Caroline, or Change
P. 11, Caroline: “cause they ain‟t no under ground in Louisiana. There is only under
Although this book was written in 1999, this opening line almost foreshadows Hurricane
Katrina. The separation of underground from underwater is also interesting.
Underground, you can escape (e.g. underground railroad), but underwater provokes an
image of drowning, or no escape.
P. 12, Caroline: “Sixteen feet below sea level!”
This is an metaphor alluding to the fact that Caroline feels like she‟s drowning.
P. 14, Noah: “Every day she stands between the radio and the washing machine.”
This is symbolic of where Caroline is in the order of the world – right in between the
radio and washing machine – not in between people, but objects.
P. 16, The Radio: “well it ain‟t no mystery, she took a wrong step, took a wrong step,
took a wrong step, slip and fell! Downward bound, under ground, found her sinful self in
hell, found her sinful self in hell.”
The basement is symbolic of Caroline‟s hell. She is stuck there and can‟t escape. But
P. 17, The Dryer: “purgatory”
Purgatory is a place of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their
sins before heaven. So the basement is Caroline‟s hell.
P. 17, Caroline: “Been twenty-two years of cleaning. For all them years I worked and
prayed. Every day I doing laundry, thirty-nine and still a maid, in Nineteen Sixty-Three.”
1963 was at the heart of the American Civil Rights Movement. During this time period,
there was a lot of faith in a brighter future, but still lingering doubts. Caroline is still a
slave (in a way).
P. 20, Rose: “Cabbage boiled, iron beets, it makes them strong, children should be strong,
and BIG! Big strong children”
Rose uses the words “big” and “strong”, which is interesting given how “small” Caroline
is relative to the world. Cabbage symbolizes the white way to Caroline, which she refuses
P. 21, Grandpa Gellman: “Pack after pack of cigarettes, we warned her they‟d harm her,
she wouldn‟t listen. They killed her, she‟s dead, they killed her she died”
Wasn‟t it not until much later that the world truly began to understand the terribleness of
cigarettes? Cigarettes are stark contrast to cabbage. It‟s almost as if Rose is to cabbage as
Noah‟s real mother is to a cigarette.
P. 21, Caroline: “God sometimes eat people, like a wolf. He make this whole world as a
test. Cancer was your momma‟s test, and her death is your test, you been tested to.”
If everything is a test, what is Caroline‟s? Is it: can Caroline persevere through all of the
P. 22, Stuart: “There is no God, Noah, we don‟t believe in God. In all that corny stuff.
We‟re scientific people! Space is infinite and empty and cold, people are descended from
apes, actually and usually act worst than apes, and a boy your age should sleep without a
light on, and your mother is dead and there is no God.”
The death of Stuart‟s wife (Noah‟s mother) sparked a complete loss in faith and
abandonment of religion. Even though he is remarried and Rose is the “perfect”
housewife, maybe what is supposed to be “perfect” isn‟t and it leaves him being unhappy.
Is Caroline‟s loss of faith in society really any different from Stuart‟s?
P. 22, Stuart: “Wonderful things come to an end. Marry a friend. Make a new start.”
Stuart makes it sound easy. Persevering through loss is much more difficult than this, and
Stuart knows this. But he is trying to talk himself into what he thinks is good for him.
P. 25, Rose: “Magnolia, camellia, azalea, y‟all.”
Magnolia, camellia, and azalea are all types of garden flowers and flowering plants.
P. 25, Rose: “goyim”
Goyim is a Yiddish word for non-Jews, usually used in a somewhat derogatory sense.
P. 26, Rose: “I bought a new dress…Wecan’t give her a raise! Pa! We aren‟t rich, we‟re
just plain folk, we‟ve only got bupkes ourselves – we‟re broke.”
When it comes to Rose, or her family, they don‟t seem to be poor, but when it comes to
Caroline, they are? It‟s pure selfishness. Rose‟s compassion toward Caroline is
P. 27, Rose: “I miss the Upper West Side.”
The Upper West Side is an area of New York filled and associated with wealthy white
people. It is a very haughty environment there, which is polar opposite to Caroline‟s and
might explain the artificialness in their relationship.
P. 28, Dotty: “Mrs. Griffin lettin me off early these days, on account of night school. She
likehavin a maid goin to college. Make her feel sort of fancy.”
Dotty is following the white way. She is letting Mrs. Griffin decide what is good for her,
and not acting autonomously.
P. 30, Dotty: “Everyone down to the college, everyone wear these shoes, and I don‟t see
that you got call to – you the one that change! You change!”
