Summary and Analysis
Part 3: Welch Sections 20-22
Jeannette often worries about failing little Maureen, so she, Lori, and Brian save up to give her some gifts for her seventh birthday. They share stories with her about California, where she was born though she does not remember it. Maureen's blonde hair, blue eyes, and charm have made her well-liked among the Pentecostals in Welch, and they not only care for her, but share with her their religion.
Just before school lets out for summer, Mom has a breakdown and refuses to go to her job. Jeannette's convinced that Mom needs to be stronger, but Lori sympathizes with Mom's situation. Jeannette has the entire summer to prove her point that Dad needs a strong woman when Mom goes off to teacher training session for eight weeks and Lori is away at a summer camp for gifted students.
Before Mom leaves, she gives two hundred dollars to Jeannette for groceries and bills. Jeannette is unable to stick to her budget because she relents to Dad's request for cash every time. He promises to pay her back, and he does so by taking her to the bar with him and using her youthful looks to distract his fellow pool player, Robbie, so that he can hustle him at pool. Robbie, drunk and attracted to Jeannette, drags her to his upstairs apartment. Jeannette is furious Dad allows this to happen and only manages to escape Robbie by showing him her burn scars.
Unable to feed herself and her siblings, Jeannette gets a job at Becker's Jewelry Box. She likes the work, but is disgruntled to learn from another employee that the boss gives employees at his other store commission and he only pays Jeannette a flat rate. Out of spite, she steals a watch; out of guilt, she returns it the next day.
When Mom and Lori return home, happy with their summers away, Mom refuses to go back to work. Jeannette talks back at her and Mom asks Dad to punish her. Dad whips her and Jeannette, furious at her parents and her life, vows to never be whipped again and to start saving up to escape Welch as soon as possible, before she graduates from high school if she can.
Jeannette grows up in these sections as she is forced to grapple with financial responsibility and, in doing so, decides to finally break away from her parents. The basic question driving this section is what makes a strong woman? Jeannette and Lori's argument about this issue shows how the two perceive the concept differently. For Lori, their mother represents a strong woman because she is able to tolerate and survive life with Dad. For Jeannette, a strong woman is someone who can stand up to Dad. Jeannette is forced to find an answer to this question through her summer-in-charge-of-the-budget when Lori and Mom are away.
Jeannette demonstrates weakness — or at least feels weak — when she is unable to deny her father's demands for money. Her capitulation leads her to going to a bar with Dad to hustle a drunk. Her role as distraction in Dad's hustle puts her in yet another precarious sexual situation. However, through this experience she gains more inner strength and gets her first job.
It is this job at the jewelry store that finally allows her the independence to stand up to Mom and Dad. Jeannette confronts both of them regarding their fatal flaws. Neither one can face her accusations, so they resort to treating her like a belligerent child. Mom ignores Jeannette's claim that she should be less selfish and keep her teaching job. Dad whips Jeannette for indicating that he is not truly the head of the household. Through these charged scenes Jeannette becomes an adult — and moves toward her ideal of a "strong woman" — by resolving to escape. By obtaining the one thing her parents can't obtain — a steady job — Jeannette secures her own independence and puts into motion the start of a new life. However, she is still a minor having to contend with her parents' flaws and will no doubt face many obstacles on her path toward independence.