Study Guide

Belle Prater's Boy Sadness

By Ruth White

Sadness

My mama, Love Ball Dotson, speech and drama teacher at Coal Station High School and sister to the missing person, was plenty upset. In a Mountain Echo interview she said it wasn't bad enough having your sister disappear like that without a trace, oh no, people had to go running their mouths and making an already tragic situation worse. (1.12)

Aunt Belle's disappearance is hard on the whole family, even Love. The sisters may not have seen each other much over the years, but they still love and worry about each other.

Mama reminded me how privileged I was, how fortunate, and I didn't doubt her word one bit, except when a certain nightmare came to haunt me. Then I couldn't help feeling more plagued than privileged. It had something to do with a dead animal and I would wake up sobbing or screaming. (1.20)

Even though everyone thinks Gypsy is the girl who has everything, she carries a lot of sadness and anger inside of her. After all, she's experienced some pretty tragic events in her young life.

She didn't answer. She wasn't listening. Her face had taken on that hurt look I recognized as belonging to her grief for Daddy. (5.7)

It's been years since Gypsy's father died, but they still don't talk about him much because even mentioning his name opens up emotional wounds. Love and Gypsy are always carrying that hurt in their hearts.

"At the time it seemed to me a terribly immature, impulsive, reckless thing she did, and so spiteful! Like she hated us. Like it didn't matter who she married as long as she got away from us.

"But now I see it with different eyes. She was so hurt… and desperate. She had to leave, not because she hated us, but because seeing me and Amos together every day was like opening up a wound over and over." (5.36-37)

When Belle ran off with Uncle Everett, everyone thought it was a mean and immature thing to do, but now Love realizes she did it out of pain. She just wanted to get away from the people who were causing her so much heartbreak.

I woke up crying for my mother, and I didn't feel grown-up at all, nor did I want to be. She came to me as she always did, gentle and silent, rocking me like a baby in her arms.

"I can't see its face, Mama," I sobbed. "Why can't I make out its face?"

She said nothing, but the sadness in her eyes told me she knew the answers and could not bear to tell me. (5.50-52)

Though Gypsy is usually happy during the day—since she can keep the bad thoughts at bay—she isn't so lucky at night. All of her fear and sadness catch up to her in the form of some seriously disturbing nightmares.

I remember sinking… sinking… I was hot, and so sad. Don't look in the window. Something ugly is inside. (10.53)

Poor Gypsy feels so sad and scared when she has the measles and drifts in and out of consciousness. Little snippets of her father's death—and how she found his body—keep invading her dreams. So much for sweet dreams.

I didn't speak, because this big thing was stuck in my craw so that I had to swallow and swallow and blink and blink. It was akin to that day Granny told me about my daddy "...come riding over Cold Mountain on a black horse… big as life… so tall and straight in the saddle…" (13.41)

Every single time someone brings up her dad, Gypsy loses her composure. Even though she loved him to bits, it's painful for her to be reminded of him because the way that he died was so tragic.

Well, Grandpa, maybe she was happier than you thought she was," I said, although I knew from what Woodrow had said that that wasn't true.

"No, child, no. I never believed for a minute she was happy with him. That union was doomed, because it was an impulsive, foolish thing, and I'm betting they both regretted it." (13.57-58)

Grandpa doesn't think Belle was ever happy in the life she chose. She made it work for a while for Woodrow's sake, but the whole time she was regretting what she'd done. She'd made a decision out of grief and despair, and it only caused her more of the same.

Sometimes I would wake up with a tear on my cheek, haunted by the memory of blood on the face of a dead animal. I would look out my open window at the stars at such times, and I could almost recall what it was the nightmare was trying to tell me—almost. The ugly thing seemed ready to come out and show itself to me. (17.14)

All of Gypsy's sadness and nightmares are coming to the surface. It's almost like her subconscious is telling her that she can't repress these bad feelings any longer; she has to confront them.

At first I cried only for me and all my years of pain and anger and grief. But then I cried for Mama and Aunt Belle, who loved him, too. Still, I couldn't bring myself to cry for Daddy, whose wonderful face had been scarred beyond repair. I couldn't forgive him for leaving us the way he did.

Then a great weariness and a deep sadness settled over me and I slept. (18.75-76)

When Gypsy finally lets herself face her father's suicide, she goes through a whole lot of emotions. But the grieving process is ultimately good for her—she's able to cry it all out and find some measure of peace.

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