You should never hate anyone, even your worst enemies. Everyone has something good about them. You have to find the redeeming quality and love the person for that.

Mom says this quote to Jeannette after Jeannette admonishes Erma for her racist language and attitudes. This quotation encapsulates Mom’s belief that everyone deserves compassion regardless of their behavior, a philosophy that puts the feelings of others above personal safety. For example, Mom extends compassion and understanding to Dad’s reckless alcoholic behavior despite the pain he causes her and the danger he puts both her and their children in. She later encourages Jeannette to allow Uncle Stanley to molest her simply because he is lonely, again asserting that trauma and pain entitle people to hurt others. In this way, Mom equates setting healthy and protective boundaries with lacking empathy. This philosophy allows Mom to avoid confrontation with the many people who hurt Jeannette throughout the novel and also justify her own selfishness. Mom describes herself as an “excitement addict,” meaning that the children must therefore accept her shortcomings just as they excuse Dad’s alcohol addiction. As Jeannette grows older, she learns how to practice empathy and compassion without sacrificing her wellbeing.