1963 is right in the heart of change and the Civil Rights Movement. It‟s ironic that Dotty
thinks Caroline has changed, when in reality, Dotty is the one changing along with the
times, while Caroline is resisting that change.
P. 31. Dotty: “Honorin the brave Confed‟rate Soldier, The South‟s Defender, the Civil
War…ain‟t there no more, it ain‟t there no more.”
The solider symbolizes the war, and serves as a physical reminder. It also is important to
keep in mind that it honors the south, who fought to keep slavery, and so taking it down
is a symbol of change and progress.
P. 32, The Moon: “Change come fast and change come slow but change come, Caroline,
Kushner uses repetition to really emphasize this theme that change comes in many forms,
but change is unavoidable. I wonder why Caroline is afraid of such a positive form of
P. 33, Dotty: “now it seem you come to some confusion, you losin courage, you losin
light, lost your old shine, lost Caroline.”
I do not think Caroline has lost touch with herself. In fact, she is more in touch with
herself than any of the other characters. But she has lost touch with the times. Dotty
cannot fully understand this as somebody who has given into the changing times.
P. 33, The Moon: “spotless white”
White symbolizes innocence and perfection. It‟s the “white way” that African
American‟s like Dotty are following because it is “good” for them.
P. 33, Dotty: “frogs”
Why do frogs keep coming up? Frogs are ugly in nature, so maybe, from the viewpoint of
1963 society, frogs symbolize African Americans? This is like the third time frogs have
P. 34, Caroline: “Nothing ever changes under ground in Louisiana.”
The under ground symbolizes the older generation, so of course if Caroline stays “under
ground” for the rest of her life, she can avoid change.
P. 34, The Bus: “The earth, the earth has bled. The president oh blight November winter
night the president is dead.”
This alludes to the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
P. 35, The Bus: “Step on board; time for departing”, Rose: “Noah please come here”, The
Bus: “Into the nighttime toward what lies ahead.”
Kushner‟s writing style creates a flow that makes it difficult to recognize that different
characters are speaking. He makes it difficult to differentiate the inanimate objects from
the living, breathing characters, which might be his way of making an argument that all
P. 37, Noah: “Caroline is king and Caroline is queen and Caroline is stronger than my
dad; it isn‟t true, she doesn‟t hate it, she‟s a lot stronger, stronger than you.”
Caroline‟s strength is a symbol of her perseverance, but why does Noah think she is so
strong? She has not persevered at all? Or has she?
P. 39, Grandma and Grandpa Gellman: “JFK, JFK, beat the Russions, saved the day,
stopped the Jew-haters and their bomb, stopped their nuclear pogrom. Dedicated to undo
American anti-Semites too! Friend to the colored, friend to the Jew. „Ask not what your
country can do for you!‟”
Noah‟s Grandparents are making historical references to the JFK administration‟s
policies. For this, he earned 70% of the African American vote when he was elected.
P. 39, Dotty: “JFK, JFK, swore to help black folk some day. Sure he was a little slow,
getting round to doing so, but he swore it and I know he was set to help our cause, meant
to pass some proper laws.”
Dotty is alluding to the historical fact that when JFK was elected, he led the African
American population to believe he would do great things for them while in office (which
he did intend to do). However, when he took office, he had to do it in small baby steps
because he did not want to lose the support of the southerners. This might be what
Caroline means when she says “change come fast and change come slow”.
P. 41, Caroline: “Don‟t give yourself options. Most folks lives without em.”
There are no options in the basement, and Caroline is stuck in the basement.
P. 42, Emmie and the Radio: “I know, the radio play music anyway! Just some old white
man sent Larry off to Vietnam. Sorry he dead I ain‟t killed him.”
There‟s this notion that music makes everything alright. Somebody might have died, but
the radio played music anyway. Music illustrates people‟s ignorance in a way.
P. 43, Caroline: “Emmie Thibodeaux! Since when you say “black man”? Say colored or
Negro, like you was raised up to.”
The terms colored and negro symbolize the older generation, while black man is, in this
period, more politically correct and thus symbolizes the newer generation. Caroline is
trying to push her resistance to change on her children.
P. 43, Emmie and the Radio: “Say he do stuff for us, get our vote, he just ignore us, same
old story, Mama, same tired old lie. If you got to do it Mama go ahead and cry. I ain‟t got
no tears to shed for no dead white guy.”
This is a historical reference again to JFK‟s slow-moving approach to passing civil rights
laws. But JFK had little choice if he wanted to keep enough support to stay in office. This
is the first time we see Emmie following in Caroline‟s footsteps by losing faith.
