Vivian calls Dutchy “Luke” in the company of other people, but “Dutchy” when they are alone. He calls her “Viv” because he thinks it sounds like “Niamh.” Contrary to Mrs. Nielsen’s fears, Dutchy encourages Vivian to continue her studies and her job at the store. With Mr. Nielsen’s help, Dutchy gets a job in Hemingford as a music teacher. Every weekend Vivian goes with him to Minneapolis, where he continues his piano performances. Dutchy is impulsive and passionate, while Vivian is even-tempered and orderly, yet they each temper the other. When they lie together in bed, Dutchy tells her how lucky he feels to have found her. After years of “keeping so much hidden,” Vivian feels like she doesn’t “have to pretend” with him. She realizes that her own parents were never in love the way she and Dutchy are.
The matter of Vivian and Dutchy’s names illustrates how they must always balance their past and present selves with their private and public identities. The fact that Dutchy surprises Mrs. Nielsen by encouraging Vivian’s studies shows how Dutchy and Vivian’s marriage deviated from the gender norms of the time. Unlike most married men, Dutchy doesn’t expect Vivian to become a homemaker. This reflects their individual dispositions as well as the mutual acceptance they have for each other as full people. For the first time in years, Vivian feels free from shame and pretense.
One day, a reporter on the radio announces that Pearl Harbor has been attacked. And with that, “everything changes.” Several of Vivian’s former classmates and friends enlist in the army. Business changes and signs everywhere encourage people to make “sacrifices” for their country. Dutchy shamelessly maintains, “they’ll have to come for me”—but when the draft begins, Dutchy is called. Before he leaves, Vivian gives him her claddagh cross. While he is in training in San Diego, Vivian discovers she is pregnant. Despite Mrs. Nielsen’s concern for her health, Vivian continues to busy herself with work and volunteering to keep her mind from worry. Dutchy then ships out to the Central Pacific. He and Vivian exchange letters every week. Dutchy is thrilled to become a father, writing that he’ll “finally have a family.” Vivian always includes the same “cliché” words in her letters, meaning them wholeheartedly: “I love you. I miss you. Be careful. Be safe.”
The scene when Vivian hears about Pearl Harbor on the radio shows how quickly political events can alter the lives of individuals. Dutchy’s unapologetic reluctance to join the war effort suggests that he doesn’t feel he owes the country or anyone else his life. His difficult early life experiences already took so much from him, and he is only now beginning to have a normal, healthy life. His words about “finally hav[ing] a family” draw attention to the fact that the birth of their child will give them both a biological family once again. Vivian’s simple words highlight how sincerely she loves Dutchy and how powerless she is to keep him safe.
One day a man from Western Union comes to the store. He reads Vivian and her parents a telegram, announcing that “Luke Maynard” was “killed in action.” Vivian puts her hand over her stomach to touch “the baby – our baby.” As the months go by, Vivian stays busy with her work at the store. Mrs. Nielsen, Mrs. Murphy, Lillian, and Emily keep her company with movies and tea. She gets letters of condolence and Dutchy’s personal items from Jim Daly, Dutchy’s shipmate. It “will be years before” she puts the claddagh cross back on. Dutchy’s superstition kept him from telling others about the baby, and in Vivian’s replies to Jim she makes no mention.
Vivian’s initial response to touch her belly draws attention to the fact that her child is her last remaining link to Dutchy. This passage offers little insight into Vivian’s state of mind after Dutchy’s death, but rather implies that she occupied herself with work and the company of others to distract herself from the reality of her loss. This suggests that she is surviving her loss by repressing her emotions, as she has had to in the past. By avoiding her necklace, she avoids direct memories of Dutchy.
One night, Vivian goes into labor, and Mrs. Nielsen takes her to the hospital. During her difficult delivery, Vivian finally weeps for Dutchy. She “learned long ago that loss is not only probable but inevitable” and she weeps uncontrollably for the “loss of a future [she’d] dared to envision.” Overwhelmed with sorrow, Vivian decides she can’t bear the idea of loving so deeply “ever again.” Seeing her sadness, Mrs. Nielsen assures her that she’ll “go on for this baby.” But Vivian has already decided. She pushes the baby out. The little girl has blonde hair. She says the name “May” into her baby’s ear, and thinks of how her baby, like she herself, is “the reincarnation of a dead girl.” Without any warning to anyone else, Vivian gives the baby away.
Amidst the emotions and pain of labor, Vivian can no longer repress her grief over losing Dutchy. The immensity of her pain highlights how much she relied on Dutchy to give her life a sense of hope, meaning, and belonging. Losing him means losing the only person who (she feels) truly understood her. Her grief over “a future [she’d] dared to envision” highlights how much she risked just by letting herself believe in love and hope again. She then gives her daughter away because she knows that love always carries the risk of loss, and she feels she can’t tolerate the pain of loss “ever again.”