The natural world plays a fundamental role in Winter’s Bone. What role does the environment play in Ree’s physical and emotional journey? Why does Woodrell create a world at once beautiful and harsh, and how does that correspond to other themes within the novel?

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The environment is stimulating, soothing, and threatening at different points in Ree’s physical and emotional journey. Woodrell presents a beautiful but harsh physical environment that serves as a counterpart to a family and a society that similarly contain unresolvable contradictions. Ree sometimes feels that her accustomed environment is a refuge,...

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The environment is stimulating, soothing, and threatening at different points in Ree’s physical and emotional journey. Woodrell presents a beautiful but harsh physical environment that serves as a counterpart to a family and a society that similarly contain unresolvable contradictions. Ree sometimes feels that her accustomed environment is a refuge, but she increasingly acknowledges how it confines and restricts her personal growth. Her independence as a maturing adolescent often conflicts with her sense of family loyalty and responsibility in her father’s absence, as well as her commitment to locating him.

Both Ree’s physical journey and her emotional development contain many elements of a classic hero’s quest, in which the ability to conquer physical obstacles demonstrates the spiritual and moral courage required of a hero. One place where the dual character of the environment emerges is when Ree is compelled to seek refuge in a cave, rather than any human-built shelter, through which the author represents her necessary separation from society in order to rejoin it as a transformed, wiser person.

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