Study Guide

Belle Prater's Boy Abandonment

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Around 5:00 a.m. on a warm Sunday morning in October 1953, my Aunt Belle left her bed and vanished from the face of the earth. (1.1)

Aunt Belle abandons her family in the most dramatic and mysterious way possible: She just up and leaves without any warning, leaving Uncle Everett and Woodrow completely baffled about where she's gone.

"I wonder how my mama could ever have left here to marry my daddy and go live up there with him," Woodrow said. "It seems like this beautiful place has everything you could ever want, and nothing could ever hurt you here." (4.62)

Woodrow totally cannot understand how his mother would ever leave Coal Station, but he also doesn't know about how much she suffered after Amos married her sister. He doesn't know yet that even the prettiest place can hide a lot of painful secrets.

"Maybe she's done it again," I interrupted. "Have you ever thought of that, Mama?"

Slowly, she turned back to me.

"Yes, I have thought of that. But there's Woodrow. I don't think she would leave him on purpose." (5.40-42)

Aunt Belle has a history of leaving all her sorrows behind and starting over again, but her latest disappearance has stumped her family. After all, would a mother really just leave her kid behind like that? (The answer is yes, yes she would.)

Woodrow went to the window and watched his daddy go out the walkway to the road, where the old Ford was parked. I walked over and stood at Woodrow's elbow. It was still light enough out there that I could see somebody in Uncle Everett's car. It was a blond-headed woman. Woodrow clutched the windowsill with one hand, and I could see his knuckles turning white. (9.35)

Poor Woodrow doesn't just feel left behind and abandoned by his mother; he also feels like his dad's done the same thing. Sure Uncle Everett is still checking up on him, but he's moved on with his life now that Belle's out of the picture.

I remembered the day Daddy built the tree house for me. I was barely big enough to get up the steps, and Mama fussed at Daddy because she said I was too small to climb up there and play. So he promised he would always go with me until I was old enough to go by myself. And he did.

Until he died. (11.58-59)

Gypsy always assumed her father would be around to take care of her and watch her grow up… but then he died. She can't believe that he would just leave her life like that after all of his promises.

Then how come he was so interested in checking the ads every Sunday, I was thinking, but I didn't say it. Because it all fit together—Woodrow's great interest in the newspaper every Sunday and no other day. He was looking for his mother to send him a message through the classified ads. So he really didn't believe his own farfetched story. (14.39)

Even though Woodrow is always telling Gypsy that his mother's gone into another world, she can tell that it's just a fairytale he makes up to help himself feel better about her leaving him. He knows that she's in the real world and that she left without saying goodbye to him. It's just a tough pill to swallow.

"No," I said, surprised that he would mention my daddy. He never had before. "Because it's Porter's favorite song."

"Why are you so mad at Porter?" Woodrow came back. "It wasn't him that left you!" (16.60-61)

Ouch. Woodrow is right, of course—Gypsy has no reason to be mad at Porter when he's never done anything to deserve it. But it's easier for her to be mad at him for taking her father's place than it is to be mad at her father for dying.

"My daddy didn't leave me!" I screamed at him. "He died! A person can't help dying, you know!"

"He… " Woodrow started to say more, but thought better of it. "Never mind," he mumbled. (16.62-63)

Woodrow wouldn't hurt Gypsy by bringing up the fact that Amos killed himself. Even though everyone in town knows this fact, they all tiptoe around it when talking to Gypsy because it's too painful for her.


Gypsy does the only thing she can do to get back at her father now that he's dead: She hacks off all her hair. Her pretty long hair meant so much to Amos that he made Love promise never to cut it, but now Gypsy is chopping it all off because he didn't keep his promises to her. He failed to stick around, so she's failing to keep her long hair.

"The sin eater wuz always shunned and scorned by the town folks, 'cause I had all them sins inside me I had et, see? There weren't no more miserble person living than I wuz then. What got to bearing on my mind wuz who would eat poor Blind Benny's sins when he passed on?

"Why nobody would, that's who! No matter how down and out a body might be, he wouldn't take the chance on eating the sin eater's sins. Which meant I would have to pass on when my time come with all them sins in me, and nobody to eat them for me." (21.35-36)

You have to feel sorry for Blind Benny due to all the injustice he's faced in his life. Just because of his disability, people have basically abandoned him to living a life where he's doomed because of all their sins—and no one loves him enough to step in and save him from this fate.

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