Ann Brashares

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: The identity of one character is revealed through the identity of another character.

(Essay date 17 June 2013) In this essay, M.F. examines Brashares’s use of numerous foils among the main characters to illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of each individual. M.F. claims that Brashares did an excellent job in developing the characters by juxtaposing them with contrasting figures.

In the novel, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Brashares creates the identity of each of the main characters by composing one or more foils of the characters. For example, Lena is known for her external beauty. She often condemns this fact. She is tired of people noticing her only because of her attractive presence. To prevent people from not seeing beyond her looks, she tends to conceal her beauty to force people to notice more than what is on the outside. Over the summer, Lena travels to Greece to stay with her grandparents. When she arrives, she learns that her Grandma arranges for her to meet Kostos, one of the kindest boys on the island. Before encountering Kostos, she alters her appearance to tone down her natural beauty. “She put on a brown turtleneck – her least sexy piece of clothing – and pulled her hair back in a severe ponytail” (Brashares 64). Instead of embracing and exhibiting her true, beautiful self, she covers it up as much as possible. She even avoids talking to Kostos by walking different paths to prevent conversation. Lena does not want to risk being liked solely because of her physical features.

On the other hand, Bridget exemplifies traits that oppose those of Lena. While at a soccer camp in Mexico, Bridget sets her heart on one of the coaches, Eric. Due to dating rules at the camp, Eric is not allowed to pursue a romantic relationship with Bridget. Despite the circumstance that Eric is one hundred percent off limits, Bridget falls hard and fast for him. Bridget is not a beauty, as Lena is, but she utilizes her long, blonde hair to attract attention to herself. Whereas Lena hides her favorable characteristics, Bridget flaunts them. Not only does she visually grab Eric’s attention, but she does everything in her power to spend time with him. For instance, during a seven-mile run, Bridget sprints to position herself next to Eric in order to start a conversation. “She pulled up with the middle of the pack. Eric noticed her. She pulled up closer to him. ‘Hi. I’m Bridget,’ she said” (Brashares 82). This situation proves that Bridget is not afraid to obtain a guy’s attention, as well as her willingness to present herself in an upfront, confident manner.

Whereas Lena keeps her beauty under wraps and generally keeps her distance from those she does not know well enough to trust, Bridget wastes no time in introducing herself to her new subject of interest. Lena’s passive character highlights the aggressiveness of Bridget’s character, just as the confidence and drive of Bridget’s character illuminates the withdrawal and timid aspects of Lena’s character. Lena’s strength of quiet beauty is a struggle for Bridget, while Bridget’s overbearing confidence is an obstacle for Lena.

In addition, Lena’s character opposes that of her younger sister, Effie. Effie is outgoing, talkative, and poised, while Lena is reserved and self-conscious. “Everyone paid lots of attention to Lena at first, because she was striking to look at, but within a few hours or days, they always fully committed their attention to exuberant, affectionate Effie” (Brashares 50). Effie is a flirt and contrasts Lena’s resistance toward boys. Lena is often found envying the qualities of Effie, proving that although she wants to be open and warm, as Effie is, she has difficulty exposing her inner self at the same level of certainty as her sister. Lena’s conscientious behavior is valued by Effie, and Effie’s friendliness is an aspect that Lena wishes she could exhibit.

Another character that Brashares further develops by incorporating a foil is Carmen. When Carmen travels to South Carolina over the summer to reunite with her dad, who left when she was a child, she discovers that her father is engaged to another woman. Upset with his new house and family, she is rude and angry. Referring to this new family, Carmen says, ‘“I hate them. Lydia, Krista, Paul,’” (Brashares 195). This declaration of emotion demonstrates that Carmen is ungrateful for what she has. Even though she is not fond of this new family, she still has a father who cares about her and now a stepmother and siblings. Carmen does not appreciate their company and criticizes them continuously, and she eventually travels back home.

Tibby’s character, however, opposes Carmen’s. Tibby meets a young girl named Bailey who is a victim of leukemia. Bailey, at first a pest to Tibby, ends up opening Tibby’s eyes to all of the most important things in life. After getting to know Bailey and realizing that her first impression of Bailey is incorrect, Tibby befriends Bailey. Tibby accepts the girl into her life and benefits from the presence of Bailey. Tibby learns that she must not take her time with Bailey for granted because Bailey does not have much time left, due to her illness.

Carmen and Tibby serve as foils of each other because they are presented with similar situations and handle them quite differently. Whereas Carmen prohibits the change in her life by declaring herself an outsider and not giving her new family a chance to prove who they really are, Tibby is able to overlook initial differences and appreciate Bailey. This contrast surfaces Carmen’s childlike, stubborn behavior, and it reveals Tibby’s patience and ability to give everyone a fair chance. Carmen’s weakness of being prejudice is illuminated by Tibby’s willingness to alter her initial opinion.

Therefore, the foils of each main character expose the true identity of the ladies. The attitude of one friend contradicts the attitude of the other. Their differences emphasize their decisions and thoughts. The use of foils contributes to the meaning of the work as a whole. The meaning is that, although the friends often act as one unit, they each have their own characteristics that define them as individuals. The character and her personal motives become clear only when juxtaposed with a figure of an opposite outlook.

