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Literature / Jacob Have I Loved

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Jacob Have I Loved is a 1981 Newbery Medal-winning novel by Katherine Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia.

The men of the fictional island of Rass in the Chesapeake Bay have always "followed the water" by becoming crabbers/fishers, starting businesses that their descendants can continue for generations. The novel follows Louise, a daughter of the old Bradshaw family and the older of twins. Her twin sister, Caroline, is everything Louise isn't — beautiful, talented, feminine, and is such considered the favorite. Over the course of the novel, Louise tries her best to break out of her sister's shadow, out of what the people of Rass expect from her, and ultimately, what she expects out of herself.



  • And Then What?: In a Pet the Dog moment, the Captain asks Louise what she plans to do with her life now that Call is married to Caroline. She decides to go into medicine since boarding school is now out of the question.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Louise finally finds her place in the world as a midwife and with a man that she loves, and she saves one twin from dying and another from being neglected. But her father dies, she and Caroline never speak to each other again though they come to the funeral, the island of Rass goes under and she never fulfills her dream of being a doctor.
  • Body Motifs: Sara Louise thinks that the hands, not the eyes, are the windows to the soul.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Louise did this once to her parents, in a fit of envy when they were sending Caroline to special music lessons and only afterward asked if she wanted to attend boarding school. She's more successful as an adult, making her Parental Abandonment issues much clearer. She also points out a Bible quote to her grandmother about "quarrelsome women".
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  • Cain and Abel: Downplayed, but eventually the twins become estranged when Caroline marries Call.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Call eventually marries Caroline.
  • Crazy Cat Lady: Trudy Braxton has sixteen cats and doesn't have the capability to care for them all, hence the total mess her house is in.
  • Cool Old Guy: The Captain.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Not as blatant as Bridge to Terabithia, but Louise and Caroline's father Truitt doesn't make it to the end.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Both Louise and her parents after Caroline's singing lessons are covered so she can go to the mainland. Her parents also missed the grandmother quoting the Bible on "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated". While Louise is stewing in her room over the fact that God apparently hates her, they come in and offer to send Louise to boarding school as well, not realizing that her abandonment issues have been triggered. She in turn shouts at them because she thinks they want to send her away, when they're belatedly trying to offer her the same educational opportunities.
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  • Embarrassing Nickname: "Wheeze" for Louise. To Kick the Dog further, Caroline gave her that nickname.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: The beautiful, popular Caroline is described as blonde; her plainer twin sister Louise is a brunette.
  • Gold Digger: Discussed when the Captain says that he won't marry Trudy Braxton because people will think he did it for the money her father left her.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: With booksmart, streetsmart Louise as the "smart" one, and pretty, talented Caroline as the "pretty" one.]
  • Ill Girl: Caroline was often ill when younger (even at birth), which took away her parents' attention.
  • Like Parent, Like Spouse: To a mild extent. Near the end, the narrator starts to fall in love with a coal miner, who is several years older than her, when she realizes that he's the kind of man who would "sing to the oysters," a quirk of her fisherman father.
  • Never Live It Down: In-universe, people never did let go of the time The Captain chopped down a mast during a storm.
  • Parental Abandonment: Louise constantly feels this way by being The Unfavorite, and she notes at the end that it's why she doesn't leave the island, because she was worried about being forgotten.
  • Parental Favoritism: Caroline, received all the attention as a baby because she was always weak and ill. She grew up beautiful, popular, talented at singing and the piano, sweet, and perfect, while Sara Louise became a hard-working tomboy who "never gave her parents a moment's worry." Sara Louise's mission in the novel is to find a life outside her sister's shadow.
  • Pet the Dog: After Caroline marries Call, the Captain decides to pay attention to a despondent Louise and talk to her about what she wants to do with her life. This gives her the courage to tell her parents she wants to leave the island and go to college, and to finally ask if they would miss her.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Louise's parents have never told her that they would miss her if she ever left the island, and the one time they offer to send her to boarding school is right after they decide to send Caroline over for private lessons, making Louise feel like an afterthought.
  • The Resenter: Louise.
    I was proud of my sister. But that year, something began to rankle beneath the pride.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Louise notes how puberty and the army did well by Call.
  • Sibling Rivalry
  • Something We Forgot: How Louise's life started. She was left in a breadbasket with her grandmother while the midwife rushed to save Caroline at birth. She's been feeling like this up until she goes to college and become a midwife.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: A variant; Louise in college studies medicine, but is told no medical school will accept her as an MD, so she switches to midwifery.
  • Title Drop: The title comes from the Biblical phrase "Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated."
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Louise and Caroline fit this trope perfectly. Louise is plainer and enjoys crabbing and fishing and doing hard work while Caroline prefers staying inside the home and her music lessons.
  • The Un-Favourite: Louise feeling she is this makes up much of the novel. Her sister Caroline is adored more by her family and the community, and is given special treatment (like expensive trips to the mainland just so she can get singing lessons) because of her talent.
  • We Are Not Going Through That Again: As a midwife, Louise delivers twins, and has to save one by putting her in the oven, baptizing her in the process. The other twin, like Louise, was left in a breadbasket. Louise quickly tells the parents to hold him as much as possible, and baptize him as well.
  • When She Smiles: Louise's reaction to meeting a Polish coal miner near the end of the book.
    But then, oh, my blessed, he smiled. I guess I knew right then I was going to marry him: God, Pope, three motherless children, unspellable surname and all. For when he smiled, he looked like the kind of man that would sing to the oysters.


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