The thing that Coverdale is overwhelmingly concerned with in these early chapters is Zenobia’s past. He wonders if she was married, and then wonders if she is not a virgin: “the freedom of her deportment…was not exactly maidenlike…Her constrained and inevitable manifestation, I said often to myself, was that of a woman to whom wedlock had thrown wide the gates of mystery” (47). Zenobia notices his interest in her, speculating that “I cannot reckon you as an admirer” (47). Sex is an important underlying tension throughout the novel, with Coverdale often inadvertently revealing his own fixations as well as giving us clues to those of other characters. Related to this is Zenobia’s flower, one of the most potent symbols in the text. It is absolutely identified with her sexuality, and the language Coverdale uses to describe it is rife with eroticism: “It was an exotic, of rare beauty, and as fresh as if the hot-house gardener had just clipped it…I can see and smell it, at this moment” (15).
Brook Farm began to decline rapidly after its restructuring. In October 1844, Orestes Brownson visited the site and sensed that "the atmosphere of the place is horrible".  To save money, "retrenchments", or sacrifices, were called for, particularly at the dinner table.  Meat, coffee, tea, and butter were no longer offered, though it was agreed that a separate table with meat be allowed in December 1844.  That Thanksgiving, a neighbor had donated a turkey.  Many Brook Farmers applied for exceptions to these rules and soon it was agreed that "members of the Association who sit at the meat table shall be charged extra for their board".  Life on Brook Farm was further worsened by an outbreak of smallpox in November 1845; though no one died, 26 Brook Farmers were infected.  Ripley attempted to quell the financial difficulties by negotiating with creditors and stockholders, who agreed to cancel $7,000 of debts.