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Character Anaylsis of the Memory Keeper’s Daughter

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Most of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter is told through the experience of David Henry, the orthopedic surgeon and husband of Norah. This is only fair, since it is David’s lie about his daughter, Phoebe, which drives the story and eventually destroys his marriage. David came from a dirt-poor family, all of whom are dead by the time the novel opens. David is scarred by this poverty and determined to provide his family with all the luxuries they might ever crave. This leads him down the path of a workaholic. He is also a perfectionist, who is constantly reading medical journals. David also has a fatal flaw, one other part of his personality that is a result of his family background. June, David’s sister was born with a heart condition. His family, the McCallisters (David later drops his family name), could not afford medical help for June. David’s mother is drained by the experience of having to take care of her sickly child. The family is devastated when June dies young. David decides to commit himself to his studies so he can heal the world. But because of his background with June, when he sees the signs of Down Syndrome in his own daughter at birth, he immediately decides that the best thing to do for his wife is to say the daughter has been born dead.

This decision, quickly made at the height of emotion, turns out to be fatal, at least on a psychological basis, for him and his wife. Another flaw that David exhibits is his belief that emotions will weaken him. He has been taught, through the study of science, to keep his emotions at bay. He does this by reciting the Periodic Table from memory whenever his emotions rise. David is afraid that he will not be able to function if he allows his emotions to be expressed. This separates him from his wife and children. Although he deeply loves them, he has problems sharing those feelings with them. They in turn come to believe that David has no feelings at all. The second major character in this story is Norah, David’s wife. A major portion of the story is also told through Norah’s character. Norah changes the most of all the characters in the novel. At first, Norah admits that she is a woman who wants to be protected and saved by a man. She plays at being the perfect housewife. She does this well until David tells her that one of her babies was born dead. Norah has trouble getting over this loss, mostly because everyone tells her that she should be happy that she has one healthy child. But Norah needs to grieve, which she ultimately succeeds in doing. But the grieving does not fill the hole that has opened up in her soul.

After the death of Phoebe (as Norah believes), she and David build a silence between them that Norah cannot penetrate. Norah’s sister, Bree, lives a life seemingly without barriers. She is a free spirit and encourages Norah to loosen up. Norah interprets this through her tactics of drinking and taking on lovers. She also finds a job, at which she proves to be very successful. But she remains unsuccessful at home. David’s silence builds, and Norah cannot remember how to love him. Caroline Gill is the third most important character/narrator. Caroline is in love with David, with whom she has worked in his clinic. When David tells Caroline to give the baby girl to the mental institution outside of town, Caroline tells herself that she cannot do this because the building was so decrepit. Later, even Caroline questions her own reasoning, knowing that the baby creates a bond between her and David. Caroline’s virtues as a nurturer, however, are very sincere. She fights for Phoebe’s rights to live as normal a life as possible in a world that is often against her. Caroline is an independent woman. She is determined to find a way to raise Phoebe and continue to use her own skills to make a living.

However, when Al, a truck driver, is very attentive to her emotional needs, Caroline eventually gives in to his soft touch and his willingness to bolster her sometimes-faltering confidence. A smaller portion of this novel is witnessed through Paul, David and Norah’s son. Portions of the story are turned over to Paul when he becomes a teenager. David is the product of a loving but dysfunctional parental relationship. He craves his parent’s love, which he has trouble feeling. Paul is disgraced when he realizes that his mother is having affairs, so he turns away from her guidance. He wants so much to have his father be proud of him, but he refuses to give into his father’s pressures of following a profession that, in his father’s mind, is more substantial than music. But Paul has musical gifts and is true to them. Paul softens toward his father only upon his father’s unexpected death. Paul’s inability to manage a good relationship with his girlfriend Michelle may be indicative of his own inability to love or maybe his overwhelming need to be reassured. However, by the end of the story, Paul’s love for his newfound sister Phoebe appears authentic and mature.

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