How do Jeannette and her siblings tolerate abuse?

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Jeannette, Lori, Brian, and Maureen all seem to become masters of self-sufficiency from a fairly young age. They learn to make due with what they have and take opportunities where they can. The children aren't outright abused; I think it would be more accurate to say that they are both emotionally and physically neglected. Their father is a dreamer who can't and won't hold down a job, and their mother is a free spirit who is more concerned with her own life than that of her children. She goes along with her husband's crazy plans and seems to float between times of caring and "sanity" and times of self-absorption and "insanity." The children spend a good part of their childhood in West Virginia in a broken-down shack of a house that has no running water. The house provides little shelter, and there is no money to heat the place in the cold winter months. They never have enough to eat. Jeannette recalls a span of time when she would hide in the bathroom during lunch and wait for the girls to throw away the leftovers of their lunches in the trash can, from which, Jeanette would then retrieve those lunches and then eat the scraps as she hid in a toilet stall. She would save some of the food to share with her younger siblings later. The story is awful, but it shows the willful determination of the children to survive the neglect of their parents. Maureen, the youngest, would play into the sympathy of acquaintances to get by. Lori, the oldest, worked a job so that she could flee the terrible situation. Eventually, over the span of a couple years when they became college-age teenagers, all of the children moved to New York City and made real, meaningful lives for themselves. What is interesting about the novel though is that, at least for the author, there is/was always a love for her parents, even for all of their flaws, weaknesses, and neglect. As children, at first, they didn't know any different than how they were raised. As they grew older, they recognized that their lives weren't "right" but were rather helpless and too young to do anything about it. Once they were old enough to leave, they did, and they ultimately saved themselves.


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