P. 44, Noah: “President Caroline! President Caroline Thibodeaux!”
Noah looks up to Caroline as a role model, which is ironic because Caroline is as far from
what a role model “should” look like in this time period.
P. 45, Caroline: “Gonna pass me a law say Nat King Cole gotta come over my house
come over my house come over every night and stroke my soul.”
Nat King Cole was a wildly famous African American singer/songwriter during the
1950‟s and 60‟s. He was also a big supporter of John F. Kennedy, which makes this
slightly ironic because for somebody who is so against change, JFK was probably not
P. 46, Noah: “My mama liked you! I do too! You‟re implacable, indestructible, Mama
said. I‟m always sad. I like it that you‟re always mad. And I can tell you like me too. At
least I think you do.”
Noah has developed a very one-sided, fantasy sort of relationship with Caroline. Caroline
is Noah‟s last remaining link to his mother, and so he looks up to Caroline as a motherly
figure. But Caroline does not care much for Noah.
P. 47, Caroline: “And I want the night to stay nighttime forever so I can sit smoking here,
so I never have to get up, go to work, be polite.”
Night symbolizes the same idea as the basement – it‟s an escape. It‟s also interesting
because at night, you can‟t see or differentiate skin color, so I wonder if her love for the
night is really a cry for equality that she doesn‟t want to articulate.
P. 48, Rose: “maybe it‟s change, he has learned to hate change! I bet that‟s it, just call me
Sigmund Freud, don‟t you think I‟m right Caroline? Noah hates change”
Noah‟s fear of change might be similar to Caroline‟s. Noah fears change because he does
not want to lose more than he already has (his mother). Caroline has also lost so much
and can barely provide for her family on her $30/week salary, so she can‟t afford to lose
P. 51, Stuart: “Eight? Only eight? But you‟re in fourth grade now. Really, you‟re sure?
Isn‟t that weird. It‟s like a whole year, just…I don‟t know, just disappeared. I have to get
back to the clarinet. Practice the cello.”
Music almost stands in for emotion in Stuart‟s world. Maybe this alludes to why Kushner
wrote Caroline, or Change as a musical rather than straight dialogue. Noah‟s poor
relationship with his father might also be the root of Noah‟s desire for a relationship with
P. 52, Stuart: “I hope you‟ll save it till you‟re older buy yourself a chemistry set.”
Stuart tells Noah to save his money, whereas Caroline cannot afford to save any money.
Everything is immediate. This gives some insight into the hardships faced by Caroline.
P. 52, Caroline: “My kids could go down to the dime store and get the shiny junk they
make to catch a kid‟s eye. And what they sees and what they wants they could buy. Stuff
I can‟t buy em now, always in the lurch. Some weeks I could even tithe at Church.”
Kushner places this passage directly after Noah‟s wish list, creating a contrast between
the two. Noah‟s wish list is a list of items for himself, whereas Caroline does not list a
single thing for herself, she only wants to give to others.
P. 53, Noah: “That night I leave a dime and a nickel in my pants pocket to see what will
happen; Caroline finds them.”
The change Noah is leaving in his pocket is slowly going up and up from pennies to
nickels to dimes. This incremental change reflects the underlying theme that keeps
coming up of “change comes fast and change come slow”.
P. 53, Caroline: “A grown woman got no business taking pennies from a baby.”
Taking change from Noah would be dehumanizing to Caroline.
P. 55, Caroline: “Take your dollar, get upstairs! Out my basement!”
The basement is a symbol for Caroline‟s safe haven – a place in which she can separate
herself from the world that is full of big, scary change. But in the very beginning of the
book, she said there weren‟t any basements in Louisiana, which might mean that there‟s
really no place to hide, change will find you and change is coming!
P. 57, Caroline: “Open sesame! Tell me what you see! Somethin silver shiny all your
own now, all your own.”
Caroline possesses such great love for her family that her extra money goes to her kids
instead of herself; this might explain why she does not want to care for Noah as he cares
for her. She doesn‟t have the room in her life for more responsibility. She is “sixteen feet
below water” as she said in the beginning, and Noah would push her even further down.
P. 60, Noah: “Stoopnagle”
A stoopnagle is a slow-witted, dumb person.
P. 63, Noah: “They talk about how my mama died they talk about my tragedy they wish
they could take me in and I could live with Caroline and Emmie Jackie Larry Joe, Emmie
Jackie Larry Joe. Each evening I could up and go home to be a Thibodeaux. Emmie
Jackie Larry Joe and Noah Noah Thibodeaux.”
