Winter’s Bone

Themes and Colors
Silence and Secrets Theme Icon
Family, Destiny, and Inheritance Theme Icon
Violence and Decay Theme Icon
Isolation and Independence Theme Icon
Women and Matriarchy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Winter’s Bone, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Winter’s Bone follows Ree Dolly’s epic journey through the Ozarks in search of an answer to her missing father Jessup’s whereabouts; he’s on the run from the law, and has put up as his bond his family’s house and timber woods. If Ree is unable to turn him up by the date of his scheduled appearance in court, the Dolly family home will be repossessed, leaving Ree, her silent, mentally ill mother Connie

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Family is paramount in the Ozark community of Woodrell’s novel—blood ties are shown to carry a weight that is at various turns burdensome, protective, and redemptive. Ree Dolly clings to the idea that blood is “s’posed to mean somethin’,” to provide her with leverage and immunity against those who might otherwise harm her, her mother, or her brothers. Ree knows that she is bound inextricably to her family, and that her future, as well as…

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From the meat carcasses swinging low on the branches of the Dolly family’s timber woods at the start of the novel to Ree’s sickening encounter with her father Jessup’s corpse at its end, decay defines the atmosphere of Winter’s Bone. Woodrell painstakingly shows his readers time and time again how the environment’s physical destitution reflects the emotional voids his characters experience due to a lack of stability, lack of trust in one…

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The physical, psychological, and emotional atmosphere of Winter’s Bone is one of extreme desolation. The cold valleys and ramshackle hillside compounds that the characters inhabit are cut off from much of what traditional readers would consider “civilization.” A trip Ree makes to a nearby grocery store is one of the few times we see her in the public sphere; her life is almost entirely enveloped in the remote and the rural. Because of this, Ree…

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At the heart of Winter’s Bone is the question of who, truly, is in charge of the Ozark underworld. While it seems at first that men are the ones in power in the Dolly clan and the clans that comprise their many extended relations, it becomes clearer to the reader as the novel progresses that the women, too, wield a quiet and dangerous power.

Ree is, for all intents and purposes, the matriarch of her…

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