



vivico1 wrote:

wendyroba wrote:


tmhoyle2 wrote:
Marking this as a spoiler in case people don't realize we're discussing the themes from the whole book.

I was floored when Grace felt such obligation to Hannah as opposed to her want and agreement to get married and chose to stay with Hannah. Talk about obligation to put someone you're serving over your own possible happiness.




I agree 100% - it was almost a shock to realize how much Grace would give up for her obligation to Hannah.


Do you think she really did it out of obligation, or the obsession she has had with Hannah since the first? Other servants get married. Other may even say they wont leave, but life changes. I think it was more of which was Grace's stronger desire, where was she more drawn to, not obligation because she said she was waiting for this moment with him and would have married him. It wasn't the obligation of servitude that was her choice, nor a promise not to leave. It was this new info she had about who she and Hannah were to each other and her desires to really be just that with Hannah all along to the point of obsession, that made her choice for her. Had she not found out what she did at just this same time, I think it would have been different, because she was waiting for him to ask.




I think obsession would be a more fitting description of Grace's giving up a life with Alfred to continue to be Grace's maid.
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bentley
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt


KxBurns wrote:
THEMES threads are for open discussion of themes throughout the entirety of the book. If you're worried about stumbling across spoilers, read no further!

What role does a sense of duty or obligation play in the events of the book? What about guilt?

Which characters shirk their obligations and what are the repercussions? Are they greater or less than the repercussions for those who live up to their duties?

Karen




Duty and obligation is what motivated the majority of the characters in the novel. (Grace, Mrs. Townsend, Mr. Hamilton, Hannah to a large extent, the Hartford men, Grace's mother and sister all tried to live up to their responsibilities). Emmeline shirked hers and Alfred threw off the shackles of house service to serve himself.

I think that some of the characters had a false sense of duty and placed a higher value on folks they served than they did on themselves. In doing so, they solidified their feelings of inferiority and reinforced the idea that their lives were less important/insignificant and the time that they had for themselves not as valuable. Grace was forced to sacrifice her time off to accompany Hannah on rescue missions for Emmeline and to fortune tellers but when Grace's own mother died; though Hannah made apologies she did not tell Teddy that she had to accompany Grace home and pay her respects to Grace's mother. She let Grace go to her mother's funeral alone. Grace never learned to set up any boundaries from her mother growing up; and therefore she did not know how to set them up in her interactions with the Riverton staff or with others. I think this lack of self worth led in part to the secrets and to the guilt (for both Grace and her mother). What if anyone learned the truth; how much less would they think of me?

Bentley
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wendyroba
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt - SPOILER



vivico1 wrote:

wendyroba wrote:


tmhoyle2 wrote:
Marking this as a spoiler in case people don't realize we're discussing the themes from the whole book.

I was floored when Grace felt such obligation to Hannah as opposed to her want and agreement to get married and chose to stay with Hannah. Talk about obligation to put someone you're serving over your own possible happiness.




I agree 100% - it was almost a shock to realize how much Grace would give up for her obligation to Hannah.


Do you think she really did it out of obligation, or the obsession she has had with Hannah since the first? Other servants get married. Other may even say they wont leave, but life changes. I think it was more of which was Grace's stronger desire, where was she more drawn to, not obligation because she said she was waiting for this moment with him and would have married him. It wasn't the obligation of servitude that was her choice, nor a promise not to leave. It was this new info she had about who she and Hannah were to each other and her desires to really be just that with Hannah all along to the point of obsession, that made her choice for her. Had she not found out what she did at just this same time, I think it would have been different, because she was waiting for him to ask.




