In this short story, we learn about a thirteen year old boy named Wilgus, who, by the end of the story, has had his rite of passage with the help of his uncle Delmer. We all know that one adult who is very irresponsible and the person we would want to keep our kids away from. That is the kind of person Delmer is. He drinks in front of Wilgus and even lets Wilgus drink too. He also drives while he is drunk, which, in this day and age, is illegal. Eventually, in the end, Wilgus drives them home because Delmer is so drunk that he is passed out. All of this irresponsibility is what leads to Wilgus’ rite of passage. The main theme of this story is Wilgus’ rite of passage but without Delmer, it never would’ve happened.
The second most important character is one who is not only there throughout most if not all of the story, but who also helps the main character (Wilgus) grow. Delmer does just that. Unlike Wilgus’ grandparents, Delmer is there throughout almost the entire story. And when he isn’t, he’s still contributing to Wilgus’ growth. He leaves Wilgus in the truck almost as soon as they leave his grandparents’ house when he goes inside a friend’s house. When Delmer comes back he has a bag with cans of beer in them. Although Wilgus had never had a full can of beer before, he had had little sips. This was his chance to finally drink beer–at thirteen! Now it wasn’t like Delmer said, “Here you go kid.” He just gave Wilgus the opportunity without saying a word.
“ Wilgus had never actually had his own full can to drink all by himself before. But when he took the sip he suddenly realized it was time. For there he was, cruising along the highway, leaning hard around the curves, heading off with his uncle with two six packs of beer and Mac Wiseman singing on the radio. If this wasn’t the time for him to have his own beer then there would never be one” (Norman 25). Drinking those beers not only got Wilgus a little drunk but it also made him feel like a man and brought him one step closer to being one, because after all, men drink.
The next stop Delmer took was at Pauline’s house. When they arrived, Delmer told Wilgus he was seeing a “man about a dog” but when he approached the door, he “cleaned” himself up. When Pauline answered the door, Wilgus realized what they were actually there for. While Delmer was in Pauline’s, Wilgus imagined what was going on in there. Wilgus wasn’t stupid. He may have been a kid but he was thirteen. “Wilgus knew about fucking”(30). He imagined that that was what was going on inside. He then began to picture himself going inside and joining. “The thought made the boy excited and happy and he went on drinking beer and waiting and listening to the radio” (30). Wilgus’ thoughts got interrupted however when Delmer came out storming mad. He got in the truck and drove off. “Delmer drove a good fifteen minutes without taking his eyes off of the road” (30).
As Wilgus and Delmer were going down the road, we get our first glimpse of Wilgus relating Delmer to his father. “In profile he looked very much like his brother, Wilgus’ father, Glen. . . Now and then Delmer rubbed his hand across his face, lightly massaging the flesh. This was a gesture Wilgus’ father had made a lot too”(31). We see that Wilgus looks up to Delmer in a way simply because he reminds him so much of his father. There is also a point on this part of the trip where we see that Wilgus has grown a little. Most thirteen-year-olds don’t give a second thought to their grandparents if they are out with their irresponsible uncle but Wilgus does. He thinks about what he would be doing if he were at home. He wonders what chores he would be working on. This is a sign of his maturity because when a normal person gets the opportunity to be irresponsible, they don’t think of their responsibilities back home.
Another thing Delmer does to contribute to Wilgus’ growth is while they were on a “piss break”(32), Delmer starts shooting his .38. “He shot a beer can lying in a ditch. He fired a couple of rounds through the windshield of an old abandoned car lying on its side among some trees down the bank from the road. Then he handed the pistol to Wilgus and told him to empty the chamber”(32). He told Wilgus to empty the chamber, he didn’t ask him. He showed Wilgus that he considered him to be a man because he told him to shoot the gun without hesitation. Once he emptied the chamber, they got back on the road and began to drive again.
A few minutes later, Delmer pulls the truck over “. . . in front of a hillside that was on fire”(33) . Of course a few minutes later, Wilgus learns that the hillside isn’t on fire but instead a slagheap was. It is here where Wilgus learns that Delmer and Wilgus’ father had both contributed and put some of the slate on that pile. Here, Wilgus found a connection to his late father. Granted he’s heard stuff from his grandparents about the kind of person his father was and Delmer even tells him, “He was the best one of us, that’s for sure”(35). See, this is another reason that Delmer is the second most important because he knew that he couldn’t be his brother and he didn’t try to be but he wanted to make sure that Wilgus knew the kind of person he was. He even tells Wilgus that his father could’ve been anything he wanted to be.
Delmer, however, was not as smart, and had no other choice but the coal mines. While it may appear like Delmer took him to a random place to drink, he really took him to a place he knew that Wilgus could hold dear. While we all think Delmer was just being an idiotic irresponsible adult, he might have actually had a plan to connect Wilgus with his father. You see, Delmer could’ve drank without allowing Wilgus to, and he could’ve shot the .38 without allowing Wilgus to, but in the fact that he did allow Wilgus to join in shows that he was willing to connect with Wilgus while at the same time, letting him grow up. Heck he passed out in the end and Wilgus (who was only thirteen) had to drive home. Because of Delmer’s choices, Wilgus experienced his rite of passage.
Delmer may not be the ideal role model but he was blunt in showing Wilgus the things in life that make you a man. He didn’t force Wilgus to drink, he just left it there as an option. Due to the fact that Delmer was so drunk, Wilgus had to drive home because otherwise he would be stuck at this slagheap which was in the middle of nowhere. While he wasn’t the best driver, he knew it was what he should do. Thanks to Delmer’s irresponsibility, Wilgus got to experience driving at thirteen instead of sixteen like everyone else. That in itself made him more grown up than when he had left his grandparents’ house earlier that night.