Cracker Jackson by Betsy Byars

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Analysis

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Cracker Jackson discusses many themes that are important to a young reader. First, it provides an accurate description of domestic violence. The reader gains insight into the development and behavior patterns involved in spousal abuse. While it is obvious that Billy Ray, with his unstable and explosive personality, is dangerous, the story also describes the changes that took place in Billy Ray as he acquired adult pressures and responsibilities. Cracker sadly remembers him as once being fun-loving and laughing. The novel is even more compelling in its portrayal of the victim, Alma. She is a good, caring person, but she is totally dominated by Billy Ray’s violence. Her excuses and justifications allow the situation to continue. She proves unable, and in fact unwilling, to defend herself—and even more important, her baby—until tragedy occurs. The cyclical pattern of domestic violence becomes apparent when Billy Ray’s mother tells Alma that there is nothing wrong with a man hitting his wife. To prove this, she describes how Billy Ray’s father used to hit her, until his arthritis got too bad.

Cracker Jackson also describes a boy’s introduction to the serious problems that may come with adulthood. Cracker tries valiantly to cope with the adult responsibilities that Alma has forced upon him. Ironically, his efforts are hindered by the adults around him. Cracker and Goat try to do what is right, in spite of the rules of the adult world. They provide both the moral and the logical core of the novel. During the aborted drive to Avondale, when Alma pleads for advice, Goat insists that she must leave Billy Ray before he kills her. Unfortunately, she ignores him. Later, she wishes that someone would have warned her about what might happen.

Betsy Byars develops this coming-of-age theme by blending humor with tragedy. She contrasts the everyday problems that Cracker and Goat face in school and at home with the harsh reality of Alma’s situation; Cracker notes that his parents’ divorce has not affected him nearly as much as the situation with Alma. The boys’ problems are amusing, which only magnifies the grim nature of Alma’s predicament. The first chapter illustrates this combination, comparing the two anonymous letters that Cracker has received in his life. The first—which said, “You stink”—had been left on his desk in first grade. He dealt with this situation by uncovering his tormentor in an ingenious and humorous manner. The second anonymous letter, however, brings Cracker face to...

(The entire section is 640 words.)