Chapter 7 Summary
A few years after the McEacherns adopted Joe, he is assigned to learn his catechism but fails to do so. Mr. McEachern gives him another hour to learn it, but he confesses that he has not. Mr. McEachern takes him out to the stable and orders him to drop his trousers. Mr. McEachern beats Joe several times with a leather harness strap. He then sets the catechism before him again and gives him another hour to learn it. Again Joe does not, and again he is beaten. Joe refuses to even try no matter how much he is whipped. McEachern prays over him then goes off to his church. Mrs. McEachern brings up a tray of food for him, but he refuses to eat because he thinks Mr. McEachern ordered her to bring it. She insists that it was her own idea. He dumps the tray of food in the corner. Later, after Mrs. McEachern leaves, Joe eats the food like a dog.
On another Saturday afternoon, Joe and four other boys convince a Negro girl to have sex with all of them. They draw straws to take turns. When Joe’s turn comes, he cautiously enters the darkened barn where the girl is waiting. He accidentally touches her with his foot. He kicks her repeatedly and then begins beating her. The other boys rush in to stop him. They eventually break up and go home. When he reaches home, Joe bathes his swollen eye and then sees someone standing in the stable door. He recognizes that it is Mr. McEachern, who explains that he has done Joe’s chores for him. He sees Joes eye and questions him, but Joe refuses to explain. McEachern is immediately suspicious that Joe has been with a woman, but Joe tells him he has not.
When Joe is seventeen, McEachern notices that Joe’s heifer is missing. He also finds a new suit hidden in the barn. Joe tells him that the heifer is down by the creek and he will find her in the morning. McEachern tells him to call the heifer now, but Joe resists. Finally, Joe confesses that he sold her but lies in saying that he gave the money to Mrs. McEachern for safekeeping. McEachern confronts him with the new suit hidden in the barn. He hits him with his fists. Joe takes it, but then he warns McEachern not to hit him again. Later, as he lies in bed, he hears Mrs. McEachern tell her husband that she bought the suit for Joe. McEachern accuses her of lying and orders her to kneel down and ask God for forgiveness. That night, as Mrs. McEachern cares for him, Joe rejects her kindness; he feels that she is trying to break him by making him cry. This causes him to hate her as much as he hates McEachern.