[T]he eight-year-old boy, John Wesley, a stocky child with glasses, said, “If you don’t want to go to Florida, why dontcha stay at home?”
John Wesley’s question to his grandmother may appear rude, but his words reflect simple logic. The grandmother does not need to take the trip if she does not want to. A practicing Catholic, the author may have chosen the boy’s name to signal that this family is not Catholic. John Wesley was the name of the founder of the Methodist, or Wesleyan, church and many practicing Methodists to this day name a son Wesley or John Wesley.
“Let’s go through Georgia fast so we won’t have to look at it much,” John Wesley said. . . . “Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground . . . and Georgia is a lousy state too.”
John Wesley makes clear that he feels unimpressed with his own home state, Georgia, as well as his grandmother’s childhood home of Tennessee. The boy comes across as rude, cynical, and snobby. However, his words do not accurately reflect the typical diction or attitude of an eight-year-old boy. Readers may infer that he is most likely mimicking comments he has heard from his elders. In reality, John Wesley hasn’t lived long enough to form real opinions about the wider world.
When there was nothing else to do they played a game by choosing a cloud and making the other two guess what shape it suggested. John Wesley took one the shape of a cow and June Star guessed a cow and John Wesley said no, an automobile, and June Star said he didn’t play fair, and they began to slap each other over the grandmother.
The narrator here implies but does not clearly state that John Wesley lied, changing what he thought the cloud looked like so he would not have to concede that his sister guessed correctly. The reader, just like a real-life observer, feels unsure which child is telling the truth. While the children’s fight seems typical for siblings, neither child comes off looking good.
The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the house with the secret panel. John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat . . . so hard that his father could feel the blows in his kidney.
Prior to John Wesley’s tantrum, the grandmother manipulated both grandchildren into demanding to take a side trip, a side trip she wants and believes her son won’t give her. John Wesley and June Star express their wishes rudely, even violently. So far, the narrator hasn’t provided the siblings with any redeeming qualities: Both behave like demanding and disrespectful brats. Later in the story, however, when both children find themselves in the clutches of a murderer, their complete ordinariness stands out. By no means do these children, and by extension any children, deserve to be killed.
“What you got that gun for?” John Wesley asked. “Whatcha gonna do with that gun?”
John Wesley feels intrigued by seeing a man holding a gun. As with the car accident, the potential for danger produces a sense of excitement. John Wesley’s question and his curious but unworried tone drive home the boy’s innocence. Although he would not deserve to be murdered even if he did realize what was coming, the fact that he remains oblivious of his fate makes the injustice of the crime particularly clear.