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Peter Hatcher is the guy to know in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.
He's actually the "fourth grade nothing" that the title refers to, and everything's told from his perspective, giving us a close look at the problems little Fudge causes for Peter every day. They might not seem like such a big deal to anyone else, but to Peter, they're huge. He feels like a "nothing" because it seems to him like it's Fudge who gets all the attention and Peter who gets all the blame.
The biggest pain-in-the-butt in Peter's life is definitely his little brother, Fudge. Other people, like their visitors, seem to think that Fudge is an adorable little guy, but Peter knows better:
My biggest problem is my brother, Farley Drexel Hatcher […].
Fudge is always in my way. He messes up everything he sees. And when he gets mad he throws himself flat on the floor and he screams. (1.19-20)
Fudge is always getting into Peter's stuff, especially Dribble. When Peter tells Fudge to stay out of his room and to not mess with his pet turtle, Fudge doesn't even pretend to take his brother's wishes seriously:
When Fudge saw Dribble he said, "Ohhhhh…. see."
And I said, "That's my turtle, get it? Mine. You don't touch him."
Fudge said, "No touch." Then he laughed like crazy. (1.21-23)
That's just the beginning. Basically, it sounds like we have a serious case of the Big Brother Blues on our hands, as Fudge's antics drag Peter into one infuriating situation after another.
Peter's a pretty mature and responsible kid. When Peter wins a turtle at a birthday party at the beginning of the book, he assures his mother he'll take good care of it. And he does:
Every Saturday morning I clean out Dribble's bowl. Sometimes, if Fudge is very good, I let him watch. I do it in the bathroom. First I take Dribble out of his bowl and let him crawl around in the tub. I'm afraid to put him down on the floor—somebody might step on him. But in the tub I know he's safe. (6.10)
Peter's also a conscientious student. He works hard on school projects and takes pride in his work:
Me and Jimmy designed the whole poster ourselves. We used the pros and cons of each kind of transportation. It was really clever. We divided a chart into land, sea, and air and we planned an illustration for each—with the airplane done in silver sparkle and the letters done in red and blue Magic Marker. (7.26)
Peer has a lot of self-control, considering the circumstances, i.e., Fudge constantly bugging him and messing with his pet turtle. He might want to scream, but he doesn't.
I jumped up. "Give him to me." I told Fudge. I took Dribble and his bowl and marched into my room. I inspected my turtle all over. He seemed all right. I didn't want to make a big scene in front of our company but I was mad. I mean really mad. That kid knows he's not allowed to touch my turtle. (2.83)
We think it's safe to say that "company manners" is not a concept that Fudge is aware of.
Peter helps out with Fudge when he's asked, even when he doesn't feel like it. His mother trusts him to do it because she knows he's responsible.
Finally my mother got the brilliant idea of me standing on my head while she fed Fudge. I wasn't very excited about standing on my head in the kitchen. The floor is awfully hard in there. But my mother begged me. She said, "It's very important for Fudge to eat. Please help us, Peter."
So I stood on my head. (3.8-9)
That's definitely going above and beyond the call of duty. But it feels to Peter that he never gets praised for helping out. All he gets for being responsible is…more responsibility. Worse, he often gets blamed when something happens to Fudge. When Fudge jumps off the jungle gym, their mother immediately blames Peter instead of holding Fudge accountable.
My mother followed me. "Peter Warren Hatcher." she said. "I'm sorry that I can't trust you for just ten minutes."
"Me?" I asked. "Trust me? What's this got to do with me?"
My mother raised her voice. "I left your brother with you for ten minutes and just look at what happened. I'm disgusted with you." (4.94-96)
Mrs. Hatcher eventually apologizes to Peter, but it seems to him like he can't do anything right. He's just a nothing. What's the point of being polite and responsible when the totally impossible Fudge gets all the breaks?
One thing Peter complains about throughout the stories is that Fudge gets all the attention even though he misbehaves and ruins Peter's things. Fudge is pretty adorable, and people love him—especially the ones that don't have to live with him.
As soon as the nurse saw Fudge she said, "How's my favorite patient?" She gave him a hug and a little book to read. To me she said, "Good morning, Peter."
It burns me up the way people treat Fudge. He's not so special. He's just little, that's all. (6.14-15)
Peter just can't take much more of this:
I ran to my room and slammed the door. I watched Dribble walk around his favorite rock. "My mother's the meanest mother in the whole world," I told my turtle. "She loves Fudge more than me. She doesn't even love me anymore." (4.96-98)
Peter's hurt and angry when his parents take Fudge's side, especially when they don't acknowledge how Fudge's behavior affects him. His parents don't even seem to notice how hard Fudge makes his life, and Fudge seems to get away with it.
The last straw is when Fudge eats Peter's pet turtle. Peter adores little Dribble, so when his brother swallows him, Peter's devastated. What's even more upsetting is that his parents don't seem to care about his feelings at all, especially his mother, who freaks out and rushes Fudge to the hospital:
My mother didn't even stop to think about my turtle. She didn't even give Dribble a thought. She didn't even stop to wonder how my turtle liked being swallowed by my brother. She ran to the phone with Fudge tucked under one arm. (10.53)
But although Peter feels like no one understands his feelings, his parents are actually watching and empathizing with the hard time he's going through. They know their son well and recognize just how much he loved Dribble, which is why they give him a puppy at the end of the book:
"You see, Peter, your mother and I think you've been a good sport about the whole situation. After all, Dribble was your pet."
I looked up. Could I be hearing right? Did they really remember about me and Dribble? I put my hand inside the box. I felt something warm and soft and furry. (10.112-113)
The puppy is a real expression of trust and respect for Peter. It's a lot of work to take care of a dog when you live in a New York City apartment.
We'd guess that Peter has really known all along that his parents love and appreciate him. In fact, they probably appreciate him even more because they don't have to deal with two impossible kids. It's just easy for Peter—and his parents—to forget it in the middle of all the crazy situations with Fudge. From here on in, when Peter's totally had it with Fudge, all he has to do is play with his puppy and remember that his parents do understand.
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