Marilee G. Hyde
Eye of the Story
Close reading review: Winters Bone 2/25, 2016
I was going to compare the book to the movie but as the schedule has changed and people won’t have viewed the movie at the time of this review I must find something else to talk about.
I originally bought the movie sight unseen, I was looking for Jennifer Lawrence movies and I really like thrillers. I didn’t know it was based on a novel until the ending credits. I usually like to read the book first, but I have learned to like movies for themselves, and not in how they compare with the original inspiration.
I shall instead concentrate on the author’s use of language, and Ree as the heroine. The story takes place in the Ozarks. Those of us who were born in places like the Pacific Norwest, and come from a securely middle class home often sneer at the accents and “folksy” way of speaking and behaving. They are victims of stereo types as surely as any. They are referred to as “hillbillies,” and the term “Deliverance” is often used when speaking of these people.
Deliverance was a thriller written in 1970 by James Dickey. It was, like Winters Bone, adapted by the author and the director into a 1972 film. It was considered a landmark novel and is considered one of the 100 best 20th century novels.
Deliverance took place in the North Georgia wilderness while winters bone is located in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. Both are remote areas that have been inhabited for decades by the same families that often intermarry and remain an enclosed society.
I particularly noticed the use of language the author of Winters Bone used. It was crude and yet poetic, for example, page 48, where the driver of the delivery truck who stops to give Ree a ride says he wasn’t supposed to give rides but jeez, that wind, that wind sort of blows the rules away, don’t it?
On page 49 the author notes that the old part of Hawkfall seemed ancient and a creepy sort of sacred. I find that although the language perhaps makes the characters sound ignorant and unsophisticated it is a window into the lives of people who do not exist for us. People so poor they don’t eat regular meals, shoot most of their food, and process it themselves, just as they did in the last century and beyond.
Their lives seem so bleak and joyless; it would seem they have a lot of children because they don’t have anything else to do. In Ree’s community having a regular mainstream job is rare, they all make illegal drugs in order to make money, and they use the drugs themselves to forget the horrible things they had to do to get to the top of the heap. In the society they are trapped in, the people see no alternative to the lifestyle they inhabit.
Ree has had to grow up too soon. Her mother is mentally ill and can no longer take care of the family. It has forced Ree to shoulder all the responsibility of raising her little brothers. She dreams of getting out of the town they are in, but knows she cannot leave her little dependents. She seeks to train them to care for themselves, but when she finds out her father has let her down and possibly lost the very house they live in; she finds the moral courage to try and bring her father to acknowledge his responsibilities. When she starts knocking on doors for help she is told on page 56 “That’s sure a bad boat you been left in…” Once again a poetic way of saying she is in some kind of shit.
The hierarchy of the community is the same as the previous century, there is a patriarch, and in this novel it is Thump Milton, who is the highest authority. The underlings become annoyed that Ree is not being deterred by the people in the line, up the food chain. She is trying to get to the head man but there are rules and Ree is trying to bypass them. She understands the rules, how I don’t know; it must be something you learn from the very beginning. At some point it becomes clear to her that her father is not just missing, he is probably dead. Her acceptance of this is disturbing to me. She is showing the most basic of instincts, survival and the survival of her young ones. Ree wastes little time on grieving for a father who let her down more often than not. When the women who tried to put her in place, i.e. beat her up, come to her house to take her to her daddy’s bones, Merab says “…we need to put a stop to all this upset talk about us we’ve been havin to hear.” To which Ree replies “I aint said a thing about you.” and the answer to that is “we know, everybody else has.” Page 180.
This exchange proves that her fears have been confirmed. Her father is indeed dead and the only thing left is to prove it in order to save her house. Ree understands the pecking order in the community, but she has also determinedly stood her ground in order to prevail for her mother and brothers. She is now the bread winner and must do everything she can to continue their survival.
In conclusion, I find that Ree is a heroine to be admired. She knows she is in an impossible situation and longs to get out of it. But her sense of duty and responsibility, both admirable characteristics, are strong in her and she seeks to find peace for herself as best she can. For example, using the soothing nature sounds on her iPod to help her meditate. One feels hopeful that things will turn out alright, that her brothers will grow up well and not in jail. I would like to think that eventually she is able to leave that town behind with a clear conscience and join the army or do something worthwhile for herself. To live a life that is hers and not living so others can live.