The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants: Essay Sample

Published: 2021-06-25 15:45:06
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The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants has become one of the most celebrated works of young adult fiction targeted at girls. The four characters who serve as the novel’s protagonists are united in their affection for the titular pants, as well as in their quest for love. Indeed, romance and love are the primary themes of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, as the four girls crisscross the world as part of their adventures away from each other. Because of the differing backgrounds of the main characters, the ways in which they explore their feelings and their relationships with others differs considerably. Articles such as “Juxtaposing Immigrant and Adolescent Girl Experiences: Literature for All Readers” and “Who Wears the Pants? The (Multi)cultural Politics of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” provide strong insights into the theme of love in the novel and each of the four characters’ experiences of it.
Love is confronted most directly in the stories of Lena Kaligaris and Bridget Vreeland, who are also distinguished by the fact that their stories take place abroad. Lena’s summer is spent vacationing with her grandparents in their ancestral home in Greece, while Bridget’s is spent at a soccer camp in Mexico. Lena’s experiences demonstrate the clash between how younger people and older people view love, as well as how relationships are approached in the U.S. versus abroad. In her portion of the story, Lena’s grandparents set her up with Kostas, a local boy whom they think would be a good fit for her; this is an alien notion to most Americans, who typically meet their significant others via school or work functions. Kostas’ and Lena’s relationship grinds to a halt when he accidentally sees her skinny-dipping, a grave crime in their circles, leading to a rift between her family and Kostas’. To repair the damage, she later confesses to her grandparents what happened and also apologizes to Kostas, confessing her love for him. This represents Lena’s reconciliation of old world and new world values with regards to romance, as she becomes accustomed to both her Greek identity and American upbringing.
Bridget’s experiences in Mexico are different but still represent the clashing of two value sets. While attending her soccer camp, Bridget begins to crush on Eric Richman, one of the instructors, and pursues him despite the camp’s prohibition on instructor-student relationships. She eventually catches a glimpse of him in his underwear and seeks to lose her virginity to him. This represents a significant role reversal compared to how relationships typically work: it is men who are expected to be aggressors and women who are expected to be the pursued. Bridget’s attempt at a relationship eventually fails when Eric shoots it down of his own accord. In contrast to Lena, Bridget is unable to reconcile her feelings for and aggressiveness towards Eric with society’s expectations of her as a woman. Thematically, the author directly parallels their experiences by having Lena visit Bridget near the end of her story.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a book that has more thematic complexity than its nature would suggest. Beneath its seemingly simple story is a complex narrative on love and its relation to social norms, cultural traditions, and individual desire. Lena and Bridget each pursue love in different contexts and different ways, united by their feelings and their struggles against oppressive expectations for how women are supposed to act. In their seeming failures, they learn much about themselves and each other, and their experiences serve as an emotional anchor around which the fulcrum of the novel turns. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a unique novel in this regard.

Eiss, Harry Edwin, ed. Young Adult Literature and Culture. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.
McInally, Kate. “Who wears the pants? The (multi) cultural politics of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” Children’s literature in education 39.3 (2008): 187-200.
Smith, Scot. “The death of genre: Why the best YA fiction often defies classification.” (2007).
Stewart, Mary Amanda. “Juxtaposing immigrant and adolescent girl experiences: Literature for all readers.” English Journal (2012): 17-22.

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