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Dicey's Song

Cynthia Voigt

Chapter 7

Chapter 6

Chapter 8

Summary

The following Monday, Mr. Chappelle prepares to hand back the essays by lecturing them on the common mistakes contained in the essays. Dicey finds herself musing on teachers' hypocrisy in confining their feedback on students' work to grades and then stating that grades do not matter. First, however, he takes the time to read two of the essays to the class. The first essay he reads is Mina's, which she has cleverly written about herself, exploring the ways in which she appears happy and decisive but privately is sad and confused, and the ways in which she appears friendly and unselfish while inside is proudly congratulating herself for being such a good person. The class, Dicey included, admires Mina's essay for both its humor and its depth, and Dicey's interest in Mina is further piqued.

Next, he reads Dicey's essay, a mournful and poetic remembrance of Momma and the tragic way in which she slowly lost her grip on reality. When he finishes reading, the class is hushed by the sad and beautifully written story. Mr. Chappelle dispels their amazement by announcing that he is certain the essay has been plagiarized, and at the very least has not met the requirement of being about a real person. Mina stands up suddenly, declaring that the essay is not plagiarized, arguing that Dicey does not care enough about grades or her peers' opinions to cheat on an assignment. Mr. Chappelle stands transfixed, unable to tell the popular and confident girl to sit down. Mina proceeds to cross-examine Dicey. First she asks Dicey whether she wrote the essay and whether it is about someone she knows, and Dicey responds in the positive to both questions. Mr. Chappelle is unconvinced by Dicey's answers. But when Mina asks Dicey if the paper is about one of her relatives, Dicey's chin goes up and she refuses to answer. When Mina prods her, Dicey states that she is thinking about sailing. Class is over and the students begin to leave, but Mr. Chappelle, now convinced of the legitimacy of Dicey's paper, apologetically returns it to Dicey, promising to change the grade.

At home that night, Gram wrenches the story from Dicey, and appreciatively reads the essay. She takes Dicey aside later that night to explain to her the importance of reaching out to people around her, reflecting on the mistakes she made when she was married, such as allowing her husband's hardness to drive her children away, never doing anything to counteract his coldness and rigidity, and never reaching out to him or to her children. She tells Dicey that the paper she has written is a type of reaching out to the people in her school, and that she should continue to reach out even though her attempt has been met with such harsh repercussions. Dicey is suddenly bowled over with affection and happiness when she realizes that Gram is reaching out to her. Uplifted and resolved, Dicey phones Mina and thanks her for her support in class that day, finally reaching out to the friendly and clever girl.

Analysis

Just as Gram hides her past from the children, Dicey hides her past from the world around her. Dicey chokes back her assertion that she fed her siblings for an entire summer on a diet such as the one she described in her assignment, because it would mean admitting that she and her siblings survived very difficult circumstances. Dicey refuses to admit explicitly that her English paper was about her Momma because this admission would be a similar acknowledgement of the pain, sorrow, and disappointment in her recent past. Dicey's reluctance to acknowledge her vulnerability and her painful past limit her ability to connect with others, and thus, she learns to spurn contact with outsiders. Proudly, she would rather be alone or accept an F on an assignment than defend herself by telling her painful story.

Chapter 7 extends the characterization of teachers as representatives of a dull and unfeeling adult world. Miss Eversleigh, at least, took the time to defend her own understanding of what is important in life when she lectured her class about the validity of learning domestic skills as a part of being able to look after oneself. But Mr. Chappelle is hypocritical in expressing the importance of learning from the essays, because he confines his feedback to a letter grade and has a small-minded suspicion of Dicey's work. Mr. Chappelle seems enslaved by and unaware of the conventions around him. Even Mr. Chappelle's name, reminiscent of a chapel or church, suggests his devotion to principles and dogma constructed by society. Just as Miss Eversleigh does not consider the possibility that Dicey has already successfully fed and cared for her family, Mr. Chappelle does not entertain the possibility that Dicey's family has suffered directly from the mental illness of a family member. Both teachers judge Dicey according to their limited preconceptions about what goes on in the life of a young person.

Dicey's decision to write the essay about her mother demonstrates her desire to, as Gram suggests, reach out to the school. First of all, her decision to do so hinges not only upon her innate desire to tell her mother's story, but her desire to write something beautiful that will impress her classmates, despite what Mina says about Dicey not caring at all about their opinions. Dicey experiences the conflict about which the essays were written: she keeps herself locked away, tucked in the corner of the classroom, speaking only when called upon and then only reluctantly and tersely. At the same time, Dicey also wants to unfold herself, her stories, and her abilities in front of them. Similarly, Maybeth wants to make music because she can, because of the joy of creating such beauty, and because of the joy of sharing it with others. Secondly, Dicey writes the essay because at some level she wants her classmates, to know her story so that she can open up to them. So far, Dicey has turned against any friendly advances, partially because she understands the risk involved in accepting such advances. Friendships lead to learning about each other, and Dicey has grown accustomed to her peers scorning and passing judgment on her background. By sharing a little bit of her history, Dicey is paving the way for connecting with the other students in her school.

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