The Keepers of the House – Shirley Ann Grau
In The Keepers of the House, Shirley Ann Grau has written this text through Abigail’s point of view, in first person narrative. This makes readers wonder whether the text is biased or not, and also how reliable is the narration throughout the text. Many themes are explored in this text, including power and status, wealth, social graces and conventions and also a few minor details of discrimination.
Throughout this text, Abigail changes, which makes readers think that this section of text was taken where there is an actual turning point in the book itself, as she metamorphosizes from being calm and conforming to coming out with threats to show her confidence and her ability to command which leads to readers finding out how she is feared as she intends to shut down the town’s economy and take back what once belonged to her ancestors, as they were considered as fearful people.
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The first paragraph is descriptive with repetition of ‘I’. Abigail knows what to expect as she already predicts that ‘the house would smell like fruitcake and pink gladioli’. The would in that sentence makes the tense switch to the future, to show that she knows what will happen, and also to show readers her thoughts. The ‘fruitcake and pink gladioli’ have overpowering smells to try to disguise everything that is really going on in the background. ‘John always wanted me to go, and I always did what he wanted’ shows us that a flashback to the past, and how she was always dominated.
The first conversation we see is one between Abigail and Mrs. Holloway, where they have stereotypical small talk. It can be understood that Mrs. Holloway dominates this conversation as she ‘called gaily’ when answering the door. Abigail provides the evidence to readers that John had left her when she talks about not weighing in months as John had a scale but ‘took it with him’. When talking about her ex-husband, Abigail’s voice is opposite to the ambiance of the party, as her voice ‘was harsh in the tinkle of laughter and voices’.
Grau repeats ‘for a while’ twice in one paragraph to emphasise the foreshadowing going on, as ‘it was just like another tea’ for Abigail, to show that it’s not anything new for her. The repetition of ‘I’ straight after the repeated ‘for a while’ shows that she wants to be approached. Mrs. Holloway is considered as a weak character, and this is shown to readers when she takes ‘a quick breathing silence’. Turning ‘back to her silver coffeepot’ makes it seem like nothing has happened, but there is a dramatic change, from ‘I’ to ‘you’, which shows metamorphosis on the imperative ‘you listen’. The repetition of ‘you’ makes Abigail’s point harsh and unpredictable, like any other gathering.
Readers find out that Abigail is actually a part of the Howlands, who were feared by the North American Indians. This proves that Abigail still has her past inside of her. In this paragraph, Abigail gives the other guests a mini lecture about the changes between the past and the present. Saying ‘I’m taking it back’ shows that she is being the dominator now and that it will all revolve around her.
The social situation here is seen as being intense and pretentious through as others ‘clucked then, all of them, nervously’ and ‘the fruitcake smell of the house’ is mentioned again to show more intensity and friction within the house. Her personality change is also seen from the abrupt sentences showing her harsh tone of voice. There is also an increase usage of punctuation and short phrases.
The quote between lines forty three and forty six is confusing to readers as they have to guess who says it due to the fact that the speaker isn’t mentioned, but it is predicted that the speaker is most likely Abigail. Abigail ‘just closed the hotel’ which isn’t even hers to show that she does the power, and that she will use that power of hers.
Abigail is an observant person, and this is shown on line forty nine when she sees Jean Bannister’s face as ‘frozen and stiff’ and also on line fifty nine where she sees Louise Allen chewing her ‘finger nervously’. In the penultimate paragraph, it is revealed that the whole community depends on Abigail, and what she is telling the ladies is that their husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers are all going to become unemployed as she is in the process of putting everyone out of business.
To conclude, Grau uses many literary devices to show the changes going on in Abigail’s life in a short time span, as we see her personality completely change from being a lady conforming to the social graces and then turning straight opposite all that, like total opposites going from white and pure to black and evil.