Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll Act 1, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Emma is tidying the living room and calls to Olive upstairs to take a coat to work with her. Olive resists. Roo and Emma meet in the hallway and Emma says irritably that there's going to be a cool breeze, before heading to the kitchen. Olive enters the living room and finds Roo collecting Barney's empty beer bottles from the verandah. Olive says that Pearl didn't like Barney's drinking, and Roo says he doesn't think that Pearl and Barney will get along. Olive agrees, and says that Barney tried Pearl's door last night. Roo insists that that's to be expected, and Olive says she told Pearl the same.
Though it's unclear whether hiding beer bottles is a normal activity for Barney or not, now that Pearl is here it looks particularly bad. The same goes for Barney trying to get into Pearl's bedroom, something that seems normal for everyone but Pearl. This begins to show how an outside perspective casts a shadow on what has been considered normal. Essentially, all the characters are becoming hyper-aware of their habits and how they look to others.
Themes
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Olive asks Roo how his back is, but Roo tells Olive to ask Barney. Olive picks up the seventeenth doll and says that she thinks this doll is dressed better than the others—it's beautiful, while the others are just pretty. She cuddles the doll and tells Roo why she likes the dolls better than the coral or butterflies he's brought because they're special things he thought of himself. Roo grunts. Olive finds a place for the doll with the others, which are tucked in vases throughout the room, and she kisses Roo's head.
Olive's choice to describe the doll as beautiful instead of pretty shows that whether she's aware of it or not, she's moving towards maturity. Using more adult descriptors is an unconscious acceptance of this fact. It's worth noting that no matter what Olive says, now that the dolls are a tradition, Roo doesn't have to think of a gift. The strength of the tradition fills in for the emotional labor of finding a unique gift.
Themes
Youth, Maturity, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Olive asks Roo what he's going to do for the day. Roo is engrossed in the newspaper and answers noncommittally, and Olive suggests he come to the pub, and asks him to book her seats for the theatre. Emma barges in and says that breakfast is hot, but insists she won't yell for Barney. She begins cleaning the living room. Olive returns her attention to Roo and asks about the tickets, but he deflects. Olive leaves to call for Barney, and Emma asks Roo if he only gave her a dollar the day before because he's broke. She says he heard him yelling about it yesterday. Roo comments that Emma's hearing is just fine, and Emma replies that she has to listen to the goings-on in this house to protect herself.
Olive is entirely unaware (or willfully ignoring) that Roo is refusing to take her suggestions because they require money, and he has none. This suggests that Olive didn't take it seriously last night when Roo and Barney explained the situation. Accepting that Roo is broke would mean that Olive would have to accept that this summer's activities will need to change, something that's in direct opposition to her desire to keep things the same as they've always been.
Themes
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Gender and Work Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Roo points to an ad in the paper and asks if Lyman Paint Company is near the house, and Emma says it's around the corner. She asks if Barney is broke too, which Roo says is unlikely. Emma says she'd never think of helping Barney out, and offers Roo a loan. Roo jokes that the loan will only be five dollars, but Emma seriously says that she was thinking fifty dollars. Emma asks Roo to keep it quiet, and Roo asks if she's been taking from Olive. Bubba lets herself in, and Emma tells Roo to not ask questions.
The characters have thus far painted Emma as having few goals other than acquiring money, a quality that's become a tradition by this point. When Roo turns Emma's offer into a joke and struggles to understand that she's honestly offering him a loan, it indicates that Roo is just as entrenched in tradition as Olive is, and cannot fathom that Emma might be capable of real generosity.
Themes
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Get the entire Summer of the Seventeenth Doll LitChart as a printable PDF.
Summer of the seventeenth doll.pdf.medium
Emma asks Bubba if she's come to help clean up, and Bubba answers that she's just dropping in on her way to work. Emma storms off to the kitchen. Bubba breathlessly tells Roo that she has something for Barney and hands an envelope to Roo. She explains that the envelope contains photos from Nancy's wedding, and she doesn't want Olive to see them. Roo looks through them and asks Bubba if she cried at Nancy's wedding. Bubba says that both she and Nancy cried, and Roo confides in her that he thinks Barney cried when he found out. Bubba says it's an awful situation, and Roo tries to change the subject by asking when Bubba will get married.
Nancy's marriage hit everyone so hard because it was a firm, inescapable reminder that the layoff season isn't going to last forever. Marriage is also a comparatively adult path, hence Bubba's insistence that Olive not see the pictures—Olive has already insinuated that she's not interested in seeing the decision to marry as anything but a grave mistake. Bubba is still idealizing the summers of the past by lamenting the end of Nancy and Barney's relationship and refusing to acknowledge Nancy's present happiness.
