1 December 2011
Ree Dolly’s Role as Hero in Winter’s Bone
Characterization is an important aspect to look at in Daniel Woodrell’s novel on a family in the Missouri Ozarks, Winter’s Bone. The Ozarks is a unique place that helps shape the lives of anyone who lives there, no matter which side of the law you find yourself on. Ree Dolly finds herself, her family, and extended family all on the bad side of the law since illegal activities are done to support themselves in such a harsh environment. These illegal activities of her father and community start Ree on a heroes journey. She must find her father with only the help of family to save her family’s house and land.
Ree Dolly is our hero in this story and is introduced taking care of and teaching, Sonny and Harold, her 2 younger brothers. She is shown as a naive 16 year old being thrown into the roll of playing parent. Her mother is ill and her father, Jessup is not around to teach them.
On her hero’s journey, Ree is a very dynamic character, interacting with her family and extended family. At the beginning she feels shunned from her community, even though “kin ought to [help]”. (chapter 1) Everyone closes the door on her so to speak until they start letting her in on the family business. She tried to enlist in the army but couldn’t escape from the reality she knew. She has an epiphany and finally agrees with her uncle into selling the timber. In the end, with persistence, she ends up receiving help from the family that should have helped in the very beginning.
Jessup, Ree’s father, is the main cause of her journey. He comes home and abruptly leaves “promising he’d be back soon as he could with a paper sack of cash and a trunkload of delights” , however, Ree is left with the mundane tasks of chopping wood and making sure there is food on the table for everyone, which is normally the man of the house’s job. (chapter 1) He had told her to not even look for him until “you see my face.” (chapter 1) Then, when the kids get home from school, riding in Sheriff Baskins’ patrol car, the sheriff asks her if she has seen Jessup and informs her that he put the land and house up for the bail. If Jessup didn’t show up for court, they would be poor and homeless. This sets into motion her journey so she could let her dad know the “gravity of this deal.” (chapter 3)
Ree also has to take on the role of mother to the kids because her mom is pretty much useless. Something happened, whether it was drug or her lifestyle while Jessup had been imprisoned before, and the medicine that she is on isn’t helping. She can’t even participate in the raising of her kids or any chores around the house. Ree had to get Sonny and Harold ready for school even if the clothes were dirty and there was no butter to go with the grits and quizzes their knowledge like a parent should on the way to the bus stop. The kids show up home having hitched a ride from the deputy up to the Dolly’s house for which they were reprimanded by Ree to not even associate with “the law” which any true parent from the Ozarks would teach their kids. Ree later makes sure to put them under her wing so that they could learn to hunt and cook if there was ever a need for them to take care of themselves or each other by showing them how to make deer stew and how to shoot and clean squirrels.
The first stop on her heroes journey is her uncle Teardrop and Victoria, his wife, even though he scares her. Ree comes over asking if they knew where he was, but insist that they don’t and that even if they did it shouldn’t matter to her. However she continues asking for help even as far as saying, “ Jesus-fuckin’-Christ, Dad’s your only little brother!” (chapter 5) Even Victoria jumps in to defend Ree and asks Teardrop to look into helping but he got violent with Ree and gave her a mere 50 dollars to help out.
Ree did not give up but decided to relentlessly pursue her father. She decides to visit her father’s girlfriend, April Dunahew, but first has to visit with her best friend, Gail, and her husband, Floyd. While there, she realizes that she could have ended up like them: forced into marriage because of pregnancy. She tries to get Gail to use their car to go see April, but Gail reminds her that she has to convince Floyd who is in no mood to let them drive it, even after offering to pay for gas.
Still pressing on she catches the bus with the kids to go to Hawkfall despite being told not to. She finds Little Aurthur, Jessup’s partner, to see if he knows where her father is. She did all this even though Little Aurthur drugged her and raped her at one point but puts aside her own feelings to fight for her family’s house and land. Little Arthur suggests he ran off with some other woman to Memphis but shes convinced he didn’t do that so Little Arthur asks if she wants drugs and when she refuses pretty much throws her and Meg, the girl who’d walked with her to Little Arthur’s, out. Before Meg leaves, Ree starts thinking Jessup is dead and everyone is keeping her in the dark but Meg suggests going to talk to the leader of the so called extended family, Thump Milton.
