Chapters 6-10 Summary
This chapter explores the dual nature of man, his goodness and his dangerousness. The chapter begins with the three brothers trying stand on one another’s shoulders to “build” a woman. However, like their mother, their creation ends up “helpless” and “flat on her back.”
The boys’ working in threes is symbolically important in this chapter and throughout the work. They are constantly juxtaposing the benevolence and malevolence of the number three: the three monsters of Frankenstein, the Three Musketeers, the Three Bears, and the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The narrator sees himself as being like the Holy Spirit, the most transparent yet least understandable of the band of brothers.
On one of their many unsupervised excursions, the boys meet a pregnant woman in a parking lot and taunt her. She tries to set the boys straight about proper behavior and language. They seem to understand, but when the trio arrives home, they revert to their old selves and employ a caveman-like language as they playfully taunt their mother. She seems to enjoy the playful nature of her cubs and surrenders to the boys; she “gives herself up.”
Without explanation, Paps has left home. Ma has gone into a state of shock. She has not reported to work. She does little but smoke and sleep. The boys have been virtually abandoned. They are subsisting on crackers and jam and whatever else they can cull from the nearly bare pantry.
On the sixth day, Ma’s supervisor, Lina, calls to see what has happened. She does not receive a satisfactory explanation and comes over. Lina brings with her a bag of food, which the boys devour like wolves.
Lina gets Ma out of bed and treats her tenderly. She tucks wisps of hair behind her ears, holds Ma’s face in her hands, and gives her “soft kisses” all over. No one says a word, but it is clear that on some level, Ma has a life and interests that extend beyond the traditional roles of wife and mother.
The three boys have gone roaming. The boys squirm their way under an old man’s fence in a way reminiscent of Mr. McGregor and Peter Rabbit. Once inside, they do as much damage as they possibly can in a short amount of time: gobbling up vegetables and either uprooting or stomping on plants.
The old man who owns of the garden spots them and shouts that they are “animals” and “locusts.” Yet despite his disdain, he starts to talk to the boys and eventually invites them onto his porch, where he tells them stories as they slap away mosquitoes.
The old man decides to use the vegetables they boys had tried to steal to make a salad. He goes inside to do so; in his absence, the two older brothers, Joel and Manny, get into a violent fight, “kennel style...all teeth and tearing and snot and blood.”
The old man reverts to his earlier opinion, that they are animals, and casts them out of his garden. As they are walking home, the narrator thinks about the old man’s explanation of the three phases of destruction that locusts inflict: swarms eat the most, the great locusts eat more, and the other locusts eat what is left. The narrator wonders what will be left for the three of them and for himself.
Talk to Me
Paps still has not come home. It has been a long time and things are getting hard for Ma financially. The boys, as always, are hungry. As they clamor over the last remaining crumbs at suppertime, the phone begins to ring. It rings and rings and rings but Ma refuses to answer it. “It’s your father,” she says. Manny moves to answer it...
(The entire section is 962 words.)