Summary and Analysis
Part 4: New York City Sections 8-10
Mom and Dad set up a home in an abandoned building and become squatters. They invite Jeannette over to see their place. As Mom and Dad gush about their new home and the other squatters they've met, Jeannette realizes they've finally found a home among people like themselves.
Jeannette finds a new home too, having finished college and gotten a full time job at a magazine. She moves in with her long-term boyfriend Eric, who she loves for being the opposite of her father; Eric is always organized, kind, considerate, and sober. Upon moving into his Park Avenue apartment, she wonders if she has finally found where she belongs, as well.
Mom visits Jeannette's new place and, after inspecting the china and the Persian rug, says she is worried Jeannette's becoming too comfortable. Jeannette laughs off Mom's concern and enjoys her new responsibilities, which include writing a column on the social elite. While Jeannette loves going to art galleries and meeting people from all sorts of backgrounds, she hides her own background, afraid that if the high-brow people she meets know her background, she will lose her job and the life she has made.
After four years with Eric, Jeannette marries him. Mom visits one day and explains that her brother Jim has died, and she needs Jeannette's help buying his land holdings in Texas. Mom says the land costs a million dollars. Jeannette is shocked and horrified by the repercussions of this information: Throughout her childhood, Mom held land worth a million dollars yet never sold it to provide for her family.
When Walls contrasts Mom and Dad's life as squatters with her own post-college success, she expands on the theme of social class and to add nuance to her discomfort with the class difference between her parents and herself. Walls develops this contrast by depicting Mom and Dad's new apartment in an abandoned building. The apartment is filled with Mom's art supplies, heaters hooked up to electricity that Dad has hotwired, and stray cats. Mom and Dad practically glow with happiness over their new abode. Jeannette's new place, however, is austere, filled with Eric's fine things — a Persian rug, fine china. Through this juxtaposition, Walls shows that while her parents may have found a place that suits them, it is unclear whether or not she has found the same for herself; for instance, the items in her apartment seem to be mostly Eric's not her own.
Additionally, Walls exhibits her discomfort in her conversation with a fashion designer. When the designer asks about her parents, Jeannette fabricates a dream life for them by painting Mom as a successful artist and Dad as an entrepreneur. Through this lie, we see that, while Jeannette is comfortable with her parents' lives on a personal level, on a social level she is unable to overcome a sense of shame — not only about her parents, but about herself and her inability to help them.