Noah continues to live in this fantasy world in which he believes Caroline is his saving
grace. I think this fantasy is Noah‟s cry for help. Although on the surface he has
everything a kid can dream of, he wants nothing more than to have his mother and family
back. It might all seem perfect (like cabbage, or Rose), but it isn‟t. The reality is far from
his fantasy. And plus, Caroline and her family have much more to worry about than Noah
(e.g. food, shelter, clothing, etc.). Noah is too ignorant to understand this.
P. 63, Jackie: But Roosevelt is sitting longside of the moon, and he says, „Miss Moon,
will you be my Mrs.?‟”
Roosevelt was president during World War II, which is the war in which Caroline‟s ex-
husband fought. The moon might symbolize healing and peace?
P. 69, Caroline: “Can‟t afford embarrassment.”
Embarrassment is at the heart of Caroline‟s actions and motives for everything – not
taking the money, resisting change. I can‟t imagine what it would be like to balance
basic, human needs with shame.
P. 69, Caroline: “Money don‟t buy happiness.” The Washing Machine: “Pocket change
for.” The Washing Machine and the Radio: “Sayin Yes!” The Washing Machine: “Little
blessings, gone unless you take em home.” Caroline: “Little bit of grace…”
The general principal of “money don‟t buy happiness” is how the world should work. But
the world doesn‟t work in the way it should. Everything is not cabbage. Caroline faces
such great hardships that a “little blessing” or a “little bit of grace” would go a very long
P. 70, The Washing Machine: “Nineteen-Forty-Five the navy send you home your
This alludes to a historical reference. 1945 was the end of World War II with Japan.
P. 70, Caroline: Thank you Jesus, thank you navy! He is home now, every limb is beauty,
lovely like a tree. Falling deep in love with him.”
Did Caroline love him for him or his beauty?
P. 71, The Washing Machine and the Radio: “Back in Nineteen-Forty-Seven”, Caroline:
“Ain‟t no work for Negro man.”
Caroline is alluding to the historical fact that after World War II, African Americans had
trouble finding work. There was a great deal of anger because African Americans were
good enough to risk their lives for their country, but not good enough to have a job when
P. 72, The Radio: “Pain is white, remember pain? Pain is white, that is its color, bright as
There is an ongoing theme of whiteness. It is a white world where everything is white.
And white is the bright, happy color. Everything else is not.
P. 73, Caroline: “Please give me a mop and bucket. Please, a white folks‟ house to tend.
Please some money, feed the babies, choke his throat when he drink liquor, make my sis
help with my babies, let him see he mess with me after I have spent the day putting white
folks‟ clothes away, tell him God, if he ever everever hit me again…”
Caroline is describing a desire for the life that was lived by the older generation (and that
she currently lives). She has this unbreakable resistance to change in part because life is
already heard enough. She has so much to worry about that she can‟t take on any more
worry. So she wants everything to stay as it is with a “white folks‟ house to tend” and her
“mop and bucket”.
P. 73, The Radio: “Change come fast and change come slow”
This phrase keeps appearing. Kushner uses repetition to emphasize what I believe to be
his argument – change comes in baby steps, but those baby steps can add up to big
changes over time.
P. 75, Caroline: “Sixteen feet beneath the sea”
Sixteen feet beneath the sea is symbolic of Caroline‟s hell. This came up in the very
beginning of the book, so Kushner is using repetition to paint this powerful picture of
what sixteen feet beneath the sea looks like for Caroline. The image helps you understand
why Caroline is drowning. She can‟t get to the surface.
P. 75, Rose: “You must‟ve ironed over it! Look! It‟s the head of the Father of our
Country! Mr. George Washington, seared into the fabric like the face of Jesus on the
Shroud of Turin!”
The Shroud of Turin is a centuries old linen cloth that bears the image of a crucified man.
Many believe this crucified man is Jesus.
P. 78, Rose: “Some people, honestly! There‟s oppression and misery, and then there are
people who‟re just plain nasty.”
Maybe it is the oppression and misery that make people nasty? Even so, I don‟t think
Rose is correct. Caroline isn‟t nasty. She‟s just scared, and rightfully so.
P. 81, The Gellmans and Mr. Stopnick: “colloquies”
Colloquies are a gathering for discussion of theological questions.
P. 81, The Gellmans and Mr. Stopnick: “we celebrate it anyway!”
There is a very prevalent element of superficiality here in celebrating something just to
celebrate it. They are doing it because it is what they‟re supposed to do – it‟s good for
them. This is exactly what Caroline is resisting giving in to – accepting what others say is
good for them.
