The central themes in The Pictures of Hollis Woods are the twin concepts of family and unconditional love. Hollis, who has never had a family, has an idea in her mind of what an ideal family looks like, and she treasures a representation of one she made when she was six. That picture has in it a mother, a father, a brother, and a sister, and Hollis almost achieves that perfect balance for herself when she stays with the Regans over the summer. Families are made up of unique individuals, however, who must learn to interact positively for the good of the whole in a process that is never ending and can sometimes be messy and uncomfortable. Hollis's inexperience with the dynamics of family life causes her to misinterpret the discord that occurs so frequently between Steven and the Old Man, because she doesn't "know about families yet." Hollis believes that she is the cause of the rift that she sees growing between Steven and his father. Convinced that she is "messing up the family," she sacrifices her own desires to keep from hurting the Regans more than she believes she already has.
The love that binds families together is unconditional, and it is this that Hollis cannot understand. In her experience in a long line of foster placements, when she has been "fresh," "incorrigible," and "a mountain of trouble," she has been sent away. The Regans, however, are "different" and love her even though she insists she caused the accident that almost killed Steven; they continue to prepare her room in hopes she will come to stay, even when she says repeatedly that she will not. Interestingly, Hollis knows instinctively how to give love, but she has no idea how to accept it. When she first considers taking a chance with the Regans and letting them love her, she makes sure to tell Steven all the bad things about herself; she confesses she runs away sometimes, ditches school, and has no friends because she is mean. Steven accepts what she says without condemnation, and Hollis is amazed because Steven now knows "all about me and he (doesn't) mind." Steven, unlike Hollis, has grown up in a loving family environment, so he knows how to both give and accept love. Even though, in his constant quest for independence, he insists on being...
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