I agree there was an element of obsession here - but, maybe (since we are trying to be exact in word choice) a better word might be desire. Grace was lonely. She wanted a sister. And when she finds out that Hannah is indeed her sister, she is overjoyed. Her desire to be with Hannah over rules her love for Alfred. For Grace, Hannah represents the family she never had, even if she cannot tell Hannah the secret about their shared parentage. It is a mistake, ultimately, for Grace to have made this choice...but at the time she sees her choice as one where she will become a member of the Hartford family. So, going back to the idea of obligation - I agree that is probably not something which explains it all.
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Tasses
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt

There was more to the Hannah/Grace relationship than just obligation/guilt. Even without the supposed half-sister possibility, Grace WANTED to be accepted by Hannah. First, this acceptance was a typical teenage girl's desire for acceptance by her peers (playing out in schools across the USA as I type). Later, it was the perception that they shared a secret, that Hannah had accepted her, that they were 'friends' that fueled Grace's desire to be close to Hannah. Remember, Grace was young, 14, and had no other peers with which to interact.
Having taught oodles of young girls, I can assure that the desire for peer acceptance is strong. This DESIRE, and not OBLIGATION, is the real fuel behind Grace's little white lie that exploded years later. The lie was made in innocence and therefore cannot be the blame for Robbie's death. If we all remember our youth, we will surely recall a simple lie told which might have exploded....

The guilt, however, is Grace's cross to bear. I was exceptionally pleased with the character development of Grace & would love a subject post to discuss character development ( a huge interest of mine)...
;-)
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bentley
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt


Tasses wrote:
There was more to the Hannah/Grace relationship than just obligation/guilt. Even without the supposed half-sister possibility, Grace WANTED to be accepted by Hannah. First, this acceptance was a typical teenage girl's desire for acceptance by her peers (playing out in schools across the USA as I type). Later, it was the perception that they shared a secret, that Hannah had accepted her, that they were 'friends' that fueled Grace's desire to be close to Hannah. Remember, Grace was young, 14, and had no other peers with which to interact.
Having taught oodles of young girls, I can assure that the desire for peer acceptance is strong. This DESIRE, and not OBLIGATION, is the real fuel behind Grace's little white lie that exploded years later. The lie was made in innocence and therefore cannot be the blame for Robbie's death. If we all remember our youth, we will surely recall a simple lie told which might have exploded....

The guilt, however, is Grace's cross to bear. I was exceptionally pleased with the character development of Grace & would love a subject post to discuss character development ( a huge interest of mine)...
;-)




Tasses as I recall the white lie of Grace's stemmed from her saving about six months of salary or a few months at least to buy a new book. She was hiding that book from Hannah and didn't trust Hannah with the truth. She had ample time to come clean but was looking after her position and did not want to erode Hannah's regard for her by telling her the truth. In fact, I think she thought that this little secret bonded her to Hannah and she felt good about that thought and the possibility that she was thought of as a close confidante. However, if we do not want to sugar coat it, it is fair to say that Hannah shot Robbie and is responsible for his death; Hannah and Robbie are responsible for the adulterous relationship that led to the event but if Grace had not lied about knowing short hand; the events would not have happened as they did. Period. Luckily for me, I did not have potential ticking time bombs in my life and for that I am really grateful. As far as Grace developing as a character I fear that I feel that she did not really show personal growth nor became an admirable character until after the unspeakable event and after Hannah died. I am sure that some will disagree; but Grace was quite the ice maiden until that point and I wasn't too pleased with how she treated her very young daughter. I think a thread on Grace's development as a character would be an interesting one.

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ELee
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Duty

Rather than obligation, I would reference "duty" for my post.

One of the characters my heart really went out to was Jemima. She was blessed in that the foundation of her marriage was a true love. But there the blessing ends. She learns from her mother that she has the "bleeders" curse and that it "passes girls over". Though she doesn't believe when first told, after her first child's death it was definitely confirmed. Its hard for me to imagine the pain and guilt a woman would feel, truly loving a man and wanting to give him the heir it was her duty to conceive, and knowing in her heart that a male child would be born with the "curse" and die. Even when her last child is a girl and she is given the opportunity to love and raise a child at last, she will still be burdened with the knowledge that her daughter carries the "bleeders curse".
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bookhunter
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Re: Duty



ELee wrote:
Rather than obligation, I would reference "duty" for my post.

One of the characters my heart really went out to was Jemima. She was blessed in that the foundation of her marriage was a true love. But there the blessing ends. She learns from her mother that she has the "bleeders" curse and that it "passes girls over". Though she doesn't believe when first told, after her first child's death it was definitely confirmed. Its hard for me to imagine the pain and guilt a woman would feel, truly loving a man and wanting to give him the heir it was her duty to conceive, and knowing in her heart that a male child would be born with the "curse" and die. Even when her last child is a girl and she is given the opportunity to love and raise a child at last, she will still be burdened with the knowledge that her daughter carries the "bleeders curse".




Oh, ELee, you touched me, here. Most of the other women were married to husbands out of a sense of duty, and Jemima is the ONLY ONE that seems to love her husband. She will be able to raise Hannah's baby (family duty?) and that adopted daughter will not carry the curse. I hope she finds happiness in America!

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KxBurns
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Re: Duty



ELee wrote:
Rather than obligation, I would reference "duty" for my post.

One of the characters my heart really went out to was Jemima. She was blessed in that the foundation of her marriage was a true love. But there the blessing ends. She learns from her mother that she has the "bleeders" curse and that it "passes girls over". Though she doesn't believe when first told, after her first child's death it was definitely confirmed. Its hard for me to imagine the pain and guilt a woman would feel, truly loving a man and wanting to give him the heir it was her duty to conceive, and knowing in her heart that a male child would be born with the "curse" and die. Even when her last child is a girl and she is given the opportunity to love and raise a child at last, she will still be burdened with the knowledge that her daughter carries the "bleeders curse".



I also admired Jemima's dignity at the reading of the will (the meeting with Lord Gifford). She is clearly not well but she wants to stay, to be there for Lady Violet.
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hasieb
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt


KxBurns wrote:
THEMES threads are for open discussion of themes throughout the entirety of the book. If you're worried about stumbling across spoilers, read no further!

What role does a sense of duty or obligation play in the events of the book? What about guilt?

Which characters shirk their obligations and what are the repercussions? Are they greater or less than the repercussions for those who live up to their duties?

Karen




KxBurns wrote:
THEMES threads are for open discussion of themes throughout the entirety of the book. If you're worried about stumbling across spoilers, read no further!

What role does a sense of duty or obligation play in the events of the book? What about guilt?

Which characters shirk their obligations and what are the repercussions? Are they greater or less than the repercussions for those who live up to their duties?

Karen


I think about the overwhelming obligation so many of the characters in this book felt, and it does arouse my pity. However, I wonder how much of the sense of obligation or duty was motivated by a desire for security rather than attachment to a person. Did Grace really not marry Alfred because she felt an obligation to Hannah or because Alfred's success was a complete unknown? Why did she take him as a lover later in her life rather than marrying him? Was it because she had gotten over a need for security? A need to know how her life would play out? Whether she knew she was Frederick's child or not, whether Hannah knew or not, her life would play out the same while she stayed with those at Riverton. The same for Frederick. If he had pursued Grace's mom, he would not have known in advance how his life would play out. Each of the characters who bows to obligation/duty also stays in circumstances that are more secure--i.e. materially provides for them. If Hannah had not chosen to marry Teddy, would she have faced the loss of Riverton and financial ruin? Katie decides to leave service--but she had nothing to lose. The only reason obligation works or compels a certain course of action is if you fear what you might lose.
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bentley
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt


hasieb wrote:

KxBurns wrote:
THEMES threads are for open discussion of themes throughout the entirety of the book. If you're worried about stumbling across spoilers, read no further!

What role does a sense of duty or obligation play in the events of the book? What about guilt?

Which characters shirk their obligations and what are the repercussions? Are they greater or less than the repercussions for those who live up to their duties?

Karen




KxBurns wrote:
THEMES threads are for open discussion of themes throughout the entirety of the book. If you're worried about stumbling across spoilers, read no further!

What role does a sense of duty or obligation play in the events of the book? What about guilt?

Which characters shirk their obligations and what are the repercussions? Are they greater or less than the repercussions for those who live up to their duties?

