Summary and Analysis
Part 3: Welch Sections 3-4
Mom takes Brian and Jeannette to school to enroll, even though she never acquired their records from their school in Phoenix. The three of them meet with the principal who asks them simple questions to test their intelligence. However, due to their dissimilar accents, the principal can't understand their answers and they can't understand his questions, so they end up being placed into classes for students with learning disabilities.
Jeannette's first day of fifth grade goes from bad to worse when a group of girls, led by a young African-American girl, Dinitia Hewitt, beat up Jeannette at recess. The bullying becomes part of Jeannette's daily life. She knows Dad, in his regularly drunken state, can't help and that Mom won't. Jeannette sees Dinitia's good side and wonders how she can befriend her. Then, one day when walking through the park, Jeannette sees a little African-American boy being chased by a dog. She scares the dog off and gives the child a piggy-back ride back to his home. Dinitia witnesses this rare act of interracial kindness and decides to befriend Jeannette.
One day Jeannette is getting ready to go to Dinitia's house when Uncle Stanley offers her a ride. When he hears she is going to the black part of town, he takes back his offer. Later, when Jeannette gets home from her visit, Erma spouts a bunch of racist talk that upsets Jeannette, who confronts Erma, as her parents have always taught her to do. However, when Mom hears about the fight with Erma, she tells Jeannette sometimes it is better to be polite.
In these sections, Walls depicts a pivotal moment in her childhood where she not only is confronted by racism, but with her mother's hypocrisy. First, when Jeannette becomes the subject of Dinitia and her friends' rancor, it seems like it is simply because Jeannette's the new kid in town. However, Dinitia's decision to stop the attacks after Jeannette rescues her neighbor, suggests some underlying, subconscious issues are also at work. Dinitia and her African-American friends find that living in a highly segregated, racist village, life is filled with inequalities. As a clearly poor, new white kid, Jeannette is the perfect victim on which to express their frustrations with their own social hardships.
Jeannette, however, is in some ways more affected by her grandmother and uncle's racist attitudes — and her mother's hypocrisy — than the beatings she endures. First, Jeannette finds Erma and Stanley's language reprehensible. Her parents have always taught her to stick up for others and to speak her mind, especially when it comes to issues of ethics and morality. Jeannette therefore responds vehemently to Erma and Stanley's ignorant malice. Jeannette is disappointed when Mom suggests that it is better to be polite with Erma because she, Erma, is the only one keeping them from homelessness. Mom stresses the need to empathize, even with one's enemies. Through Mom and Jeannette's exchange, Walls illustrates a key moment of emotional and ethical growth in her ten-year-old self; she is forced to face not only hypocrisy in Mom, but also come to terms with the need for compromise and empathy in situations, even those in which such qualities seem distasteful.