Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours

by

Lisa Wingate

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Before We Were Yours: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Miss Dodd unlocks the basement door and cheerfully greets Rill, Lark, and Fern. Miss Dodd is a new worker and is nicer than the others, so Rill hopes Miss Dodd might tell her where Camellia is. One of the older boys told Rill that he heard Mrs. Murphy tell Mr. Riggs that Camellia died in the closet, but Rill didn’t believe it. Rill hopes that Miss Dodd will tell her the truth. Miss Dodd can smell that Fern wet the bed again and Rill begs her not to tell anyone. To herself, Rill notes that it’s been four days since Gabion left with the couple and since Camellia was taken away, which means Lark and Fern are all that she has left, and Rill is terrified of them getting punished. Miss Dodd sees how scared Rill is and agrees not to tell anyone about the wet bed.
Losing Camellia and Gabion makes Rill even more protective over Fern and Lark, and all the more terrified of losing them. As Rill loses her siblings, she loses ties to her past and is forced to question her own identity, since she always defined herself in terms of caring for her family.
Themes
Personal Identity Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Rill worries that Miss Dodd—who has four little siblings to support—might get in trouble for hiding the mess, but likes that she can rely on Miss Dodd. On the way upstairs, Miss Dodd asks Mr. Riggs to mix up some cleaner so she can clean the bed. She tells him the basement isn’t a good place for the kids to be sleeping and he agrees. Miss Dodd tells him that he’s a good man and Rill realizes Miss Dodd doesn’t know anything about Riggs. Rill starts to wonder if Camellia really is dead and remembers the last thing Briny told her: “You watch over the babies, Rill.” She notes that even her name sounds strange now because everyone calls her May, and she wonders if “Rill” is on the river with her family or if she ever existed at all. Rill starts running and momentarily feels like herself again.
Rill notes that her own name is starting to feel unfamiliar because everyone calls her May now. This is an example of how the real-life Tann was able to rewrite children’s histories—she not only separated them from all ties to their pasts, but by forcing them to go by new names Tann made the children question their real identities. This disconnect made them easier to adopt out to wealthy parents.
Themes
Personal Identity Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Rill runs around the yard until she hears Fern and Stevie screaming. She rescues them from an older boy who’s twisting Stevie’s arm and starts walking away with them. Suddenly Rill realizes that Lark is missing. She asks Fern where Lark is, and Stevie tells her a lady has her. Rill tells them to stay by the teeter-totter and then runs into the house just in time to see a couple step out with Lark. Just as Rill is about to come forward, Miss Dodd pulls her into the kitchen and tells her she must let Lark go with her new parents. Desperate to stop the adoption, Rill tells Miss Dodd everything about being kidnapped and life at the orphanage, including her fear that Camellia died in a closet. Miss Dodd is stunned and tells Rill to stay strong while she “make[s] this right.”
If Rill got the attention of Lark’s adoptive parents, then she would have inevitably been punished by Mrs. Murphy or Tann, but doing so might have also brought Tann’s crimes to light if the couple believed Rill. However, Dodd stops Rill from stepping forward and Rill is forced to see another sibling  taken away without being able to stop it. Miss Dodd’s claim that she will “make this right,” brings up the question of how it could be made right—Rill and her siblings are already traumatized and most of them have been taken away or disappeared without a trace. In other words, the damage has already been done, and none of the Foss children will ever be the same again.
Themes
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
That night Fern is inconsolable and begs to see Lark. Rill loses patience with Fern and threatens to spank her, which terrifies Fern. Suddenly, Rill realizes what she’s doing, turns away, and pulls on her own hair until it hurts. To herself, Rill says she wants to feel a new kind of pain that can end instead of the pain she feels now that just goes on and on and is turning her into a new, unfamiliar person. Rill collapses on a cot and Fern silently sits next to her, patting her back until Rill falls asleep.
Rill’s helplessness and fear turn to guilt and then anger. Fern’s cries for Lark seem like accusations to Rill, because she feels guilty for letting so many of her siblings get taken away after Briny told her to take care of them—even though there’s nothing she could have done to save them. Rill is unable to cope with this trauma and it transforms her into a much bitterer, angrier person than she ever was before.
Themes
