Study Guide

Belle Prater's Boy Exploration

By Ruth White

Exploration

"Yeah," he said sadly. "That's all I know. She got up at dawn and went outside because she expected something to happen, and nobody ever saw her again.

He closed the book and clutched it to his heart.

"But it's all here," he whispered mysteriously. "The secret is hiding in the lines of this poem." (1.85-87)

Woodrow is convinced that if he just explores his mother's state of mind and the secrets of her favorite poem enough, he'll be able to figure out what happened to her. Maybe he's right and he just has to read between the lines.

"Now I almost admire her for what she did then," Mama said, more to the night than to me. "She was courageous in an odd sort of way. It was like stepping off a familiar and safe place into darkness, not knowing…" (5.39)

Leaving Coal Station to start a completely new life was pretty brave of Aunt Belle. Even if she didn't think it through, she was taking her life fully into her hands and doing what she needed to forget about Amos and Love.

I slept in the soft night with the sounds and smells of spring in my senses, and my dreams were filled with the face of my Aunt Belle. I followed her down through the corridors of bright seasons when she and Mama were girls, through warm summer nights and cold white Christmases, through schoolrooms and parties and autumn in the golden hills she climbed. (5.47)

After hearing all of Granny and Love's stories about Aunt Belle, Gypsy falls asleep and dreams about her aunt. She gets to explore their relationship in a way that she never was able to in real life.

"Okay," he said. "You go on home and do your stuff and go to bed. Then you get up and sneak out the window and meet me back down here."

"No foolin'?" I said, grinning.

I was excited. Never in a hundred million years would it have occurred to me on my own to do such a naughty thing. (6.118-120)

Having Woodrow around sure does make Gypsy's life more exciting. He leads her on all sorts of adventures and even convinces her to break the rules by sneaking out of her window at night.

"That's what I'm trying to tell you. It was just a place in the air where…"

"Where what?"

"Where two worlds touch," he said, and let his breath out with the words. (7.19-21)

Woodrow has grown up accepting magic because Aunt Belle believes in all that stuff. They've even discovered a strange place near their home—a place where two worlds meet.

"Mama knew about the place," Woodrow went on. "We used to talk about it sometimes; then suddenly one day she told me to hush up about that place. She didn't want me to talk about it anymore. She said I was imagining things, but even after that, I saw her out there sometimes going around and around and back and forth, kinda batting at the air like she was feeling for it." (7.25)

Woodrow and his mother used to explore the place where two worlds touched all the time, but then his mother stopped letting him in on the secret. She wanted to unravel its mysteries all on her own.

"Do you think the two worlds could mean her life here with Grandpa and Granny, and her life there with you and Uncle Everett?"

"Mama was always fascinated with that place where two different things come together." (14.26-27)

Aunt Belle is super drawn the places where things come together—she's intrigued by these sort of one-foot-in-this-world-the-other-in-that kind of setups. Perhaps this is because she's always been compared to her sister, and so has always been split across two people instead of standing solely on her own. Just a thought.

"Belle? Oh, that's easy. She actually vanished, you see, many years ago, when she was about your age. Now she is out there trying to find herself again." (16.120)

According to Porter, the kids shouldn't worry all that much about Aunt Belle. She's not in any danger—she's just out in the world exploring and learning about herself. It's a long-overdue journey to figure out who she is.

"A Dixie Pixie! I just love it!" I said with all the enthusiasm I could muster.

"But all your pretty curls…?" Mary Lee began.

"They were just too much of a burden!" I interrupted, using Mama's words. "I should have done this years ago." (20.35-37)

With her new hair, Gypsy gets to take on a whole new personality. She doesn't have to constantly worry about keeping her hair clean and brushed anymore; now she can be daring like one of those fashion models in New York City.

"The moon is full," he said. "Let's go on an adventure."

"An adventure? Woodrow, we're confined, remember?"

"So what? Turn out your light, and they'll think you're in bed asleep. Come on!" (21.4-6)

Being grounded for fighting at school isn't going to keep Woodrow from exploring the world. And of course Gypsy comes right along with him on his nighttime adventures—after all, they're best friends and partners in crime.

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