Last Updated on August 25, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 943
Marguerite did not expect to like, or even notice, her mother’s partners, but she found herself drawn to Daddy Clidell, a simple, honest man who had succeeded despite his lack of formal education. She liked the fact that he was neither ashamed of his lack of education nor arrogant about his success. Clidell talked to her and taught her to play cards, and she was often mistaken for his daughter by friends.
Daddy Clidell introduced Marguerite to some of his friends who were con men, and they taught her how to avoid being duped in business dealings, telling her stories of how they had conned various arrogant white people, using their prejudices against them. Marguerite enjoyed these stories of what she regarded as revenge on an unjust society. She did not see the men as criminals but was instead proud of their achievements.
Marguerite’s father, Bailey Senior, invited her to spend the summer in Los Angeles. His girlfriend began to write to her and arranged to meet her train, wearing a white flower for the purposes of identification. When Marguerite arrived on the platform, however, the only person she could see with a white flower was “a little girl.” It turned out that her father’s girlfriend, Dolores, was in her early twenties. She attempted to befriend Marguerite, but the two had little in common, and Marguerite found Dolores false and pretentious.
Bailey Senior often made trips to Mexico, and on one of these, he took Marguerite with him. They went to a bar where Bailey Senior was clearly well-known and where there were many women, all of whom thought it hilarious that he had a daughter. Bailey Senior went off with one of the women and was gone for a long time. When he returned, he was drunk and incapable, and Marguerite, who had not driven a car before, had to drive him home. After successfully driving the car for about fifty miles, she hit another car. When she managed to wake her father, he recovered quickly and smoothed over the situation in a way which made it clear that this type of occurrence was fairly common for him. Marguerite was angry at his behavior and at his failure to recognize her achievement in driving so far.
When Bailey Senior and Marguerite returned home, Dolores received them coldly and soon began arguing with Bailey Senior, saying he had allowed his children to come between them. Despite her dislike of Dolores, Marguerite recognized that her father had behaved badly and even felt somewhat guilty for helping him. After her father had gone, she tried to show sympathy for Dolores, but Dolores responded with hostility, calling Marguerite’s mother a whore. Marguerite slapped her, and the two began to fight. Eventually, Marguerite ran outside and sought shelter in her father’s car, but by this point she had already been wounded and was bleeding profusely.
When Bailey Senior came back, he took Marguerite to have her wounded dressed, then arranged for her to sleep at the house of some friends. In the morning, however, she decided to run away. She could not go back to her mother, who would notice the wound and make enquiries, meaning that she was effectively homeless.
Marguerite wandered the streets, spending some time in the penny arcades and at the library. Passing a junkyard, she decided to take refuge in an old car, where she spent the night. When she woke up, she was surrounded by the curious faces of other people who lived in the junkyard and slept in the cars. After some questions, they welcomed her, and she spent a month there. The acceptance of these people gave her a new sense of security. Never again in her life was she to feel “so solidly outside the pale of the human race."
After a month, Marguerite telephoned her mother, who had no idea what had happened and was about to send her ticket back to San Francisco to her father’s address. Marguerite arranged to pick it up from the airline instead and returned home, thin and unkempt, with no luggage, but with a new confidence in herself.
This section of the book begins with Daddy Clidell, the partner of Marguerite’s mother, and then introduces the contrasting figure of Dolores, her father’s fiancée. While Clidell provides Marguerite with the first truly paternal figure she has ever known and is often mistaken for her father, Dolores is only a few years older than she is and is a competitor for her father’s affection. By this time, however, Marguerite has realized that her father does not love either of them but only cares about himself. This attitude is amply demonstrated by the long narrative of the trip to Mexico, in which the true extent of Bailey Senior’s selfishness and irresponsibility becomes clear. Vivian and Bailey Senior are superficially similar, but while she is an unconventional mother, he makes no effort whatsoever to be any kind of father and is not remotely concerned about the hostility between his fiancée and his daughter.
Being stabbed, running away from home, and living in a junkyard seem at first to be yet more traumatic events in a life that has been full of them, but in fact, her time living in a derelict car proves to be the making of Marguerite, giving her a sense of community with other young people and finally a sense of confidence in her own resilience and capability. These qualities are demonstrated by the very fact that she manages to turn homelessness into a positive experience.
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