Summary: Chapter 6: Wind, Sand and Stars

Boris finds an older girlfriend whom he nicknames Kotku, an eighteen-year-old with whom he becomes obsessed. Theo misses Boris as he’s hanging out with Kotku so much, but Theo sometimes wonders about their friendship, especially its occasional homosexual overtones. Larry now bets on sports, so he and Theo watch football together, something that pleases them both. One day, Theo looks up The Goldfinch online at school and panics when it shows up on a Missing Art Database. Sometimes, he takes the painting out and stares at the bird’s small, shiny eyes and the tiny chain on its ankle.

Larry offers to open a bank account for Theo and asks for his social security number. One day, a man named Naaman Silver shows up at the door looking for Larry, who owes him money. Unnerved and fearful that the painting may not be safe in the house, Theo wraps it up and stores it in his locker at school but later brings it back home. During this time, Theo and Boris sniff glue, drink heavily, and start taking LSD. Boris becomes jealous of Kotku’s flirting with other boys, so he hits her. When the two make up soon after, Theo feels disgusted. When Theo does see Boris, they continue to drink and take drugs, including LSD.

One day, Larry asks Theo to call a Mr. Bracegirdle, Audrey’s lawyer, and ask for $65,000 to go to boarding school. Larry says he needs the money to buy into a restaurant with a friend. When Theo refuses, Larry hits him in the face and demands that he make the call or he’ll break his arm. Stunned, Theo calls, but Bracegirdle says it’s impossible. He tells Theo that twice someone has tried to withdraw from the account that his mother set up for his education. Also, someone has tried to open a line of credit using Theo’s social security number. When Theo hangs up, Larry howls and cries, and Theo hides upstairs.

When Boris and Theo take acid on the playground, Boris confides that Larry has told him that Theo owns a fortune. He also tells Theo that his own father is leaving for Australia but that he’s not going. One day, Silver returns with a man with a baseball bat and threatens Larry if he doesn’t pay his debt. Larry flees in his car, drunk, and crashes and dies. When Xandra passes out after hearing about Larry’s death, Boris and Theo go into her room, where Theo finds his mother’s earrings. They steal cash and a canister of cocaine. Theo decides to leave for New York immediately. He takes the painting, some personal items, and Saint-Exupéry’s book Wind, Sand and Stars. Theo then takes Popper and begs Boris to go with him. Boris pleads with Theo to stay in Las Vegas but knows it’s no use. Before Theo leaves in a cab, Boris kisses Theo, and Theo wishes he’d told Boris that he loves him.

The cab driver gives Theo advice about hiding Popper on the bus. Theo describes the long trip across the United States, including Kansas, his mother’s home state. In St. Louis, when a bus driver sees Popper, she nearly throws Theo and the dog off the bus but doesn’t. When Theo arrives in New York City, he tries to walk to the Barbours. Surprisingly, he sees Mr. Barbour in Central Park, but when he approaches him, Mr. Barbour seems to be in the throes of a psychotic episode and does not recognize Theo. Afraid to sleep on the street, Theo takes a cab to Hobie’s shop, where Pippa opens the door. Hobie is thrilled, welcomes Theo, and feeds him. Hobie makes Theo call Xandra to say that he’s safe. In a tense conversation, Xandra angrily tells him that he’s just like his father, that she knows he stole her things, and that she wants his address. Theo tells her to call Mr. Bracegirdle and hangs up, her accusation stuck in his head. He sleeps in a soft bed, surrounded by the antiques he loves. 

Analysis: Chapter 6

The most important aspect of Chapter 6 is the distance that grows between Theo and Boris, culminating in their physical separation when Theo returns to New York. Their codependent relationship changes when Boris finds a girlfriend. Kotku is the catalyst, but the two boys face several moments where they simply do not agree. For example, Boris hits Kotku, but the couple reconcile and agree that they love each other even more, an act that shocks Theo. Boris’s obsession with Kotku is physical, whereas Theo’s obsession with Pippa is emotional and intellectual. Theo loves Boris like a brother and perhaps a bit like a lover. When Theo muses about their physical relationship while they are both drunk, stoned, or high, he wonders about its nature, but the two boys never talk about it directly. When Boris kisses Theo goodbye, he seems to be mirroring some of Theo’s thoughts about their relationship.

In contrast to the troubled, messy, and toxic relationship Theo has with Boris and with Larry, Hobie is a healthy parental figure, someone who represents safety and security. Theo’s heart aches with gratitude when Hobie answers the door. At their reunion, Hobie’s hug is strong and fatherly and allows Theo to feel emotions that he’s been holding in since his own father’s sudden death. For Theo, Hobie is sanctuary. He is happy to be back at the antique shop, a place that feels like home. Like a good parent, Hobie feeds Theo and puts him to bed. He also demands that Theo do the right thing and call Xandra to let her know that he’s safe, showing his maturity and integrity. Hobie is the father Theo has never had but always wanted.

The title of this chapter comes from a 1939 memoir by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which describes the author’s work for an airmail carrier that flew across the African Sahara and the South American Andes. Similarly, the desert setting of this chapter is significant. Many details about the sand, the heat, and the vastness play important roles in this part of the narrative. Exupéry’s novel explores themes about friendship, death, and the meaning of life, which are key ideas in The Goldfinch too. Tartt uses titles such as this to highlight or reveal parts and themes of Theo’s life. As with the painting itself, art imitates life imitates art.

The painting The Goldfinch takes another journey in Chapter 6. From its hidden spot in Theo’s room, safe from Larry and Xandra’s sight, Theo moves it because he is afraid that Silver might search the house and find it. Theo finds solace in looking at the painting from time to time, for it brings his mother back to him in the most tangible way possible. He constantly considers where the safest place is to store the painting, and it’s one of the few items he takes with him to New York. The painting continues to represent Theo’s innermost thoughts and fears, and with him, readers get a deeper look inside Theo’s heart and mind. The bird has a tiny chain around its leg, so it cannot fly very far. The delicate bird is trapped, much like Theo is, in its own small world.

This chapter also describes a dramatic uptick in violence and drug use. Theo is physically victimized by his father, who slaps him, hits him in the face with his fist, and threatens to break his arm if he does not call the lawyer for money. Boris, who has been beaten earlier in the novel, now hits his girlfriend, extending the cycle of victim-turned-abuser. Like his father, Boris feels sorry afterward and tries to make amends. The boys fight often, always bordering on a kind of rough sexuality that neither admits openly. Their drug use moves up the ladder of recreational drugs. What begins with beer turns to vodka. Vicodin turns to cocaine. Cigarettes turn to marijuana. In this chapter, they share LSD. Neither boy is finding a true way out of his pain and struggle.