Ree’s mother, Connie, sits in a chair next to the stove, quiet and unmoving. Ree notes that her mother had “once been pretty.” Now, though, she is heavily medicated, and “lost to the present.” Ree tells her brothers to finish their breakfast, as the school bus will be arriving soon. Her brothers complain that their socks smell, but Ree begs them to put their socks on and hurry along so that they are not late for school. The two boys are eighteen months apart, and have different fathers; the older boy, Sonny, is a “scrapper,” while Harold is gentle, vulnerable, and often “in need of fixing.”
Connie’s apparent inability to remain tethered to the world around her, combined with Jessup’s frequent absence, has forced Ree into a matriarchal role. Here she is shown caring for her brothers as a mother would. Her mother’s mental decay mirrors the financial and moral decay running rampant throughout the Ozarks and, in a way, acts as a metaphor for the shattering effect of bearing witness to such violence over an extended period of time.
Ree hopes that her brothers will not be “dulled to life” and “empty of kindness” by the time they are twelve, as “so many Dolly kids” are. There are two hundred Dollys, plus extended Dolly relations, living within thirty miles of Rathlin Valley. Some are “square” and some are “rough,” but all Dollys are subject to a set of “remorseless blood-soaked commandments that governed lives led outside square law.” Ree once again hurries her brothers off to school, reminding them to wear their hats, as snow is coming.
Ree is so protective of her brothers and invested in their care partly because she knows that if they aren’t raised up right, they’ll fall into the lawless, violent underworld so many of their older male cousins and uncles inhabit.