The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In November 1924, Thula Rantz was in labor, and Harry, her husband, set off to fetch a doctor. He did, but it took all night, so that by the time Thula had given birth to a daughter, she was “done with the mine” for good. Thula convinced Harry to move to Seattle with Joe and live with her parents. In Seattle, Harry opened a new repair shop, and soon he had enough money to move his family to a new home in Sequim. Harry taught Joe how to repair cars, and he and Thula gave birth to another daughter. Harry sold the apartment, bought land, and built a farmhouse for his family, relying on Joe for help. Joe liked working with his father, and loved having a stable home once again. Joe was also a good, popular student, and he had a steady girlfriend, Joyce Simdars.
Thula continued to dislike her community, and convinced her husband to move to a larger city—where, presumably, she stood a better chance of realizing her ambitions of performing music. Joe seems to have enjoyed his first years in Seattle; however, by this point, one would imagine, Joe had learned not to trust his father—he must have realized that his father had abandoned him before, and could abandon him again.
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Thula disliked Sequim, and hated living on a farm. She also resented Joe and disliked his friends. One morning, she accidentally poured hot bacon grease on Harry Junior, burning his chest. He spent weeks in the hospital and had to miss a year of school. Shortly afterwards, the economy began to tank, meaning that Joe’s family had to struggle to feed itself. Harry and Thula decided to move out of Sequim with their children, leaving only Joe.
Once again, Thula and Joe decided to abandon Joe, prioritizing their own ambitions above their obligation to take care of Joe. The chapter suggests that Thula in particular was the driving force behind the decision to leave Sequim and abandon Joe yet again—she disliked him, and seems to have despised Sequim, too.
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Joe was intimidated by the prospect of living alone, but he told himself that he wouldn’t “become a hermit.” Instead, he promised himself that he’d survive “on his own.” In the weeks following his father and Thula’s departure, Joe learned to run the farm. He foraged for mushrooms and fished for salmon with the help of his friend Harry Secor. He also sold moonshine, which he bought from bootleggers (at the time, Prohibition was in effect, and the sale of alcohol was illegal). The entire time, Joe got excellent grades in school. To support himself further, he worked as a logger (i.e., he moved lumber) for his neighbor, Charlie McDonald. He also played the banjo and formed a band to make extra cash.
Joe learned how to cope with adversity—indeed, before he turned eighteen, he’d dealt with more adversity and trauma than many people face in a lifetime. After being abandoned by his father and stepmother, he had no choice but to take care of himself and cope with crippling loneliness. Heroically, Joe found within himself the courage not only to survive but to thrive. At a time when the economy was tanking, he supported himself, and somehow found the time to succeed in school and make music.
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Around the same time, Joe’s old girlfriend, Joyce Simdars, returned from Montana, where she’d been living. Joyce had been raised in a strict household; her parents, both of whom were Christian Scientists, forced her to work long hours. When Joyce first met Joe Rantz, she was immediately smitten; she loved his easy-going manner, the exact opposite of her parents’ personality. She loved that Joe seemed to care for her “just as she was, good or bad.”
Joyce Simdars wasn’t only Joe’s girlfriend for many years; she was his closest friend. Throughout Joe’s troubled years with and without Harry by his side, Joyce gave Joe the moral support he needed.
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In 1931, Joe got a letter from his brother, Fred, inviting him to live with him in Seattle and attend the prestigious Roosevelt School for his final year before college. Fred hinted that Joe might be able to gain admission to the University of Washington if he did well at Roosevelt. Joe decided to move in with Fred and Thelma. In Seattle, Joe did very well in school, and excelled in gymnastics and singing. Al Ulbrickson got word about Joe’s gymnastic talents, and left his card for Joe. Joe graduated from Roosevelt with honors in 1932. His plan was to work for a year, saving money for college. He didn’t enjoy living with Fred, who he found controlling and condescending. Nevertheless, he found joy in visiting Joyce Simdars. One afternoon, he presented her with a “golden ring with a small but perfect diamond.”
In many ways, Fred was more of a father figure to Joe than Joe’s own father (an idea complicated by the uncomfortable family situation of Fred being both Harry’s son and brother-in-law). Had Fred not notified Joe about coming to the Roosevelt School, to name only one example, Joe may never have gotten into the University of Washington. At the end of the chapter, Joe seems to propose to Joyce; however, as we soon see, he isn’t able to marry her for many years to come, due to his financial limitations.
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