Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 768

In examining the subject of youth homelessness, the author develops themes of the effects of abuse and neglect, the roots and consequences of rebelliousness, and the reality of hope and hopelessness. With the exception of Maggot, the members of the tribe are on the streets because they have nowhere else...

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In examining the subject of youth homelessness, the author develops themes of the effects of abuse and neglect, the roots and consequences of rebelliousness, and the reality of hope and hopelessness. With the exception of Maggot, the members of the tribe are on the streets because they have nowhere else to go. Their family units are unbearable in their dysfunctionality; Rainbow has been sold for drugs, Maybe has been physically abused then discarded when she outgrows her usefulness as a babysitter; Jewel has been rejected by his middle-class parents who cannot accept his ambiguous sexual orientation, and Tears has been molested, then branded a liar for asking for help. As a result of their experiences, the kids all have an almost pathological distrust of anything offered to them by adults. Although Rainbow and 2Moro utilize the free clinic to get their "meds," for the most part the kids reject opportunities for placement with social services offering food and shelter, clinging stubbornly to their freedom to do what they want. Without exception, the tribe members are deeply suspicious about the motives of an establishment that has never given them a reason to trust it. There is no doubt that the virulent antipathy they express towards all forms of authority diminishes their chances of improving their situation, but their attitudes, though counterproductive, are at least understandable. When adults were in charge of their lives, unspeakable things happened to the kids; it makes complete sense that they believe that conditions can only be better if they themselves take and keep control of their lives. Maggot, the only tribe member who does not come from a background of unimaginable abuse and neglect, serves to represent the idea that youth homelessness stems from a variety of causes. He is in the minority, however; the overwhelming majority of the kids living on the streets are there because they are out of options.

Because they are so stunted emotionally, none of the kids have a realistic sense of the future. Paradoxically, in moments of optimism, they look upon their situation as temporary, and hold an unshakable belief that "something unexpected" will happen to make everything all right. Maybe says that, especially in the beginning, in the summer when living was easier, they never felt that they would end up like the "bums" they would see among the ranks of the homeless, mostly older men who "are dirty and smelly," but on the other hand, none of them can imagine "living past eighteen." In the dead of winter, however, the young people succumb one by one to the inexorable forces working against them. Country Club and Rainbow's deaths can be attributed directly to their addictions, 2Moro is murdered by a degenerate from the depraved environment which surrounds the kids, OG is "close to death" due to his inability to keep himself protected from the elements, and Jewel is "as good as dead," his psyche crushed by the hopelessness and rejection that characterizes his life. Tears, taken in by kind and loving relatives, is saved, at least for now, but the chances of that happening for the others are minuscule. Maybe alone remains, and she has accepted that living on the streets is a hopeless undertaking; the kids are no match for the odds stacked against them. With the understanding of the cold reality that "You (can't) live on the streets...you can only die there," Maybe considers her best possible option, placement in a group home and the difficult attitude adjustment that will have to go with it. At the end of the story, it is intimated that, alone among the others, it might only be Maybe who will find the inner strength, without family support, to rise above her circumstances.

Can't Get There From Here is bleak throughout, reflecting the reality of the lives of unwanted teens. Although the story does end on a hopeful note, the optimism engendered is qualified; there are no easy answers, nor are happy endings guaranteed, even for Tears and Maybe. When Anthony and Maybe take leave of Tears at her grandparents' home, her Grandma, despite her evident love for her troubled granddaughter, seems to be a little "scared about Tears staying there," in acknowledgement that the adjustment will undoubtedly be challenging for all of them. And although Anthony encourages Maybe to think about a group home as "the right place" for her at this time, and Maybe does in fact appear to be amenable to the suggestion, it is by no means certain that she will follow through. The ray of hope provided is small, and tenuous at best.

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