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Free Study Guide for The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

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Chapter 19 Summary

The next evening, Bull and Lillian dressed up for the Marine Corps birthday ball. They were doing it in silence on opposite ends of their bedroom. This night usually makes Bull feel a deep pride for the Corps. But tonight, Bull feels saddened because it meant that they had to remember all of the men he knew that lost their lives in battle. As he was dressing, he pondered on how heís been gaining weight in his middle age. He got irate at Lillian for making a comment about his weight. She told him to talk to the children before they leave. Bull gathered some weapons from their bedroom and planned a surprise attack on his children.

Mary Anne refused to participate in their fatherís silly games. The boys continued playing with their father, with Karen not knowing what do without instructions. Seeing an opportunity, she attacked her father from the side, accidentally dropping a shot putt on his left foot. He screamed so loudly while the children retreated upstairs. Lillian immediately rushed downstairs upon hearing her husband scream. She poked fun at Bull for being knocked down by their youngest daughter. She started laughing so loudly at her husbandís limping.


All of Bullís other kids were surprised at what Karen did. They waited for their parents to leave before returning back into the house. While they were alone at home, the children were having their own private celebration of the birth of the Corps for the third consecutive year. It was Matt and Karenís first time to join their older siblings with the tradition.

Notes: One of Bullís games backfired on him because of Karenís confusion to what she was supposed to do. The childrenís fear for him is so great; they had to resort to climbing up a tree to avoid his rage. Also, Ben and Mary Anneís disgust towards their father was symbolized by the ďceremonyĒ that they have during the Marine birthday ball.


Chapter 20 Summary


Ben packed his things and prepared for basketball tryouts. He always looked forward to making the basketball team every year that he entered a new school. However, despite playing a good game and making the team, he didnít find it pleasing due to the fact that he canít get along with the others that heís with. The day that he found out that he made the team, he walked home by himself. He thought about the first team that he didnít make it in and how his father exerted effort in making up for what happened. He was grateful for the first coach that he had but regrets not knowing him better, especially after cancer took his coach away. Upon returning home, his mother felt relieved that he made the team, despite Ben not seeming too happy about it.

Notes: Benís talent for basketball was greatly lauded during the tryouts. Again, another key ďfather figureĒ in Benís life outside of Bull is mentioned.

Chapter 21 Summary


On the evening of the first Friday of December, Ben asked his mom if she could get him a new gym bag before his first game. Lillian responded by telling him that he canít grant his request because she and Bull were saving up some money for their dream houseó only for the two of them. Ben dropped the case and joined Lillian and his siblings in praying at the shrine.

Ben entered the locker room and was interrogated by the other players if he was coming to the dance later that evening. The coach reprimanded the players from teasing each other about the dance and dating before the game and gave them a good pep talk. Ben played the game aggressively with his family watching from the bleachers. He was the one who took the winning shot for their team. Ben went back to the locker room and took a shower. He overheard the other guys exchanging stories about their sexual conquests. He was asked about his own sexual history, to which he answered with a lie. He left the building to meet with his family to go home. As Ben opened the door to their car, Bull started giving a blow-by-blow criticism of Benís play during the game. He was proud of what Ben did, but got pissed off when he saw his son help someone from the other team get back on their feet.

While pouring himself a drink, he was proud that he was able to pass on a lot of his good traits down to Ben, however, he felt that he failed to drive out Lillianís softness out of him. He watched his children, knowing that Lillianís softness was evident in all of them.

Notes: There is no doubt that Bull admires Benís ability with playing basketball. However, he still canít help but criticize him for inheriting is motherís softness.

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