Summary and Analysis
The Desert Sections 22-23
Jeannette and her siblings marvel at their new home in Phoenix — a 14-room stucco house with orange trees in the backyard — and can't believe their good fortune. The three older children enroll in a public school and Lori, Brian, and Jeannette have their first ear and eye exams there. While Brian and Jeannette pass their tests, Lori needs glasses. At first, Mom refuses to let her get glasses as she believes glasses are like crutches and just weaken the eyes. However, the school provides free glasses for Lori. She is stunned by what she can see and hurt by all the years she spent looking at a fuzzy world, certain everyone else saw it that way.
Lori, delighting in her new sight, joins Mom in her zeal for art. Mom turns the front rooms of the house into a studio and spends her days painting, drawing, or writing stories. Dad gets a job with the local electrician union, and the family enjoys a spell of prosperity. Dad buys the kids bicycles, and the family invests in a telephone and washing machine.
The neighborhood, however, has its share of shady characters. Mom and Dad insist on keeping the doors and windows open at all times. One night, a man wanders in and touches Jeannette's private parts, waking her from sleep. She screams and Brian leaps out of bed, grabbing a hatchet, and the two of them chase the man down the street. When Dad gets home, he is furious, and he, Brian, and Jeannette go Pervert Hunting. Despite this incident, Mom and Dad insist on continuing to leave the doors open.
On Sundays, Mom takes the kids to Catholic Mass. Mom considers herself a devout Catholic, despite her distaste for nuns and loose interpretation of basic tenets. When she forces Dad to come with them to church, he is often belligerent, having no patience for religion, preferring science and logic. Dad's outbursts always get the family kicked out, but Mom insists God understands.
Lori's newly enhanced vision, Pervert Hunting, and trips to church all shed insight on the characters of Lori, Mom, and Dad, as well as how Mom and Dad's parenting method influences the children. First, Lori's shock upon seeing the world through glasses explains part of her character and shapes her perspective of her parents. Lori's reluctance to explore the outdoors, her interest in books and staying put, all arise from her inability to see at a distance. On realizing that something as simple as an eye exam and eyeglasses could make a difference, Lori grows more resentful of her parents' refusal to be more involved parents. Lori's alliance with Mom through their shared love of art foreshadows that most of Lori's resentment will be directed toward Dad.
Furthermore, Dad's attitude toward Pervert Hunting shows him to be only superficially concerned about his children's safety. When he hears about the intruder who attempted to molest Jeannette, he decides to take Brian and Jeannette on a hunt for the "pervert," even though their chances of catching him are slim. This method, paired with Dad and Mom's refusal to lock the doors, only addresses the problem superficially; the hunt does not make any of the children any safer. Rather it instills in the children some of Dad's grandiosity — he has more faith in the guise of bravery and manliness than in doing what's actually required to achieve those qualities; for instance, he'd rather go on a "hunt" than simply lock the doors to his home.
Thus Dad and Mom's refusal to provide their children with any safety encourages Jeannette and Brian to go on their own Pervert Hunts in order to establish some sense of safety. As Walls continues with her memoir, the reader should pay attention to these moments in which Mom and Dad put more stock in the appearance of something they value rather than doing the work required upholding that value.