Themes
Youth, Maturity, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Bubba insists that she's been out with a bunch of men since she ended things with the young man she was dating last summer, and Roo teases that she'll grow up to be like Barney. Bubba quietly asks how much more she'll grow, since she's twenty-two. Roo insists he meant no harm, and Bubba hesitantly asks if this layoff season is going to be the same as all the others. She says she's scared with Nancy gone that things will be different, and Roo assures her it'll be just the same. Bubba hugs Roo as Emma walks in with a bowl of fruit. Emma teases Bubba about the shop where she works not opening, and Bubba asks Roo to come visit her at work before she leaves.
Bubba's comment about her many dates shows that even if she objects to Roo's phrasing, she definitely learned from watching Barney that having multiple romances like this is desirable. This shows that Bubba is very much channeling her adult role models and will almost certainly reject Pearl's outlook on life and romance. Though Bubba expresses a desire to be seen as an adult, she also clings to the past layoff seasons in which she was a child. She's in a liminal state, and will have to decide whether, or how, to grow up.
Themes
Youth, Maturity, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Gender and Work Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Emma asks Roo if he'll take the loan, and Roo insists he shouldn't. He explains it'd only be enough for a few weeks, and says he's just as untrustworthy as Barney is. Emma says that she knew from the first day she met Roo that he was trouble, but honest, and asks Roo what he's going to do. Roo says he's getting a job, and Emma acts surprised. Emma runs into Barney as she leaves the room and tells him to get breakfast. Barney approaches Roo in his nightclothes and says that sleeping on the sofa was awful.
Like Bubba, Roo is also caught between responsible adulthood and youth: he recognizes that taking Emma's loan isn't a long-term solution to his problem, which implies that on some level, Roo understands that the layoff season won't be able to continue per usual. Similarly, getting a job is an adult decision and will absolutely change the layoff season, regardless of what he told Bubba.
Themes
Youth, Maturity, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Roo says that everyone knows as much—they all heard Barney banging on Pearl's door in the night, and Pearl wasn't impressed. Roo throws the envelope at Barney and explains the contents. Barney looks for a moment at the photos and says that Nancy must've been crazy, and then asks Roo what they're going to do today. Roo insists he's getting a job, and Barney tells Roo that he can't work during the layoff. He offers to give Roo money, but Roo refuses.
Barney's unwillingness to acknowledge or dwell on the changes taking place shows that he's still fully prepared to pretend as though they're not happening at all. When Roo refuses Barney's money, it shows Roo distancing himself from both his friendship with Barney and from the layoff season as a whole—an active choice to not follow tradition.
Themes
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Barney angrily says that Roo's pride is keeping him from taking money, and insists that Roo is mad because Barney didn't follow him off the job after Roo fought with Johnnie. Roo says he's not mad, and he and Barney argue for a minute until Roo threatens to punch Barney. Olive bursts in as Roo huffily heads upstairs. Olive says that she and Pearl have to leave, but she's convinced Pearl to speak to Barney before they do. Olive tells Barney to butter Pearl up because Pearl's ready to leave, but Barney sullenly tells Olive to let Pearl go.
For Roo, admitting that Barney is right would be admitting that something serious happened to their relationship when Roo walked off. By extension, this means accepting that things are different and the layoff season is no longer as idyllic as it once was, something that nobody wants to face at this point.
Themes
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Olive is shocked at Barney's disaffect, and Barney explains that Roo is going to look for work. Olive is even more shocked, and then angry. She bustles upstairs, yelling for Roo, as Pearl heads downstairs. Pearl hesitantly calls Barney's attention and asks to talk to him. Barney seems somewhat uninterested, but apologizes for apparently making a fuss outside her door. He claims to not remember doing so and says that Nancy always had that room, but Pearl says that Barney kept yelling for "Pearl," not for Nancy. Barney says that Pearl must've made an impression on him.
Olive's anger comes from believing that there's nothing more important than keeping up with their yearly traditions, something that Roo's impending employment will undoubtedly threaten. Like Olive calling the kewpie dolls "beautiful," when Barney drunkenly remembered that Pearl is here, not Nancy, it shows that he's subconsciously aware that things this year are different and cannot continue as usual.
Themes
Youth, Maturity, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Gender and Work Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Pearl again tries to begin the real conversation, but Barney insists that she sit. Pearl seems uncertain, but accepts the chair. She says that she didn't realize Barney had any "de facto wives," and Barney insists he doesn't have wives—just kids in three states. Pearl looks stiff and makes to leave, but Barney asks her to stay. He tells Pearl he pays "maintenance" on them, which Pearl sees as no comfort. She says that she's a mother, and understands what those women went through. She says there's no excuse for that kind of behavior.
Pearl's concerns show that she has a very different conception of loyalty than Barney does: she insinuates that it's most important to "do the right thing" and create lasting familial relationships. Barney's rejection of that option reinforces for the reader his loyalty to his own traditions, which marriage would jeopardize.
