Winter’s Bone Themes

Daniel Woodrell

Winter’s Bone

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Winter’s Bone Themes


Ree, as well as the rest of her Dolly kin, has a fundamental relationship with nature throughout the novel. The significance of the Ozarks extends beyond their function of land to live on; the mountain landscape has shaped a way of life for the Dolly family. The environment brings the Dolly clans together even as the distinct valleys serve to mark differences between them. As Ree notes, the different valleys have different birdsong, illustrating how nature often mirrors the people within the novel.

It becomes clear that Ree, in particular, finds nature cathartic and cleansing. At one point, she notes that, “At school teachers said don’t do that anymore, stuff has leaked to the heart of the earth and maybe soured even the deepest deep springs, but plenty of old ones crouched and sipped from the ladle yet” (158). Ree believes in the essential purity of nature, and she often seeks sanctuary in nature from the corrupting influence of her community.

Predetermination and the Loss of Freedom

Ree Dolly’s fatalistic perspective on life shapes many of her decisions and fears. She finds the Dolly name and way of life constrictive, in that it only allows for the possibility of certain futures, and these futures all appear to be mind-dulling and pain-filled. For example, it becomes clear that while Ree fears she will one day develop her mother’s insanity, she also fears the fates that await her family and community. She believes her brothers will grow into Dolly men, hardened by their lives and forever shaped by need. Similarly, she fears for Gail, whose future became fixed after an unexpected pregnancy. As such, Ree often finds herself looking into a “looming expected kind of future” (93) where one might find themselves “glued” (32). Though she constantly fights fate, even arguing for Harold’s name in an attempt to provide him with a different future, Ree continuously searches for parallels between her life and those of her ancestors. She never appears to truly expect change.

Carcasses and Remains

The novel begins with the image of deer carcasses hanging in the trees, and this scene initiates the theme…

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