Shortly before Thanksgiving, cold weather sets in, and Dicey finds, when she receives her report card in class, that she has earned an F in home economics and an inexplicable C+ in English. She stops after school to ask Jeff about the consequences of flunking an elective, and he assures her that only her grade in English really matters. When Gram signs the report card that night, she asks Dicey about the grades, and Dicey explains how much she despises home economics and assures Gram that the English grade is a mistake which she will rectify. Gram appears to be satisfied with Dicey's response and trusts her to take care of the issues. Later that week, Jeff appears in Millie's store while Dicey is working. He tries to engage her in conversation, but she, as always, is terse with him, and he leaves quickly.
Jeff's appearance piques Millie's curiosity, causing Millie to ask Dicey if Jeff is her boyfriend. Although Dicey scoffs at this idea, Millie recalls how Gram became John Tillerman's sweetheart, despite the fact that almost all the girls wanted to date John. She then remembers Gram as a young mother, with her three children running a race on the boardwalk of Crisfield. She then remembers Gram, at six years old, deciding that her older sister, Cilla was stupid and unlikable, an opinion which she never retracted. Sammy appears at the store to ride home with Dicey, explaining that he missed the bus because he was in detention. Dicey casually asks him why he was in detention, and he narrates how he lost a bet with a boy and, as a result, had to kiss a girl in his class, who screamed at the top of her lungs when she was kissed. That night, Dicey watches with tenuous excitement as Maybeth successfully reads a Dr. Seuss book.
The next day, Sammy is covered in bruises from getting in a fight on the bus, and he stubbornly refuses to explain the cause of his fighting. Though he is in trouble, Sammy seems happy, and his face shines as he jokes with his family over the dinner table about the merits of chickens. The next day in home economics class, Miss Eversleigh asks the girls to plan meals for a family of four with a certain amount of money. Dicey, who kept her family fed on almost nothing the previous summer, confidently completes her work, only to have Miss Eversleigh angrily give the paper an F, accusing Dicey of writing menus upon which no one could live for long. Dicey is ready to exclaim to the woman that her family in fact did survive on such fare for an entire summer, but she bites her tongue. The irate teacher marches to the front of the room and gives a speech to the class about the importance of domestic skills, which, she argues, are on an equal par with athletic, social, and intellectual skills. Dicey uses the time to think about Sammy and her boat.
Dicey, like her brothers and sister, has only a partial understanding of her family's past, as both of her major sources of information, Momma and Gram, guard their painful memories proudly and closely. Thus, the children resort to a sort of genealogical archeology, leaping upon and analyzing fragments of their family history whenever they surface. This project, along with adjusting to the challenges they face in their school lives and the challenge of holding on to each other, also engages their time and attention throughout the book. The attic serves as one source of historical artifacts and Millie serves as another. Dicey listens, engrossed, as Millie recounts two memories of Gram as a young woman and as a child. The children, who are just beginning to embark upon the world, look hungrily to their forebears as a means of better understanding themselves and their tendencies and as a means of gaining wisdom and avoiding mistakes.
Chapter 6 highlights a theme common to young adult novels: the inefficacy of adults. Young adult novels, which focus almost by definition upon the problems and adventures of young people, often depict young people facing challenging situations that occurred because of uncaring or ignorant adults. The young protagonists of such novels tend to resist the mores and conventions of the adult world, which are stultifying and unjust. Dicey's Momma and to some extent Gram put her in challenging situations and fail her in some ways, but neither Gram and Momma represent individuals who are fully part of the adult hegemony. As such, they do not embody the villainous or dull adults that often represent the bad side of the adult world.
Dicey's teacher, Miss Eversleigh, however, does represent the stupidity, conformity, and smallness of the adult world. Miss Eversleigh expects Dicey to adhere to her understanding of proper behavior. Dicey believes that such behavior consists of feigning interest in and devoting time to useless subjects, trying to impress people in positions of authority, and seeking eagerly after meaningless rewards. Miss Eversleigh makes the mistake of not taking the time to understand Dicey and of judging her by her impressions of her. She criticizes the young girl's nutrition paper without even being able to fathom that Dicey has already borne the entire responsibility for feeding her entire family. To Dicey, who spurns conventions and hotly resents the human tendency to judge according to impressions, this adult has committed a mortal grievance.
Chapter 6 also illustrates the instability inherent in Dicey's endeavor of holding onto her family members. Just as Maybeth appears to be making progress, Sammy lands himself in the middle of a new problem. During her trip to Crisfield, Dicey had but one, albeit major, responsibility: to get her siblings safely to a home in which they felt free to be themselves. Once she had achieved this goal, she felt her work was done. In Crisfield, however, Dicey finds that her work is not so clear-cut. Her goal now is to hold on to her siblings and to prevent them from drifting away from her, but, as Gram has pointed out to her, holding on means becoming involved in their problems, which are never fully solved. Holding on means becoming involved in her siblings' processes of becoming, a process which will continue for their entire lives.
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