Study Guide

Francesco in Alligator Bayou

By Donna Jo Napoli


Francesco technically is a friend of Calogero's dad instead of a blood relation, but Calo calls him uncle anyway. And though Francesco technically is neither the oldest nor the wisest amongst this makeshift family of Calo's, he is definitely the leader of the pack anyway—if only because he's the most stubborn person in the house.

Stubborn as an Old Goat

The thing about Francesco is that he does pretty much whatever he wants, and can't be easily persuaded in another direction… just like Bedda, his beloved goat. After Francesco tussles with Willy Rogers one night, he decides that the next thing he should do is grab a gun and head on over to pay a visit and try to scare him. Carlo—his much gentler and more level-headed brother—tries to reason with him, reminding Francesco that Willy's dad practically runs the town, so bringing a gun by is pretty much guaranteed trouble. Check out Francesco's response:

"Bah!" (2.37)

Yup. That's it. Carlo's all hey, bro—you might get shot and Francesco responds with a frustrated grunt, and then walks out the door. Not only is he stubborn as an old goat—he even sounds like one. 

It's fitting that Francesco acts—and sounds—like a stubborn old goat, since his goats are in some ways at the crux of the drama in this book. Dr. Hodge tells Francesco over and over again to keep his goats off his porch and tied up at night, but Francesco waves off the doctor's request by saying:

"Goat go where goat go. Is nature. Is how God want. Who can prevent? […] Not me." (5.56)

While the doctor definitely turns out to be a majorly bad dude—at best he's a raging racists with anger management issues—we can't really blame him for asking Francesco to keep his goats off of his front porch at night. After all, goats have hooves and their clip-clopping seems like it would be totally annoying when you're trying to get some sleep. And the thing is, that the doctor doesn't just ask Francesco this one time and then flip his lid—nope, he asks Francesco repeatedly throughout the book to get a grip on his goats. And though Francesco eventually makes a bit of an attempt to stop the doctor's midnight visitors, he doesn't exactly bend over backward to help the doc get some quality shut-eye. And this stubbornness eventually comes at a price to every single member of Francesco's family.

Big Papa

Francesco is rather small compared to his brothers, but he's still the head honcho around these parts. Part of this is because he speaks English, which is a pretty useful skill, but part of it is just because he calls all the shots, and doesn't feel the need to ask for opinions from fellow family members. So when Calo and Cirone come home after a night of alligator hunting and the uncles are all in a tizzy, though everyone puts in their two cents, Francesco ultimately handles the situation the way he wants to. Giuseppe and Rosario want to whip the boys as punishment, and though Carlo disagrees with this course, the only one who can call off the dogs is Francesco. Giuseppe is angry and says, "I'll whip them till they can't walk" (10.47), but then Francesco takes charge and says:

"We need them to work. Leave it to me, Giuseppe, I'll teach them good." (10.47)

Francesco takes this need to have the boys work and turns it into ample punishment in its own right, working them from dawn 'til dusk—and even on Sundays—for a month straight. And while this shows us that his decision is the one that rules, it also shows a certain practicality that might seem kind of surprising given how stubborn Francesco can be at other times. Whipping the boys means the uncles will lose their labor for a bit, but working them to the bone, well, that punishes the boys harshly and gets things done on the home front and at their markets.

And speaking of markets, Francesco also runs the grocery, doing most of the ordering and management of the food the family sells. Here he helps set an egalitarian tone, refusing to bend to the racist wishes of white customers and treating Black people who come in with dignity. This lets us know that though he may be stubborn, and though he may be pretty harsh when it comes to punishing his nephews, his heart is firmly rooted in the right place.

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