At the beginning and the end of the novel, Silvey mentions a traditional “dare” for the children of Corrigan: to sneak onto Mad Jack Lionel
’s property and steal a peach from the peach tree that grows in his yard. Because this dare shows up at both the beginning and the end of the book, it serves as a convenient gauge of Charlie
’s maturation. At first, Charlie fears Mad Jack, and wouldn’t dare sneak onto his land. Over the course of the plot, though, he learns that Jack shouldn’t feared at all—he’s a sad, lonely old man who would never hurt the children who steal from him. This discovery teaches Charlie the valuable lesson that fear is often the byproduct of ignorance and outright foolishness, the antidote to which is knowledge and understanding. Yet when he walks onto Mad Jack’s property to steal peaches at the end of the book, Charlie must still face his fear of insects. Looking down at the peaches lying on the ground, Charlie sees that they’re crawling with bees and ants, both of which frighten him. Thus, it takes bravery for Charlie to pick up the peaches at all—ironically, he notes, this is the bravest thing he does while on Mad Jack’s land, even though the other schoolchildren think his bravery consists of sneaking onto the property at all. Silvey’s point is clear: sometimes, people can overcome their fears with knowledge and education, but there is a limit to how successful this approach can be. Some fears can never be eliminated. Nevertheless, people can train themselves to face their fears, maturing in the process.