P. 82, The Gellmans and Mr. Stopnick: “Mikamochaba-eilimAdonai? Mikamocha ne-e-
The mi kamocha prayer is a Jewish prayer that essentially says: you, God, are the one and
only God, and there is no one like you. It‟s ironic because at one point, Stuart said there
is no God, only science. This might explain why they end every line of the prayer with a
question mark. They are saying it just to say it, and because of that, the prayer loses its
substance and meaning.
P. 85, Grandma and Grandpa Gellman: “Let‟s not dwell on the ugly things! Let‟s thank
God for the joys He brings! Watch the colored candles melt! Spin the dreidel for
Chanukah Gelt! Let‟s be merry, let‟s be funny!”
Kushner‟s writing style almost accentuates the absurdity of this attitude. There is almost a
tradeoff – your happiness or another person‟s happiness, similar to the idea of “where did
this change come from?”
P. 86, Grandma Gellman: “Stuart! Play your clarinet!”
Music is used as a way to forget almost. It‟s a distracting, yet emotional force that
grounds the play in a sort of subconscious emotion.
P. 87, Dotty: “Ugly thing. Ugly thing! The South‟s Defender. Hey! Cracker Joe, LEE
SURRENDERED! The thing is over, baby! Dead! Don‟t cry! And kiss that huge ugly
The statue is a physical reminder of the civil war and continuing marginalization of
African Americans. It shows that even after the war was over, the war was never really
P. 88, Emmie: “We ain‟t got a TV set, not yet. We only got a radio.”
The TV set is symbolic of African American civil rights and big change. The radio is
small. This relates back to the theme, “change come fast and change come slow.”
P. 89, Grandma and Grandpa Gellman: “Such a shonde such a tsimmes!”
Shonde is a Yiddish word meaning shame, or scandal. Tsimmes is a traditional Jewish
P. 89, Grandma and Grandpa Gellman: “Here come the latkes!”
Latkes are a Jewish potato pancake traditionally eaten during Chanukah.
P. 89, “Papa, look we saved the pupick just for you! The pupick, Papa!”
The pupick is a Yidish word for belly button.
P. 90, Emmie: “I think it‟s a Negro thing, a southern thing, a Christian thing. Mister, you
don‟t understand how Dr. King has got things planned.” Mr. Stopnick: “Oh Jews can be
nonviolent too. There‟s nothing meeker than a Jew! Listen girlie, we have learned:
nonviolence will get you burned.”
The dialogue between Emmie and Mr. Stopnick draws a parallel between the hardships of
African Americans in the South and Jews in the South during this time period. But it‟s
almost ironic that Mr. Stopnick is advocating against non-violence given that the Jews are
such a peaceful people.
P. 91, Emmie: “I‟d like to know how some guy just off a plane marchin in to explain,
guess you seen it all plain from the air? It our affair. Now our resistance start to make a
difference here come your „assistance.‟”
She is essentially asking, why is it right for a white guy who doesn‟t understand the
struggles of the African Americans to suddenly lend a helping hand and fix all of their
problems? And I think she‟s right – it isn‟t. He doesn‟t understand. Nobody does others
than those affected by it.
P. 92, Caroline: “We‟ll start cleaning, in the kitchen, then go home.”
Cleaning is symbolic of Caroline‟s resistance to change and retreat to the older
generation. She keeps going back to it, like a magnet.
P. 92, Caroline: “Lord I raised a spoiled brat. They your boss! You ain‟t a queen!”
This is ironic because Emmie is the farthest thing from a spoiled brat. She has nothing,
and was only standing up for herself – which is a characteristic of the newer generation.
Caroline pulling her back is an attempt to force Emmie back into her mindset, the older
generation. The idea of the queen comes up earlier too when Noah calls Caroline a queen,
saying “Queen Caroline!” But Caroline knows that a queen represents something outside
of the older generations something other than being a maid. This illustrates, once again,
he resistance to change.
P. 93, Dotty: “You watch your pride ain‟t just conceit. Think bein a maid what she
prefer? Go on, make things like they were. Apologize to her.”
There are two themes going on here – pride and resistance to change. Pride is what keeps
Caroline from taking the change from the bleach cup, and interacting as Rose‟s friend
instead of as her maid. And the “make things like they were” is symbolic of the idea of
retreating to Caroline‟s mindset – go back to the mindset of the older generation and
resist the change going on in society today.
