Study Guide

Dead End in Norvelt Family

By Jack Gantos


It was so odd how they never really ended a conversation. They just seemed to stop talking at some awkward, cliff-hanging moment and then Mom would attend to washing the dishes and Dad would silently read the newspaper. (4.51)

The book doesn't show us much interaction between Jack's parents, and this is one of the few moments it does so. Their relationship seems strained, and they sure aren't working through things openly. No big surprise there, especially considering the number of secrets they keep from each other.

It seemed to me that he had willingly retreated to my room after the scolding Mom gave him about the corn and airplane. He took a deep breath and slowly ran his hand back and forth across his mouth as if he were trying to erase it and the lecture he was supposed to deliver. (6.3)

Jack's mom really does seem to be The Decider in this family. Of course, with his Dad acting so immature most of the time, what choice does she have?

He smiled, and it made me happy to say things I knew he liked to hear. (6.17)

This is bad news. There's nothing wrong with being polite—in fact, we here at Shmoop are big fans of politeness—but you definitely shouldn't confine yourself to saying what you think adults want to hear. Why does Jack fake his enthusiasm for gun safety to please his Dad? How does this change by the end of the book?

I was thinking about that winter hunting incident and hadn't listened to a word Dad said in my bedroom, but whatever he said, I knew he was right and I nodded my head up and down to show him respect. (6.70)

Total autopilot here. Jack hasn't heard a word of what his father has said, and yet he thinks that his dad must have been right. Why might this be? What does Jack learn about respecting his dad by the end of the book? And how respectful is it, really, to agree without listening to a word your dad says?

Normally I wouldn't like all this kind of Mom attention, but it was my birthday and we always acted like it was her birthday too, because it was the day I was born and the day she gave birth to me. So I was as sweet to her as she was to me. (13.6)

The last thing a soon-to-be-teenaged boy wants is a major display of affection from his mother (unless it comes in the form of an Xbox). Jack recognizes, though, that his birthday is not just special for him, but it's also special for his mom. This is a nice example of the family working as a team (or at least a pair) for once.

Hey, I wear the pants in this family. (13.9)

Jack's mom makes a pun here, since she's just started working at the Norvelt Pants Factory, but it's pretty much true. She runs the show.

The more you [...] pitch in around the house the more you can understand how the whole family works as a team. (13.30)

We can't help but read a bit of irony into the comment Jack's mom makes here, since there seems to be little teamwork going on in this family. They're always keeping secrets from each other, or lying, or telling half-truths, or cutting down each other's corn. Yeah. It's that kind of family.

I knew she was more disappointed with me than angry, and that really hurt most of all. (15.62)

Disappointment: perhaps one of the cruelest (and most effective) weapons in a parent's arsenal. Why is Jack's mom so disappointed here? And why is it so awful to have your parents disappointed in you?

"I just got it [the transistor radio]," he moaned. "It was expensive." (23.53)

Jack's dad really does sound like a whiny brat who really wants to have his way. Right. Now. This is just one more example of how he suffers from Peter Pan Syndrome. He's a bit kid who hasn't finished growing up.

I knew that being a jerk in the airplane and scaring people was really stupid. (28.108)

Remember those times when Jack tries really hard to please his dad, and even fakes liking hunting to impress him? Not any more. Jack has finally realized that his dad is kind of a jerk, and he is not going to condone such behavior, let alone go along with it to please his dad. This is a real moment of maturity for Jack. It's not fun to realize that your parents are just regular people like anyone else, but it's an important step toward growing up.