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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487

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A major source of disagreement between Brack and Alpha Baldridge is to what extent they are obliged to help other people when their own family's conditions are so dire. At one point, Alpha is eating so little that she stops producing breast milk, which is needed by her baby, Green. Brack refuses to throw out his family, Harl and Tibb Logan and Uncle Samp, when they come to stay and never leave. One can understand both of their positions, and it is heartbreaking to consider making such a choice. Brack does not want to turn his hungry family away, but Alpha sees her own children going with too little too often.

"Their hearts are black as Satan," Mother said. "I'd rather live in this smokehouse than stay down there with them. A big house draws kinfolks like a horse draws nitflies."

Alpha takes matters into her own hands when Brack repeatedly refuses to to ask them to leave. She moves her belongings and children into the smokehouse (which is much smaller), and then burns the "big house" down so that her husband's family will be forced to leave, not having a place to sleep. This episode shows the difficult choices the Baldridges' are forced to make in order to do what they feel is right and also take care of their own children.

Later in the text, when the narrator is hoping to be the recipient of a colt that his father is helping to deliver, his father warns him,

"There ain't no sense trying to see afar off [...]. It's better to keep your eyeballs on things nigh, and let the rest come according to law and prophecy."

The Baldridges' live such a hand-to-mouth existence that Brack tries to teach his son to focus only on the present, on what's right in front of him. There is no good reason to try to think too far ahead because things can change so quickly. For example, the family could be doing well, and then the mine closes or the father gets laid off, and, suddenly, they are in dire straits again. Or vice versa. Life is so unpredictable, especially for them, and so this seems like valuable advice.

Having witnessed the extreme hardship of his family, and especially his mother (who watched her baby die), the narrator resolves,

"I hain't going to be a miner when I grow to a man, a-breathing bug-dust inside a hill. I aim to be a horse doctor. I am, now."

Even though he is kind of squeamish—he has to look away when his father helps to birth a colt and when he cuts a slit in a calf's throat in order to dislodge a cob on which it was choking—the narrator would rather deal with it than deal with those hardships of being a miner. We can see the toll his young experiences have taken on him in this choice.

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