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Trauma Conga Line / Literature

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  • This is a most popular plot device for sentimental 19th-century novels such as Dog of Flanders, Uncle Tom's Cabin and A Little Princess, as well as their anime adaptations in the World Masterpiece Theater.
  • Thomas Hardy tends towards this, especially in his later novels. Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure in particular are just one bad turn after another.
  • Older Than Feudalism: The Book of Job (from The Bible) springs to mind.
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  • Candide is the lord and master of this trope. Almost every single character falls victim to this.
  • The Baudelaire children in A Series of Unfortunate Events endure this throughout the series. Their parents are dead, they have no close relatives to live with, the main Big Bad wants to gain their family's fortune by any means necessary, any good relatives they find are killed, they lose their only friends through even more tragic circumstances, and they have no one to rely on. These kids really deserve a hug.
  • In Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag by the end has had his secret work for La Résistance discovered and smashed, his wife killed, his friend and mentor "disappeared", and been forced to burn down his own house, all the while his Magnificent Bastard of an opponent laughs about how they're Not So Different. It's a relief to see Beatty meet his Karmic Death and Montag eventually get at least a Bittersweet Ending; the play makes it a Happy Ending.
    • Except, that Bradbury wrote the story for the text-adventure sequel, and he cheerfully gives Montag and Clarisse a Bolivian Army Ending.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold has explicitly stated that she generates her plots by asking herself what the worst possible thing she can do to the hero is. For example, in Memory she begins by having interstellar superagent Miles notice he is suffering from seizures from injuries sustained in the last book. Next he makes the bad decision to personally lead a prisoner rescue mission anyway and ends up having a seizure in mid mission. While having the seizure he accidentally saws off the legs of the prisoner he was rescuing with a plasma gun. Then he lies about the seizures on his After-Action Report because he is afraid of getting a desk job. This gets him cashiered. And this is just the plot setup in the first few chapters! Miles, fortunately, always manages to achieve Result A.
    • Later on she refined her philosophy to "the worst possible thing that the hero can still learn a useful lesson from." For example, despite the political trouble the circumstances of Tien Vorsoisson's death caused Miles in A Civil Campaign, a far more thorough and protracted torture could have been produced for Miles simply by not killing Tien off in Komarr and letting Miles suffer for years knowing that the woman he loves is married to someone else and thus condemning them both to suffer nobly, unrequited, for years. (That Ekaterin was going to leave Tien anyway cuts no ice — both Miles' and Ekaterin's honor would never have allowed them to remotely act on any mutual attraction so long as her husband was still alive). However, since going this route would have been dramatically pointless, Bujold didn't. So very occasionally, her characters do actually get cut a break.
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  • J. R. R. Tolkien specialized in these: the plot of The Silmarillion is basically driven by a series of Heroic BSODs brought on by excessive disaster. Probably the best example is Túrin (a hard E, followed by a C), whose whole freaking life was one; others include Fingolfin (result D), Húrin (possibly B, then C), the Sons of Fëanor (all over the spectrum, excluding A) Fëanor himself (D), and Tuor (a rare A).
  • Captain Lawrence in the Temeraire book, Victory Of Eagles. He starts the book off under a death sentence for treason and ends it sailing off in exile to Australia, on the books as a prisoner. In between, he has to put up with half the Aerial Corps despising him as a traitor (many of those who think he did the right thing are too ashamed to look him in the eye themselves), his commanding officer/lover chewing him out for his Lawful Stupidity that gained him traitor tag, the husband of a former love interest he'd treated badly getting killed helping him on a a covert mission, and his personal fortune getting wiped out by a lawsuit. And did we mention Napoleon has invaded England while all this is going on?
  • Harry Potter:
    • Harry himself. Nearly every adult authority figure either despises Harry and tortures him, or is killed protecting him. He also is the witness to several of his friends and loved ones being murdered. If your family was murdered while you were a baby and you bear a scar from that event the rest of your life, and it WASN'T the worst thing to ever happen to you, you have a seriously messed-up life.
    • Also Sirius Black, who grew up in a neglectful and unloving home, was disowned by his family for refusing to join Voldemort, lost most of his close friends in the First Wizarding War, was framed for the murder of two of them, spent 13 years being subjected to the torture of Azkaban, and finally escaped only to have his chance to gain a real family snatched away at the last minute, lived off rats while on the run, and had to spend most of his remaining time confined to the home he hated as a child. Frankly, Bella gave him a Mercy Kill.
    • Remus Lupin didn't fare much better. It started when he was bitten by a werewolf, meaning a lifetime of excruciating changes and social ostracism to go along with it. When he got to school, he made three good friends in spite of all that - and then had to watch them all die or turn traitor one by one. After he and Tonks got together and had a child, they were both hit with Too Happy to Live during the final battle.
