Mrs. Feehan refuses to leave the house with her face bruised, so Charlie has to start shopping for the family. He is bitter that he is not only expected to take on the responsibilities of an adult, but now he also has to take on the role of a woman. Still, he understands that if the neighbors saw Mrs. Feehan’s injuries, they would probably say she brought them on herself. Even as her injuries heal, though, Mrs. Feehan does not get back her smile. She won’t talk about the night with Mr. Peacock. She also won’t admit that it affected her, but the effects of the trauma are obvious: she covers her face in powder even though the bruises are no longer visible, she can’t look Charlie in the eye, and she compulsively cleans rooms over and over again.
Charlie’s story takes place in 1919, when gender roles were far stricter than they are today. The sexism of the era appears in the story casually, like when Charlie balks at doing women’s work, but occasionally it appears with more consequence. Mrs. Feehan can’t reveal her bruises to the neighbors because their presumptions about women and relationships would lead them to blame her for Mr. Peacock’s abuse. Mrs. Feehan’s obligation to care for Jack already confined her to her home, but now she feels even more trapped as she’s left to fester in the house where her abuser attacked her, unable to work through her trauma.
Charlie generally stays close to home to look after his mother. He is frightened by the fact that whatever is wrong with his mother is inside her head, and he doesn’t trust himself to fulfill the role of “man of the house” without her support. Mr. Redmond suggests that Charlie take up boxing and offers to train him, and Charlie accepts. He teaches Charlie that before a boxer can punch, he needs to master thinking and footwork. One element of this training is skipping rope. Charlie resists this, thinking it feminine, but Mr. Redmond insists. He starts to learn how to skip rope, to the delight of Mrs. Redmond, who helps his rhythm with nursery rhymes from her school days.
The loss of Mrs. Feehan’s support makes Charlie realize how much he relied on her support, even as he’d previously considered himself to be the “man of the house.” Instead of forcing Charlie to become entirely self-sufficient, Mr. Redmond steps in to provide Charlie with a support system. Mrs. Redmond is also eager to help. The Redmonds’ automatic instinct to assist the Feehans speaks to the importance of a supportive community and the ways in which communities can band together to help their members in times of need.