This chapter takes place in September of 1961. Tom says it was the best shrimping season his father had seen since 1956. Savannah was a cheerleader and Tom and Luke played football. Tom and Luke were the cocaptains of the team. They were all seniors at Colleton High School.
One night Colleton played a football game against North Charleston. By this time, the guys on the team had gotten used to Benji and treated him like a teammate. The night of the game, Luke gave a speech in the locker room about how proud he was to have Benji on the team and how he was one of them. During the game, the players on the other team called Benji a nigger and said many crude things. The referee chose to ignore the comments. Together Tom and Benji saved their team and won the game.
That night, in the locker room, Jeff Galloway (a teammate) asked Luke and Tom if they were going to the dance that night. Then, he asked them why they dressed as they did. Jeff said the other guys bought nice clothes and that they were all supposed to wear sport coats on game day. Luke and Tom decided not to go to the dance.
Tom asked his mother if he could do some extra chores around the house so he could get a sport coat. His mother refused, saying she did not get paid for her housework and that they did not have the money. He asker her why Savannah always got nice clothes, but he and Luke did not. Lila said that was because Savannah needed nice clothes to get a nice husband.
This chapter begins with an ironic foreshadowing. September, 1961 appears to be the most idyllic period for the Wingo family; however, Tom tells us it will be the year in which the worst day of their lives will occur.
Luke’s speech to his team us yet another example of how he is a natural leader. He and Tom are both captains of the team, but it is Luke who gives the speech about how proud they should be of Benji—no one disagrees with Luke. Once again, we see how Tom tries to follow the rules of his peers- he wants a sports coat. Tom even asks his mother to help him get a coat, which is a blow to his pride because Tom knows how stingy his mother is with money. Luke does not ask for a coat.
We also see another example of gender role stereotyping when Lila explains to Tom why Savannah can have new clothes and he cannot. Throughout this novel, Conroy shows various instances in which men and women either follow or challenge prescribed gender roles. These roles appear to be particularly ingrained in the southern mentality.
Tom tries to find clues in Savannah’s apartment about why she would try to kill herself. He reads all of her poems and remembers how Savannah used to hide presents on Christmas and make her family find them. One year, she bought her mother an opal ring and hid it too well to find. She became a traditional gift-giver after that Christmas.
While going through some of Savannah’s things, Tom finds the yearbook of Renata Halpern. He does not recognize her, but her name is familiar. Tom finds a letter from a magazine that agreed to publish one of Renata’s poems and congratulated her on the publication of her first children’s book. Tom reads the poem, and he is certain Savannah wrote it—despite its references to Judaism.
Tom asks Eddie Detreville who Renata was; Eddie says he did not know. Tom decides to call her house to ask about her. He pretends he was a boy who signed Renata’s yearbook and speaks with her mother. Tearfully, she tells him Renata had killed herself two years before. Tom reads Renata’s children’s book, which he purchased earlier that day. The book is titled The Southern Way.
This chapter provides rising action to the story. Until this point, most of the mystery has taken place in the stories of Tom’s childhood. This plot twist complicates Savannah’s problem.
Renata’s poem and book are very obviously written by Savannah. Each references her peculiar childhood. The interjection of book, The Southern Way, is known the frame-story technique. A frame-story is when a different story is interjected into the plot of the main story.