Study Guide

A Long Way from Chicago Food for the Poor

By Richard Peck

Food for the Poor

Quiz time:

Q: What's the difference between Robin Hood and Grandma Dowdel?

A: Grandma Dowdel has way better taste in hats.

Okay, so Grandma doesn't actually steal from the rich and give to the poor. But she steals from the rich, uses what she steals to go fishing, and then gives the fish to the poor. (We think that's way better.)

When the kids are staying with their Grandma Dowdel, she makes a point of taking them out to do some illegal things—like stealing (or, ahem, "borrowing") the sheriff's boat and trap fishing on private property. But Grandma Dowdel isn't doing this to teach them bad habits or show them how to become little criminal masterminds; she's actually trying to show them that sometimes, you have to break the rules in order to do the right thing.

(*Official Shmoop Message*: Please don't steal boats.)

When Grandma Dowdel drags all those catfish home and makes the kids help her cook and set up plates even though they're exhausted, she's teaching them an important lesson. It's not always about themselves; they have to fight through their own discomfort and egos in order to help people who are way less fortunate.

And when the sheriff comes by to scold her, Grandma Dowdel stands her ground and keeps on handing out food to the poor. She keeps handing it out because the hungry men are the ones whom she really cares about:

They were hollow-eyed men who couldn't believe their luck. Two or three of them, then five or six. They didn't thank her. She wasn't looking for thanks. (3.155)

She doesn't give in, knowing that those plates of food aren't simply a meal—they're a show of compassion and understanding toward the men who are desperately traveling across the country, looking for work. And she doesn't care if they thank her or not because she's not trying to get praise or recognition for her good deeds.

At the end of the day, Grandma Dowdel is doing more than just giving these men a single meal…she's offering them hope for a better future.

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