Study Guide

Homecoming Money

By Cynthia Voigt

Money

Mo' money, mo' problems, right? Not exactly. Dicey has the opposite issue: Lack of money means a whole lot more problems for her family.

Empty Pockets

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 at all:

Altogether, 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:

"Stealing isn't right," Dicey said.

"Not even if you're hungry?" Sammy argued.

"You're not 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:

"He 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:

Having money 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.

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