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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 287

A reader of this text cannot help but be emotionally affected by witnessing the struggles of the the Baldridge family. Their experiences with hunger and a complete lack of certainty about their future—where they might live, if their father will have work, if they'll have enough food to survive—characterize their life and render them incredibly sympathetic. James Still makes their struggle feel so immediate and relatable, especially when Alpha and Brack must grapple with whether to hoard their scant resources and feed their children for longer or share with family and friends who are also in need, taking food away from their kids. Alpha feels so strongly that she actually burns down the family's house, moving her belongings and kids into the smokehouse, so that her husband's extended family will be forced to find shelter and food elsewhere. She deprives herself so much that she actually stops producing breast milk and must eat more in order to keep her baby, Green, alive. The narrator, her oldest son, says,

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Mother ate a little more now than the rest of us, for the baby's sake, eating as though for shame while we were not there to see, fearing we might not understand, that we might think her taking more than her share.

However, despite Alpha's best efforts to protect her family, her husband's inconsistent work as a coal miner (and the fact that he gives away their food) prevents the couple from consistently providing for their children. The baby, likely malnourished and with a weakened immune system, dies of croup. In other words, then, this text presents a poignant portrait of a family in dire straits, trying to make a life while relying on a fast-dying industry.

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