The novel "A Painted House" by John Grisham was inspired by the author's childhood in a small town in Arkansas. The story relates an innocent child's experience of an imperfect world. The narrative takes place in the early 1950s, when Grisham was a small boy. It is notable as one of the few Grisham novels that is not a legal thriller.
The main character, Luke Chandler, is a young boy who lives with his parents and grandparents in a home that has never once been painted. The Chandlers live in a small town where everybody knows one another's business. Luke's uncle Ricky, who is off fighting the war, greatly inspires the boy, as readers learn from the boy's reflections on times spent with his uncle. The Chandlers use 80 acres of their land to grow cotton, leaving only 3 acres for personal use. Each year, the family hires help to harvest the cotton; in 1952, they have hired Mexicans and a family from the Ozarks to assist them.
Luke's family, like all of the farmers in town, worry about the fickleness of the weather; as a bad season can ruin the crops and greatly hurt the agricultural industry upon which the entire town relies. Luke is aware of his family's worries, but he is still a typical seven-year-old boy with material wants. He saves money for a baseball jacket, as his parents pay him for his help harvesting the cotton.
As Luke ages and begins to mature, he gains insights into his family's economic hardships. He also learns that his uncle Ricky has impregnated a 15-year-old girl, although the rest of his family remains oblivious to this knowledge. Luke also witnesses a young girl bathing, a woman delivering a baby and two murders within the span of a few months. In addition, he observes an affair between Tally, one of the young ladies hired to help with the harvest, and a cowboy who has also been hired to help harvest the cotton. These experiences make Luke feel older and less innocent.
Luke develops a crush on Tally, even though he sees that she is involved with the cowboy. Tally, for her part, plays with Luke's emotions for the sake of her own amusement. She invites him to spend time with her, which he enjoys; yet, she elopes with the cowboy in the end, since she thinks he can provide her with a more promising life. This breaks Luke's heart, and he becomes disillusioned about love.
Painting the House
Disaster strikes when the family home is destroyed in a flood; the entire crop is destroyed as well. Luke is initially devastated, but the flood turns out to be something of a blessing, since it affords the Chandlers a chance to pursue a different life. Luke's parents begin to commute to the city to work in a Buick factory. Luke's mother is so happy that their livelihood will no longer be dependent on the whims of nature. At the end of the novel, Luke decides to paint the house after noticing that someone began to paint the clapboards but never finished. He spends his savings on paint -- instead of the jacket he wanted -- to improve the home for his family. He has realized that family is more important than material goods.
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