Summary and Analysis
PART I Chapter 4. Morphine Lollipop
James “Hobie” Hobart and Theo get to know one another. Hobie tells Theo that the old man with the ring, Welton “Welty” Blackwell, was his business partner. Theo shares Welty’s last moments and is surprised to hear that Hobie was informed that Welty died instantly; Theo was told the same thing about his mother but now questions its veracity. Hobie tells Theo that Pippa, the girl he saw with Welty, her uncle, in the museum, is alive and in the next room. She was seriously harmed both physically and psychologically by the bombing, which she does not remember.
When Theo next visits Hobie and Pippa, Pippa’s Aunt Margaret, Welty’s half-sister from Texas, is preparing to take Pippa to Texas. Pippa is upset about leaving Hobie. She wraps her arms around Theo and kisses him. He becomes overwhelmed with a deeply emotional reaction and can taste the morphine lollipop that Pippa has been sucking. On a subsequent visit to Hobie’s after Pippa has left for Texas, Hobie reveals Pippa’s tumultuous family history, one that carries a great deal of drama. Theo visits Hobie more often and learns some tricks of Hobie’s trade of restoring antiques.
Theo feels that circumstances are turning in his favor, both with his growing friendship with Hobie and with the Barbours. He continues to visit Hobie, and Andy advises him that the Barbour family is set to begin the process of formally adopting him. However, one day when Theo returns to the Barbours’ apartment, he finds that his father and his father’s girlfriend, Xandra, have shown up.
Theo’s father and Xandra quickly take over Theo’s life and put their plan of taking him back to Las Vegas in motion. They take or donate all of Theo’s mother’s belongings, and Theo quietly, and painfully, accepts his fate. He does manage to sneak The Goldfinch out of his mother’s apartment.
Theo exercises active judgement in this chapter, identifying and considering what is safe and what is not safe for him personally. He analyzes the motivations and actions of adults rather than blindly accepting their authority and actions at face value. For example, when Hobie paternally places his hand on Theo’s shoulder during one of Theo’s visits, Theo recognizes Hobie’s action as one that creates safety and security for Theo. Hobie, a survivor of abuse at the hands of his father, is no stranger to the imperfections of adults or the vulnerability of children. However, Hobie is unable to protect either Pippa or Theo from the blood relatives who take them away from the safety and happiness that they feel in Hobie’s presence. Theo learns that what he personally feels is good for him and what the law dictates is good for him—in this case, that his father, not Mrs. Barbour or Hobie, is “good” for him—are not always the same thing.
Theo also begins to recognize and analyze what is and is not within his control. He cannot save Pippa from being sent away or keep himself in a household where he is happy and cared for. He cannot protect his mother’s belongings from the greedy, prying hands of his father and Xandra. Nonetheless, he can keep the painting safe, defend his mother’s memory, and comfort Pippa as she struggles to understand her fate. Theo’s handle on reality, on the forces at work in his life, is his greatest asset when it comes to the necessary task of his surviving the situations that he has—and will continue to—experience.
Pippa and Theo form a bond due to their shared issues as a result of the bombing. She, however, is not as self-aware as Theo is: Her psychological injuries limit her from critically engaging with adults and assessing her personal situation, which Theo is able to do. Pippa, alone in a bedroom, confused and in a haze of narcotics, represents Theo’s own vulnerability. Theo is able to protect himself to an extent, but in truth he is more like Pippa than he realizes; he is more painfully aware of his surroundings and all of the potential dangers they entail. As she yearns for clarity, he recognizes the value in her oblivion. The kiss they share, one that is flavored with her morphine lollipop, begins a bond that Theo is never able to shake. The kiss is a true moment of affection, an attempt to make something unthinkable pleasant, and brings them together in a place between unrealized adulthood and the innocence of childhood.
Theo’s feelings about his father are mixed and distant. He flashes back briefly to scenes of his parents fighting; these memories, like Theo’s unspoken responses to his father’s remarks about his mother, are placed in italics. Like the parentheticals earlier, this stylistic choice is significant because it creates a different form of information delivery. Theo has thoughts, ideas, and opinions, but they are not yet fully formed or self-analyzed; they remain private to him, not verbally expressed to the other characters. The italics remove the words from the main text, setting them aside so that readers and Theo are privy to them but the novel’s characters are not. For example, Theo’s memory of his mother and father fighting over missing earrings is placed in italics immediately after Theo’s father has appeared and demanded that Theo help him gain access to Theo’s mother’s apartment. Readers can conclude that Theo’s father is not to be trusted and that he has an ulterior motive for reappearing in Theo’s life. Tartt juxtaposes Theo’s father’s return with Theo’s memory to create a subtle connection that does not require further explanation. Through this arrangement, readers sense Theo’s helplessness and vulnerability but appreciate his small acts of defiance and control. He is unable to save his mother’s belongings from his father, but he is able to rescue The Goldfinch, an act that represents his personal survival when faced with his father’s return to his life.