The Kitchen House Summary & Study Guide

Kathleen Grissom
This Study Guide consists of approximately 39 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Kitchen House.
This section contains 740 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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The Kitchen House Summary & Study Guide Description

The Kitchen House Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom.

The Kitchen House was written by Kathleen Grissom. The novel is an interesting look at the history of slavery, the role of the indentured servant, and the helplessness of the ladies of the time period.

Lavinia McCarten is only six when her parents die on board a ship bound for America from Ireland. To pay their passage, Lavinia and her brother are placed separately as indentured servants. After arriving in America, Lavinia is taken to the home of the ship’s captain and raised by the kitchen slave named Belle. At first, Lavinia is too sick to take much notice of the world around her. However, Belle and her surrogate mother, Mama Mae, nurse her back to health.

As time passes, Lavinia becomes an important part of the daily workings of the household staff on Tall Oaks. Lavinia learns to cook and clean alongside Belle, Mama Mae, and Dory. Lavinia even learns the secrets of the farm, including the fact that Belle is the captain’s daughter. In time, Lavinia even finds herself rescuing the captain’s son from his abusive tutor. On the day the captain’s young daughter falls from a swing and breaks her neck, Lavinia is there to help deliver the captain’s wife, Mrs. Pyke, of a second son.

Lavinia becomes the primary caretaker for the newborn baby when Mrs. Pyke, lost in her grief, is unable to care for the child herself. Lavinia names the child Campbell after an infant brother she vaguely remembers from her past. Lavinia becomes mother, sister, and playmate to the child as he grows. At the same time, she becomes a constant companion to Mrs. Pyke who takes her under her wing and begins to teach her how to be a lady. Therefore, when the Pykes decide to go to Pennsylvania for the summer to visit Mrs. Pyke’s father, Lavinia is devastated to lose her teacher and her tiny charge. The boy is quickly replaced, however, when Dory is forced to leave her own infant Sukie behind in order to devote her energies to caring for young Campbell.

In Pennsylvania, the Pykes are devastated when yellow fever strikes, killing both Mrs. Pyke’s father and Dory, as well as inadvertently causing the death of little Campbell. The captain also contracts the illness. Even though he survives, he is weakened by the illness and dies less than two years later. Mrs. Pyke, who has gone insane from grief, is taken to Williamsburg where her sister lives to be hospitalized. Lavinia is to go to Williamsburg as well, so that she might be a companion to Mrs. Pyke when she heals.

Despite her unhappiness at leaving Belle and the rest of her family, Lavinia soon realizes what a gift it is to be allowed to go to Williamsburg and receive lessons in being a lady. Lavinia becomes engaged to a widower, but this relationship quickly ends when the man tries to take advantage of Lavinia’s innocence. A short time later, Lavinia finds herself engaged to Marshall Pyke. Lavinia is happy about her new circumstances because it means a return to Tall Oaks and the family she left behind. However, it is not the same when she returns. As lady of the house, there are certain expectations for Lavinia that her husband violently imposes.

Lavinia soon falls into a depression when she realizes the mistake she has made by marrying a violent alcoholic who does not try to hide an affair and children he has had with Beattie, his slave. Lavinia begins to rely on laudanum, the same drug that Mrs. Pyke once used to excess. In the end, however, Lavinia’s love for her family pulls her out of her depression as she learns that her husband is breaking up whole families by selling his slaves to pay his gambling debts. Lavinia arranges for several of the slaves to run away, going along herself to escape her violent marriage. However, things go wrong when Mama Mae is hung by Marshall. Lavinia returns to Tall Oaks just in time to witness Marshall’s murder by Belle’s beloved son Jamie. Lavinia takes the gun and stands trial in Jamie’s place. In the end, Lavinia walks away with her freedom and what it left of Tall Oaks, as well as the surviving members of her beloved family, now freed of slavery and earning a proper salary.

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This section contains 740 words
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