Summary and Analysis
Part 3: Welch Sections 10-12
Spring comes to Welch and makes life a little easier for the Walls family. For one, the longer days means the family can read longer into the evening, since they often do not have electricity. For Lori, reading is a form of escape and she immerses herself in fantasy novels. For Jeannette, reading is a form of comfort and she loves to read stories about other people like her, who suffer hunger and poverty, to see how they make it through their lives.
One night, Dad comes home late and Jeannette gets up to see him. He has big gashes in his face and forearm. Too drunk to take care of his wounds, Dad asks Jeannette to stitch up his arm. She is terrified to draw the threaded needle through Dad's skin, but she manages a few stitches. The next evening, when she returns from school, Dad has left again.
More and more, Dad spends days at a time away from home. He always returns though, usually with a bag of food, and always with stories of his adventures. However, his inability to get a job often leaves Jeannette and her siblings hungry. When Mom gets her check from the oil company that leases the land in Texas she inherited, the family has food for a few days. Other than that, Jeannette and Brian do their best to forage for food — either finding berries in the woods or digging through the cafeteria trash at school. One night, while the four kids sit at home with Mom, they realize she is hiding food from them. They discover she has eaten half of a giant chocolate bar and had no intention to share with them. They divide the rest amongst themselves.
Winter brings with it its own set of miseries. For one, though the family has a coal stove, they often lack coal to burn in it. The children fight with each other to sleep with their pet dogs in order to stay warm at night. The only good thing about winter is that it hides their body and clothing odor; their water tap is often frozen and they have no way to dry laundry. One day, Mom splurges and takes the kids to the Laundromat and they love the warm, cozy hours they spend there.
In these sections, Walls exemplifies how both her parents' selfish behavior affects her and her siblings and thus builds on the theme of hypocrisy. First, Dad's selfishness is evident through his increased absence from the family and his request for Jeannette to stitch his arm up. By leaving the family for days at a time to go on drinking binges, Dad forgoes his parental duties and plunges his family into more frequent bouts of hunger. Additionally, by asking his daughter to stitch his wound, he ignores how deeply such a task bothers her and, instead of seeing this incident as a sign he should reform his ways, he returns to his routine of binge drinking the next night. Thus Dad increasingly becomes a hypocritical figure: someone who espouses values of independence and self-sufficiency, yet who is more and more incapable of fulfilling these ideals. Readers should watch how Dad's choices continue to influence Jeannette's growing doubt in her father.
Secondly, Mom's selfishness also contributes to her children's state of constant hunger. Throughout these sections, Walls suggests that her mother is capable of helping the family but simply chooses not to. For instance, she is able to lug books from the library, read for hours on end, and yet cannot bother to expend her energy on finding a job or to simply help her children scavenge coal to keep warm. Mom's selfishness is also underscored by her decision to hide food from her hungry children. When the children discover her chocolate stash, Mom claims she is a sugar addict just as their father is an alcoholic. Thus, Mom tries to rid herself of responsibility for her actions, even though "sugar addiction" certainly does not incapacitate someone the way alcoholism does.
Finally, Mom and Dad's behavior together serve to not only highlight their own hypocritical behavior, but also to isolate them from their children. Throughout these sections, the children seek ways to survive on their own with little to no support from their parents. For instance, Brian and Jeannette scour the forest for dry wood; Lori tries to stoke a fire with kerosene; and Maureen more or less abandons the rest of the family to find solace in the families of her friends. Mom and Dad's increasing selfishness foreshadows that their poor choices will be the cause of the family's disintegration.