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Dead End in Norvelt

Dead End in Norvelt


by Jack Gantos

Dead End in Norvelt Chapter 2 Summary

  • When Jack gets to Miss Volker's house the next morning, a box of chocolates with a card attached is sitting upon her doorstep.
  • This is a welcome sight for Jack, who just loves gossip. Only he calls it "whisper history" (2.14), which does make it sound better.
  • The gift is from Mr. Edwin Spizz, who has a thing for Miss Volker.
  • Mr. Spizz has signed the card, "Your swain since 1912" (2.14). (Jack doesn't know what a "swain" is, but lucky you—you've got Shmoop. "Swain" is an old-fashioned term for a boyfriend or admirer and comes from an archaic term for "servant").
  • Mr. Spizz is an original resident of Norvelt and works for the "Norvelt Association for the Public Good" (2.15). He is also quite full of himself and Jack considers him somewhat "sinister" (2.15).
  • Now here's something you don't see every day: Miss Volker is cooking her hands in a pot of boiling water when Jack enters her home.
  • It turns out that Miss Volker does not like Mr. Spizz very much. She wants the chocolates thrown out.
  • She continues cooking her hands, and they come out all melted (2.36).
  • After soaking her hands in cold water, Miss Volker asks Jack to "peel it off" (2. 44). Oh, dear—this doesn't sound good.
  • It looks like Miss Volker is more than just a little bit nutty. She bites off what appears to be a chunk of her own flesh (2.46).
  • Jack pleads with Miss Volker to not eat her own flesh (2.47)—bear with us here, because this is actually pretty funny. Just then his nose spews blood all over the place, and he promptly faints.
  • When Jack comes to, he's convinced that Miss Volker has gone all Walking Dead on him and is about to have a snack. Namely, him.
  • Not so much. It turns out, Miss Volker has horrible arthritis. Too bad for her, good news for Jack. The melting wax on her hands makes her feel better temporarily.
  • The arthritis means that she needs Jack's help in writing down the obituaries that she composes.
  • Miss Volker, we find out, used to be a nurse.
  • Jack's first obituary is for Emma Devers Slater, and by her death date we get the time period of the novel: the summer of 1962. (Mrs. Slater dies on June 15, 1962.)
  • We learn that the town was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt (get it? EleaNOR RooseVELT).
  • Miss Volker sees writing these obituaries as her duty to Mrs. Roosevelt, though, so be honest, we're not quite sure why.
  • What Miss Volker really likes to do, though, is to sneak in some extra reading for the town's residents, and she does this by including bonus historical tidbits with each obit. Sort of like putting zucchini in your chocolate waffles.
  • For Emma Slater's obituary, Miss Volker gives a brief account of Wat Tyler and the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.
  • What does Wat Tyler have to do with some dead lady? Miss Volker explains the connection between the town of Norvelt (common people who work hard and want equality) with the medieval peasants (common people who worked hard and wanted equality).
  • With Mrs. Slater's death, all but eight of the original Norvelt residents from the town's founding in 1934 have passed away or left. This seems to be important.
  • Jack types up the obituary. He's never typed before, so we imagine it involves a lot of hunting and pecking.
  • And now we find out why Miss Volker writes the obituaries: she was appointed by Eleanor Roosevelt to be the town's chief nurse and medical examiner. The obituaries are her "closing tribute" to Mrs. Roosevelt.
  • She claims she will outlive all of the other original residents, because she must fulfill this duty.
  • Miss Volker gives Jack a book (Lost Worlds) in exchange for his work (notice how she calls the book "brain food") (2.114).
  • She recounts Eleanor Roosevelt urging students to "learn their history or they'd be 'doomed to dust' like one of the Lost Worlds" (2.118).
  • Jack delivers his first typed obituary to Mr. Greene at the Norvelt News.

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