Haunting Olivia Analysis

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Karen Russell’s “Haunting Olivia” depicts two brothers searching for tangible evidence of their disappeared sister, Olivia. The brothers struggle to answer the question: at what point can one let go without feeling guilty? During the explorations of Gannon’s Boat Graveyard and the Glowworm Grotto, Timothy and his older brother, Wallow, stand on opposite ends of the spectrum of guilt.
On one end, Wallow will not cease his quest until he is able to tell his sister that he is sorry and can find some sort of affirmation to give himself closure. On the other end, Timothy feels no reason to apologize and is content with not knowing exactly what happened. He even goes as far to say that he has “nearly succeeded in exorcising Olivia from [his] thoughts”
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Granana, who doesn’t quite understand why her disappearance is an immense deal due to the difficult life she has had, inconsiderately says to the boys, “[Olivia] wasn’t must for swimming [was she]” (37). Timothy, influenced by his Granana’s insensitivity towards the disappearance of Olivia, has already let go of her and wishes that “everybody in [his] goddamn family would leave [her at the Glowworm Grotto] for dead” (46). Wallow, whose guilt drives his every action, does nothing else but search for his sister day in and day out. When Timothy sees the impact of his sister’s disappearance on his brother, he feels guilty for not being emotionally affected in the same way. Though Timothy considers Wallow to be the better brother because Wallow feels responsible for what happened, the fraternal roles are in fact switched since he pretends to look for his sister for the sake of his brother. Wallow cannot look by himself since he has broken one of his arms and so Timothy feels compelled to swim in the ocean to look for Olivia. Though Timothy’s shame is from not feeling guilty, there is still potential for him to acquire guilt from his sister’s disappearance, but only if Wallow continues to stay stuck on finding Olivia

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