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Free Study Guide for The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

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Chapter 17 Summary

Bull shook his son Ben awake at four in the morning. Ben was confused with his fatherís urgency. He was surprised to find a large, gift-wrapped package waiting for him on the kitchen table as his dad sipped on a steaming cup of coffee. Ben ripped open the package and found a flight jacket with the patch of the Red Cobra Squadron on the sleeve. It was Bullís old flight jacket, the very first one he wore when he flew during World War II. His father warned him that Marines would get at him if they saw Ben wearing the jacket, so he can only wear it around the house or during the night. Bull recalled the night Ben was born. He also told Ben that he planned out a surprise for his eldest son. Bull revealed that he was taking his son out to see how new recruits are whipped into shape. He also gave his son his first cigarette. Ben watched as the drill instructors screamed and insulted the other privates. To him, his father was the scariest drill instructor that heíd ever encounter in his lifetime, but still, he felt startled with the way some of the drill instructors spoke. He watched as one of the drill instructors, Sergeant Hicks, shoot bullets through the chest of a fellow drill instructor named Blakely. Hicks ordered two other recruits to dump Blakely. Immediately, after dismissing the recruits, Hicks walked over to their car and shook hands with Bull. Ben immediately went over to the dumpster where they left Blakelyís body and was surprised to see Blakely peeling off a stained shirt, revealing that it was all just an act. Bull bid farewell to his son and told him to meet him in the afternoon for a birthday dinner.


Ben got home and was greeted by his mother who just woke up. She told him about why she married his father young, the same age as Ben was right now. Lillian told Ben that his father acts all tough and arrogant because itís the only way he could survive his career as a Marine. Ben laid out his plans after high school to his mom, listing down a few Ivy League schools that heíd like to attend. Mary Anne joined them in the kitchen and started teasing her older brother. Before leaving for school, Lillian handed her son a letteró for him to read when he got the time. Ben felt hot tears building up around his eyes when he started reading his motherís heartfelt letter.

During the afternoon, Ben made his way to the Officerís Club and took a while to find his father. He saw his father sitting with Colonel Hedgepath at the far corner of the club. He was greeted by his godfather, Colonel Hedgepath, who told him that his present for him was already sent to their house earlier in the morning. Bull insisted that his son have his first drink, as he was at the legal age to purchase alcoholic drinks in South Carolina. He wants to teach his eldest how to drink like a man. Ben ordered a double martini and completely faked his way through being an ďexperiencedĒ drinker in front of his father. Bull proposed a toast for Benís birthday in front of the whole club. Ben felt moved by his fatherís toast. Ben felt euphoric because of his drink. Twenty minutes later, Ben was knocked out and his father had to carry him home on his shoulders. It ended up triggering a fight between Bull and Lillian, something that Ben had no idea about until he woke up at noontime the next day.

Notes: Bullís love for his children, particularly his son Ben was important in this chapter. He sees Ben as his successor, hence his roughness towards the boy. His toast for Ben was one of the rare moments when Ben felt appreciated by his father.



Chapter 18 Summary


Bull woke up at 3am during the morning of October 21st. Lillian listened to her husband struggle as he did his push-ups. She thought about how age is slowing her husband down. She got wind of some information that Bullís squadron is heading to Cuba. Lillian interrogated him if a war is going to happen, but he refused to answeró citing that the information is classified. Bull told her that he doesnít trust anybody, as it might compromise their job.

Over breakfast, Lillian asked Bull if he ever thought about the men that heís killed while in combat. She also asked if he thought about their wives and kids, to which Bull responded that he doesnít. Their conversation turned into something that woke up the racist inside of Bull. He brought up the Japanese, the Jews, the Cubansó citing that he only cared about Americans. Lillian expressed her frustration towards Bull for not having any feelings. He told her that fighter pilots arenít supposed to have feelings. Lillian was fearful that one of their kids might grow up to be just like Bull. Bull kissed his wife lightly before heading to work.

The pilots of 367 were all dressed for flight. Hedgepath addressed the squadron and told them that theyíre asked to be on a 24-hour alert. By 6am, they were to fly over to Gitmo and arrive at around 2:36 in the afternoon. From there, they will receive further instructions. Once Hedgepath was out of earshot, Bull told the squadron that they were chosen not because of an accident, but because they were the best. He wants to make sure that nothing bigger than a seagull will be in the airspace of Cuba once they enter. He hopes that they go to war during the same day, as itís going to be a test for his squadron to show what makes them the bestó he wants to make history. And then, they all started preparing for lift off.

The pilots of 367 were all dressed for flight. Hedgepath addressed the squadron and told them that theyíre asked to be on a 24-hour alert. By 6am, they were to fly over to Gitmo and arrive at around 2:36 in the afternoon. From there, they will receive further instructions. Once Hedgepath was out of earshot, Bull told the squadron that they were chosen not because of an accident, but because they were the best. He wants to make sure that nothing bigger than a seagull will be in the airspace of Cuba once they enter. He hopes that they go to war during the same day, as itís going to be a test for his squadron to show what makes them the bestó he wants to make history. And then, they all started preparing for lift off.

Before school, Lillian gathered her children at the shrine that she set up beneath the stairs. She asked her children to bring their rosaries with them so they can pray for a special intention.

Notes: Lillian picked Bullís brain about the people that he killed during combat, again, showing the softness within her. Despite her husband being tough as a rock, she still prays for him to be kept safe every time.

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