Study Guide

Dead End in Norvelt Chapter 4

By Jack Gantos

Chapter 4

  • Remember the weeds that Jack cut down yesterday? Yeah, evidently he didn't bother to dispose of them properly. When Jack gets up the next morning, he finds out that his family has been ticketed for the weeds obstructing the gutters.
  • He hides the ticket, planning to pay it off himself so that his Mom doesn't find out and ground him. (Again.)
  • Plus, his dad has just returned from a job he was working out of town, and would "go ape" if he finds out about it (4.4).
  • Okay, we're starting to feel a little sorry for Jack now.
  • And then, in a weird twist, Jack's father orders him to mow down his mother's corn, which she was growing to sell so she can buy food for Norvelt's needy people.
  • Jack goes along with this, because he doesn't want his mom to tell his dad about the Japanese sniper rifle incident.
  • So, Jack cuts down his mother's corn. He also gets caught (we saw that one coming from a mile away).
  • Right on cue, Jack's nose starts bleeding from this stress.
  • Jack's father admits that he made Jack cut down the corn, so that he can build a bomb shelter, since the "Russian commies" will soon drop an atom bomb.
  • Are you getting the sense that Jack's parents have some issues to work out? Yeah, us too. It turns out that Jack is stuck in the middle of a pretty heated argument between his parents.
  • Then, we get a flashback: Jack's dad has something hidden in the garage. Creepy! Just last night, Jack saw him drive into the garage with a trailer carrying an unidentified object. His father then securely locked the garage door, which he never did.
  • The next surprise? Dad says that they might be able to move to Florida within a year. Uh, minor problem: no one else in the family is interested in moving.
  • This is an ongoing argument, and it's always the same: Mom wants to stay, and Dad wants to leave, because the town was founded by "that rich Commie Roosevelt woman" (4.43), i.e. Eleanor Roosevelt. (BTW: Eleanor Roosevelt? Not a communist.)
  • Back to the present. Jack agonizes over whether or not to finish mowing down the corn. In the end, he decides to do it, and mows the remaining three rows down.
  • Apparently, Jack's mom uses Jack's nose as a sort of low-tech lie detector: if his nose bleeds when he answers a question, then he's lying. That's got to be rough.
  • So, the big secret in the garage? Jack's father is hiding a fixer-upper airplane in the garage. He doesn't really know how to fly, but he plans to take lessons and will teach Jack what he learns.
  • We now find out that mowing the corn was actually to clear the space to build a runway. Wow, Jack's dad sure seems to have a lot going on.
  • Jack's mother tries to get into the garage, where he and his father are having a clandestine conversation. She thinks he's in there alone playing with the Japanese war souvenirs again, so he threatens to tell Dad about it.
  • Oops. Dad flips out, asking Jack if he touched his "Jap stuff" (4.70). (Pro tip: Don't use this word at home. It's super uncool these days—but it's a true reflection of the language that someone might have used at the time.)
  • Before he can answer his father, Mom threatens to break down the door, and Jack escapes through another door at his father's direction.
  • On the way out, Dad lets him take his baseball glove so Jack can go to practice. He agrees to cover for Jack with his mother, but Jack has to 'fess up about the Japanese items when he returns from practice.
  • Jack runs through the woods toward the baseball field.