Winter’s Bone Summary

Winter’s Bone, published in 2006, is a novel about a young girl’s search for her father in the mysterious and unforgiving rural communities of the Missouri Ozarks.

  • Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly has been taking care of her mother and younger siblings ever since her father, Jessup, mysteriously disappeared months ago.
  • Ree is horrified to learn that Jessup put their home and land up as part of his bond, meaning that they will lose everything if Jessup misses his upcoming court date.
  • Determined to save her family’s home, Ree sets out on a dangerous journey to discover the truth about her father's whereabouts. 

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Last Updated on August 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1256

Winter’s Bone takes place during winter in the Ozark mountains of Missouri. Sixteen-year-old Ree Dolly lives in a run-down home with her incapacitated mother and two younger brothers. Their father, Jessup Dolly, left them in early autumn with promises of “a paper sack of cash and a trunkload of delights” but has still not come back. As the eldest child, Ree is left with the responsibility of feeding and taking care of the rest of the family.

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One afternoon, a police car drives Ree’s brothers, Sonny and Harold, home back from school. While on their property, Deputy Baskin informs Ree that he has urgent news for her and her mother, Connie. He tells her that the law will claim Ree’s house and timber acres if her father does not show up for his upcoming court date, which is in one week. Ree vows to Deputy Baskin that she will find Jessup in time. Later that night, Sonya, a neighbor and relative of Ree’s, visits their home and drops off some canned meat, butter, and other goods. Ree tells her that the law is looking for Jessup.

The next day, Ree visits her Uncle Teardrop, who is referred to as such because of the jailhouse teardrop tattoos on his face. Ree is greeted by her uncle’s wife, Victoria, who serves her coffee. When Ree asks Teardrop about Jessup’s whereabouts, he claims he doesn’t know and tries to dissuade her from her search. At one point, he almost assaults Ree when she suggests asking around Hawkfall, where some of their distant relatives live.

Before going home, Ree drops by the trailer home of her best friend, Gail Lockrum. Although the two are the same age, Gail is already married and mother to a four-month-old son. After the two catch up, Ree asks Gail if she could drive her to Hawkfall. However, Gail’s husband, Floyd Langan, refuses to give Gail permission to use their car.

The following day, Ree rides the bus to school with her two brothers. From Rathlin Valley High School, she hitchhikes all the way to Hawkfall. There, she is immediately confronted by a young woman who demands to know who she is. Ree reveals that she is a Dolly, like most of the residents in Hawkfall, and that she is looking for Little Arthur—one of Jessup’s friends. The woman, whose name is Megan, takes a liking to Ree and escorts her to Little Arthur’s house. However, Little Arthur proves to be of little help, telling Ree he doesn’t know where Jessup is.

At this point, Megan suggests to Ree that she should speak to Thump Milton—one of the patriarchs of the Dolly clan. Alone, Ree climbs up the hill to Thump Milton’s house, where she is greeted by Merab, his wife. After making Ree wait for almost an hour, Merab informs her that Thump Milton knows why she is here and refuses to see her. Angered, Ree insults Thump Milton and Merab warns her not to try asking him twice.

After spending the night in a cave, Ree returns home to her family. She is visited by Blond Milton, Sonya’s husband, who demands that she stop asking around for her father. Blond Milton drives Ree past Egypt creek, taking her to a burnt and blackened house. He tells Ree that her father recently died in an explosion while he was cooking methamphetamine. Upon inspecting the house, however, Ree finds horseweed growing chin high in the floorboard holes—proving that the house was destroyed long, long ago. After their drive home, Ree yells at Blond Milton that she doesn’t believe his story.

At nighttime, Gail comes visiting Ree’s home with her infant son, Ned. She tells Ree that she is tired of Floyd’s cheating and lying. Because Gail brought a car with her, the two drive down to Reid’s Gap, where April, one of Jessup’s past mistresses, lives. April reveals that she saw Jessup at Cruikshank’s Tap with three rough looking men before his disappearance. She mentions that Jessup had pretended not to know her in an effort to protect her. On the drive home, Ree spots Jessup’s Ford Capri speeding past them. The two attempt to chase the vehicle but quickly lose it in the darkness. Defeated, they go back to Ree’s house.

The following day, Teardrop visits Ree and informs her that the police have found the burnt-up remains of Jessup’s Ford Capri near Gullet Lake. The two talk about how Jessup is most likely dead. Before he leaves, Teardrop advises Ree to sell all of the timber on their land before the law takes away their property.

After going grocery shopping with Gail, Ree finds a visitor from town on her front porch. The man introduces himself as Mike Satterfield, a representative from Three X Bail Bonds. He reveals to Ree that their house had not been enough to cover Jessup’s bond. A strange man, however, had dropped off supplementary cash at their office. He then tells Ree that they will lose their house and land unless she provides proof that Jessup is dead. Suspecting that the strange man Satterfield mentioned is one of their relatives from Hawfkfall, Ree resolves to return to Hawkfall once more.

At Thump Milton’s place, Ree is ambushed by Merab and the other women of the clan. They beat her until she falls unconscious. When Ree wakes, she finds herself severely injured and surrounded by members of her clan, men and women alike. Luckily, Teardrop arrives and convinces the clan that Jessup’s transgression has nothing to do with Ree. He carries Ree to his truck and drives her home. Back at home, Teardrop reveals to Ree that Jessup had turned snitch before he disappeared. He doesn’t know who exactly killed Jessup—nor does he want to, lest he get the urge to take revenge.

For the next few days, Ree spends her time resting and trying to recover. Gail brings her to Bucket Spring, where she dips into the cold water to ease her wounds. There, Gail also tells Ree that she’ll be going back to Floyd, as she fears it is dangerous for her son to stay at Ree’s.

At night, an inebriated Teardrop picks Ree up from her home to poke around and “see what happens.” The two drive first to Buster Leroy’s house and then to Ronnie Vaughn’s tavern, where Teardrop tries to collect information on Jessup. On the way home, they run into Deputy Baskin, and Teardrop confronts him for giving up Jessup. The two engage in a stand-off, until Teardrop finally decides to drive off.

The following night, Merab and two other women visit Ree’s home. In an attempt to make peace, they bring her blindfolded to her father’s corpse, which is submerged in an icy pond. The women then help Ree haul out her father’s corpse and cut off his hands. In the last chapter of the novel, Ree brings Jessup’s hands to Deputy Baskin as proof that he is dead. She also bids goodbye to Teardrop, who is now determined to avenge Jessup’s murder. Finally, Satterfield returns and gives Ree the cash that the strange man had dropped off as part of Jessup’s bond. When Harold asks what they’ll do with the money, Ree responds with “Wheels.” Thus, Winter’s Bone ends.

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