Study Guide

Dicey Tillerman in Homecoming

By Cynthia Voigt

Dicey Tillerman

Dicey is our heroine. And what a heroine she is. She's just turned thirteen-years-old at the start of the novel, but she has a whole lot more going on than your average teenager. Pretty much as soon as we meet her, Dicey is abandoned by her mother and opts to step up and take charge of her three younger siblings with only a few dollars in her pocket. That makes your typical junior high drama seem like no big deal.

All About Dicey

As Dicey points out that, as her mother slipped further into her mental illness, she had to be in charge of her siblings at home. So she's not completely shocked that Momma runs off and leaves it up to Dicey to handle everything. It's kind of how things have been going:

How did she expect Dicey to take care of them? What did she expect Dicey to do? Take them to Bridgeport, of course. (Dump it all on Dicey, that was what Momma did, she always did.) (1.1.39)

This means Dicey doesn't have a lot of time for being a kid or worrying about being a girly-girl. That stuff doesn't interest her much anyway, though. So when lots of people think she's a boy, it's totally fine by her, especially since it's safer this way.

When it comes to Dicey, though, despite slacking on her mom duties, Momma didn't raise a dummy—Dicey is practical, quick-thinking, tough, and resourceful. But if we had to think of just one word to describe her, we'd say she's determined. In fact, this is exactly what Dicey's own mother said about her:

Her grandmother nodded. "You've got determination," she said.

"Momma said it was in my blood," Dicey answered. "I never knew what she meant before." (2.11.48-49)

Dicey is willing to do just about anything to help her family stay together and survive. She doesn't go to the police after Momma disappears because she's afraid that the kids might be split up into foster homes. And then, while they're on the road, Dicey makes tons of sacrifices to keep them fed, safe, and on their way to their destination. Seriously, we wish she was our big sister.

Dicey does have a somewhat casual relationship with the truth, but for a good reason: Being able to lie pretty smoothly when she needs to get out of a difficult situation or hide her problems from someone is a key survival tool. But despite her appreciation for a good lie, Dicey really wants to know what's going on, even if it's not quite so nice:

"I'd rather know the truth than not, if that's what you mean." (1.11.38)

Dicey needs to know the truth so she can make good decisions and figure out what to do. If she knows the whole truth and nothing but the truth, she can keep her family together and safe. So don't bother fibbing to this girl—she doesn't have time to mess around.

Trust, But Verify

Because Dicey's a little leery of other folks, she has a tough time trusting people. She really doesn't have any friends outside of her siblings. She also doesn't want to ask for help from anyone because that could be dangerous—if someone found out that the Tillerman kids were by themselves, they could wind up in a whole lot of trouble (which is sort of what happens with Mr. Rudyard).

But throughout the course of the novel, Dicey learns that there are moments when she needs to open up and trust people. For instance:

"You've made up your mind to trust me, haven't you?"

"I'm afraid so," Dicey said. That made [Windy] laugh, but she didn't know why. (1.7.73-74)

Dicey realizes that she can't do this all on her own; she needs the help of her family and other folks. Maybe, in a way, she realizes this was Momma's mistake: Their family was isolated and had no one to turn to when times got tough, and that's how the kids wound up in this pickle. Dicey doesn't want to risk their safety just to keep other people out.

Like Grandmother, Like Granddaughter

When Dicey gets to Crisfield, she finds a kindred spirit in Abigail. Sure, these two gals clash at first, but Dicey soon learns that she gets her toughness and determination from her grandmother. And maybe, just maybe, her instinct to shut people out. Dicey and Abigail aren't always good at trusting people, but Dicey really gets her grandmother to open her heart to the Tillerman kids so she can give them a home.

Even though Dicey's life has been anything but roses, she never really complains about it. She doesn't compare herself to other people or moan and groan about how it's super unfair that she's been left to care for her siblings all by herself. For the most part, she accepts things as they are, and then tries to come up with a solution for making things better.

There are few times that Dicey has to sit down and cry because she's so overwhelmed:

Dicey cried herself to sleep. She couldn't stop. She tried, but she couldn't. She didn't know if she was crying for her family, or for herself, or for her grandmother—or for all of them, all the Tillermans, Momma too, lost up in Massachusetts, and Bullet lost in Vietnam. They were all lost. Dicey promised herself this was the last time she'd cry, ever, and wept until her eyes were swollen shut and she slept. (2.11.57)

She might keep her eyes on the prize, but Dicey's only human, and from time to time she needs to break down. Sometimes you've got to let it all out in order to pull yourself together and trudge on, and given all that Dicey has to handle, we'd say that a good cry from time to time is probably key to her ability to keep on keeping on. 

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