Jane-Emily Critical Review
Reflective Ball Symbolizes Unobtainable Desires
Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp is about two girls, Jane and Louisa, visiting their family and the long-deceased, malevolent twelve-year-old girl, Emily, that haunts the grounds. The reflective ball that Emily frequently uses is a symbol of her demand for the unattainable and her ability to get it, even after death.
Emily’s father was highly indulgent of his daughter. Emily’s mother, Lydia Canfield, and doctor both admit this to Louisa at different stages in the book. Emily’s doctor, Dr. Frost, even gives a great example of how her father overindulged her daughter.
In his eyes she was the most wonderful creature ever born, and when she asked for the moon he gave it to her!”
“The moon,” I repeated. “That silver ball in the garden. It’s rather the same he gave it to her!”
“It was the same. Jack took Emily outside one night to look at the moon. He told me she thought it was pretty, and she wanted it. Jack almost tore his hair out wondering what to do (95).”
The phrase “I’d give you the moon,” is popular because it is a nice way of saying “I’ll give you everything I can.” The moon is not something you can have, and Emily’s desire to own it, though understandable does not make it any less unattainable. However, this knowledge does not deter her father. He can’t give her the moon, but he does give her something that looks similar, something that can stand in its place. He gives her a silver reflective ball, which apparently was not enough for her.
When she’s about ten, Emily broke the reflective ball. Her father than asked what her why she broke the reflective ball.
…she said that when she looked into it she saw a face that wasn’t hers. It was an ugly face, she said, and she insisted that it must have been the face of someone else who had looked into the ball (59.)
Her father tried to explain things, but eventually he replaced the broken reflective ball. The replacement was a reaffirmation that he would still “give her the moon,” so long as he was capable, but he sweetened the lesson, put more value on the gift, when he “assured her that no one except Emily would ever look into it. That it was all hers (59).”
In doing so he gave the idea that if she wanted something, she could make it hers and hers alone.
This mindset, these lessons, brought about Emily’s death. While sick with a cold, Emily wanted the son of her Doctor, Adam Frost, to play with her. He refused, using his father as an excuse to leave the house. Believing getting Doctor Frost would bring her son back to her, she told her mother she felt even worse and that she should call Doctor Frost back. When Lydia Canfield told her she would not call Doctor Frost, Emily asked if Doctor Frost would come if she’d get sicker. Her mother said yes. As a result, Emily, when alone, opened her window in the middle of winter and poured water over her body. She made herself as cold as possible. She contracted pneumonia and died.
Even death did not keep her from getting what she wanted. During one of many conversations Louisa shared with Lydia Canfield, she learned that Emily’s father and brother–both precious to Emily, died under circumstances that are mysterious and were unexplainable. Lydia Canfield wonders if Emily somehow took them so they’d be with her. The one other person Emily was attached to was Adam Frost, the boy she killed herself over and the boy she made perfectly clear, she intended to marry.
Adam Frost is now a doctor and he’s proposed to Louisa. Readers, like Louisa, can imagine Emily’s thinking: she is the only one allowed to marry Adam. Thus, Louisa hesitates to accept his proposal. She explains her fears, that Emily took her brother and father and that she would do whatever she could to stop her and Adam getting married. She tells him: “If Emily reached Jane-if she hurt her in any way, any way–I couldn’t marry you! You know I couldn’t. And Emily knows it too (117).” Despite her fears, Adam convinces Louisa to accept her proposal.
That night reflective ball glows and Jane is certain she hears Emily crying. The nine-year-old goes outside in the rain to investigate to get trapped outdoors. The next night she contracts pneumonia and seems to be following in Emily’s footsteps. Lydia Canfield recognizes this, believes Emily is about to take Jane away, and a fit of protective rage, she charges outside and destroys the reflective ball.-In destroying Emily’s father’s testament that she can always have the attainable, Emily loses her powers, her strength and her greed. It symbolizes the end to Emily receiving the unattainable.
Clapp, Patricia, and Patricia Clapp. Jane-Emily and Witches’ Children. New York: HarperPaperbacks, 2007. Print.