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Daniel Woodrell creates a protagonist in his novel, Winter’s Bone, who is prideful, resilient and would do anything to preserve her own kin and blood. Woodrell also allows the reader to see her weaknesses, making identification with her character easily done. Ree Dolly faces challenges at a young age that most children her age could never endure. Her father, Jessup Dolly, disappears and leaves her as the head of the household to take care of two younger brothers, Harold and Sonny, and a mother who is mentally absent, and she eventually learns that her family will lose their home if her father does not return. Ree sets out on an adventure to find her father, and on her journey, she exhibits qualities, such as stubbornness, bravery, pride and independence, that inspire the reader to long for her success.
Once the circumstances of her situation unravel, Ree is a character who a reader will instantly want to pity and admire at the same time. She is a sixteen-year-old girl who is immediately forced into adulthood by taking charge of an abandoned family of four. Ree has dreams to leave the world she was born into and save herself, but throughout the novel she grows into a character who would sacrifice anything for her family, even if leaving them behind would shed her of the burdens they bring. At the end of her journey, Ree has a conversation with her younger brother where she affirms that she would never leave them on their own: “Harold said, ‘Does this mean you’re leavin’?” “’I ain’t leavin’ you boys. Why do you think that?’” “’We heard you once, talkin’ ‘bout the army and places we wouldn’t be. Are you wantin’ to leave us?’” “’Naw. I’d get lost without the weight of you two on my back’” (Woodrell 193). Although the situation is resolved and her family does not face the threat of their house being taken away, Ree’s loyalty and bonds with her family keep her from packing up and leaving them behind. Jessup puts their family home and land up for bond, and leaves Ree, who is only a child, to clean up his mess. Ree handles her situation with strength and resilience, while also staying loyal to her family. She embarks her journey, despite her fears, by traveling to the homes of hostile and intimidating family members who surprisingly lead her to her father after much perseverance. “She’d start with Uncle Teardrop, though Uncle teardrop scared her” (Woodrell 20). Ree is part of a community of crank cooks and dealers who are difficult to reason with, and resort to violence and hostility before ever exposing secrets or the whereabouts of someone in their corner. Uncle Teardrop warns Ree about searching for her father when he says to never “’go down around Hawkfall askin’ them people shit about stuff they ain’t offerin’ to talk about’” (Woodrell 25). Despite Teardrop’s warnings, Ree’s stubbornness pushes her to continue on her journey. She bravely sets out to Hawkfall, alone, entering territory that no other would ever set foot in. While her motivation to put herself in dangerous situations is admirable and brave, it is also a weakness she exhibits. Ree finds herself at the door of Thump Milton begging for answers about her father. Thump Milton’s wife warns her to never return, but Ree reappears later in the novel desperate to find her father and save her family home. When Thump Milton’s wife refuses to help her, the strong ties she has to her family and blood are evident when she says “’…I am Dolly! Some of our blood at least is the same. That’s s’posed to mean somethin’- ain’t that what is always said?’” (Woodrell 59). Her reappearance to Hawkfall led to major consequences that she should have seen coming her way after the warnings that her family had given her. She risks her life by putting herself in harmful situations while searching for the truth and suffers a beating that leaves her helpless and unable to move off of the ground. Another weakness that Ree exhibits is her pride. Ree lives in an impoverished community where necessities such as food and money are hard for her to obtain, and she must find ways to fend for her family without appearing weak to those around her. In the beginning of the novel, Ree’s younger brothers complain about their lack of food and their hope that someone will bring supply food for their home. After listening to their discontent, she grabs her brother by the ear and tells him to “never ask for what ought to be offered” (Woodrell 5). Ree’s father not only placed her house up for bond, but he also placed the timber on his land up for it too. Her pride comes into play when her uncle advises her to “sell off that Bromont Timber now while [she] can,” and she refuses to do so, even though it could support her family if her home is repossessed by the government due to her father’s inability to appear in court (Woodrell 112). She refuses to tear apart a home that has been in her family for generations.
Although the author depicts Ree as a brave and resilient character throughout the novel, he also offers instances of weakness to allow the reader to identify with her more realistically, and to remind the readers that she is only a child. Ree appears to be strong and able to conquer anything that life throws at her, but she is only human and all humans have their own weaknesses. Ree takes care of her family as the head of her household, which is a job normally carried out by a mother or a father, two people whom Ree lacks in her life. There is an occasion in the novel when Ree takes her mother out to a field and falls to her knees and says, “’ Mom, I’m goin’ to need you to help. There’s things happenin’ that I don’t know what to do about’” (Woodrell 118). Throughout the novel, it is easy to forget that Ree is only a child who is living in a world where she must act as an adult and fend for herself. This occasion allows the reader to remember the circumstances of her situation, and relate to her moment of weakness, because no one can face everything on their own. At the end of the novel, Thump Milton’s wife and her sisters appear at Ree’s doorstep offering to bring her to father’s body. She is hesitant to trust them after the beating they gave her, but she realizes that she has nothing left to lose and submits to their offer. The women drive her to a remote location where she must pull her father’s body out of a frozen lake. The women ask her to cut off her father’s hands in order to prove his death to the authorities to save her home, but she refuses. “’Here’s the chain saw.’” “’What?” “’How else you goin’ to get his hands? They’ll know its him by his hands.’” “Oh, no, shit. No’” (Woodrell 185). The author writes this scene to remind the readers that Ree is not as fearless as she depicts herself to be, and that she is only a child.
Ree Dolly is a character that is easy to like and admire because of her strengths and weaknesses combined. The author puts Ree in positions where her admirable qualities will shine through the darkness that she is enduring. Throughout her journey to save her family and find her father, she exhibits qualities that no other sixteen year old child could ever display. She faces challenges that show her bravery and independence, while never failing to uphold her loyalty to her family. Her weaknesses and strengths both shape her into a relatable character, proving that a person can be incredibly brave and fearless, while also being scared of what the future may bring.
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