P. 94, Mr. Stopnick: “Think of someone who is poor: and know you stole this gold from
them. Especially here in the Devil‟s South! You rip your gold from a starving man‟s
This parallels the idea of a tradeoff between happiness (brought up in an earlier
annotation). It is symbolic of the tradeoff between your riches and others – if you have
money, somebody else doesn‟t. And it‟s easy to forget about that other person when
you‟re the one with money, but the second that you become that other person without
money, you sure as heck don‟t forget about the person with money.
P. 95, Dotty: “It‟s cold tonight; my feet are numb; I‟m tired waiting for a bus that won‟t
The bus is symbolic of change and the ongoing theme of “change comes fast and change
comes slow.” The bus might be coming slow, but eventually Dotty won‟t have to wait
because the bus will arrive.
P. 96, Emmie: “The day come soon, I‟ll pack up the nothin I own. And I‟ll live in my
house, and I‟ll make it OK, by myself, all alone.”
This parallels the theme of being sixteen feet beneath water brought up in the beginning.
She paints a picture of her future in which she is completely isolated. And while it might
seem like a beautiful thing to be sixteen feet beneath water staring down at all of the
beauty in the ocean, you‟re still alone and drowning.
P. 97, Stuart: “To him I have grown as remote as Tibet.”
Tibet is a region in Asia.
P. 97, Stuart: “The bigger he grows, the stranger we get. Gone are the days of our simple
duet: his piccolo piping, my bass clarinet. All gone, nothing left but a note of regret.
Never oh never oh never forget her, never forget her of never forget.”
Music almost stands in for emotion, but I think it does so in an artificial way. There is no
way that anything can replace Noah‟s mother (Stuart‟s wife). Not Rose. Not cabbage. Not
money. Not a happy Chanukah dinner. And because there is this artificial stand-in for
emotion, it is growing Mr. Gellman and Noah farther and farther apart.
P. 97, Stuart: “I‟ll stand here eight days till the last candle‟s burned, and the guests and
the maid and poor Rose have returned to wherever they came from. Till Noah has grown,
he and I will live here, in this house, all alone, and I‟ll say to him, „Noah, the moon shone
so bright when she played her bassoon that last Chanukah night.‟”
Maybe music is not a stand-in for emotion (as I suggested earlier), but it is Stuart‟s last
connection to his wife. It is his one last memory that he can carry on by playing his own
music. Kushner might be trying to argue that no matter how perfect or important
everything seems, when all is set in done (when everybody goes home to “wherever they
came from”), all that matters is love and family.
P. 98, Stuart: “Oh do you remember? The way it shone? On the house, on the three of us
here, all alone…All alone…”
Is the moon symbolic of Noah‟s mother? Is it Noah‟s mother looking down on them?
P. 100, Noah: “Drawing doodles, Maccabees, bumblebees, Christmas trees and all the
toys I plan to buy with…”
Noah‟s wish list revolves around Noah and nobody else. There seems to be a slight hint
at the theme of materialism.
P. 101, Noah: “Anyhow she can‟t – it‟s MINE! She can‟t have my money! I‟ll sue! Aw
come on clock!”
“Change come fast and change come slow” is represented here in that the physical
change Noah leaves in his pocket is slowly growing bigger and bigger – from pennies, to
dimes, to quarters, to dollar bills to a twenty dollar bill. But once it becomes a twenty, the
stakes are raised and Noah is ready to revolt. This is symbolic of small change leading to
big change literally and figuratively.
P. 103, Noah: “No she didn‟t! Pocket change! She never said you could have my
When it‟s pocket change (small change), it doesn‟t seem to matter, but when that small
change adds up to a twenty-dollar bill (big, fast change), it‟s suddenly a big debacle
(change come fast and change come slow).
P. 103, Noah: “Don‟t leave your money all over the place. Now I can take my boy to the
dentist! Now I can buy real presents for Christmas. The twenty‟s mine, now go away,
ain‟t nothing but money, you gots plenty, rules are rules!”
What makes Caroline take the twenty-dollar bill after she refused to take the money in
the bleach cup? Could it be that the pocket change doesn‟t really do much (small change
can only help you make baby steps), but it isn‟t until the change becomes big that reality
sets in and she realizes that she can make a difference in her own life and more
importantly the life of her family.
P. 104, Noah: “There‟s a bomb! President Johnson has built a bomb special made to kill
all Negroes! I hate you, hate you, kill all Negroes! Really! For true! I hope he drops his
bomb on you!”
This is the first serious conflict between Noah and Caroline in the entire play. It‟s
interesting that the moment change (both the money version and figuratively, the verb)
affects Noah, he revolts. It changed his attitude, just as it changed Caroline‟s and made
her take the money.
