Richard's mom is a complicated and polarizing figure. On one hand, she is the center of Richard's life—the one constant in a world that he finds increasingly confusing and hostile. On the other hand, she is mercurial and prone to emotional outbursts—as likely to whip Richard as anything else. She tries to do the best she can for her family; however, circumstances conspire against her, and she often makes poor decisions as well. As a result, Richard is never quite sure where he will be living from one month to the next or where his next meal will come from.
Her stroke in chapter three marks a turning point for eleven-year-old Richard. His mom now requires constant care, and Richard appeals to his Grandmother, who brings her family to help out. Richard is sent to live with his Uncle Clark, and for the first time, he has some stability in his life and is able to go to school. Characteristically, Richard is not able to cope with this new situation, and he lashes out at the same people who would help him. When he returns to his mother, he realizes that she will be sick for the rest of her life. Richard comes to understand that hardship will be the determining factor in his life. Rather than hoping for things to get better, he recognizes that difficult events—such as his mother's health or the racial hatred he must endure everyday—will be the things that shape his character and give his life meaning.