In Chapter 2, the Wolcotts outsource their parenting and find moulds to fit their children.
By the standards of anyone save for her ruthlessly regimented son, Louise was a disciplined, orderly woman. She liked the world to make sense and follow the rules. By the standards of her son, she was a hopeless dreamer. She thought the world was capable of kindness; she thought people were essentially good and only waiting for an opportunity to show it.
Louise, Chester’s mother, makes both her entrance and her exit in this chapter. She is here to offer another perspective, both for us and for the twins. She provides a way for us to contrast what is happening to what could be. We can see this from her first introduction that the way Chester sees her (soppy and impractical) doesn’t match the way the rest of the world sees her (disciplined and orderly). The contrast is also shown in the stories Chester and Serena tell others about Louise. It is interesting that Serena is aware that she’s not telling the truth. This isn’t just a competing narrative that holds sway because the Wolcotts are in a position of power. This is a narrative they are forcing on the world so they can look better.
While she cares for the children, Louise tries to foster a sense of togetherness, a sense of fairness. She stresses that they need to stick together. We see she really cares about them – she’s the one to childproof the house, she’s the one who is first able to tell them apart. She also tries to stress that they can be whatever they want to be. She’s not just caring for the children, she’s fighting the narrative their parents are writing.
She told them that they were perfect exactly as they were, and that they would never need to change for anyone.
Unfortunately Louise is fighting a losing battle, because Chester and Serena are busy buying clothes. It is amazing how defining clothes can be. They are a way of expressing ourselves, a way to show the world aspects of our identity. The problem for children is they don’t really get to choose their own clothes. Jacqueline and Jillian’s clothes are chosen for them, and with that choice their roles are chosen. People who see them immediately label them as ‘tomboy’ or ‘princess,’ defining them by the clothes they didn’t choose. Not only that, their clothes dictate what they can do. Clothes can be designed for utility or aesthetics. Jillian wears sneakers, so she tends to run. Jacqueline wears fancy dresses so she is forced to stay still.
Clothes and hair are even more important when you are a set of twins. They are the only way to set them apart, for them to assert their individuality. This is a double-sided knife, though, since they are forced into different roles. They are forced to be different, forced to be unable to share hobbies, fashions, interests, and so they grow apart. and why?
Jacqueline and Jillian were unlocking the last of the doors that had stood between Serena and true social success.
Jack and Jill are being dressed up and used as extensions of their parents. We can see that through the stories they tell at the birthday party. Their parents don’t care about seeing them happy, they care about how they are being viewed by the other people there. And they care that Louise’s ideas don’t match the story they want to tell, that her presence doesn’t match their story.
Ultimately we find the Louise failed. She didn’t manage to teach the girls about kindness, or that everyone is essentially good. Instead she taught them that even those who say they love you are capable of leaving, capable of betrayal. Her failure is a sign of things to come. This story isn’t going to end happily, and the girls aren’t necessarily going to learn the lessons they should.