Shortly before entering the fifth grade, Dave decides that there is no God: he’s convinced that no God would let Mother beat him. On the surface, Dave has learned to appear calm and emotionless, even when Mother beats him, but deep down, he hates Mother. He no longer dreams about being Superman, flying away from his misery. The words “hope” and “faith” have no meaning for him. He’s become so desperate for survival that he doesn’t care about humiliating himself—if necessary he’ll eat half-eaten scraps out of the garbage can. There is so little joy in Dave’s life that he becomes jealous and angry when he hears the sounds of other kids playing in the sun.
The chapter begins on a note of total hopelessness: Dave has given up on God, since no God would subject him to so much misery and pain. Dave hasn’t just given up on God; he’s given up on the possibility that life will ever get any better for him. Perhaps even more tragically, Dave has come to distrust the very concept of happiness—there’s so little happiness in his own life that he resents his peers and classmates when he can see that they’re enjoying themselves.
Dave thinks about killing Mother, and making her feel his pain and loneliness. He also despises Father for being a coward and failing to protect him from Mother. Sometimes, when Mother argues with Father, she forces Dave to repeat Father’s words from previous arguments. Dave understands that Mother is trying to turn Father against him. Meanwhile, Dave has ceased to feel any familial connection with his brothers. They take turns hitting him, and think of him as the “family slave.” Dave has no love for anyone in his life—hate is the only emotion he has left. He even hates himself for being too weak and frightened to stand up to Mother.
After years of abuse, Dave is full of frustration and rage. In part, he directs his rage outward at his parents—and with good reason. In retrospect, however, Pelzer seems to understand that his brothers aren’t to blame for hitting Dave—Mother has manipulated them into hating him. Even more tragically, though, Dave has come to despise himself—his only dream is to fight back against Mother, and so he hates himself for being too small and frightened to do so.
At school, Dave’s classmates bully and tease him. A girl named Aggie regularly tells him to “drop dead,” and complains that he smells awful. In the fifth grade, when Dave and his classmates take a field trip to a San Francisco clipper ship, Dave walks to the bow of the ship, and Aggie whispers, “I know all about you Pelzer, and jumping is your only way out.” Aggie’s friend John agrees and urges Dave to jump off the ship. Dave feels a powerful urge to jump, but his “better senses” keep him from doing so.
Mother’s cruelty toward Dave leads other people to treat him cruelly; because she forces him to wear the same clothes day after day, Dave’s classmates come to despise him and even urge him to kill himself. But in spite of his misery, Dave continues to believe that his life is worth living—suggesting that, on some level, he believes in the possibility that life will get better.
In fifth grade, Dave’s teacher is Mr. Ziegler. Unlike some of the other teachers, Ziegler makes an effort to treat Dave like a “normal kid,” not a “problem kid.” After Dave wins a competition to come up with a catchy slogan for the school newspaper, Ziegler makes a point of praising Dave, and even writes Mother a letter complimenting Dave. Mother reads the letter and laughs derisively. She tells Dave that she hates him, and adds, “You are a nobody! An It!” Even though he’s used to Mother’s cruelty, Dave is stunned—he can sense that Mother isn’t being mean to him simply because she’s drinking—she sincerely and deeply despises Dave. In this moment, Dave wishes that he could die.
Unlike many of the other teachers at school, Mr. Ziegler doesn’t think of Dave as a problem kid; on the contrary, he recognizes that Dave is smart and bright, and encourages Dave. Mother seems to compensate for Mr. Ziegler’s praise by trying to debase Dave still further. By calling Dave “It,” Mother dehumanizes her own child, treating Dave like a mere object, which Mother can hurt and abuse whenever and however she pleases.
