Summary and Analysis Part 4: New York City Sections 2-3



One morning, while getting ready for school, Jeannette listens to a radio report of a dilapidated van breaking down on the highway. Later she learns it is her parents' van and that Mom and Dad have decided to move to New York City to be near the family. Mom and Dad move from a boardinghouse to a flophouse to Lori's apartment as their inability to pay rent catches up with them. Brian, on seeing Lori stressed out by life with Dad, lets Dad move into his apartment. However Dad refuses to live under Brian's "no alcohol" rules and Lori can't handle Mom's pack-rat ways and so finally Mom and Dad end up living on the street.

Mom and Dad claim to like homelessness, spending their days going to free events around the city and scouting out shelters and soup kitchens. Jeannette is torn by this shift in her parents' lives. While speaking in a class discussion about the causes of homelessness, Jeannette claims it is a matter of choice, or a series of choices, but is unable to admit that she is claiming this based on personal experience.


These sections bring to the foreground the themes Walls addresses in the opening section of the memoir, "A Woman on the Street" by elucidating Mom and Dad's route homelessness and Jeannette's quandary over classism. As Jeannette moves up the social ranks, is it wrong of her to leave her parents behind? To not expose her past?

Walls establishes the groundwork for these questions by depicting Mom and Dad's descent into homelessness. Each child, in his or her own way, tries to help Mom and Dad adjust to New York City. Both Lori and Brian take them in; Jeannette visits every once in awhile. But, in the end, the kids cannot change their parents — and Mom and Dad end up living on the streets.

Jeannette is now the strong, independent woman she envisioned for herself. But in her two interactions with the issue of homelessness — first with a friend walking down the street and second in the classroom — Jeannette is unable to reconcile her "new" self with her old "self." As the Walls siblings adjust to their parents' new state in life, the reader should watch how Jeannette deals with this issue: Is she afraid her new friends and colleagues will judge her if they know her past? If they know her parents are homeless? How will Jeannette reconcile the two parts of herself: the poor country girl living by her wits and luck and the educated, self-made woman who has made a new life in the city?

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