Everything is bigger down South—the houses, the hair, the families. The South is known for big family dynasties, like the Bushes or the Ewings from Dallas. The families themselves are large, and have been for generations. They need those giant old plantation homes just to fit all the people inside.
With big families comes big dysfunction. But as we said, in the South, everything is bigger. Even small families are hugely screwed up—just take the Childers family in Sling Blade. This is a family of three—Mom, Dad, and little Karl, who they keep in a shed behind their house, where he sleeps in a hole in the ground.
After killing one third of his family, Karl is put in a mental hospital. When he gets out, though, he learns that he can choose his family. He's not stuck with the family that stuck him in a hole.
Questions About Family
How might Karl's life have been different if his family situation had been healthier?
How does Karl's family life growing up compare to Frank's family life in the present? What do they have in common?
Why is it so easy for Linda to welcome Karl into her family? What keeps Doyle from creating a healthy family unit?
Why does Karl visit his father at the end of the movie?
Chew on This
Karl introduces a complex dynamic into Linda's family. Karl sees Frank as a little brother, but Frank sees Karl as a father figure.
Doyle and Karl's father are very different but equally destructive father figures. Karl's dad destroys his own family by ignoring them. Doyle destroys Linda's family by trying to make them a family—without having any clue how to do it right.