"Jess drew the way some people drank whiskey. The peace would start at the top of his muddled brain and seep down through his tired and tensed-up body. Lord, he loved to draw. Animals, mostly. Not regular animals like Miss Bessie and the chickens, but crazy animals with problems—for some reason he liked to put his beasts into impossible fixes He would like to show his drawings to his dad, but he didn't dare. When he was in first grade, he told his father than he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. He'd thought he would be pleased. He wasn't. 'What are they teaching in that damn school?' he had asked. 'Bunch of old ladies turning my son into some kind of a—' He had stopped on the word, but Jess had gotten the message. It was one you didn't forget, even after four years."
This passage comes near the beginning of Chapter 2, before we ever meet Leslie, when we're just getting to know Jess. Jess's artistry is one of the key factors in his character: it is one thing that distinguishes him throughout, which makes it clear that he is special. Yet, despite the fact that it is his passion, he receives very little support from anyone; his father, in particular, as is evidenced by the above quote, is disdainful of such a "non-masculine" pursuit and would like him to simply eliminate that passion from his heart. This is probably why Jess likes to draw animals in "impossible fixes." It is a reflection of his own hopelessly conflicted heart when it comes to the subject of art. By putting his worries down on paper and then putting a humorous twist on them, he is attempting to work out his own anxiety and put it into perspective. A love and skill for art are born in him, an inextricable part of who he is; he could no more change it than he could change the color of his hair. His family's attempts, conscious and unconscious, to repress this symbolize a much larger issue, their myriad demands of conformity in so many aspects of his life. Jess's struggle to find himself against the current of his family's expectations of him are crystallized in the above passage.