P. 104, Caroline: “Noah, hell is like this basement, only hotter than this, hotter than
August, with the washer and the dryer and the boiler full blast, hell‟s hotter than goose
fat, much hotter than that. Hell‟s so hot it makes flesh fry.”
The analogy is flipped. In the beginning, the basement is like hell. Now, hell is like the
basement. It paints a picture and is symbolic of Caroline‟s misery and internal struggle.
P. 104, Caroline: “And hell‟s where Jews go when they die. Take your twenty dollars
baby. So long, Noah, good-bye.”
This is the first time Kushner makes Caroline out to be a strong, powerful woman. She is
finally refusing to be meek, and marginalized. Giving the twenty dollars back to Noah
and leaving is symbolic of her unwillingness to continue to resist change. It is her
transition from the mindset of the older generation to the new.
P. 107, Rose: “And look, in the bleach cup: a twenty dollar bill.”
The twenty-dollar bill being in the bleach cup is symbolic of white money. When
Caroline left the twenty dollars in that cup, she symbolically refused to subscribe to
P. 108, Mr. Stopnick: “No, Rose, I think the twenty is mine. I thought I‟d lost it.”
The twenty-dollar bill goes back to its original owner, the white man. But it should be
Caroline‟s twenty dollar bill. It was in the bleach cup. So he stole it from her. This goes
back to the theme of a tradeoff – if you have money, somebody else doesn‟t. You‟re
money is somebody else‟s lack thereof.
P. 108, Rose: “and things around here have been sort of tough”
Really? You‟re going to tell Dotty things have been tough? Rose wouldn‟t know tough if
it hit her smack dab in the face.
P. 109, Rose: “to just up and vanish without an adieu”
That would be the white way of leaving or quitting. It is what Caroline “should” do. But
Caroline refuses the white way.
P. 109, Rose: “I worry a lot. Thank, Dotty. You‟re swell. (She hangs up. Imitating Dotty:)
You can all go to hell! I‟m not the enemy!”
There is obviously a stark contrast between Rose‟s tone and words and Dotty‟s. This
contrast illustrates Rose‟s artificialness and ignorance toward the non-perfect. The
moment things start to go wrong in her perfect world, she doesn‟t understand why Dotty
is yelling at her and essentially suppresses it.
P. 110, Mr. Stopnick: “Then you marry his father but you don‟t belong.”
This draws an interesting parallel between Rose and Caroline. They both live in worlds to
which they don‟t belong. Rose moved from the predominantly Jewish, haughty-taughty
Upper West Side to the ultra-Christian South in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Caroline is
stuck in the mindset of the older generation when the world around her is changing so
rapidly and the mindset of the newer generation is the polar opposite.
P. 110, Rose: “And while you were giving me this third degree perhaps you neglected to
notice that he still won‟t let me near him – so I‟ve failed.” Mr. Stopnick: “…Wait and
Mr. Stopnick is saying, “change come fast and change come slow.” It has to do with the
idea that sometimes things take time, but if you give it that time and are patient, that thing
might finally surface.
P. 111, Rose: “I‟m not the boss. Her loss. Leave it be and let it end. It‟s just no way to
treat a friend.”
Rose is the boss. She does not understand that Caroline does not see her as a friend.
Black people are not friends with white in Caroline‟s world. Caroline is stuck in the old
generation and Rose is in the new. The two generations metaphorically speaking do not
talk to one another – they speak different languages. Rose can‟t understand Caroline and
Caroline can‟t understand Rose. This is kind of similar to Emmie‟s point that no white
man can fix the black man‟s problem. Only a black man can do it.
P. 113, Chapter Title: “Lot‟s Wife”
Lot‟s Wife refers to a passage from the Book of Genesis that describes the story of how
the wife of Lot became a pillar of salt after she looked back at Sodom.
P. 114, Dotty: “Change yourself, Caroline, learn something new! Show her your fire,
show her your grit, show her your new face.”
Dotty is encouraging Caroline to drop her old ways and join the wave of change
happening in 1963 society. But Caroline still demonstrates a strong resistance to this
P. 115, Dotty: “I know it hurt to change. It actually hurts, learning something new, and
when you full-grown, it‟s harder, that‟s true – it feel like you got to break yourself apart,
it feel like you got to break your own heart, but folk do it. They do. Every day, all the
time, alone, afraid, folks like you. You got to let go of where you been. You got to move
on from the place you‟re in. Don‟t drown in that basement. Change or sink.”
