This is introduced with an epigraph, which is a quotation from ‘Poem on His Birthday’ by Dylan Thomas:
‘Dark is a way and light is a place,
Heaven that never was
Nor will be ever is always true’
This work is comprised of five main sections and these are divided into unnumbered parts. For the purpose of this summary, these are numbered and referred to as chapters.
Summary – Section One ‘A Woman on the Street’, Chapter One
This begins with the first-person narrator wondering if she has overdressed for the party that evening. Although it is not fully explained until later in the narrative, it should be explained for the sake of clarity that the narrator is the author, Jeannette Walls, and this is an autobiographical piece.
She sees her mother ‘rooting through a Dumpster’ and panics that she might see her and call her name. She asks the driver to take her back home to Park Avenue. Back at home, she looks around at the symbols of her wealth and it is explained that she cannot enjoy this home as she worries about her parents ‘huddled on a sidewalk grate somewhere’. She worries about them, but is also embarrassed by them. She has tried to help them ‘countless times’, but both have said ‘they were living the way they wanted to’.
Jeannette feels guilty after not acknowledging her mother as she passed her and left a message with her friend (which is the only way she has of keeping in touch with her). When they meet a few days later, they talk and her mother mentions the Picasso retrospective she has seen. Jeannette tells her she is worried about her and wants to know if there is anything she can do for her, and her mother asks jokingly for ‘an electrolysis treatment’. The conversation turns and Jeannette reveals how she was embarrassed to see her scavenging the other day and her mother tells her to accept her and her father for who they are. She also says she should just tell people the truth about them.
Analysis – Section One ‘A Woman on the Street’, Chapter One
This introductory section sets the scene and the motivation for this autobiographical work as Jeannette’s mother asks her to tell the truth about her and her father. As the narrative progresses, Jeannette goes on to outline the extreme conditions of her childhood and how her parents are living on the streets while her address is on Park Lane, New York.