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Free Study Guide for The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

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Chapter 7 Summary

Bull lit up a cigar before showering and putting his complete Marine uniform on. He entered Ben’s room and woke his son up. He did the same to the rest of his kids, irritating them. He pushed his kids to start attacking each other, using improvised weapons out of household stuff. After the roughhousing, Mary Anne approached her father and told him that she’s planning on writing a book about her dad.

Notes: Again, Bull power-tripped and used his children as his own playthings by watching them attack each other. He thinks that this prepares them for any surprise attacks that may happen to them.


Chapter 8 Summary


Bull was getting impatient. He was eager to start his duty by next week. His family made sure that they kept quiet and avoided getting in his way during moments like this. The children mastered giving him blank stares while commanding them. Once the children were out of the room, Lillian told her husband how she noticed that he’s been on the edge lately.

She didn’t like how it seemed as if he was taking it all out on the kids. Bull finished his breakfast and told Lillian to finish the dishes as he left the room. He started reading the newspaper loudly, with his wife shouting side comments about the news from the kitchen. Someone knocked on the door and Bull got up to answer it. A blue-haired woman carrying a basket and a brown paper bag in her hands greeted him. She introduced herself as Earline Grantham. Lillian emerged from the kitchen to greet Earline, giving Bull an excuse to leave the room and leave the two women to chat. He went upstairs and bellowed to his kids that they must report to their stations immediately. He began criticizing his kids’ way of cleaning. He noticed what seemed to be dirt in Ben’s room. Ben rebutted that it was blood—he beat up a Navy pilot who said that his dad was the biggest son of a bitch in the armed forced. Hearing this excuse pleased Bull greatly, leaving Ben off the hook.


After Bull conducted the inspections, Mary Anne entered Ben’s room, clutching her stomach. She felt sick because of the way her father yelled at them. She described her father’s games as “jejune”. Ben asked her what the word meant then pinned her down when she refused to tell him.

When Bull went back downstairs, his wife was just bidding goodbye to Earline on their front porch. Lillian revealed to her husband that she had hired a maid to help around with the house. He ignored her and continued on being neurotic. In turn, Lillian did the same thing and repeated that she had hired a maid.

Notes: Bull’s militaristic attitude is still in him even if he’s at home with the kids. He doesn’t realize that this is one of the reasons why the kids dislike him: his obsession with order and command.

Chapter 9 Summary


An hour past dawn on a Monday, their new maid arrived at their back steps. Bull was hurrying out the backdoor when he noticed a woman blocking his way. He felt taken aback because the new maid was a Southern Black—a social group that he has difficulties dealing with. The maid, Arrabelle, challenged him to punch her. He did as he was asked and was surprised at how solid her body was. Then it was her turn to punch him back. She swung at Bull and her fist landed on the bridge of his nose. Bull got mad at this and proceeded to insult the woman. They were arguing loudly when Lillian came out and introduced herself to Arrabelle. Bull, feeling frustrated, left for work and left Lillian to deal with the maid.

The afternoon, Ben was playing basketball in their driveway when Okra, their dog, started barking at a mule-drawn wagon rolling on the street towards their house. The boy was Toomer Smalls, Arrabelle’s son. Arrabelle introduced her son to Lillian. Toomer was raised by his mother to be a polite young boy, as evident by his gesture of handing Lillian a bouquet. Arrabelle asked her son to pick up some flounder and shrimp over the weekend so she could cook something Southern for the family. Lillian asked Toomer if he could show Ben how to be a Southern man and show him how to do outdoor activities such as fishing and hunting.

On Saturday afternoon, Ben saw Toomer bellowing out to potential customers. He decided to help Toomer load all of his unsold goods to the back of the wagon. Just as they were passing Granville Street, they were greeted by a boy with bright red hair named Red Pettus. Toomer told Ben about how Red’s family disliked black people for being black, but Red left him to his business most of the time. Apparently, Red stole some stuff from Toomer before— a shotgun given by his dad to him. Toomer went down to their house to speak to Red’s dad and he was met with racial slurs from the older man.

Once the two boys were past the bridge, Toomer’s dogs surrounded them, with two jumping on the back of the wagon. Toomer revealed to Ben that he had 26 dogs during his last count, all of them ranging from different sizes and breeds. Most of his dogs were picked up from the room because the Marines leave their dogs behind when they fly to a different country. Ben asked Toomer where he lived— a school bus with its wheels taken off. For the following hour, Ben helped Toomer with feeding the dogs. Toomer then taught Ben how to eat raw oysters. He introduced Ben to the Gray, a Great Dane and German Sheperd mix who doesn’t like white people that much. The Gray would attack any white person unless Toomer was around. Ben commented about how the Gray was the meanest dog that he has ever seen.

That night, Toomer took Ben out on the boat. Ben was confused about what they were doing, until they saw a sea turtle struggling on the beach to find a good spot to lay eggs in. Toomer took four of the turtle’s eggs so they can have something to eat, leaving the rest to hatch. Toomer started a fire on the beach and made some coffee, grits, bacon and friend the turtle eggs as they watched the sea turtle return to the sea. Toomer promised that he’ll teach Ben how to get honey from hives the next morning. Ben felt better knowing that his mother made the right decision to send him out with Toomer— he couldn’t learn the same things from his dad despite his status as a fighter pilot.

Notes: As the setting is during a time when colored people were discriminated upon, Bull’s hostility towards black was shown during his interaction with Arrabelle. Lillian is a Southern woman, hence her immediate liking towards Arrabelle and her son, Toomer, which she wants Ben to hang out with.

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