At Henry Horner Homes (also known as the “ghetto” or the “projects”) in Chicago, family can never be fully separate from the exterior environment. While LaJoe Rivers hopes that she will succeed in keeping her children away from the drugs and gangs that plague their neighborhood, she realizes that she does not necessarily have the power to keep her family away from negative pressures. However, even though LaJoe feels disappointed in some of her children’s life choices, she continues to give them love, care, and support throughout their life. Instead of giving up on her family, LaJoe remains present for her children, accompanying them through various ordeals, from struggles with drug addiction to arrests and incarceration. Her behavior shows that true commitment to family means giving people unwavering love and loyalty in good times as well as bad, providing emotional support even in a deeply unstable, insecure environment.
LaJoe’s inability to fully protect her children from drugs and crime does not reflect a lack of motherly care. Instead, it is an illustration of the overwhelming power of the negative pressures at play in her children’s environment. At Henry Horner, so many families “lose” their children to neighborhood drug trafficking and gang rivalry that “a common expression among the mothers at Horner is: ‘He ain’t my child no more’” when children abandon their families to take part in criminal activities. Mothers’ desire for their children to grow up safely is insufficient in ensuring that their children will actually escape the web of illegal activity in the projects. Instead, families learn to accept that they cannot control everything that happens to their children, and that some will inevitably fall prey to illegal behavior.
LaJoe’s favorite son, Terence, begins selling drugs for a local drug dealer when he is only ten years old, which separates him from his mother and the rest of the family. This comes as a major disappointment to LaJoe, as she felt closest to Terence and failed at protecting him from the outside world. When Terence is sent to eight years in jail for alleged participation in a burglary, LaJoe is forced to accept that she can’t always keep her children on the right path. However, none of these events can be directly attributed to lack of love or care among members of the Rivers family. LaJoe’s relationship with Terence is one of “extraordinary closeness” and, on multiple occasions, both LaJoe and even her mostly-absent husband, Paul Rivers, attempt to convince Terence to abandon his illegal activities. Despite their efforts, Terence’s choices demonstrates that there are limits to parental care, and that a child’s destiny is not necessarily directly correlated to parental involvement. Rather, Terence’s illegal activities and eventual incarceration highlight the difficulty—and even the impossibility—of maintaining a stable family unit in a world filled with negative external pressures.
Instead of giving up on her children because she can’t effectively shield them from their dangerous environment, LaJoe keeps her family united through her tireless love and care. Her actions, as well as her impact on her children, shows that love should not be affected by external circumstances. Unlike mothers who disown their children when they join gangs or deal drugs, LaJoe stays by her children’s side even in their darkest moments. Such commitment is rare in the projects, and public defender Audrey Natcone is impressed by the mutual love and respect that animates the Rivers family. Most of Audrey’s clients are left alone at court, but LaJoe always makes a point to accompany her son on his court dates, showing that her motherly love endures even in difficult situations.
LaJoe’s love and unwavering support imbues the family with a feeling of unity and stability. This consequently inspires her own children to support one another in return, thus strengthening the family as a whole. Even when he is sent to prison, Terence writes long letters to his mother and his younger brothers Lafeyette and Pharoah to remind them how much he loves them. Even though Terence has spent a lot of time away from his family, he remains unshakeable in his commitment to being a loving son and brother—a behavior that his mother modeled for him by loving and supporting him regardless of the circumstances. In turn, Terence’s brothers continue to look up to him, refusing to use Terence’s separation from his family as an excuse to show him less affection.
Lafeyette also demonstrates a strong loyalty to his family that mirrors that of his mother. Even though he is one of the youngest children in the family, Lafeyette takes on a fatherly role toward his brother Pharoah and the young triplets as he tries to protect them from the neighborhood’s violence, just like his mother did for him. Although Lafeyette occasionally lashes out against Pharoah, both boys know that their greatest responsibility is to protect each other. “It wasn’t that Lafeyette and [the younger children] didn’t get along; it was that he worried about them, like a father worrying about his children.” Lafeyette’s love and efforts at protection illustrate how the Rivers family is able to maintain relative emotional stability in a chaotic, dangerous environment.
Despite the toxic, dangerous environment at Henry Horner, LaJoe succeeds in maintaining a degree of stability and unity in her family. She remains a pillar in her children’s lives throughout all of their ups and downs, ultimately inspiring them to treat one another with the same unflappable loyalty and love. The novel praises LaJoe for showing her children tireless love and care even when they seem undeserving. Even though she can’t fully insulate her children from their environment, LaJoe serves as an example for readers, encouraging them to remain similarly committed to their family even in difficult times.
Family, Love, and Care ThemeTracker
Family, Love, and Care Quotes in There Are No Children Here
But though the isolation and the physical ruin of the area’s stores and homes had discouraged LaJoe, it was her family that had most let her down. Not that she could separate the two. Sometimes she blamed her children’s problems on the neighborhood; at other times, she attributed the neighborhood’s decline to the change in people, to the influx of drugs and violence.
Cleaning house was the only way she could clear her mind, to avoid thinking about what might happen or what might have been. It was cathartic in demanding focus and concentration. She scrubbed and washed and rearranged furniture, particularly when things got tense—with family problems, shootings, and deaths. The kids knew to stay out of her way, except for Lafeyette, who, like his mother, also found cleaning a useful distraction.
Lafeyette confided to LaJoe, who tried vainly to get him to verbalize his grief, that talking wasn’t going to help him, that everything that “goes wrong keeps going on and everything that’s right doesn’t stay right.”
He secretly wished his mother would push him more, make him go to sleep early, make him do his homework. LaJoe conceded that she could be too soft on her children, though she wanted nothing more than to see Lafeyette and Pharoah graduate from high school.
Because he had lately responded to nearly every instance of violence and family trouble with the same refrain—“I’m too little to understand”—she feared that the problems, when he was at last ready to confront them, would be too deeply buried for him to resolve. Now, though, she was convinced that Pharoah’s attitude gave him some peace of mind and the strength to push on, so she avoided burdening him with stories of hardship.
“The things I should of been talking to Paul about I was talking to Lafie,” LaJoe said. “I put him in a bad place. But I didn’t have anyone to talk to. Lafie,” she said, regretfully, “became a twelve-year-old man that day.”
“Pharoah is Pharoah. He’s going to be something. […] When he was a baby, I held him up and asked him if he’d be the one. I’ve always wanted to see one of my kids graduate from high school. I asked him if he’d be the one to get me a diploma.”
Pharoah became more alert and prudent. He had never stolen anything. Nor had he ever gotten into any trouble other than talking in class. He wanted it to stay that way. The best way was to hang out more by himself. Pharoah decided he no longer had any friends. Like his brother, he just had associates.
“You don’t have no friends in the projects,” he said. “They’ll turn you down for anything.”
Pharoah realized that something was terribly wrong. He didn’t want to ask. No one seemed to care about his spelling bee triumph. No one wanted to hear what he had to say. Dutt was weeping. Lafeyette, while he had one ear to the conversation, stared vacantly out the window; he didn’t even congratulate Pharoah. LaJoe tucked Pharoah’s red ribbon into her pocketbook.