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, and her two young brothers Sonny and Harold with nowhere to go. Ree makes her way through the physically desolate and economically isolated landscape of the Ozark mountains, encountering a labyrinthine network of increasingly distant relatives who consist of crank (meth) cookers, drug dealers, and powerful, shadowy figures. Each member of her extended family whom she encounters warns Ree against seeking the truth, and advises her to stay close to home and out of trouble. The secrets that keep the communities within the Ozarks alive and functioning are the selfsame secrets that stand to tear them apart. Ree’s defiance of the veil of secrecy over the Ozarks and her journey toward understanding disrupts a longstanding, seemingly ironclad pattern of hidden, unspoken things and brings to light—for everyone she encounters—the true consequences of silence and the effect it has created throughout the Ozark community.
“Talkin' just causes witnesses,” says Thump Milton’s wife Merab when Ree first requests an audience with him. The Thump clan frightens Ree, but soon we learn that they, in turn, are frightened of her and what she represents: a thirst for understanding, a new way of communicating, and a bringing to light of the dark and dangerous inner workings of their family’s business.
Daniel Woodrell, an Ozark native and the author of Winter’s Bone, is clearly demonstrating something in the novel about the cycle of silence in rural communities. By choosing as his main character a young girl, Ree, who is (though tough, self-sufficient, and in many ways wise beyond her years) seemingly in a lowered position of power, Woodrell is forcing readers to challenge their perceptions of what and who can act as an agent of change in parts of the country that are governed by an ancient, esoteric kind of law.
It’s revealed, eventually, that Ree’s father Jessup was murdered because he snitched—he betrayed his own, and was killed for his breach of the silence that keeps the Ozark crank operation running just out of sight of the law. Though Ree is indeed an agent of change in her community, it’s implied that there are some traditions that will never be broken and some breaches of custom that will never go unpunished. Ree’s horrifying exhumation of Jessup’s corpse at the novel’s end is an unforgettable focal point in the narrative, showing the lengths the community is willing to go to preserve its secrets and hidden workings. Yet at the same time, this literal uncovering of the physical evidence of a secret suggests that a change or a break in the cycle of silence at last seems possible.
Silence and Secrets ThemeTracker
Silence and Secrets Quotes in Winter’s Bone
Ree nearly fell but would not let it happen in front of the law. She heard thunder clapping between her ears and Beelzebub scratchin’ a fiddle. The boys and her and mom would be dogs in the field without this house. They would be dogs in the field with Beelzebub scratchin’ out tunes and the boys’d have a hard hard shove toward unrelenting meanness and the roasting shed and she’d be stuck along side them ‘til steel doors clanged shut and the flames rose. She’d never have her own concerns.
“Don’t you, nor nobody else, neither, ever go down around Hawkfall askin’ them people shit about stuff they ain’t offerin’ to talk about. That’s a real good way to end up et by hogs, or wishin’ you was… Our relations get watered kinda thin between this valley here and Hawkfall.”
“He cooks crank.”
“Honey, They all do now. You don’t even need to say it out loud.”
“It’s been this way with our people forever, goddam it. For-fuckin’-ever. You go see Thump. Go up there’n knock gentle on his door, and wait.”
“Ma’am, I got a real bad need to talk with Thump Milton…I need to, I really, really need to, ma’am. Please—I am a Dolly! Some of our blood at least is the same. That’s s’posed to mean somethin’—ain’t that what is always said?”
To have but a few male names in use was a tactic held over from the olden knacker ways…Let any sheriff or similar nabob try to keep official accounts on the Dolly men when so many were named Milton, Haslam, Arthur or Jessup… Jessups, Arthurs, Haslams and Miltons were born to walk only the beaten Dolly path, live and die in keeping with those bloodline customs fiercest held.
“You son of a bitch. You go straight to hell’n fry in your own lard. Sonny’n Harold’ll die livin’ in a fuckin’ cave with me’n Mom before they’ll ever spend a single fuckin’ night with you. Goddam you, Blond Milton, you must think I’m a stupid idiot or somethin’—there’s horseweed standin’ chin-high inside that place!”
“Somethin’ real wrong was goin’ on, and since then I’ve gone over it and over it in my head and think I finally get why he didn’t even nod my way. He was protectin’ me, see, by ignorin’ me. That’s when I understood your dad had loved me. I understood it from how he’d looked away.”
“Mom, I’m goin’ to need you to help. There’s things happenin’ that I don’t know what to do about. Mom? Look at me, Mom. Mom?” Ree waited kneeling for several minutes, kneeling as raised hopes fell to modest hopes, slight hopes, vague hopes, kneeling until any hope at all withered to none…She released Mom, stood and walked away into the shadows.
“I got two little brothers who can’t feed theirselves…My mom is sick and she is always goin’ to be sick. Pretty soon the laws’re takin’ our house away n’throwin’ us out…to live in the fields…like fuckin’ dogs. The only hope I got to keep our house is I gotta prove Dad’s dead. Whoever killed him, I don’t need to know that. I don’t never need to know that. If Dad did wrong, Dad has paid. But I can’t forever carry…them boys’n Mom…not…without that house to help.”
This was how sudden things happened that haunted forever.
“We’ll carry you to your daddy’s bones, child. We know the place.”