Study Guide

hush Principles

By Jacqueline Woodson

Principles

I want to say Daddy, you did the right thing.

But I don't know if that's true. (1.6-7)

On the surface, it seems like a clear choice: Killing Raymond Taylor was wrong and someone should stand up and say that. But in the actual situation, there are consequences to consider, and because Daddy has a family, he's not just taking a risk for himself—he's also risking his own family's lives and their identities and relationships with people they love. It's not an easy choice either way.

Daddy says Mr. Dennis and Mr. Randall killed that boy. He wants to be a witness to it—break the Blue Wall of Silence. That's what he calls it. I never thought of silence that way—blue. (2.15)

The Blue Wall of Silence is a principle cops live by, according to the novel. It means cops stand by other cops. Daddy wants to break the wall, but later in the novel we discover that honoring this principle at the expense of this code has a traumatic effect on him. Why might that be?

When I saw you all sitting it that front row cheering me on, some little seed started to grow in my brain. He said it was a seed of faith in his family and the Denver Police Department. A seed that made him believe in the possibility of perfection...and trust...and loyalty. As my father looked out at us from the stage while reporters flashed pictures and other cops shook his hand, he smiled and winked at me. I winked back, not knowing that what was growing in his mind was a seed of justice that would one day lead to the biggest decision he'd ever have to make in his life. (4.8)

More principles: perfection, trust, loyalty. Daddy trusts that the people he works with are good people who will make good decisions and hold fast to their own principles. And some of them are—many people support his decision to testify. It's the ones who don't, the ones who threaten his family, who force their relocation. The problem with principles is that not everyone holds the same ones, and this can create some dicey situations.

My father wouldn't tell me their names at first, but he said over and over, Something's got to be done, Toswiah. It isn't justice. It isn't right. (4.10)

Daddy believes in justice, and he wants justice for Raymond Taylor. What is the ultimate reason he decides to testify instead of remaining quiet?

My father said What would you do, T?

I shrugged, and stared down at my hands. What's the right thing, Daddy?

Exactly, he said, frowning into the darkness. He sighed and kissed my head. Both choices seem so damn wrong. (4.13-15)

This is one of those situations in which it's really easy to make a judgment call unless you're right in the middle of it, and then it's a lot harder. What's right and wrong about testifying? What's right and wrong about not testifying? Daddy's in an unenviable position, that's for sure.

There's this think called the Blue Wall of Silence in the police world. It means all cops are brothers and sisters and should never betray one another. You swear to it in your heart when you become a cop. It's not written anywhere, you just know it. You know that cops are there for you no matter what. My father told me you believe in it because you have to. You have to be able to trust your fellow cop. No matter what. (5.11)

Described in this way, the Blue Wall of Silence doesn't sound like such a bad thing: It's a way for you to depend on the people who have your back in dangerous situations. Unfortunately, just because a principle sounds good, doesn't mean it can't turn sour.

"I know what I'm doing," my father said, his voice shaking. "That boy getting killed was wrong. You know it, Al. I can't let them go back to work knowing what I know." (5.17)

Maybe this is what Daddy's decision comes down to: He's afraid it will happen again if he doesn't do something to stop it. He's afraid Randall and Dennis really are a danger on the streets.

"I believe in the law, Albert," Daddy said quietly. "I wouldn't be a cop if I didn't. My father was a lawyer and his father was a judge. And here I am—a cop. You say it's in Randall's and Dennis's blood—well, it's in mine, too. They shouldn't have killed Taylor. I'm going to stand by that." (5.47)

Daddy's principles of justice and his belief in the law clearly go back several generations. No one ever argues that Randall and Dennis should have killed Taylor. What seems to be at stake is how much punishment they're going to get for it, and Daddy is in the only one in a position to testify against them. Put that way, Daddy's choice seems… less like a choice, and more like an obligation.

"I know how to be a cop," Daddy says. "I know what's right and what's wrong." He looks at each of us and nods. "Right and wrong," he says again, then turns back to the window. (14.25)

Here, it seems like Daddy's trying to convince himself more than his family. He thought he knew what was right and wrong when he decided to testify, but a few months in witness protection seem to have changed his mind. Doing the right thing resulted in a lot wrong for his family, and he may be wondering now if the consequences were worth it.

"I was a cop for fifteen years," my father says to the window. "Fifteen years! When I walk down these streets and see cops, I see that thing in their eyes that still believes in it. Still believes they can protect the world and change it and make it good. Well, you know what—I used to have those same beliefs, but they died with Raymond Taylor. They died the morning I walked into the D.A.'s office. They died when Randall and Dennis got sent to jail for manslaughter. I did that. I sent two cops to jail. Two cops! And it tore me up inside! Tore me up!" (14.31)

Perhaps this is the passage that tells us why Daddy decides to commit suicide. While his family has lost the external circumstances of their lives, he's lost his internal sense of right and wrong. Every certainty he thought he had has crumbled. Daddy's principles are a large part of his identity, and without them, he doesn't know who he is. He is lost.

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