Personal Identity Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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When Rill wakes up, she’s happy to see that Fern used the “slop pot” instead of wetting the bed and hurries to fix the cot. Mrs. Murphy appears and tells Rill she’s not going anywhere. Murphy grabs Rill by her hair and chastises her for telling lies about life in the orphanage and Mr. Riggs. Murphy tells her that Miss Dodd has been fired and her siblings will be taken by Tann because of what Rill said. Murphy says Rill needs “some time alone,” throws her to the floor, and grabs Fern. Murphy tells Rill that if she argues, Fern will be punished, and then locks Rill in the room. Rill waits all day, but nobody comes to feed her, nor does Fern come back. The next day Mrs. Pulnik brings water, but it’s three days before she gives Rill food.
Miss Dodd is punished for trying to do the right thing after hearing Rill’s story of abuse and forced separation. Instead of physically hurting Dodd, Tann takes her siblings away. This highlights how perceptive Tann is—she knows how to find out a person’s weak spot and attack them there to punish them for threatening her business at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
Themes
Injustice and Class Divisions Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Rill loses count of how many days she stays in the basement before Mrs. Pulnik brings her to Mrs. Murphy’s office. Pulnik throws Rill to the floor in front of Tann and Murphy. Tann tells Rill she is a “wretched, ungrateful little thing” for telling lies about Mr. Riggs. Tann asks Rill if she’s just looking for attention, but Rill doesn’t know how she’s supposed to answer and says both yes and no. Tann grabs Rill by the chin and asks if she’s “seen the error of [her] ways.” Rill nods and Tann says she should have thought about that before making up stories about her “fictitious sister.” Confused, Rill tries to make sense of this, but Tann tells Rill that they both know Camellia never existed—only four children were brought to the orphanage, and Rill is very grateful that so many of them have found homes.
Rill is still valuable to Georgia Tann because of her attractive blond hair and good looks—surely someone will pay to adopt her. This is why Tann doesn’t simply make her disappear the way Camellia—who had a less desirable appearance, with her dark hair and eyes—did before. However, she forces Rill to adopt a new life history: she must deny Camellia’s existence and adopt Tann’s version of events. By denying that Camellia ever existed, Tann is trying to rewrite the entire history of the Foss family.
Themes
Personal Identity Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Tann asks Rill if they understand each other and Rill nods even though she hates herself for it. She is desperate to find Fern and terrified of what will happen if she doesn’t agree. Tann leaves and Mrs. Murphy tells Rill that she needs to be grateful from now on. Rill agrees and asks if she can see Fern. Murphy tells Rill that Fern was adopted, but that Rill can go outside with the other kids. She also tells Mrs. Pulnik to give Rill a bath before moving her to the upstairs bedroom. Pulnik leads a stunned Rill outside where she sits on the porch for a while before crawling under a bush near the fence to be alone.
Rill knows that moving to the upstairs bedroom means she’ll be in a room that has no lock to keep Mr. Riggs out. Murphy adds insult to injury by choosing to move Rill upstairs right after telling her that Fern is gone forever because she’s been adopted. Without Fern, Rill has nothing left to tie her to her identity and past life.
Themes
Personal Identity Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Rill falls asleep under the bush until someone on the other side of the fence touches her arm: it’s Silas. He explains how Briny was tricked into signing surrender papers for all the kids. Silas says they looked for them for weeks before Miss Dodd found them and told them where to find Rill and the others. Silas has been watching the house waiting to see them. Silas says Queenie and Briny are back at the Arcadia and strokes Rill’s hair while she cries and tries to explain what happened to the others. Silas says he can help Rill escape that night and Rill agrees, but during dinner someone tells her Fern’s adoptive parents are returning her because she keeps wetting the bed. Rill realizes she must delay her escape until she can bring Fern and Stevie, too.
Briny was an easy target for Tann: he absolutely heartbroken over the apparent death of Queenie’s twins and willing to sign anything if it meant he didn’t have to pay the exorbitant hospital bills. Furthermore, Briny simply trusted that people in a hospital would not lie to him that way; one is supposed to be able to trust a doctor or a nurse. Rill’s decision to stay and wait for Fern shows just how hopeful she is that she can somehow get her family back together. 
Themes
Personal Identity Theme Icon
Injustice and Class Divisions Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon