Summary and Analysis
Part 4: New York City Sections 4-7
Winter arrives, cold and fierce, and Mom and Dad struggle to keep warm at night. They often end up in shelters, churches, or sometimes at Lori's apartment. Jeannette considers dropping out of college to help them, but Lori and Brian point out that such an idea is useless as both Mom and Dad have options. Brian reminds Jeannette that Mom has a house in Phoenix, expensive jewelry she could pawn, and her Texas land. When Jeannette takes Mom out for a cup of coffee to discuss these options, Mom dismisses every idea as ridiculous and they end up discussing movies.
Dad gets tuberculosis and stays in a hospital for six weeks. Those six weeks sober him up and, in order to stay sober, he gets a job at an upstate resort, knowing that if he goes back on the streets he will be drinking in no time. But, in a matter of weeks, Mom convinces him to come back and he is back to his old ways.
Another winter rolls around and the family gathers at Lori's apartment for Christmas. Jeannette buys her father warm clothes and boots for the winter, and Dad, offended by her presents, storms out of the apartment. Mom explains that Dad can't handle being shown that he can't provide for his kids but that they can provide for him.
That following summer, though, he gets a chance to provide for Jeannette when she confesses she is a thousand dollars short of her tuition costs for the fall semester. He wins over nine hundred dollars (plus a mink coat to pawn) in poker games, and Jeannette's tuition is covered.
Throughout these sections, Walls reminds the readers not only of her parents' flaws, but also their merits, and comes to terms with her parents' new lifestyle. While Mom's selfishness and stubbornness are still problematic, and Dad is unable to handle simple kindness from his children, Walls shows that Dad is still a loving parent despite these flaws. First, Dad insists on reading everything Jeannette is studying for college and raves about his Ivy League daughter to everyone he meets. Secondly, he is able to scrounge up the money for her tuition, and both he and Mom are comfortable with giving it to Jeannette rather than using it to better their own situation. Through these moments, we see the complexity of Jeannette's struggle to come to peace with her parents: As soon as she wants to give up on them, they do something redeeming.
Thus, Jeannette comes to grips with their circumstances and no longer attempts to change her parents. Walls depicts this change through Jeannette's shifting behavior in these sections. The first section begins with Jeannette's trying to reason with Mom about finances. Then, Jeannette tries to ameliorate her parents' homelessness by buying Dad clothes to help him survive the winter. In the end, though, by accepting tuition money from Mom and Dad and not insisting they keep it, Jeannette shows her acceptance of their circumstances. While this peace may not be permanent, Walls uses this moment of warmth, support, and kindness as contrast to the many times Jeannette suffered as a child due to the coldness and obstinacy of her parents' behavior.