Study Guide

Homecoming Setting

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Eastern United States in the Summer of 1981

Oh, the places they go. The Tillermans travel far and wide in their journey to find a home and someone to care for them, and in the end, they've learned the difference between a place to live and a place to call home.

Home Sweet Home

Life for the Tillerman kids starts out at their home in Provincetown. Sure, it's a little rundown, but it's right by the ocean, so Dicey loves it:

"Yeah, but our house was out in the dunes. We had the ocean. Our house was nicer than the ones other people wanted."

"The bathtub was in the kitchen," James reminded her. "It was small, even smaller than these houses."

"So what?"

"Nobody else would have lived in it. Only us. Some of the kids said their parents thought it should be torn down."

"What do I care what people say?" Dicey asked.

"They called it a shack," James went on.

"I liked it," Dicey said. "The ocean's better than fancy bathrooms, any day." (1.2.88-94)

Dicey insists time and again that their home was happy. Other folks might not feel content with their families, but Dicey always did, so even though the house was small and awkward inside, they have good memories of the place. In Provincetown, Dicey learned that a house doesn't make a home—you can live in a shack and still feel loved and happy.

Moving on Up (Sort Of)

Cousin Eunice's house in Bridgeport is a let down right away. Dicey imagines that it's a "big white house that face[s] over the water" (1.7.9), but it doesn't turn out to be any of those things. The house is small—probably too small for four kids to live in—and nowhere near the ocean. Oh, man:

It was one of a long row of houses that stretched down treeless streets. It was a small house, shingled with gray asphalt. Three concrete steps led up to the plain front door. On one side of the door, two windows faced the street. There were thin curtains on the windows and you couldn't see in. The house looked flat-faced and empty. (1.8.174)

Not exactly a welcoming façade, is it? And the inside is fussy. Eunice lived with her mother, so everything is a bit outdated, and there are little religious icons everywhere. Eunice is also funny about when and how each room should be cleaned—she likes routine and order and the house is a reflection of that. Eunice also doesn't want the Tillerman kids disturbing her home, so they need to be careful and not break anything or be a bother.

Wow, it doesn't seem like this lady has ever even met a kid.

Home at Last

Abigail's house in Crisfield is a whole different story. Sure, it's rundown and neglected, but Dicey sees the potential right away:

The house sat behind a small orchard, and beyond it, a barn was slowly falling down. The house was faded white clapboard, two stories high, and had a screened porch all along the front that ran around the sides . The roof, gray slate, slanted down in four directions from a central peak. Two chimneys stuck up through the roof.

The house was silent, vacant, neglected […]

One larger tree grew right up in front of the house, hiding the front door, shading the lawn. This tree looked like an umbrella, held overhead by four trunks that spread out from their common source. Its broad leaves made a green canopy against the sunlight. It wouldn't be a good climbing tree, Dicey thought, walking up to it and past it, but you could make a platform tree house to rest on the four trunks and build steps out of pieces of wood to go up one trunk. Then, you would have a house like a boat, almost floating on air, and the long, leafy branches stretching above like sails. (2.7.117-119)

The house is big and has enough bedrooms for all of them, there's a barn with a sailboat inside, there are fresh crops growing, it's right by the water, the kids can catch crabs in traps… This place is like a dream come true.

When Dicey and her siblings make a plan to win over their grandmother so she'll let them stay, they start with the house. The whole place has been neglected and shut out from the world—just like their grandmother (for more on this, read up on honeysuckle over in the "Symbols" section). If the kids can rehab the house, surely they can rehab this old lady.

The contrast between a setting like Cousin Eunice's house and Abigail's house underscores Dicey's connection to the outdoors, especially the ocean. When the kids walk down highways and through commercial districts, they see everything as dirty, gray, and impersonal—but their mood and their luck improves when they're in the woods or by the water. Nature brings them joy, so you know the only place they can really find a home is some place where nature has had a chance to run a little wild. Abigail's house fits the bill perfectly. 

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