This chapter begins with Tom in New York. He is beginning to enjoy his time there. He is now looking upon his summer in New York as a time for improvement--he wants to help Savannah and help himself.
Tom visits Dr. Lowenstein’s office daily. One day he walks in and her secretary asks if he would mind waiting, Dr. Lowenstein has an emergency meeting with a patient who is also a friend of hers. Tom gladly offers to wait. In the waiting room Tom is confronted with Dr. Lowenstein’s emergency patient, Monique. Monique is the most beautiful woman Tom has ever seen and she is crying. Tom wishes he knew what to do. Finally, he introduces himself and asks if she would like a glass of water. She says she came to see a shrink not to talk with him, and then asks if he will get her a tissue. He gets a tissue for her and they begin talking. Monique is rude to Tom. She asks what he does for a living. When he tells her he is a teacher and a coach she does not believe him, so he tells her he is a lawyer. When Dr. Lowenstein comes out to get Monique, she asks Tom if she may buy him a drink when she is through. Tom accepts.
Tom recalls his early childhood. When he was very young, Tom’s mother spent all of her time with her children and taught them about nature and animals. His father usually did not return from work until the children were in bed. Tom often heard his father beat his mother. His mother would cry bitterly and the next day she sat in silence, not talking to her children at all.
In August of 1950, Henry Wingo was called to service in the Korean War. Because Lila did not feel safe staying on the island alone with three children, they moved in with Henry’s mother and her husband in Atlanta. Henry’s mother, Tolitha, abandoned Henry and his father during the Depression. She moved to Atlanta and married John Stanopolous. She never told John she was already married. When Tom and his siblings moved in with John and Tolitha they were instructed to call Henry’s mother Tolitha, not grandma. They were told to act like Tolitha was their cousin because John did not know she had a son.
The Saturday before Henry left for Korea, the Wingos went on a picnic. A disagreement started when Henry told the boys not to let their mother make them too soft while he was away. He wanted his sons to be fighters not lovers. Savannah, trying to prove her strength, punched Tom in the stomach. Tom, only six years old, cried and ran to his mother. Henry hit Tom, and then when Lila tried to protect Tom, Henry hit Lila. Luke was outraged and yelled for his father to stop. Luke, who was only seven, grabbed a knife and threatened his father. Henry got the knife away from Luke and beat him severely. Luke told Henry he hoped Henry died in Korea.
After Henry left life became exciting and delightful for the Wingo children. Tolitha and Papa John were very kind to them, and with their father absent their mother was gentle and sweet. The children began school. Tom and Savannah had Sister Immaculata for their teacher. Savannah, especially, loved her. Savannah later wrote a poem about the nun and flew from New York to Sister Immaculata’s deathbed so she could read her the poem.
Papa John was dying slowly in his own bed. Every night he told the children stories. He gave them the job of feeding his black widow spiders that he raised and sold as a hobby.
Papa John’s house was surrounded by a forest. The woods were the property of the Candler family, the very wealthy heirs to the Coca-Cola fortune. The children were forbidden to play in the woods because it was trespassing. However, Luke, Tom and Savannah did play in the woods; they even built a tree house there. The Candler family’s house was known as Callanwolde. The children observed the Candler family and found them boring. The family did not talk to each other during dinner and the children did not seem to play much. One day, while playing in the woods, the largest most powerful man Tom had ever seen chased the Wingo children through the woods back to their house. When they arrived Lila asked them what was wrong. When they indicated the large man, Lila asked what he wanted. He told her it was she that he wanted, and that he would return. The man left and Lila called the police. Lila ordered the children to never tell Papa John about the man because it would worry him too much. The children believed it was their fault that the man threatened their mother. They had disobeyed her rules to never enter the woods.
One Sunday evening the children, Lila and Tolitha were watching the Ed Sullivan Show when the man, known to the children as Callanwolde, returned. He came to the door and tried to open it. Lila asked Callanwolde what he wanted; he replied “Lila.” He exposed his penis. The man broke the glass on the door with a brick and hit Lila to the ground. Luke hit the man with a poker. Tolitha told Luke to duck and shot a gun at the door, shattering the glass and sending Callanwolde running away.
A few weeks later, Callanwolde returned. After the children had gone to sleep, he crept up to their window. Tom saw him first, but did nothing. Savannah screamed. As Callanwolde broke through the window Savannah stabbed him with scissors. Luke threw the jars containing the black widow spiders at Callanwolde and he ran away. He did not return again that year. Years later, Tom found an article with a picture that said Otis Miller, 31 was arrested the previous night for raping a schoolteacher. He photocopied the article and across the top, wrote “Callanwolde.”
In the beginning of Chapter 5, Tom tells the reader that his parents succeeded in making him a stranger to himself. Since he had to be the balanced and responsible child, he grew into a man who led a meaningless life. Tom’s recognition of his life as empty and dull as a means of achieving stability inducts the main theme of this novel: the de-humanization of the modern American male. Tom will repeatedly mention how, as a modern American male, he is not in touch with his feelings; he watches sports and gets drunk; how he is not really living at all. Ironically, it is in New York City, the place he initially found cold and unfeeling, that he chooses to recreate himself and discover who he really is.
The stories he tells in this chapter about his childhood develop the roles the Wingo children played in their family and illuminate their characters. Luke was fearless and took action. Tom foreshadows this aspect of Luke’s character when he asks Monique if she would like Tom to beat someone up for her; Tom tells her his brother used to ask him and Savannah that when they were growing up. Luke defends his family against Henry on the mountain, and twice against Callanwolde.
It is important to recognize that Savannah is Tom’s twin. Twins are often significant literary devices. In this case, Savannah appears to be everything Tom is not. It is almost as though they are one whole person divided. Savannah is female/ Tom is male. Savannah is brave and bold/ Tom is timid and weak. Savannah is mad/ Tom is overly sane and dependable.