Study Guide

Dancing on the Edge Abandonment

By Han Nolan

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Miss Emmaline Wilson had pushed me to the floor, and when the tornado struck, she was on top of me with her arms wrapped around me, holding on tight. I didn't think I'd ever want her to let go. It was a new experience being held like that, the way I figured Mama would have held me if she had lived. (11.1)

Emmaline's character reveals a dismal reality about Miracle's life: She's never had a single nurturing woman in her life. Ever. The fact that she actually enjoys being held even though a vicious storm is destroying her home reveals just how desperate for love and attention she is.

On the way back, I imagined what it would be like to live with Miss Emmaline all the time. I pictured her living in a broom-swept house, with everything in its proper place and all her furniture stuffed fat with feathers. I pictured her singing while she cooked, the rich-smelling sauces and gravies bubbling and dancing merrily in their pots. (12.53)

Miracle may be fantasizing about what it would be like to live with Miss Emmaline, but ultimately, her fantasies reveal a lot about what's lacking in her real-life situation. Her simple desire for a clean, well-organized house, for instance, shows us that Gigi and Aunt Casey haven't exactly been the best at providing a sense of order for her.

Aunt Casey was too busy. She worked all day at her beauty salon and went to college three nights a week. When she was home she was either arguing with Uncle Toole or in my room sewing on her wigs. I couldn't bother her. (13.22)

We here at Shmoop love college classes and looking fabulous, but we also don't advocate having messed-up priorities the way Aunt Casey clearly does. Living with her actually makes Miracle feel even more alone than before. Seriously, a kid needs to be cool with bothering the adults in her life.

I stopped dancing at night, when it got dark. If no one else was home, I turned on all the lights and sat on the kitchen counter drinking sweet tea and counting to ten thousands. As long as someone came home before I reached ten thousand I knew I was safe. (14.26)

Miracle's little number game might seem silly, but it really shows just how insecure she feels at Aunt Casey's house. You might argue that on top of her living situation with Casey and Toole, Miracle's most likely never felt safe before in her whole life. Their unstable marriage and Casey placing her degree and business above Miracle's needs only make this particular environment worse.

I made my own meals out of what we had in the house: spaghetti with salad dressing, Frosted Mini-Wheats in beer, mayonnaise sandwiches, and sometimes wild cherry tomatoes picked from a one-time garden in the back of the house. (14.27)

Um, gross—Casey, feed your kid, please. The fact that she's putting beer on her cereal is enough to make you guilty of child neglect. Not only that, but it probably tastes beyond awful.

The toast had mold on it. I could taste it. I drank down the rest of the tea and by the time I had finished it, the tea inside me had gone cold and I was still shivering. (16.24)

As if the beer on cereal wasn't bad enough, Aunt Casey now doesn't seem to notice that the bread in her own house is moldy. How distracted does a person have to be to actually eat moldy bread and not recognize it? Fortunately, Miracle's smart enough to avoid the toxic toast.

I wasn't used to being touched, but I liked it. Every time somebody touched me I imagined them placing a new piece of skin on me, as if they were giving me back a lost piece of myself. (20.12)

If abandonment is a way of life for Miracle in the first part of the book, The Cedars is where she gets it all back. She's surrounded by people who care about meeting her needs, including her need for affection. Finally.

"Miracle, I think you've gotten a bum deal. I think things have been pretty rotten for you at times. It makes me angry. Miracle, I'm very angry."

I looked at him, right in the eyes, and there was a facing looking back at me—a tiny, angry face staring out at me from the center of his eyes. (20.36-37)

If you think about it, Dr. DeAngelis has to be kind of a big deal for Miracle, especially in this scene. Unless you count Granddaddy Opal's reaction to her bruises from dance class, he's the only person who has acknowledged that her situation is less than ideal—and has been upset about it.

"Miracle, if you don't communicate your wishes to me, then I get to choose what I wish. You are giving me the power to choose. You're giving me your power, a power you have a right to own yourself. You understand?" (21.37)

Miracle's abandonment hasn't just been about putting beer on Wheaties and not feeling safe at night. The authority figures in her life have all taught her from an early age that she has no rights and is entitled to no personal preferences. She's been drained of any and all power, presuming she had any to begin with. Dr. DeAngelis's revelation of this fact has to be a major eye-opener for her.

"I just didn't want the baby to grow up without a mother, without the love we had had. And then what happened?" Aunt Casey looked at me over the tissues she had pinched to her nose. "That baby grew up without her mother, without love." (26.62)

It's interesting how a lot of this family's solutions seem to become problems. In this case, Casey's lecture to Sissy about the need to take responsibility for her child actually does more harm than good, even though Casey had pretty good intentions at the time.

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