In the coming weeks, Dave begins doing his chores more and more carelessly. He wants Mother to know “I didn’t care anymore.” Once, when Mother takes Dave to a grocery store, he shouts and acts out; later, Mother hits Dave, and gets her other children to hit him, too. Back at home, she mixes ammonia and Clorox and forces Dave to clean the bathroom with the door closed. Dave stays in the bathroom until he feels that he’s going to faint. Afterwards, Dave stops rebelling.
Dave tries to rebel against Mother in bigger and more overt ways, but Mother continues to hold all the power—when she notices that Dave is trying to fight back, she abuses him even more harshly than usual, and Dave has no choice but to back down.
The only thing that keeps Dave sane is his baby brother Kevin, who he loves. Shortly before Mother gives birth to Kevin, she tries to choke Dave, and Dave fights back by kicking Mother in the stomach. Mother hisses that Dave has given her baby a birth defect. After Kevin is born, Dave isn’t allowed to see Kevin often, but whenever he does, he feels calm and happy. But deep down, Dave is frightened that one day Kevin will grow up to hate him, just like his other brothers do.
Even though Dave’s life is miserable, there are some people whom he loves deeply, such as his baby brother, Kevin. However, since 1995, Kevin, who has Bell’s palsy (a disorder which causes slurred speech, the “birth defect” Dave mentions in the passage) has spoken out against his brother’s book, suggesting that Dave exaggerated or invented many of the episodes therein (in real life, his name is Stephen).
As the holiday season approaches, Mother argues with her own mother on the phone, and then takes out her anger on Dave. She also yells at Father, calling him a “drunken loser,” and even bans him from the house for a few days. On the day that Father is supposed to come home, Mother prepares a big meal and spends hours fixing her hair and makeup. Father shows up with a friend from work, and they’re both very drunk. Dave realizes that Father has come home to pack some things—he packs and then walks out the door. As he leaves, Father tells Dave, “The whole thing, You mother, this house, you. I just can’t take it anymore … I’m sorry.”
Mother and Father begin to argue more and more frequently, to the point where it becomes clear that Father is on the verge of leaving the family altogether. Father’s words to Dave exemplify why he’s such a singularly awful parent: he’s so selfish that he seems oblivious to the fact that his wife is abusing their child (and, on some level, he seems to blame Dave for his difficulties with his wife).
That year, for Thanksgiving, Father comes to the house and Mother allows Dave to eat with the rest of the family. The dinner is silent and sad. Afterwards, Mother and Father get into a loud argument. By Christmas, they’re fighting more often than they ever have. Shortly after Christmas, Mother packs the last of Father’s things and takes them to a motel, where Father will be staying. Dave realizes that his parents are separating. Mother takes Dave and his brothers to say goodbye to Father, but forces Dave to wait in the car. Before Mother drives away, Father goes down to Dave and gives him a package—information “for a book report.” Dave sees the sadness in Father’s eyes, but also feels jealous of him for escaping from Mother. As Mother drives away, Dave begins to cry. In this moment, he hates God. Mother sneers, “You are all mine now. Too bad your father’s not here to protect you.”
Even when the family says goodbye to Father, Mother refuses to allow Dave to say goodbye along with his brothers. Father seems to make a special effort to say goodbye to Dave; however, instead of leaving him with kind words or even some memorable advice, he gives Dave some book report materials—an apt symbol for how, whenever Dave needs his father to provide love and comfort, Father disappoints him. With Father out of the picture, Mother seems to be looking forward to abusing Dave with total impunity. (The New York Times has suggested that Dave fabricated some of Mother’s dialogue in this passage.)
As Mother drives home, Dave clasps his hands together and silently prays. As the car pulls into the driveway, he ends his prayer, “… and deliver me from evil. Amen.”
Although the chapter began with the knowledge that Dave has almost given up on God, it ends with the Lord’s Prayer. In spite of his misery, Dave hasn’t entirely given up hope—he still prays for a brighter future. And, as Pelzer already established in the Prologue, Dave’s prayers are shortly answered when his teachers free him from Mother’s tyranny and place him in a foster home.