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Bless the Beasts and Children

Glendon Swarthout

Chapters 4–6

Chapters 1–3

Chapters 7–9

Summary

Chapter 4

Determining to travel on horseback, the boys mount horses from the camp. Teft somehow retrieves a rifle from the camp's locked compartment for their trip. Leaving through the camp gates, the group appears proud of their boldness in this adventure, in fitting with their love of the western movies. They have recently watched The Professionals, and it has made quite an impression on them. As the campers begin their adventure, they swell with pride and excitement.

Chapter 5

The group gallops on their horses until they become exhausted, and Lally two refuses to continue as he has dropped his pillow in the road. Goodenow has a fear of attending school and an over-dependence on his mother. Cotton relays the information he has learned from the camp director to the boys. The camp acts as their parents for the summer, so they become juvenile delinquents if they escape. When a car passes them in the night, Cotton notices their high visibility and emphasizes the need for a vehicle of some sort. Another car passes them and Cotton advises they abandon the horses and walk into Prescott. Tying the horses up and bidding them farewell, the boys enter the sprawling city and locate a parking lot next to a hotel, which they deem a promising site at which to steal a car. However, a man soon arrives at the hotel to check in and the opportunity is lost. Further down the road, they find a used car lot. However, all the cars had been locked, and a police car also appears. Frustrated with Teft's inability to break and enter, the group begins to complain, argue, and lose hope. Cotton calls for "bump time," the group's tradition in which they huddle together to gain strength and resolve or to make important decisions. Known for his criminal abilities and rebellious behavior, Teft chooses a car to hotwire. After successfully starting the engine, Teft and the others all pile into the truck, and all but Teft, the driver, duck down low and out of the sight of passing cars. After a few tense moments, in which cop cars pass, they reach the open expanse outside of Prescott, and cheer at their accomplishment.

Chapter 6

As Teft drives the truck up the steep incline of Mingus Mountain, the boys, dozing off, crowd together for warmth. Cotton contemplates their adventure, and the potential respect it might win the boys within the camp if they succeed. The Bedwetters had tried to raid the Apaches, who occupied the highest position in the camp, to steal their buffalo head. However, they had failed miserably, and after that incident, Cotton had adopted the role of their leader. Reaching the top of the mountain, the boys awake to recognize Flagstaff in the distance.

Analysis

As the Bedwetters set out for their journey, they recall the Westerns they have seen. Throughout the novel, in fact, Westerns permeate the boys' imaginations and influence their behavior. Because they are in the heart of the west, Arizona, whose grand landscape has inspired many of these films, they often draw connections between their situation and that of cowboy heroes. In Chapter 4 Swarthout writes of their excitement at the start of the journey, "For this is the marrowbone of every American adventure story: some men with guns, going somewhere, to do something dangerous. Whether it be to scout a continent in a covered wagon, to weld the Union in a screaming Wilderness, to save the world for democracy, to vault seas and rip up jungles by the roots and sow our seed and flag and spirit, this has ever been the essence of our melodrama: some men with guns, going somewhere, to do something dangerous."

This interest in Westerns and in the Western mystique also relates to the boys' growing awareness of conceptions of manhood. The hero of the Western film classic demonstrates bravery, determination, and resolve, masculine ideals to which the Bedwetters aspire. Interestingly enough, however, The Professionals does not follow the example of Western classics, but rather deviates to adopt a more modern and complex interpretation. The main characters in The Professionals differ from those in classic Western movies. The characters are fundamentally isolated from society, and they are bound together by their rescue mission, with each character contributing a distinct ability to their collective effort. Teft, for example, contributes his driving ability and criminal talents. In this way the movie presents the boys with a more nuanced perspective on the hero of the American West. While they strive to develop the qualities of a classical Western hero, they identify with the misfits in The Professionals, who struggle to find meaning in their mission and in their relationships with one another, rather than in society at large.

In these chapters in particular, the author creates a powerful sense of place, both by referencing and depicting in detail actual Arizona towns, mountains, and landmarks, and by vividly describing not only the physical traits of the land but also the general atmosphere and emotional effect of this land. In Chapter 6, as they pass through ghost towns, he writes, "Down, down the pickup dropped, exhaust popping, over the ashes of Chinamen and miners, over the graves of whores and gamblers, away from the acid stink of greed and into the innocent night."

Cotton's determination becomes particularly apparent in this part of the novel. Swarthout recounts Cotton's first realization about his duties to lead, writing, "Cotton lay thinking. Is this the time. What've I got to work with. I teeth- grinder. A head-banger. Two actual bedwetters. A nail-biter and overeater. And a thumb-sucker and bad-dreamer. And they all sleep with radios and talk in their sleep. I'm the only one normal out of six. I'm the only one who can do it. And if I don't now, it'll be too late. So get the lead out. Get the show on the road." From this passage, Cotton demonstrates a sense of obligation toward his fellow campers. Despite the group's initial disunity and lack of potential, Cotton seems to develop faith in them as the story progresses, thinking at one point, "We'll go home supermen, I swear to God."

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