Study Guide

A Long Way from Chicago Contrasting Regions

By Richard Peck

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Contrasting Regions

Chapter 1
Grandma Dowdel

Presently she said, "I'll tell you what that reporter's after. He wants to get the horselaugh on us because he thinks we're nothing but a bunch of hayseeds and no-'count country people. We are, but what business is it of his?" (1.13)

Grandma immediately takes a dislike to the reporter who's coming to write a story on Shotgun Cheatham's death. She knows that a city slicker like him is just there to make rude observations about all the hillbilly folks in the country.

Mary Alice said she couldn't stand the place. For one thing, at Grandma's you had to go outside to the privy. It stood just across from the cobhouse, a tumbledown shed full of stuff left there in Grandpa Dowdel's time. (1.6)

Mary Alice in particular hates Grandma's place because it's so different from their own home. From her perspective, the worst part is that you have to go outside to use the restroom…which is just so humiliating. And so stinky.

No, we had to travel all the way down to our Grandma Dowdel's before we ever set eyes on a corpse. Dad said Mary Alice and I were getting to the age when we could travel on our own. He said it was time we spent a week with Grandma, who was getting on in years. (1.3)

Joey and Mary Alice don't necessarily want to leave Chicago for a week because their hometown is exciting and there's always something going on. But surprisingly, their time in Grandma's sleepy little town leads to their first-ever glimpse of a dead body.

Chapter 2
Grandma Dowdel

"Why, there's my grandkids now." She pointed us out with a spatula. "They're from Chicago. Gangs run that town, you know," she told the kid. "My grandson's in a gang, so you don't want to mess with him. He's meaner than he looks." (2.43)

Grandma likes to point out that Joey and Mary Alice are from Chicago because it makes them look tougher when the town bullies come out of the woodwork. Joey hates this, though, because he's convinced that his Grandma's bluffing will get him beat up.

Chapter 3

By now I knew that not everybody around here called "Uncle" or "Aunt" was necessarily your uncle or aunt. (7.102)

Even the way that you refer to people is different when the kids go to stay with their grandmother. They call everyone "uncle" and "aunt" regardless of whether they're blood relatives because things are a bit more close-knit around here.

Grandma's house was the last one in town. Next to the row of glads was a woven-wire fence, and on the other side of that a cornfield. On the first nights I'd always lie up in bed, listening to the husky whisper of the dry August corn in the fields. Then on the second night I wouldn't hear anything. (3.11)

Staying at Grandma Dowdel's house is a big departure from what Joey and Mary Alice are used to in Chicago. Things are way quiet out in the country, and it's difficult to fall asleep without all the background noise from the city.

Grandma Dowdel

"We wasn't over Decoration Day before it was the Fourth of July. Then come the Old Settlers' picnic. You can hardly get down the street for the crowds, and the dust never settles. I need me a day off and some peace and quiet."

Fresh from the Chicago Loop, Mary Alice and I traded glances. (3.16-17)

How adorable. Grandma Dowdel thinks that her little town in the boonies is getting too lively. Compared to Joey and Mary Alice's Chicago home, Grandma's town is pretty quiet and sedate.

Joey Dowdel

"Got a new pet?" I inquired.

"Chicago people have pets," she said. "But there's a new litter living down in the cobhouse now, and I let 'em. They keep down the vermin. Don't need all of them though." (7.94)

Grandma Dowdel doesn't live by the kids' city ways; she doesn't keep pets in the same way that they do. Instead, she just lets a bunch of cats (and kittens) live in the cobhouse, but she's not attached to them or anything.

Chapter 7

And we steamed on, riding the Wabash Blue Bird, bound for Chicago across the patchwork fields. (7.210)

After their last week spent with Grandma Dowdel, the kids watch out the window as they ride the train back home. They commit the landscape to memory…and all the good times they shared with Grandma.

Chapter 8

Then I knew we were getting to Grandma's town. It was sound asleep in the hour before dawn. We slowed past the depot, and now we were coming to Grandma's, the last house in town. It was lit up like a jack-o'-lantern. (8.5)

Joey may not have been to his grandmother's house in years, but he still recognizes the town as he passes through on the train. The country landscape—so different from the busy city—is immediately recognizable to him.

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