A Painted House Essay, Research Paper
A PAINTED HOUSE
A Novel by John Grisham
March 26, 2001
John Grisham’s book, ‘A Painted House’ places the reader within the walls of a simple home on the cotton fields of rural Arkansas. Within the first few pages, the author’s description of the setting quickly paints a picture of a hard working family and creates a shared concern with the reader about the family’s struggle to meet the basic needs of life. The description of the dusty roads, the unpainted board-sided house, the daily chore requirements and their lack of excess cause the reader a reaction of empathy for the family. Although the story takes place in a dusty setting very unfamiliar to most readers, the storyline is timeless and universal. Most everyone has a desire to meet the basic needs of life, embrace their family ties, and make others and ourselves proud. The crux of this book is that it does an excellent job in showing the reader through other’s examples and hardships to persevere and never give up.
The title of the book, ‘A Painted House’ is based on the actual farmhouse in which the Chandler family resides. It was an old house. It was a fine house that had never been painted. For this particular family, paint – like eating meat with every meal – was a luxury. It was not a requirement to have a painted house. It was not a sign of laziness as the reader might initially expect. It was a sign of being frugal with money. In this bold example of persevering and never giving up, Mr. Grisham demonstrates to the reader that ’one can’t have everything’.
The story is told through the eyes of seven year old Luke Chandler. Luke lives with his parents and grandparents on their rented farmland in the lowlands of Arkansas. It takes place during the harvest season for cotton in 1952. Like other cotton growers, these were hard times for the Chandlers. Their simple lives reached their zenith each year with the task of picking cotton. It’s more than any family can complete by themselves. In order to harvest the crops and get paid, the Chandlers must find cotton pickers to help get the crops to the cotton gin. In order to persevere, they must depend on others. They find two sets of migrant farm workers to assist them with their efforts: the Mexicans, and the Spruills – a family from the Arkansas hills that pick cotton for others each year. In reading the book, the reader learns quickly that life is difficult for many people – not just the Chandlers. In spite of these hardships, these families know that the work must continue in order to survive.
As one might expect from the title, one continued part of the story concerns the
lack of paint on the home. Trot, in spite of his lack of physical strength and intelligence, decides to paint the house. His sister Tally buys him some paint, and Trot begins painting the house on a side not normally visible during daily activities. At first, it seems a mystery on who is painting the house and for what reason. It’s very obvious later in the book what the author was conveying with this exercise. The unpainted house is certainly a metaphor when studying these folk as they interact with one another. One has to set his goals and work very hard and persistently in order to complete the task…just as in life.
Mr. Grisham takes the reader into the cotton fields with the snakes, the almost-unbearable heat, and the empty sacks that must be filled. Too much time spent in one area of a cotton row and there is wasted time. Not enough time spent in each area of the cotton row, and there is wasted cotton. The bags have to be filled in order for anyone to get paid. Luke is out there everyday with the adults – dragging his sack behind him while doing his best to keep up with the others. The work is hard and the days are long. However, in this book’s setting, it seems natural and expected for everyone to share the load. Although one’s initial reaction may be that Luke is too young, the point has to be stressed: The author is showing us that from early childhood, we must learn to work hard in order to persevere. Most often, our knowledge of self worth and our personal level of pride is determined by what we have earned and not been given. It is only from persevering through hard work efforts, that one can truly sense personal pride.
‘A Painted House’ does an excellent job in showing the reader that our quests are universal. The book has less to do with cotton picking than one might initially see on first inspection. These three families want something more out of life. They work very hard and have very little to show for it. Each of the subgroups of families are thankful for what they have but strive for more. The differences between the families are strongly evident by their places of origin, their current living arrangements, the food they consume, the color of their skin, and their problems. However, one thing remains constant: be tenacious in life.
Mr. Grisham’s description of these destitute families is complicated with the introduction of the Latcher family. Until their introduction, the reader should have developed a great deal of pity for the Chandler family and the migrant workers. However, the Latchers have many children and even less money than the three groups living on the Chandler farm. Throughout the story, the reader will better appreciate what these farm-dwelling families have when compared to the Latchers – especially when the Latcher home is completely destroyed during a flood. We are reminded of another one of life’s lessens in these passages when no matter how bad we think things are for the Chandler family (and maybe the reader‘s family), things can always be worse in spite of our hard work ethics.
Throughout the pages of the book, the writer gives the reader several moments of suspenseful storyline. There is a fight behind the cotton gin that results in the death of a local family member. There is a romantic rendezvous witnessed by Luke between two of the workers that takes place in the cotton field that eventually results in the two workers running away from their families and beginning a life away from the world of farm work. There is also a very detailed description of a bloody confrontation between two workers that result in another death. These sideline stories briefly distract the reader’s interest away from the field activities of cotton picking. However, the author quickly draws the reader back to the task at hand: getting as much cotton picked in attempts to make as much money as possible to get them through another year. Mr. Grisham always draws the reader’s attention back to the hard work required to succeed in spite of these interruptions.
The sideline stories are important to keep the reader’s interest. However, the importance of these mini-dramas within the book has more to do with the reaction of our characters to the incidents than the actual incidents themselves. Luke is always caught in the middle of these incidents as a witness. He ponders what he should do with his newly gained information in the best interest of all concerned. Being a very mature seven-year-old child, he carefully considers his options of informing others of his secrets, and normally opts to keep his mouth shut. In doing so, the task of cotton picking is not interrupted and his family’s financial future is less threatened. In the same vein, the reader should recognize these incidents as metaphors for choices in life. Luke did not choose for these things to happen, but he did have a choice on his reactions to them. Luke kept his goal of crop harvesting as his main priority. He couldn’t change the past, but he certainly could affect his future by making the right decisions.
The book is simple in nature. However, as mentioned before, the true meaning behind the book is timeless and universal. It reminds the reader that life is difficult and seeing the results from hard work and perseverance is crucial to be happy. The exercise of painting the house amplifies the importance of sticking to what is important in life. It was important to Trot to have the house painted because of a hateful comment his brothers were making to Luke in attempts to hurt Luke’s feelings. It was Trot’s way of making it up to Luke. During the book, to complete the task of painting the house becomes increasingly important to everyone. Luke’s parents spend badly needed money to purchase extra paint. In a very selfless act, Luke spends his personal money to also purchase paint. In spite of the grueling efforts to get the cotton picked and being exhausted, most every one of the book’s characters assist in painting the house. If the reader hasn’t quite grasp it yet, at this point in the book the author’s intentions are very evident: It is only through hard work, determination, persistence and a strong inner desire to persevere that dreams of better things and maybe better times can come to fruition.
As the book ends, the reader is left with a sense of hope. The migrant workers begin their journey of returning home. Because of the flood and the loss of their home, the Letcher family is residing in the Chandler barn where the Mexicans first stayed. Luke and his parents are traveling to Michigan in order for Luke’s father can find a job in a automotive assembly plant, and Luke’s grandparents are staying at the old farmhouse with the hopes that the whole family will be back together soon. The hope from the reader is that all of the book’s characters will someday find true happiness. These folks work hard and our characters seem to deserve more than they currently have. Most readers can appreciate this feeling because it’s a feeling shared by everyone.
In regards to the unpainted house: At the end of the book, only a corner of the house needs painting to be complete. It would have been very easy for our author to have completely finished in painting the house. However, that’s not what the premise nor the promise of the book contains. There is a big difference in completing a challenge, and being successful. Although life’s problems and challenges are never ending, the success in dealing with a challenge has more to do with the way it is done than in its completion. ‘The joy is certainly in the journey’ when reading the novel, ‘A Painted House’.