Patty’s father, Harry, dominates his household, although her mother appears to be unfazed by his violence, and he is a stereotypical patriarch. He is selective in his bullying, however, and prefers to attack Patty rather than her mother or sister. She has become his designated victim and it is characteristic of her rebellious nature that she still refuses to bow down to his power when she helps to hide Anton.
Little explanation is given as to why Harry behaves as he does, except when Anton witnesses his distress after beating Patty for challenging his rule of not playing with Freddy. Anton hears Harry say that nobody loves him and one can only imagine that his sense of being unloved has led him to terrify his daughter.
By describing Harry (a Jewish man) in such negative terms, the novel takes controversial steps. This controversy is furthered when Anton compares him to Hitler, as both men are cruel, and thus a clumsy attempt is made to declare that all bullying and violence is reprehensible. Friendship
Friendship, and the lack of it, is a key theme to this novel as Patty whiles away her summer in solitude for the most part. She is not allowed to associate with Freddy Dowd and the other girls she knows are attending Baptist summer camp. Her new bond with Anton and her enduring relationship with Ruth are the two highlights of her life.
Through the comparison between her loneliness and burgeoning friendship with Anton, it is possible to see how the novel focuses on the importance of alliances. This may be interpreted as a moral tale (and is written for young adults after all) as it advocates the importance of love and harmony to its readers.
Racism and anti-Semitism are the counterbalance to the novel’s prescription of love. These hate crimes are largely deconstructed by the narrator as she refuses to prejudge (for the most part anyway) Ruth and Anton. Through Patty’s voice, the ignorance of racism is undercut and dismissed as her bond with Ruth and Anton is seen to be stronger than the one she has with her close family.
The racism of her fellow adult citizens is seen to be based on ignorance by this young girl, thus demonstrating that they (as adults) should be ashamed of their blind hatefulness. When Mrs. Benn demands that Ruth is sacked for being ‘uppity’, for example, Mrs. Benn is depicted in the negative for her hateful attitude.