Dotty identifies the heart and soul of Caroline‟s internal struggle with change. When
Dotty says, “change or sink,” it alludes to Caroline‟s position – sixteen feet below water.
She is far enough down that she could stay there and drown, or she could save herself and
swim up. But she doesn‟t know what‟s above the surface. It could be anything. This is
Caroline‟s fear. This is what drives her to resist change.
P. 116, Caroline: “Sixteen feet below sea level. Caught tween the Devil and the muddy
It‟s almost a lose-lose situation for Caroline no matter what she decides. But which one is
the Devil and which is the muddy brown sea? Which is better?
P. 116, Caroline: “That money…That money…That money reach in and spin me about,
my hate rise up, rip my insides out.”
What do you do when you have to choose between your own pride and the possibility of
a brighter future?
P. 116, Caroline: “Pocket change change me, pocket change change me, can‟t afford
loose change, can‟t afford change, changin‟s a danger for a woman like me.”
It‟s ironic that the pocket change symbolizes change (the verb) because they are both the
same word. Kushner wants his reader to mix the two up because they are in this analogy
two of the same. Caroline also brings up the theme of temptation. She is tempted to
accept change, but it‟s dangerous if you don‟t know what that change will bring.
P. 117, Caroline: “hope‟s fine hope‟s fine hope‟s fine – till it turn to mud.”
Caroline knows “change come fast and change come slow,” but it‟s really difficult to
accept it when it continues to come slow – it would almost be less stressful for change to
not come at all. Maybe this alludes to a theme of patience?
P. 117, Caroline: “I‟m gonna slam that iron down on my heart gonna slam that iron down
on my throat gonna slam that iron down on my sex gonna slam it slam it slam it down
until I drown the fire out till there ain‟t no air left anywhere.”
Kushner uses imagery to paint a clear picture of the level of emotion built up inside
Caroline. Slamming an iron down is Caroline‟s resistance to change. She will always
revert to the iron (being a maid). She will continue to be marginalized and live sixteen
feet below water, because that‟s the only life she knows.
P. 118, Caroline: “Murder me God down in that basement, murder my dreams so I stop
wantin, murder my hope of him returnin, strangle the pride that make me crazy.”
This is Caroline‟s tipping point. She can‟t take any more. She wants to stay sixteen feet
below water because she is too scared. There is too much anxiety on the other side.
P. 118, Caroline: “Tear out my heart strangle my soul turn me to sale a pillar of salt a
broken stone and then…”
This is a historical reference alluding to the story of Lot‟s wife. God told Lot and his wife
they could leave, but if they looked back, he would turn Lot‟s wife into a pillar of salt.
And she did. Caroline so desperately wants to look back. She doesn‟t mind continuing to
fall apart into grains of salt if it means not having to worry about the impact of the
P. 122, Noah: “If there‟s only water under ground, is my mother buried under water.”
This draws a parallel between Noah‟s mother and Caroline. While Caroline might be
living, she, on the inside, is dead.
P. 123, Caroline: “Someday we‟ll talk again. Just gotta wait.”
Patience is key in accepting the underlying idea of “change come fast and change come
slow.” Baby steps can lead to big leaps.
P. 124, Caroline: “That sorrow deep inside you, it‟s inside me too, and it never go away.
You be OK. You‟ll learn how to lose things…”
Caroline and Noah‟s sorrow, similar to the idea of sharing a cigarette, draws a parallel
between the two and makes them more of equals and less of the boss‟s son interacting
with an employee.
P. 124, Noah: “And sharing cigarettes? Do you miss sharing a cigarette?” Caroline: “You
bet I do, Noah, you bet, you bet.”
What is the significance of the cigarette? I think the idea that they share a cigarette again
discounts the fact that he is the boss‟s son interacting with an employee and makes them
equals. It‟s both of them doing what isn‟t necessarily “good” for them or what they
“should” do, but what they want to do. It‟s the same idea as Caroline refusing the white
way. There shouldn‟t be one way, everybody should have their own.
P. 126, Emmie: “‟I‟m the daughter of a maid, in her uniform, crisp and clean! Nothing
can ever make me afraid! You can‟t hold on, you Nightmare Men, your time is past now
on your way get gone and never come again! For change come fast and change come
slow but everything changes! And you got to go!‟”
This is a huge transition for Emmie because for the first time she really understands her
mother‟s struggles and accepts her mother, despite their mindsets and ideas of society
being polar opposites. It‟s that same idea (mentioned earlier) of there not being one way,
but everybody having their own way.