Summary – Section Two ‘The Desert’, Chapters Two, Three and Four
Section Two begins with the narrator’s earliest memory, at the age of three, which is when she was on fire. She and her family lived in a trailer park at this time in southern Arizona. She was standing in front of the stove and was wearing a pink dress that stuck out like a tutu. She was cooking hot dogs and remembers being frozen as she saw flames leap up and reach her face.
Her mother ran in when she heard her scream and threw a blanket around her. Her father was already out in the car and so they asked a neighbor for a lift to the hospital. Once there, Jeannette remembers the doctor told her mother it was ‘very serious’.
She was given a skin graft from her thigh to her stomach, ribs and chest. The nurses and doctors asked her lots of questions and she explained she had been cooking and said her mother let her cook a lot.
She enjoyed her stay in hospital because of the food and order, and she also had her own room. In the trailer, she had to share with her brother, Brian, and sister, Lori. On one of the family visits, Brian’s head was wrapped in a dirty bandage. He had fallen off the couch and cracked his head on the floor. They decided to not take him to the hospital. Her mother told her she had entered her name in a raffle and won a helicopter ride, and also said they had already been on it (while she was still in hospital).
Her father was asked to leave the hospital after he argued with the doctor about why Jeannette was still wearing bandages (as he thought she should not be wearing them anymore) and drew his fist back as if to punch him. A few days later, her father returned and said they were checking her out ‘Rex Walls-style’. He carried her out running and left by the emergency exit. The car was parked around the corner with the engine on and the rest of the family inside.
In Chapter Three, it is explained that a few days after this Jeannette cooked hot dogs again while her mother was painting and her mother praised her for getting back in ‘the saddle’. Her mother also praised her for not being afraid of fire and her father showed her how to pass her finger through a candle flame. Jeannette became fascinated with fire and started stealing matches. She inadvertently melted the face of her doll as she tried to show her how the fire felt.
Chapter Four is set a few months later and details how her father came home in the middle of the night and woke them all up. He told them they were leaving and they gathered up what they needed. When the car was loaded, he drove them slowly through the trailer park so as not to alert anyone they were going. She asked if they could go back for her doll and when told no, she comforted herself by holding the cat (Quixote). It growled and scratched her, and her father stopped the car and threw it out, and her mother said she should not be ‘so sentimental’.
Later that night, her father stopped the car in the middle of the desert and they slept ‘under the stars’. They had no pillows and he told them this was part of his plan to teach them to have good posture and said how ‘the Indians’ did not use them either.
Analysis – Section Two, Chapters Two, Three and Four
These chapters give the first glimpses of the itinerant and sometimes chaotic lifestyle that Jeannette and her siblings experienced while growing up. The light and shade aspects are revealed here as when she was deemed responsible enough to do her own cooking, and this was after she had already severely burned herself. The lighter part of the story is shown when the children sleep outside and their father sells this to them as an adventure.