Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 335
A Painted House by John Grisham is a gripping story of youth and human experience, in the harsh reality of rural farm life. Luke Chandler, seven years old, farms cotton on several acres with his family and a host of other workers with questionable morality.
The story is told from the seven-year-old’s perspective and, in turn, is a story of his growth and humanity. Other themes include the importance of love in the face of adversity and the negative effects of classism on the human experience. The latter theme is supported by the text throughout the novel, and even the title refers to this notion. The “Painted House” is a reference to the fact that Luke’s family home is not painted and is therefore a symbol of his lower socioeconomic status. Luke is aware of this even at the young age of seven, and others continue to remind him:
We got a house nicer than yours, boy. . . . You ain’t gonna believe this boy, but our houses got paint on it, white paint. (Grisham 73)
While living and working on the farm, Luke also struggles with his own moral code. He actively keeps secrets that could negatively affect the people he cares about. Luke observes other adults, even people he looks up to, telling lies and keeping secrets. He quickly learns the nuances and balancing act required to keep the peace among a large group of people. In this way, Luke learns valuable life lessons concerning adult politics, colliding personalities, and the pressures of secrecy.
Another theme encompassed by the novel is striving for the American Dream. This theme occurs throughout as Luke’s family struggles to make ends meet and as Luke dreams of one day becoming a major-league baseball player. This dream is what motivates him to work hard and strive for better. Even throughout his hardships, the hope and light of the American Dream, the ability to achieve almost anything through hard work and dedication, is not lost on young Luke.
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