Part 1, Chapter 19 Summary

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Bee, although only a seventh grader, unintentionally makes the family feel uncomfortable during her visit. Her presence in the home seems to focus a “surgical light” on all of the family’s flaws. The Gladneys are rarely intentional about the things they do, avoid making decisions when they can, “take turns being stupid and emotionally unstable,” leave wet towels wherever they drop, and occasionally lose Wilder.

Suddenly everything they do and say seems to need explaining to their guest. Babette is the most flustered by Bee’s presence, a “silent witness” to the sights and sounds of her family.

Bee is a year older than Denise and has the composed, mature demeanor of someone who has traveled and experienced grand things. Even Gladney admires her in a “distant and uneasy way,” as if she were someone else’s child—the “sophisticated and self-reliant” daughter of one of his friends.

When he considers how far he might be willing to go to insulate his family from the world, Gladney thinks that perhaps Siskind is right about ignorance and distortion being the preservation techniques of the modern family.

On Christmas Day, Bee shares her concerns about her mother. Gladney supposes Tweedy’s primary concern is what she told him, that she does not really know who her husband is. Bee assures Gladney that her stepfather is an educated man who spends time in the jungles observing the natives and their rituals because it is fun; it is her mother who does not have anything productive to do with her life. Although Tweedy has many things, including a newly remodeled, state-of-the-art kitchen, she does not have any outlet for fun in her life.

Gladney sees something far older than her years in Bee’s eyes and it frightens him; he changes the subject and tries unsuccessfully to talk to her about being a seventh grader. When they smell burnt toast, Bee says she could have cooked something exotic for the family, and Gladney does not admit that Steffie sometimes just likes the smell of burnt toast.

Two nights later, Gladney hears a ruckus in the hall and goes to investigate. Outside the bathroom door, Denise is scolding Steffie for taking a bath—what she calls “sitting in all that dirty water.” Steffie claims it is her dirty water, but that fact does not diminish Denise’s disgust. Bee appears at the end of the hallway, and suddenly the shame and pettiness of the incident seem to expand in Bee’s silence.

Gladney takes Bee to the airport the next morning; she sits silently in the car and looks at him. He recognizes the look as the “adolescent female’s form of condescension.” On the way home, Gladney stops at a small, old cemetery where it is quiet. The dead have a presence, and he stands and listens; the power of those who are gone is that the living think they are constantly being watched by the dead even though they are in the ground, “asleep and crumbling.”

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