(M.F. 2013)

The Second Summer of the Sisterhood: The settings and events in the novel mirror the condition of the characters.

(Essay date 17 June 2013) In the following essay, M.F. examines Brashares’s use of setting to symbolize the lives of the main characters. M.F. also notes Brashares’s excellent ability to mirror the literal plot elements with analytical aspects of each character to show her development throughout the course of the novel.

In the novel, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, the plotlines of the characters contain a deeper meaning than the literal interpretation that appears on the surface. For example, the novel opens as Bridget is beginning to recover from a period of depression after she fails to obtain what she desires from last summer’s soccer camp. She dyes her trademark, blonde hair, gains weight, and quits playing soccer, the sport she devoted so much of her life to in the past. On a trip to visit her grandmother in Alabama, Bridget beings to fix up her grandmother’s attic throughout the summer. Literally, Bridget paints the walls, organizes boxes, and filters through the possessions. Her grandmother comments on her work by saying, ‘“…You came into this house and remade the attic. You pulled it apart and worked day after day to put it back together’” (Brashares 312). By putting forth effort, Bridget repairs the attic and her life. This setting, the improved attic in which Bridget resides in for the remainder of her trip, mirrors Bridget’s emotional state. She, too, fixes up her life and puts the pieces back together. She changes her hair back, and she even takes up soccer again. Just as Bridget puts the attic of many components back together, she cleans up the negativities in her life, leaving her with order and happiness when she parts from the attic, rather than the mess and depression she arrives with.

In addition, events in Lena’s life relate to the setting. Lena is deeply in love with Kostos. Suddenly, Kostos must return to his family in Greece, and Lena receives a letter from him breaking up with her. Soon after, Lena’s Greek grandfather passes away, and Lena flies to Greece for the funeral. There, she sees Kostos at the funeral with another woman. Lena learns this woman is his bride and reacts to the news. “Lena sank down to the ground. She put her forehead to her knees. Lena’s basic human instinct made her hang on to consciousness, even though it would have been a blessed relief to let it go” (Brashares 335). Lena is extremely saddened by this turn of events. The funeral literally is for the death of Lena’s grandfather, but it also symbolizes another death. The love between Kostos and Lena is officially over because Kostos is now getting married, leaving no chance for Lena to be with him again. There can be no further relationship between them, once and for all. Lena learns to let go and to move forward.

Furthermore, Carmen’s issue is symbolically present in happenings of her job. Carmen is having a tough time dealing with her mother dating a man from work. Carmen feels like she is being replaced and resents her mother’s boyfriend because of it. While Carmen is babysitting two little boys, she witnesses Jesse and Joe fighting over a toy, which Carmen gives them to play with. The boys clearly do not know how to share. Carmen reflects on this situation. “Carmen sighed. She was out of her depth here. What did she know about sharing? She was an only child. She never shared anything. She’d missed that lesson” (Brashares 133). This incident symbolizes Carmen’s unwillingness to “share” her mother with her mother’s new boyfriend. Carmen, in fact, acts and thinks like a child, for she is stubborn and holds a grudge against her mother, even though her mother did nothing wrong. While babysitting, Carmen observes more of the boys’ interactions. “Five minutes later, both boys were crawling happily around the floor, one car apiece. Carmen sat on the couch and watched the boys play, wondering if maybe that lesson she’s missed had actually contained something valuable” (Brashares 133). Like the boys playing, Carmen learns to look past the issue to see the glorious resolution, in which the two people arrive at a compromise and are both happy.

In addition, the occurrences that Tibby experiences, as well as the setting, possess a deeper meaning. At a summer program for filmmaking in Virginia, Tibby is assigned to create a film for a project. Her first film contains embarrassing clips of her mother. The second clip is very serious. Tibby composes the second clip using footage from the time she spent with Bailey before she died. Before now, Tibby could never confront memories and images of Bailey, for she tries her best to block out most of the recollections she still has. As Tibby confronts the more serious subject for her movie, she also faces a serious situation. She meets a guy named Alex. Initially, Tibby is attracted to him, and she even ditches her good friend, Brian, to be with him. Soon, she learns how fake and mean Alex is, and she leaves Alex behind so she can spend more time with Brian. Like getting rid of her first, cruel movie, Tibby no longer focuses on the unkind boy. Rather, like the more meaningful movie, she further pursues her true friendship with Brian. She realizes that it was wrong of her to downplay her friendship with Brian in the presence of Alex, just so Alex would accept her. Brian is much more significant to Tibby than Alex could ever be, so Tibby knows it would not be fair to put Brian second when he always puts her first. Also, Tibby’s confined dorm room symbolizes the little room and time available to Tibby to alter her priorities before she completely loses Brian’s trust.

Therefore, Brashares uses certain settings and events in order to mirror the lives and emotional states of the characters and to highlight their progression. This technique illuminates the meaning of the work as a whole, which is that learning from a mistake will only make one stronger. Each girl endures a period of pessimism over the summer, but as she gradually learns from her fault, she is able to move forward as a better person. This development is literally clear through the setting and actions of each character.

(M.F. 2013)