Portrait of a Sister
Katie Beiler, a young Amish woman living in Blue Ball, Pennsylvania, is at a crossroads in her life. Her twin, Hannah left their homestead to become "English" and live in New York City. Though identical in appearance, the two could not be more different. Hannah is always the brave and spirited leader, whereas Katie is an introverted follower who obeys the rules. Katie misses Hannah fiercely, even more so when their "mamm" dies. Katie promises to care of their "dat" and the younger children and to honor her mother; she manages the household with a firm but loving hand.
Abram Zook, courting Katie since her "Rumspringa," plans to marry her, but appreciates her need to wait until Katie's sister Mary, matures enough to carry on for the family. Abram is a kind, gentle, and patient man, yet Katie does not experience the head-over-heels feelings of love she believes she should.
Katie's escapism from drudgery is to draw images of her siblings and her environment, which she does late at night when everyone is asleep. Guilt burns deep inside, for this is against Amish beliefs.
When Hannah comes for their mother's funeral, she discovers Katie's drawings, praising them. Hannah suggests Katie come to New York to show her illustrations at her boss, Mr. Rothman's art gallery. Katie is ashamed and refuses, afraid if her artwork is discovered, she would be shunned and hurt her family.
Hannah surreptitiously grabs two of Katie's pictures when leaving PA. She writes home often and begs for Katie to visit. Miss Lottie, a close English acquaintance of "mamm's" knows Katie is sad and encourages her "dat" to let her go. Unwilling to disobey his orders, Katie arrives in the city expecting to be met by Hannah. To her surprise, Hannah's friend, Eric is at the bus station to escort her to Hannah's apartment.
Entranced by Katie, Eric watches her gawk with wonder at the unfamiliar surroundings. Katie, apprehensive of this unknown young man finds him easy to talk to. Eric enjoys escorting Katie around, mesmerized by her enchantment of the sights, making him see his home in a new light.
Much to her astonishment as well as anger, Hannah had given Katie's sketches to Mr. Rothman who displays them at his gallery. At the showing, Katie overhears a couple discussing her picture. They love it and offer to buy it at an unbelievable price, which infuriates Katie and makes her guilt escalate. What if her family found out? She can't let it happen.
On a walk through Central Park, Katie reveals her secret to Eric and Hannah's deceit of taking her illustrations, yet Eric insists she has real talent. She explains her trepidation in the following:
"And if you stay but let him show you your work? Then what?"
"I would be shunned. My family and community could not speak to me until I repented."
"Okay, so what you're saying is that if you ask for forgiveness things would go back to
"So why don't you do that?"
"Because I just can't. I can't allow Mr. Rothman to show my pictures in his gallery. To do so would be wrong, and to make it right I would have to walk away from the only life I know."
How frustrating and heartbreaking to have to choose between one's dream or to live by strict rules. Bewildered by her conflict to be true to her beliefs or to follow her passion, Katie returns home, glad to be among her loved ones while she promises herself to never pick up another pencil. How can she abandon that which fulfills her, something to show she is unique and not a shadow of Hannah?
Portrait of a Sister depicts Katie's internal struggle between doing what she loves and following her upbringing. Her self-esteem is buoyed by the accolades she receives for her work, though continuing this route is against her birthright. Her attraction to Eric makes her question her "promise" to Abram and the future of a steady and "plain" life of expected duties, to that of the famous artist her twin purports she would become. Katie's angst is well expressed and heartfelt. To decide between the familiar and a different path is a testament to Katie's strength, and her faith in God as she also discovers a way to achieve her heart's desire.