Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours

by

Lisa Wingate

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Before We Were Yours can help.

Before We Were Yours: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The car carrying Rill, her siblings, and the two other children pulls up to a large house in Memphis. Rill sees kids playing in the yard, but the house has boarded windows and peeling paint. Camellia asks if they’re at the hospital and Tann says they must let Mrs. Murphy wash them before they can go to the hospital. Rill tries to believe this but can’t. Tann tells the kids to get out of the car and assures them they’ll be fine if they’re good. Despite Rill’s pleas, Camellia refuses to get out of the car and Rill notices that she’s trying to sneak out the other car door. Tann grabs Camellia and drags her out of the car, telling her that she must behave. Camellia reluctantly nods in agreement. Tann leads them into the house.
Though the connection isn’t yet clear, the setting in Memphis harkens back to the Prelude, when the doctor tells Christine’s dad to see a woman in Memphis who can help him. Rill keeps trying to convince herself that someone will bring her to her parents and this belief helps her justify her decision not to fight back, but the truth is that she’s afraid of what will happen if she does fight back. Tann’s treatment of Camellia justifies Rill’s fears.
Themes
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Inside the house there are two more kids and Rill begins to wonder where all these kids came from and why they’re there. Tann leads Rill and the other kids into an office where a woman is waiting for them. The woman, Mrs. Murphy, warmly greets Tann, but wrinkles her nose at the kids. Murphy asks where they came from and Tann explains that they were “removed […] just in time” and asks if Murphy has room for them. Murphy steps forward to get a closer look at all the kids, admiring their blond hair and criticizing Camellia’s dark hair. Tann explains that Camellia has also been fighting back and Murphy explains that those who don’t follow rules can’t live upstairs. Tann also explains that the other two kids were “found” while she was out. Tann predicts they’ll be “in great demand.”
Tann describes finding and removing these kids the way one might talk about pests, but her observation that they will be “in great demand” sends the message that they are also products for sale. This would mean they have value, but only a monetary value, not as human beings.
Themes
Injustice and Class Divisions Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Tann asks Rill how she got her name and Rill says it reminded her father of the river. Tann says Rill will need a proper name: May Weathers. Tann shoos the kids out the door and Rill does her best to get them all to sit quietly by the stairs. Rill notes that Camellia is looking for escape routes and whispers to her to stop because Briny, who is sure to come looking for them soon, would want them all to stay together. Camellia agrees and they all settle into their spots to wait.
By giving Rill a new name, Tann begins rewriting her entire history. If Rill becomes May Weathers, then anyone who comes looking for a Rill won’t be able to find her, which helps Tann get away with kidnapping them.
Themes
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
From her spot by the stairs, Rill can hear Mrs. Murphy and Tann talking. Tann says something about surrender papers at the hospital and the struggle to find the right shanty boat. Murphy asks about the other two children and Tann explains they were picked up while they were picking flowers near a group of shanty boats. Tann also mentions their papers will be “issued” soon and that the kids are called Sherry and Stevie. Tann also says that Rill and her siblings will go by May, Iris, Bonnie, Beth, and Robby Weathers. Murphy is to make sure all the kids are ready for a viewing party the next month. Murphy walks Tann to the door and then goes back into her office without another word.
Tann openly admits that she’s taken Sherry and Stevie without any paperwork, which indicates that she’s confident in her ability to get the paperwork. This would mean that she has help from someone with judicial power who can help Tann get away with kidnapping children after the fact, indicating how deep the corruption in this scheme goes.
Themes
Injustice and Class Divisions Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Get the entire Before We Were Yours LitChart as a printable PDF.
Before we were yours.pdf.medium
Rill does her best to keep the kids quiet, but they’re hungry, and nobody acknowledges them for a long time. Mrs. Murphy comes out of her office smelling like whiskey and gets mad at Camellia for asking where Briny and Queenie are. Murphy says that Camellia is the reason the kids must sit instead of going outside to play and then storms off. The youngest kids fall asleep until Fern wets herself. A worker finds them, washes Fern’s clothes, and lets the other kids go use the toilet. Afterwards, they sit back down and wait for a long time before a worker leads them into a washroom. She tells the kids to take all their clothes off and have a bath in front of everyone else.
The first hours the kids spend in the home makes them understand that they can’t expect to be treated well—they are little more than objects here, and the best they can hope for is to escape notice. By doing this, they can also escape punishment.
Themes
Injustice and Class Divisions Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon