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Teardrop: The Unsuspecting Protector

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In today's world, the institution of family is the backbone of our common values and is brought down from generation to generation. Some are lucky enough to have support and love from their strong bonds with their family, whether or not they are blood-related. Isolation from family or the absence of one, for one reason or another, can make a person appear cold-hearted, harsh and individualistic when all they wish for is to belong in a family that will care for them: what follows is the instinct to protect what he or she cares about. Many Authors have explored the concept of family and the desire for it. In Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone, Teardrop is portrayed as an aggressive and intimidating man, but as Ree’s search for her father progresses, Teardrop presents himself as not the man everyone thinks he is; in fact, he is protective of what family he has left and puts his reputation on the line for them. Uncle Teardrop is a local meth cooker in the Missouri Ozarks, where meth and poverty are major problems. His brother Jessup is also a meth cooker, who has a daughter named Ree and two sons.

Teardrop’s violent and aggressive demeanor, which is intensified with his constant use of meth, makes it difficult to interact with him as he isolates himself and acts purposefully cold with people close to him. Just after discovering that her father had disappeared a week before his court date, Ree first travels to her uncle's house, Teardrop, to see if he knows her father's whereabouts. Teardrop neglects Ree’s pleads for help, and when his wife asks to look more into where Jessup is, he threatens “ I said shut up once already, with my mouth”(25). Teardrop is strikingly bitter to Ree knowing that his nephews and brother’s wife will be put on the street if they do not find him and impulsively implies violence upon his wife after she tries to convince him to help Ree. After Teardrop denies knowing any information about the whereabouts of Jessup, Ree angrily shouts at Teardrop, saying that Jessup is his only brother and that he should care more about where his brother is. Teardrop, soon after Ree said this, “lurched from his chair and snatched Ree by the hair and pulled her head hard his way… pressed a hand around her windpipe and held her still”(26). Teardrop unexpectedly lashes out at Ree, obviously disliking what she said and the tone in which she said it; nonetheless, this action was irrational and not needed. Teardrop’s aggression is not always expressed physically or verbally; he can express his coldness with small, wordless, but felt actions. One prime example of one of these small actions is when Teardrop travels to Ree’s house to tell her that Jessup did not show up to his court date. As he leaves her house he “eased the truck slowly, slowly alongside them[Harold and Sonny], stared at them intently without a word of greeting or gesture of recognition, and with no change in speed drove out of sight”(114). Teardrop shows no compassion or care for his nephews as he leaves Ree’s house, highlighting how detached and heartless he is towards his relatives; before this happens he took meth, proving how his unsympathetic nature is heightened by his drug use. Teardrop is hard to approach by his relatives due to his aggressive and sometimes violent demeanor, showing no compassion to even his closest relatives.

Teardrop’s aggressive nature adds to his fearsome reputation and leads most people to see him as an intimidating figure. Ree reaches out to Teardrop to see if he knew where her father, Jessup, is because her father's court date is a week away. When talking to him, Ree cannot help but notice his distorted face and teardrop tattoo, thinking “Folks said the teardrops meant he’d three times done grizzly prison deeds that needed doing but didn't need to be gapped about”(24). Whether the rumors of why he got it is true or not, Teardrop’s tattoo is somewhat of a reminder to everyone who sees it of the capabilities of the man who bears it and what happens to people who cross him, adding to his threatening reputation. After being told not to come back after being denied counsel with Thump about the disappearance of her father, Ree goes back to Thump Milton’s house only to be attacked and beaten senseless by the women of the Thump family. When Teardrop discovers this and comes to pick her up, one man exclaims “I don't know, but I gotta go quick get something from my car. I ain't standing here naked when that motherfucker walks in and sees her beat silly over there”(135). Teardrop’s reputation as an irrational and impulsive person sets fear into the heart of almost everybody, leading this man to believe that his life was in danger before Teardrop even came out of the truck. After Teardrop picks up Ree from Thump Milton's house, the two end up having a conversation at Ree’s house. Ree admits that “You have always scared me, Uncle Teardrop”(150) and Teardrop replies “That’s ‘cause you’re smart”(150).



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