Summary and Analysis
The Desert Section 19
Although Jeannette hopes Mom's job means things will improve at home, the family's subsistence living remains the same. Dad maintains that he is still head of the household, so he controls Mom's earnings, going so far as to wait outside the school on payday to drive her to the bank and accompany her inside when she cashes the check. Mom does her best to control the money she earns, even by hiding some of the cash in a sock and giving it to Jeannette to keep. Dad, however, sees through this ploy, and forces Jeannette to hand over the sock of cash.
One day when Brian and Jeannette are headed to school, Dad asks why they do not have lunches packed, and they inform him there is no food in the house. Later that day Dad shows up in the school cafeteria with two bags of groceries for the two of them, asking if he has ever let them down. Brian mumbles, too quietly for his father to hear, that he has. Jeannette, however, refuses to lose faith in Dad.
A few months later, Brian and Jeannette pass by the Green Lantern. Brian ignores one of the women who waves at them and tells Jeannette a story about what happened on his birthday. Dad had taken him out for dinner to celebrate and one of Dad's friends, a woman named Ginger, who works at the Green Lantern, accompanied them. After lunch, they went to a hotel room and Brian waited in the living room while Dad and Ginger went in the bedroom and closed the door. Brian informs Jeannette that he still does not know exactly what happens at the Green Lantern, but he knows the women make plenty of money.
In Section 19 demonstrates the influence of gender roles on Dad's behavior and how his actions influence the three oldest children. Once Mom becomes the sole provider for the family, Dad is unable to redefine his role in the family, so he insists on continuing to manage the finances. Mom is unable to skillfully resist him, resorting to weak subterfuge by handing Jeannette a sock full of cash in front of Dad. Through Mom and Dad's handling of their new roles, Walls illustrates how much traditional gender roles influence Mom and Dad, despite their free-spirited ways. Dad cannot abide any loss of control over the family and Mom cannot take control of it. Thus, Dad is forced into making a show of masculine bravado to assure himself of his manhood as demonstrated through his arrival at the school with a bag of groceries and his exhibition of sexuality in front of Brian, when he takes him out to a birthday meal accompanied by a prostitute.
Dad's inability to cope with the shift in status affects all three children deeply and differently. First, it causes resentment and disappointment in Lori and Brian. Brian's disappointment is apparent when his father arrives with groceries and he mumbles that his father has indeed let him down. Lori's disappointment is shown when she complains to Jeannette that their father needs to do more than spend the family's money. Both children see their father as weak or problematic, whereas Jeannette refuses to give up on her father's dreams and even promises her father that she never will. However, Walls also foreshadows that Dad's behavior is unlikely to change, based on his choices in this section, and the reader should pay attention to how Jeannette's attitude toward her father evolves as she matures.