One morning, Corrie is washing the windows while Mama peels potatoes. Suddenly, she notices that the water has run over the edge of the sink, and sees that Mama seems paralyzed. She keeps repeating Corrie’s name over and over again; Corrie puts her to bed and fetches Father and Betsie, but Mama is suffering an unstoppable cerebral hemorrhage.
Although Mama has been sick for much of her life, this is a touchstone event for Corrie—with her mother fully incapacitated she has to take more practical and moral responsibility for her household.
Fro two months Mama lays in a coma on the bed. One morning, she wakes up unexpectedly. Eventually she regains the use of her arms and legs, but she can’t knit or write letters. The only words she can say are “yes,” “no,” and “Corrie.” Whenever she wants to say something, Corrie has to guess what it is by asking Mama yes-or-no questions.
Without the use of her arms and legs, Mama is basically imprisoned in her own body—but she doesn’t let this affect her kindly demeanor or tranquil faith. Her behavior now inspires Corrie and Betsie when they face a more formal kind of imprisonment.
However, Mama continues to interact with the world and help people. She often sees people she knows from the window and, remembering a birthday or other special event, instructs Corrie to write a note. Even though she can’t express love as she’s done before—with food baskets and knitted presents—her love is still “as whole as before.”
Mama’s continued concern for others shows that one doesn’t have to be healthy or fortunate in order to feel a sense of duty and communal responsibility. Throughout the novel Corrie will continue to feel compassion towards others regardless of her personal circumstances.
While attending teaching school, Nollie meets and becomes engaged to a fellow student, Flip van Woerden. On the day of the wedding, Corrie is struck by how young and healthy Mama looks, despite all her ailments. As Nollie walks down the aisle, Corrie recalls her old dreams of marriage to Karel. She knows that by now she’s too old to get married; like Betsie, who has pernicious anemia and has vowed to remain single, she will remain at the Beje her entire life.
An implicit tragedy here is that Corrie can only leave home through marriage—she has no other options through which to develop skills or pursue a career. Ironically, it’s the injustice of the occupation which will give her the work and responsibilities for which she so clearly has a capacity.
Rather than feeling sad, Corrie is cheered up by this thought. At this moment, she knows that God has “accepted the faltering gift of my emotions,” because she’s able to think of Karel with sincere love and no anger. She prays for him and his wife, knowing that she could never have accessed these feelings alone.
Even though Corrie has done a good deed by forgiving Karel, she doesn’t ascribe this to her own inherent goodness, but rather to the presence of God in her daily life. For Corrie, practicing forgiveness doesn’t lead to self-adulation or sanctimony.
As the congregation sings the final hymn, Mama suddenly starts singing perfectly, even though she hasn’t spoken for months. Corrie is deeply moved and hopes this is the beginning of Mama’s recovery, but she never speaks again. Four weeks later, Mama dies.
Mama’s sudden singing is a sort of miracle, marking her feelings of fulfillment in the young adults she’s successfully raised. In another sense, it marks Corrie’s pure feelings towards Karel—it’s only when she moves past human flaws like jealousy or anger that she can witness and appreciate divine moments like this.
A month later, Betsie gets a nasty cold. While she’s in bed, Corrie takes over her duties in the watch shop. Frustrated by the lack of tidy records and Father’s indifference to business matters, Corrie takes it upon herself to devise a system, and realizes she loves the work. Meanwhile, Betsie starts to do small household tasks as she recovers. Eventually, the sisters realize that while Corrie is an indifferent housekeeper, Betsie truly loves household tasks. Switching roles, they realize that Betsie can stretch a food budget, improve the house, and make meals for the poor just as Mama did.
Although Corrie has enjoyed running her house and values the labor it involves, it’s Betsie who is truly gifted. Corrie’s decision to work in the watch shop isn’t a dismissal of domestic work; rather, it reflects her sense that such work is important and requires skills she doesn’t have. Betsie’s adept household management will later make it possible to accommodate multiple Jewish fugitives in the Beje.