Optimistic now, Ree heads up the hill to go see Thump. She arrives and is promptly greeted by Thump’s wife asking why she is there. Prior to this Jessup had been involved with their nephew and had gotten shot. Ree informs her that that wasn’t the reason for visiting but that she needed to speak to Thump about Jessup but she informs her that Thump “won’t talk much to women.” (chapter 10) So Ree suggests telling him that she is still a girl. Thump’s wife comes outside after asking if he would talk to Ree and tells her that he won’t speak to her. She drank some soup she brought out to her, handed back the soup cup, and said, “so, come the nut-cuttin’, blood don’t truly mean shit to him….You tell him Ree Dolly said that.” (chapter 10) As soon as she said that, Thump’s wife throws the cup at Dolly for such insolence.
A few minutes after she finally arrives home, she is greeted by Blond Milton. Angrily telling her how everyone is saying she needs to leave things alone. To try and appease her, he came and forcibly dragged her to the truck to show her what he said a meth cook site that blew up and killed Jessup. After they got back home from the blown up cook site she stands up and accuses him of lying because there were weeds so tall it was impossible that it was anywhere recent. At this point in the story Ree decides it’s time that she taught the boys to shoot in case something happens, since she found out Blond was lying just to keep the real truth hidden. While teaching them, because of Ree’s persistence, Gail shows up with her car to help search for Jessup in Reid’s Gap. While there, Gail and Ree went to talk to his girlfriend, April. During their talk, April tells Ree that last she had seen Jessup, some men were with him and looked like he was in trouble. On their way home Ree and Gail see Jessup’s car and chased after it but lost it after a while.
The next day, after they got home, Teardrop came over. Starting to realize he needed to help his brother’s family, he tells Ree that the police found Jessup’s car burnt to a crisp but he wasn’t in it. He also gave them some more money. He also gave her the advice of selling of the timber on their land before the bail-bondsman came to throw them out, but Ree still insists that it won’t happen. Teardrop starts reminiscing about times before when things were good and family all got along. Ree heads to town to get some groceries and is getting to the point of assuming her father is dead but trying to figure out why. “Either he stole or he told. Those are the things they kill you for.” said Gail. (chapter 15)
When they arrived home, the bail-bondsman shows up to collect the on Jessup’s bond and starts talking to Ree. He tells her of course he put the house and land up for bond but that it wasn’t enough to cover it, but that someone had come and paid his bond. He also said that Jessup didn’t seem like he wanted to get out. He tells her that she’s only got the house and land for another 30 days before he comes to get it, so she asks if there is anything to do. He gives her the idea of being able to prove Jessup is dead, that that would clear them of the debt. However, Gail, her best friend even tells her that she shouldn’t be messing around trying to get more information.
Nevertheless, Ree was still persistent and drove to Hawkfall to find Thump and talk to him. When she arrives to the Milton’s, Mrs. Milton and some other women who seemed to be closely related to the Milton’s, who turn out to be her sisters, were there waiting for her. They beat her until she couldn’t breathe or see, telling her that they warned her against digging around. They asked Ree what she wanted and she still has the gall to ask for help. At this point Thump and the men come and Thump finally asks Ree what she wanted. Ree told him that it didn’t matter who killed her father but that she needed some proof of his death so that she can keep the house and land to support her brothers and mother. Because of Ree being persistent, Teardrop races to get his niece, asking which of the men laid a hand on her. However, Mrs. Milton tells him, “no man here touched that crazy girl! I drubbed her good myself…me and my sisters.” (chapter 25) Teardrop finally vouches for Ree seeing how she stood up for herself even though none of her family would help. He then tells the clan, “if anybody lays even just one finger on that girl ever again, they better have shot me first.” (chapter 25)
After several days of bedrest and help from Gail, Teardrop takes Ree out to go look for Jessup’s body but had to go back. On their way back, Sheriff Baskins pulled him over and demanded him to get out. Teardrop had other plans though. He wanted to know who the sheriff told about his brother. This also shows how Ree’s persistence throughout her journey, has made Teardrop away that he needed to take care of family.
In the middle of the night, Mrs. Milton and her sisters came to get Ree to take her to where her dad was. They took her to where he was and helped her to cut off his hands with a chainsaw as proof that Jessup was dead. This would then satisfy the bail-bondsman’s needs for satisfying Jessup’s debt. The next day she gives the hands to the bail-bondsman as proof of his death. Her persistence is really shown in what he says. He told her, “I don’t know how you did it kid. How you got out ther’n run down the proof and all.” (chapter 35) This really shows that she was loyal to the only family she had and that through persistence taught all of her family a real lesson.
Woodrell, Daniel. Winter’s Bone: a Novel. New York: Little, Brown and, 2006.