Mo' money, mo' problems, right? Not exactly. Dicey has the
opposite issue: Lack
of money means a whole lot more problems for her family.
When this whole journey starts out, the Tillerman family
doesn't have much money. Momma lost her job, she hasn't paid the rent, and
times are just tough—this is why they're going to see rich Aunt Cilla. Someone
with money can help them… or so they're hoping, anyway. When Momma leaves the
kids in the car and wanders off, they haven't got much cash to their name. Like
they had eleven dollars and fifty cents, more than any one of them had ever had
at one time before, even Dicey who contributed all of her babysitting money,
seven dollars. (1.1.52)
Yes, it's 1981, so eleven dollars goes a bit father than
today, but still—this is the equivalent of being broke, make no mistake. Walking
for weeks with barely any money in your pocket and almost no way to earn more
is really tough, and Dicey quickly learns that "the whole world was
arranged for people who had money—for adults who had money" (1.5.83). For
the Tillermans, then, cash represents security. If they have enough money they
can eat and keep going. But when they run short on dough, life starts to look a
whole lot bleaker.
Breaking the Law
Even though the Tillermans are lacking in cash, Dicey
refuses to steal money. She's a little more lenient when it comes to food, but
taking money is absolutely out of the question:
isn't right," Dicey said.
"Not even if you're
hungry?" Sammy argued.
hungry, not really hungry," Dicey said. "We never stole things.
Tillermans don't have to steal." (1.5.117-119)
You might think that Dicey is being a little militant, but
really all she's saying is that, as bad as things are, she still has standards.
Even though life hasn't dealt the Tillerman kids a fair hand, she is determined
to get to where she needs to go honestly and sees no need for them to
compromise who they are as people in order to do so.
Louis has the exact opposite opinion. He justifies the money
that he and Edie stole from her father by saying that rich people—like dear old
dad—don't need it. And it's just fine when poor folks take a little off the top:
reminded me of your father, didn't he, Edie? Isn't that just what your father
would do? Then, he pulls out a wallet a foot thick, crammed with bills. He
peels off a couple and goes out, still complaining about his bad luck. I say
good luck to whoever walked off with his lunch[…] Big guys like that, with
thick bankrolls—they've got so much that they don't know what to do with it.
And they're always the first ones to call in the police on little guys. Like
us. Like you." (1.5.73)
This is the same excuse that James gives when he steals
twenty dollars from Stewart. Hey, he's got "sweaters and guitars" (1.8.44),
so he doesn't really need the money. But Stewart gives James the same reasoning
as Dicey: Sure, they need the money, but you can't take things that don't
belong to you. Stewart wants to be a "good man" (1.8.65), not just
someone who survives another day. Those things matter, you know.
Money is Power
Later, when the kids get to Bridgeport and Dicey has to rely
on Cousin Eunice to buy things for them, she starts to feel a bit powerless.
Her survival is based on getting Cousin Eunice to support them, and that's not
a position she likes to be in. So when Dicey starts earning and saving money
again, she starts to feel in control:
made a difference. It woke Dicey up. She began to think of how she could earn
more during the day when everybody was gone. She could easily spend less time
on housework if she pushed herself to be faster and more efficient. If she did
that she could have some time for earning. Dicey felt like her old self again.
Dicey liked her work,
she liked making money. The money in the shoebox began to mount up. Dicey's
spirits mounted with it. (1.11.86, 105)
If the kids have money, they can be in control of their own
destinies. They don't have to rely on other people—especially adults who may or
may not like them—in order to make their way in the world. As long as she has
money in her pocket, Dicey knows she has options. And since she starts out with
so little with their mom bounces, but manages to get so far, she knows what a
big difference a little cash can make.