Themes
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Very sincerely, Barney says that he can't help it: when he sees a beautiful woman, he feels as though he's just received a birthday present. This makes Pearl even angrier, and she says that doesn't give him the right to have kids everywhere. Barney says that regular men get married, but he always had reasons why he never could. Pearl can't fathom what his reasons might be, and Barney explains that his two oldest boys are about the same age. He says their mothers were in trouble the same time, and he was only eighteen then. Pearl says that's old enough to deal with the responsibility, but Barney says that he wasn't old enough to be able to decide which one to marry. He says that both women thought it'd be a huge insult to marry the other.
For Barney, beautiful women exist to confirm his masculinity and his role as a ladies' man. This shows how he idealizes himself and his lifestyle, as he necessarily has to believe in his own sexual superiority in order to justify this outlook. Barney's insistence that he's not a regular man further supports his sense of superiority and justifies his worldview. Taken all together, this shows how Barney constructs his lifestyle by deciding to believe fully that he's incapable of being a “regular” man.
Themes
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Gender and Work Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Pearl insists that Barney could've done something, but can't come up with what. Barney continues his story, and says his father kicked him out after he found out about Barney's pregnant girlfriends, and Barney then went to Queensland to work. He says he sent money home to the women and their babies and asked the women to decide which one got to marry him. With a smile, Barney says they're still deciding. Pearl deems this criminal, and Barney says that most of his former partners are happily settled and married to other men, and the only one who suffers is him. Pearl says he deserves as much, and says that Olive tells tales of Barney's exploits. Barney says he's not as bad as Olive claims, but he tends to get lucky.
By absolving himself of any responsibility to make decisions about what to do, Barney ensured that he'd be able to continue his youthful lifestyle with minimal interruption. Because he does pay "maintenance" (child support), it suggests that consequences like having unplanned children are ones that can be solved with money. This in turn supports the relationship between Barney's masculine lifestyle and money: Barney can pay to continue acting this way, while Roo no longer can after walking out on the job.
Themes
Youth, Maturity, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Gender and Work Theme Icon
Pearl isn't amused by Barney calling himself "lucky," but Barney explains that only a special kind of woman really understands him. Most hear about him and run, but every now and again, a woman realizes that Barney isn't after all the love he can get—he has a lot of love to give. Pearl slowly says that she can imagine that's not something most women understand, and she and Barney say it again. Barney says that the right kind of woman must have enough experience to realize what kind of a man he is, and she must be able to take him as-is and not try to tie him down—but then he stops talking when he notices Olive in the doorway. He tells Pearl he'll share the final quality of the right kind of woman another time. Pearl leaves to collect her things for work, looking disappointed.
Barney is a skilled manipulator: despite Pearl's understandable suspicion of him, he's now successfully convincing her that he is indeed different than other men. This shows that Barney's self-idealization is something that Barney can absolutely make others see, thereby encouraging them to idealize him as well. Barney also tells Pearl straight off that her plan to tame him through marriage won't work, which only makes it even clearer that Barney is only interested in remaining loyal to past traditions and his lifestyle, not to individuals who might cause those things to change.
Themes
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Gender and Work Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Barney asks Olive if Roo is actually going to get a job, and Olive moodily says that he is. Barney curses as Roo walks in, half dressed, and offers to walk Pearl and Olive to the tram. Roo says his goodbyes to Barney, who acts offended. When Emma enters and sees that Roo is going out, she yells about Roo's uneaten breakfast. Roo tells Emma to give the steak to Barney. Emma rants a little more before saying that by tomorrow, there will be changes around here. She returns angrily to the kitchen.
Barney and Olive view Roo's decision as selfish and as a clear rejection of tradition. This forces them to confront a new and different reality of the layoff season, as Roo's job will certainly make it unlikely that the layoff season will proceed as it has in the past. This shows that Barney and Olive are still petulantly and immaturely holding onto their idealized visions, while Roo is choosing (by necessity) to grow up.
Themes
Youth, Maturity, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Loyalty, Friendship, and Tradition Theme Icon
Pearl comes breathlessly back down the stairs with her hat and purse. Pearl tells Barney she's off, and asks him to take her bags upstairs—but not to jump to conclusions. Barney smiles and tries to follow her, but Pearl rushes away with Olive. Barney watches Olive, Pearl, and Roo go and then swaggers to the suitcases and carries them upstairs.
As Pearl speaks to Barney, she appears to be stepping into the role of a younger, more carefree woman. For now, she will accept the idealized stories of the layoff season. For Barney, this is a testament to the power of his masculinity, as he was able to convince her to make this change and decide to stay.
Themes
Youth, Maturity, and Growing Up Theme Icon
Idealization vs. Reality Theme Icon
Gender and Work Theme Icon