Why did Dave's father never intervene in Dave's abuse? How did this make Dave's situation even worse?
Although he cared about his son, Dave's father allowed his wife to control him, so much so that he feared standing up to her. His weak personality meant that he did not have the strength to intervene. This took an additional psychological toll on Dave, who had to give up on the idea of his father being his superhero. This meant not only one parent had failed Dave, but rather that both of them had.
How did Dave's mother employ fear politics in her home?
Oftentimes, the fear that Dave's mother was able to instill in him was worse than the punishments themselves. Whenever something went wrong, Dave would wait in terror to find out what his punishment would be, with that mental uncertainty eating away at him. Her fear tactics worked not only on Dave, but also on the rest of the family. Fear of the consequences prevented Dave's father from intervening to save his son, and it kept his brothers at bay, too, as they feared ending up like Dave.
How do spirituality, faith, and God figure into Dave's life?
Dave does not begin to acknowledge God in his memoir until he reaches the tail end of his abuse, when he convinces himself that God did not exist because, if he did, he would not allow Dave to keep living this way. Dave slowly loses faith over the course of his maltreatment, believing at first that there is some kind of hope that he will escape his mother, but eventually growing desperate and hopeless. The final line of Chapter 7 makes it clear that Dave did not ever fully lose faith, however: his willingness to keep praying shows that a part of him did still believe that there was a way out, and this knowledge kept him surviving until someone finally intervened.
Discuss the bystander effect and how it contributed to Dave's ongoing abuse.
Numerous adults in Dave's life, including his schoolteachers and his neighbor, Shirley, are aware that some sort of abuse is happening to Dave, and yet it takes them years and years to intervene. This is a real-life illustration of how terrible the bystander effect can be. Each of these individuals is unaware of how bad Dave's abuse really is, or they do not want to intrude, or they expect someone else to take care of it. The result is a horror that goes on for far too long before someone actually steps in.
Why is the Russian River significant?
In the "good times" before his abuse, Dave saw the Russian River as a special place, one that symbolized his childhood innocence and happiness. His mother corrupts this place for him when she takes him back and then abuses him while there, ruining his fond memories and feelings of contentment and safety. He shows that his mother has not truly beaten him, however, when he announces to his own son that the Russian River is still his favorite place in the world. No matter how hard Dave's mother tried, she could not take those happy memories away forever.
Why does Dave love his baby brother Kevin so much?
Even though he is not permitted to spend time with Kevin, Dave loves him so much because his mother had told him that because of something Dave did while she was pregnant, he would be born with defects. This was yet another thing that Dave blamed himself for, so finding out that he had not hurt his unborn brother was a relief and a reassurance. It also proved that the things his mother says to him are said not because Dave himself has done something wrong, but rather because it is part of her way of ruling with fear.
Does Dave ever explain what caused his mother to abuse him? What do you think her motive was?
The shift from the happiness of Dave's "good times" before the abuse to the terror that his mother put him through for eight years seems sudden in the text, and this is largely because Dave himself does not know exactly what made her suddenly start to abuse him. He attributes it to a lot of little things—discipline, small facets of his behavior, a short temper—but also hints at some larger issues, like alcoholism and mental illness.
Why did Pelzer choose to begin the memoir with the story of the end of his abuse?
Even though it chronologically fits into the narrative after Chapter 7, having Chapter 1 be about Dave's freedom gives readers a sense of hope with which to move through the book, the same kind of hope that Dave feels as he tries to keep himself going. It plants the idea of freedom in readers' heads and then allows readers to slowly discover just how important such freedom is to Dave, as they uncover chapter-by-chapter the horror of everything he went through.
How does the piece of driftwood in the epilogue symbolize Dave's life?
When standing over the Pacific Ocean in the epilogue of his memoir, Dave watches a piece of driftwood taken in and out by the tide and sees traces of his own experience in it. Just like the driftwood, Dave had to struggle against forces that attempted to pull him backwards, all the while trying to reach a shore—his freedom—that he hoped was there.
Why is Dave's relationship with his son Stephen important?
Because of the way his mother treated him, Dave missed out on the love and family experiences that are a part of most people's childhood. This did not make Dave bitter, however—instead, it made him resolve to give his son the kind of life full of love that he did not have. Stephen gives Dave the motivation to be the best father he can be, unlike the way his own parents treated him.