Karen


I think about the overwhelming obligation so many of the characters in this book felt, and it does arouse my pity. However, I wonder how much of the sense of obligation or duty was motivated by a desire for security rather than attachment to a person. Did Grace really not marry Alfred because she felt an obligation to Hannah or because Alfred's success was a complete unknown? Why did she take him as a lover later in her life rather than marrying him? Was it because she had gotten over a need for security? A need to know how her life would play out? Whether she knew she was Frederick's child or not, whether Hannah knew or not, her life would play out the same while she stayed with those at Riverton. The same for Frederick. If he had pursued Grace's mom, he would not have known in advance how his life would play out. Each of the characters who bows to obligation/duty also stays in circumstances that are more secure--i.e. materially provides for them. If Hannah had not chosen to marry Teddy, would she have faced the loss of Riverton and financial ruin? Katie decides to leave service--but she had nothing to lose. The only reason obligation works or compels a certain course of action is if you fear what you might lose.




In terms of Alfred, the book stated that he looked her up. I guess by this time maybe Lucy had passed away. Not many details were revealed. However, Grace did not let him go this time. Like Alfred jokingly said, the older I got, the better she liked me. Grace loved Alfred but I believe the novel said that they never married just lived together. I might be mistaken on that point but it seems to be what I recall. She didn't marry him the first time because he expected her to leave service and Hannah. I do not think that Alfred's success or lack of it would have made any difference to Grace. She obviously loved him but she could not go back on her promise and the tie to Hannah was obviously greater or felt greater at the time. I think it would have been too frightening for Grace to give up the only home that she knew and the only family aside from her Mom and their cottage which they shared alone. I think she would have missed the semblance of family even though she could not see that she could have her own at the time. I believe that you are on to something when you say that all of the characters stayed in situations that were more secure. They did; security over love won out even though in most circumstances they could have had both if they were able to stand up for themselves. Sometimes very intelligent people only make safe and logical choices because they think that is what is expected of them and it usually is but sometimes these safe in the box decisions are not the ones that bring them happiness but only future regrets and misgivings about what might have been.

Bentley
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Bonnie824
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt

I could not figure Hannah's choices out. Why did she not get divorced and live her dream (travel,freedom, love)? She didn't care about her husband and disliked is family. She had no children. I could not decide if it was obligation and duty that held her back or fear.
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kiakar
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt



Bonnie824 wrote:
I could not figure Hannah's choices out. Why did she not get divorced and live her dream (travel,freedom, love)? She didn't care about her husband and disliked is family. She had no children. I could not decide if it was obligation and duty that held her back or fear.




Probably fear, she didn't want to be without comfort in her life. She was afraid for herself I feel.
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BookWoman718
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt

Hannah could not merely get a divorce because she had no grounds for divorce. I believe the book referenced the fact that proving Teddy had committed adultery was the only permitted way to file for divorce then. That probably sounds unbelievably medieval to younger readers, but the same was true in, for instance, the State of New York until sometime like the 1970s. At least, I recall famous folks who had to move to Nevada for six weeks in order to get a divorce, at the time I was already an adult. Given her active imagination, it seems quite believable that driven to desperate measures, Hannah would come up with a plan to 'disappear' as a suicide, which meant no one would be looking for her, and go off to live in another country with Robbie. Divorce was not an easy answer in previous eras; most states (and nations) had very limited grounds that one had to prove in court before divorce would be granted. And it always had to be presented to the court as adversarial; one spouse against another. None of this getting together to agree that there were irreconciliable differences.
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kiakar
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Re: THEMES: Obligation and Guilt



BookWoman718 wrote:
Hannah could not merely get a divorce because she had no grounds for divorce. I believe the book referenced the fact that proving Teddy had committed adultery was the only permitted way to file for divorce then. That probably sounds unbelievably medieval to younger readers, but the same was true in, for instance, the State of New York until sometime like the 1970s. At least, I recall famous folks who had to move to Nevada for six weeks in order to get a divorce, at the time I was already an adult. Given her active imagination, it seems quite believable that driven to desperate measures, Hannah would come up with a plan to 'disappear' as a suicide, which meant no one would be looking for her, and go off to live in another country with Robbie. Divorce was not an easy answer in previous eras; most states (and nations) had very limited grounds that one had to prove in court before divorce would be granted. And it always had to be presented to the court as adversarial; one spouse against another. None of this getting together to agree that there were irreconciliable differences.




yes, you are right about the divorce thing. I had forgotten that.
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