Summary and Analysis
The Desert Sections 20-21
Jeannette is displeased when the new kid in town, Billy Deel, three years older than her and a troublemaker, decides he wants her for a girlfriend (although she is secretly flattered by the attention). Billy has a reputation for skinning animals and wreaking havoc. One day Billy comes over to her house and says he has something to show her. Although wary, Jeannette is not one to back down from a challenge. Billy takes her to his rundown home and shows her his father, passed out on a mattress, covered in his own urine. Jeannette is horrified Billy that would make fun of his own father and runs home. When she tells the family what happened, Mom insists she treat Billy nicely as he has not had as good an upbringing as Jeannette has had.
Jeannette tells Billy the next day they can be friends. A few days later, he gives her a turquoise ring, which, while she knows accepting it will make him think she is his girlfriend, its beauty charms her and she takes it though she refuses to wear it.
As Jeannette predicts, the next time she and Billy and the neighborhood kids are playing, he calls her his girlfriend. During a game of hide and seek, he joins her in her hiding place and forcefully kisses her and begins trying to undress her. Jeannette bites his ear to make him stop; the next day, she returns the ring to him, saying she can't be his friend. Billy throws the ring at her and tells her he raped her. She is confused by the word but knows it must mean something bad.
The next day, Billy shows up at the house and starts shooting his BB gun through the windows at Jeannette and her siblings. The children, alone at the house, decide to retaliate and both Lori and Jeannette shoot their father's gun close enough to Billy to scare him off. Eventually, police officers show up with Mom and Dad in tow to find out what happened. Mom and Dad, uninterested in dealing with Billy and his family the next day, decide to leave town and head to Phoenix in the middle of the night.
On the way Phoenix, Jeannette happily envisions time with Grandma Smith. These dreams are crushed when Mom informs her Grandma has been dead for months and they are moving into the house that Mom has inherited. Jeannette is horrified Mom did not see the need to tell her about Grandma's death at the time it happened.
In Sections 20 and 21, Walls contrasts her childhood with that of another impoverished neighborhood boy and demonstrates Jeannette's growing maturity and loss of innocence. First, Jeannette's interactions with Billy Deel give perspective on the hardships she faces, and Jeannette's character develops. When Billy takes Jeannette to see his father, she sees a household that's poorer than her own and a father-child relationship that's much more damaged than the one she has with her father. Additionally, through Walls' physical description of Billy's home — the filthy mattresses, the absence of even makeshift furniture — Walls demonstrates that while her family is poor, it is creative and loving and takes the time to make a house a true home. Secondly, Billy's willingness to mock his father contrasts with Jeannette's loyalty to her own father and her horror at Billy's behavior. This part of the memoir reveals that, while Jeannette is a very intelligent and imaginative child, she still retains a childlike innocence. Once again, Jeannette is not willing to come to terms with her father's drunkenness or irresponsible behavior and doggedly maintains her faith in him.
Jeannette loses some of her innocence through her interactions with Billy as well as her Mom's treatment of her grandmother's death. First, when Billy forces Jeannette to kiss him, she begins to learn about sexuality and gains an understanding of what happens in the brothel, the Green Lantern. Secondly, Jeannette is furious with her mother for withholding news of her grandmother's death and in this moment sees just how emotionally detached her mother can be. Through these moments, Jeannette begins to grow up and, while still a child, a child further shaped by the hardships she has endured.