James flicked his eyes over the cemetery. "We're all gonna
die, you know."
Dicey nodded. "Not for a long time."
"Do you think Momma's dead?"
"I don't know. How could I know that?"
"No matter what, we're all gonna die," James
remarked. "So it doesn't matter what we do, does it?"
Dicey was thinking about other things, about maps and food.
She didn't answer.
"Unless there's a Hell, to punish us. But I don't think
there is. I really don't. Or Heaven. Or anything. Dicey?" (1.6.209-215)
The Tillerman kids
might not have any religious background, but that doesn't mean they don't think
about the big questions in life. Here, James has come up with a kind of nihilistic philosophy. What do individual actions matter since everyone just winds
up in the grave anyhow? That's one way of looking at things.
Where the veil broke, you could see silvery islands of
clouds on which tall angels might stand. Not cute little Christmas angels, but
high, stern angels in white robes, whose faces were sad and serious from being
near God all day and hearing His decisions about the world. Dicey was
hypnotized by the molten silver of the cloudy islands and not until the veil of
fuzzy gray blew across it again did she begin their march of the day. (1.7.19)
Dicey seems to be
thinking about the Christmas cards Aunt Cilla would send with sweet little
angels on them. But she recognizes that the heavens probably contain sterner
forces. After all, if God's in charge, then he's the one putting these kids
through this terrible trip, right?
Sometimes the Church can make the more sensitive personal
inquiries, that the police authorities can't." He turned to Dicey. "What
is your religion?"
"I don't know," Dicey said. "We never went to
church." He frowned slightly.
"There is another question that I'm afraid I have to
ask. The matter of your name. Tillerman. That would be your mother's name. Your
parents were not married?"
Dicey shook her head. "I don't think so," she
said. Cousin Eunice sucked in a noisy breath. Dicey did not look at her.
Oh, man—let the
judgments start. Eunice is very devout, so she's scandalized by the fact that
Dicey's parents weren't married. Father Joseph is a bit pushy, but at least he
doesn't have a breakdown over kiddies born outside of wedlock.
"I pray for Mother, and for myself, and for the world,"
Cousin Eunice said. "This morning, I shall pray for you, and for your poor
Dicey felt uncomfortable. "Thank you," she said.
Was that what you were supposed to say to somebody who was praying for you?
What are you supposed
to say, indeed? Cousin Eunice may be devout, but she also uses her faith as a
bit of a status symbol; it's a way for her to gain praise and kudos for being
so holy. Here she is fishing for spiritual compliments from Dicey.
The girls said—you know how silly some people are—that I was
a saint to take you in, that anybody else would turn you over to social
services. But I said, I can't do that, they're my own flesh and blood. Which in
a way you are, you know." (1.10.186)
Wow. Sure, Eunice
agrees that this comment is "silly," but we get the feeling she also
secretly thinks it's true. She's so kind and loving and Christ-like. Like a
saint in training, right?
"The family is not Catholic, you know."
Dicey nodded. He kept bringing that up. (1.11.24-25)
belonging is like a status symbol. Dicey doesn't really care at all about people's
religion, but folks seem really worried about hers. This is just another way
the Tillermans are outside of society's rules.
The fathers say that part of man's purpose is to increase
his knowledge, so that he can understand better how great is God's work. A lot
of people think knowledge is dangerous. But they're wrong. Did you ever think
of that, Cousin Eunice?"
"Yes, of course," Cousin Eunice said. "God
wants children to study hard and behave well in school."
James answered slowly. "I guess you could say that. But
that's not the way the fathers talk about it, about learning. They don't treat
it like a duty. They treat it like a gift. Like grace."
"I don't think you can be right about that,"
Cousin Eunice said. "Not grace. That's not what the Gospels say, is it?
Nobody's ever told me the Gospels say that. I've always understood that duty is
the most important, even the best." (1.11.147-150)
This is Cousin Eunice
in a nutshell: Doing one's duty is more important than experiencing God's
grace. She's also clearly not a deep thinker. People have to tell her what the Gospels say. She can't figure it out on her own.
After all, James has been studying this Catholic stuff for a few days and
already he has a better grasp on it than Eunice who's been doing it her whole
"It sounds—" Dicey tried to think of what she
should say. "Nice. You'd make a good nun."
"Do you think so? I had hoped so. However, that is out
of the question now." Cousin Eunice's eyes filmed with tears, and she
shook her head. "Because of you children. You need me more, Father Joseph
says. It is God's work, just as much, caring for the abandoned children."
As she spoke, she looked over Dicey's shoulder at something Dicey couldn't see,
something Dicey suspected wasn't there at all, and her eyes shone. "That
is my duty. You will be my family now." Her soft voice vibrated with the
pleasure of resolution and sacrifice.
"Are you sure?" Dicey asked.
"It is God's will," Cousin Eunice said, bowing her
Too bad Cousin Eunice
doesn't know more about grace—she might not have been such a lousy guardian
then. She'll take in the children because it's her Christian duty. They're not
a gift from God, though, they're a task and a burden to be endured. No wonder
Dicey and her siblings made a run for it.
When the doors opened, Dicey watched carefully for her
sister. Lots of children went to church with their parents, all of them dressed
up. The girls wore organdy dresses and party shoes and ribbons in their hair,
or hats. The boys wore real suits and ties. Cousin Eunice always walked out
slowly, surrounded by a group of women who could have been her sisters. They
dressed alike. They all wore those high-heeled shoes. They all had curled their
hair into sausages.
These women made a pet out of Maybeth. She would stand in
the middle and they would tell her how pretty she was, how lucky she was to
have naturally curly hair, and what a sweet, quiet girl she was. "You're
going to break some hearts for sure," they said, giggling.
Maybeth listened to this and smiled foolishly.
"An angel like you—nobody will be good enough for you.
She's a treasure, Eunice," they said.
"Don't I know it?" Cousin Eunice answered smugly.
"A doll, a perfect doll."
Dicey put her hands behind her back and clenched her fists,
waiting for Cousin Eunice to see her.
When Cousin Eunice called her, the women stepped back and
smiled primly at her. Maybeth put out her hand for Dicey to take. Her eyes were
wide as she looked at Dicey, wide and pleased with the attention. The silly
smile stayed. (1.12.5-12)
We're not really sure
that Cousin Eunice would make a very good nun. She's pretty silly and doesn't
seem to genuinely care much for others. She only likes Maybeth because she's
pretty, quiet, and obedient—just like she was. But she also clearly takes a lot
of pride in caring for this poor motherless child. You know what they say about
pride before a fall, right?
She wanted to sit with Dicey in the kitchen every night,
with cups of tea, which Dicey could never completely drink, and talk about
religion and serving God and how when she was a girl she had wanted to be a
nun. But her mother said she wasn't strong enough in spirit, didn't have a real
calling, should wait to see if she got married. (1.12.36)
Shmoop likes to talk
religion as much as the next person, but talking about God with Cousin Eunice
would be agony. Poor Dicey.