On the other hand, Corrie finds a new sense of purpose in the shop. She enrolls in a watchmaking program and eventually becomes the first certified female watchmaker in Holland. For the next twenty years Father, Corrie, and Betsie live in this comfortable pattern.
As a woman Corrie can’t move out of her house; however, she’s actually able to find a fulfilling occupation within the domestic sphere and without tying herself to a husband. Paradoxically, Corrie’s upbringing both reinforces and subverts gender norms.
The shop is busy not just with customers but visitors who come to chat or seek advice from Father, who prays for guidance from God. Corrie tries to emulate Betsie’s habit of learning details about every visitor, and she’s happy when people say that she’s like her sister.
Corrie views the kindness she displays not as an inherent trait but a conscious moral choice. This reflects her belief that people aren’t essentially good or evil, but rather defined by the attributes they cultivate in themselves.
In the 1920s, the ten Booms take in a series of foster children. Meanwhile, Nollie and Willem are having their own children, so the Beje is full of young people. Nollie’s son Peter especially spends a lot of time there, playing on their piano. One day, the family is listening to a concert on the radio that Father’s friends have bought him when Peter notices that the radio piano is slightly out of tune. Testing him, Father realizes that Peter has perfect pitch. The gift of the radio also means that Father no longer has to travel to Amsterdam to get the precise time—they can hear it from Big Ben on the BBC.
The radio reflects the positive effects of modernity on the ten Booms’ life. They no longer have to crowd outside theaters to hear concerts, as they can listen in their own home, and it’s no longer so difficult for Father to maintain the precise time. However, the passage of time also creates an implicit tragedy—with the new ubiquity of information like the precise time, Father’s work is no longer so important or central to the community.
Every day Father and Corrie take a walk at the same time, during the shop’s midday break. They always see the same people, and their favorite is a man they nickname the Bulldog, for the two pets whose facial features are similar to his own. They’re touched by his tender affection for the dogs, and always wave to him as they pass.
The fixed nature of Father and Corrie’s daily routines reflects their deep rootedness in the community and their traditional way of life. However, once the war begins they will prove surprisingly adaptable to their new circumstances.
However, throughout these years Germany is preparing for war. The family hears about it on the radio, but it’s hard to take the threat seriously. Only Willem, with his connections to the Jewish community, is steadily preoccupied.
Corrie’s placid contentment with her life contrasts jarringly with the increasing threat of war. This passage emphasizes the extent to which politics overlap with and intrude on personal lives.
During this time, a young German watchmaker named Otto travels to be Father’s apprentice. He brags about being part of the Hitler Youth, constantly talks about how much better Germany is than Holland, and calls Father’s Old Testament “the Jews’ Book of Lies.” One morning his landlady comes to the shop and tells them that Otto has been keeping a huge knife under his pillow. Father tries to interpret these events in the most charitable way, saying that Otto is alone in a strange country and must be frightened and lonely.
Through Otto, the ten Booms encounter Nazi ideology for the first time. It’s important that Nazi ideas emerge as a threat not just to vulnerable groups but to justice and truth as a whole, as embodied by the Bible Otto reviles. The apprentice’s troubling behavior contradicts the complacent remarks of guests at the hundredth birthday party about Germany’s status as a “civilized” country.
In particular, Corrie is struck by Otto’s “brusqueness” towards their employee Christoffels. She feels that he deserves respect on account of his age and seniority, but Otto never lets him go by first or helps him with his tools. Willem explains that Nazi Germany encourages people to disrespect the old, who “have no value to the State.” According to him, Otto only respects Father because he owns a business and has authority.
One morning, Christoffels stumbles into the house with a bleeding cheek. Otto has shoved the older man in the street and pushed his face against a brick wall. As it turns out, the apprentice has been kicking and tormenting the older man for months, but he’s been too proud to complain. Father attempts to plead with Otto, but as the apprentice shows no remorse, he’s forced to fire him.
Christoffels’s innate dignity contrasts sharply with Otto’s viciousness—the character of someone reviled by the Nazi state emerges as stronger than that of the person it endorses.