Presenter Information

Sarah K. JohnsonFollow

Content Category

Literary Criticism

Abstract/Description

Used repeatedly throughout Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping, the word “transfiguration” differs slightly from the biblical definition. In Housekeeping, a living person transfigures into a dead one. Through a close analysis of the use of “transfiguration,” I have discovered that Sylvie physically transfigures into Helen, Sylvie’s sister and Ruthie’s mother, who committed suicide when Ruthie was very young. Helen’s death functions as absolute abandonment of Ruthie, and this abandonment initiates a crippling identity crisis in Ruthie. Through a close exploration of how Helen’s death causes both the transfiguration of Sylvie and the abandonment of Ruthie, how the transfiguration is physical rather than mental, and how Sylvie becomes a glorified being, we discover that Sylvie transfigures in order to reverse the abandonment of Ruthie. This “unabandonment” provides Ruthie with a longed-for sense of both belonging and identity. “Transfiguration’s” use in Housekeeping thus illuminates the healing power of both change and feminine relationships.

Origin of Submission

as part of a class

Faculty Involvement

Kristin Matthews

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Woman Transfigured: Sylvie and Ruth in Marilynn Robinson’s Housekeeping

Used repeatedly throughout Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping, the word “transfiguration” differs slightly from the biblical definition. In Housekeeping, a living person transfigures into a dead one. Through a close analysis of the use of “transfiguration,” I have discovered that Sylvie physically transfigures into Helen, Sylvie’s sister and Ruthie’s mother, who committed suicide when Ruthie was very young. Helen’s death functions as absolute abandonment of Ruthie, and this abandonment initiates a crippling identity crisis in Ruthie. Through a close exploration of how Helen’s death causes both the transfiguration of Sylvie and the abandonment of Ruthie, how the transfiguration is physical rather than mental, and how Sylvie becomes a glorified being, we discover that Sylvie transfigures in order to reverse the abandonment of Ruthie. This “unabandonment” provides Ruthie with a longed-for sense of both belonging and identity. “Transfiguration’s” use in Housekeeping thus illuminates the healing power of both change and feminine relationships.