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Part Two, Chapters 7–8

Summary Part Two, Chapters 7–8

As the Tillerman children approach their grandmother's house and make their first entrance into her life, tropes and bits of dialogue from earlier in the novel surface again. When Dicey leaves her siblings to wait for her while she makes an exploratory foray to their grandmother's house, Dicey leaves the younger children in James' charge, using exactly the words Momma used to leave the children in Dicey's charge. This repetition emphasizes the fact that even as they reach out for their grandmother's help, the children are re-experiencing the moment of their abandonment and are feeling the anxiety that they will once again be abandoned, in the form of their grandmother's rejection. So strong is this anxiety that James takes Maybeth out to their grandmother's farm himself, perhaps half afraid that Dicey will abandon them as Momma did. Similarly, when Dicey returns and finds her siblings missing, the cold realization of her deepest fears of abandonment washes over her as she desperately searches the docks and surrounding sidewalks.

In keeping with the parallel between the beginning of the book and the first meeting between the Tillerman children and their grandmother is the recurrence of the Hansel and Gretel trope. After Momma left them in the station wagon, James told the younger children the story of Hansel and Gretel, evoking their soon-to-be-realized fears of hostile and predatory adults. Their grandmother, with her disconcerting talk of eating babies and her pointed gaze at the children as she steams the crabs, explicitly suggests the image of the child- eating witch of Hansel and Gretel. Her curt refusal of the children once again represents the inhospitableness and hostility of the adult world toward children.

At the same time, the return of all these tropes and structures do not foreshadow the same type of outcome as before. Dicey has come close to understanding and mimicking Momma, but has clearly and consciously put that possibility away from her. Her grandmother, with her sharp tongue and forthright ways, is no Cousin Eunice. Indeed, as she and Dicey square off, stubborn and proud, we see that Dicey has met her match in her grandmother. This realization, along with the freedom the children experience so close to the sea, convince Dicey that, whether their grandmother knows it or not, this place is right for them. They are no longer the children that Momma left in the parking lot, and they will not be abandoned or rejected so easily this time.