    • Luna has it pretty rough—her mother died in front of her when she was nine, she's ostracised and bullied by other students at Hogwarts for being weird, and it's only after the Golden Trio, Neville and Ginny start talking to her that she has any friends, and then she gets kidnapped by Death Eaters when her father shows too much support for Harry in The Quibbler during Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
    • The entire life of Merope Gaunt, introduced in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sucked, to put it simply. She was the target of constant abuse by her father and brother, never got to go to Hogwarts (most likely because her father believed she was a Squib), and fell in love with a man she knew would never want her. She used a Love Potion to make him fall in love with her and have her child, but stopped using it after a while, hoping he had genuinely fallen in love with her. He ran away from her instead, causing her to fall into despair and die giving birth to their son.
    • Andromeda Tonks (née Black) has to endure harsh trials despite only physically appearing briefly in one book. She was disowned by her family when she married a Muggle-born wizard. Because she looks similar to Bellatrix, who joined the Death Eaters and participated in countless horrific acts, she was presumably shunned by other wizards, despite having nothing to do with them. Then her favorite cousin was captured and imprisoned upon false charges and was murdered two years after he escaped. Not even two years later, she is tortured by the Death Eaters because she dared to host Harry Potter. Her husband runs away to escape the Snatchers, but is killed anyway. Finally, her daughter and son-in-law die in the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving her to care for her newborn grandson.
  • Vanyel Ashkevron of the Heralds of Valdemar series. He starts out life hated and abused by his father and brothers for the sin of being gay, which they deliberately try to keep him from figuring out. When he finally gets a Love Interest, he's Driven to Suicide. The earthshattering magical powers Vanyel gets as a result only serve to make him the go-to guy for every problem Valdemar has, to the point where he can't take a break for five minutes without the kingdom falling apart. Then, just when he makes up with his family, someone starts picking off his friends one by one. This nearly causes him to break his oath as a Herald as he storms off on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, only to walk into a trap in which he's serially raped into a Heroic BSoD. After recovering from that, he's forced to give up his new Love Interest in order to deliver a final Heroic Sacrifice to save the kingdom. To top it all off, the Aesop appears to be Comes Great Responsibility.
    • Mercedes Lackey has a basic formula to give her characters Angst: Drop a mountain on them. Let them recover slightly. Drop another mountain on them. Repeat.
  • The title character of The Dresden Files. His mother died in childbirth, his father died when he was a child, he had to kill his adoptive father when the latter tried to mentally enslave him along with his first girlfriend, he spent the next decade or so living under a "one-strike-you're-out" death penalty by his fellow wizards, his next girlfriend got turned into a half-vampire, terrible things keep happening to his friends, he can barely make rent, and there isn't a single book in which he isn't beaten, shot, burned, knifed, and/or just plain tortured. And then came Changes...
    "Typical. Even when you're dead, it doesn't get any easier."
    • And he was right. After all he's gone through in Changes, Ghost Story cranks it up beyond eleven.
    • It says something that compared to Cold Days, Ghost Story can honestly be described as a Breather Episode.
    • The author, Jim Butcher, has flat-out said that dropping pain on Harry is an integral part of his creative process.
  • Murtagh from Inheritance Cycle. The main article describes his life as a series of people kicking him in the balls. As of the ending of the 2nd book, he's well on his way to becoming Type B.
  • This happens to most of the characters in Sometimes A Great Notion, but the one who gets it worst has to be Hank. He loses his father, who dies of blood loss after losing his arm in a logging accident; he fails to save his cousin Joby from drowning while trapped under a log from the same logging accident; his half-brother Leland tells him he was having an affair with Hank's wife Vivian and then blames him for driving Leland's mother to suicide by having sex with her, even though she was several years older and it would count as statutory rape - and says all this immediately after leaving their father's deathbed; his wife Vivian leaves him; and the whole town gangs up on him for refusing to join their logging strike. All in the same day.
  • What is it with people named some variation of "Henry"? In The Time Traveler's Wife, Henry has no control over what he can and cannot time-travel to. Want proof that someone has it in for him? He time-travelled to his mother's death more times than we can count. And hasn't been able to do a damn thing to stop it.
  • Chinese Cinderella, full stop. The main character is blamed for her mother's Death by Childbirth and mistreated by her birth siblings and Wicked Stepmother. Her father disregards her to the point he can't remember her birthday or name. She adopts a duckling that her family feeds to the guard dog. Her friends at school throw her a surprise party, earning her a vicious beating from her stepmother. She's separated from her beloved aunt and grandpa, then sent to a boarding school in the path of Communist uprisings. After her family moves, she's sent to a different school, but still neglected and then bullied by her peers. She wins a writing contest, but her grandfather dies immediately after. The closest the book comes to a happy ending is that her father notices her grades and sends her to college. And this was all based on the author's real life.
  • Black Dagger Brotherhood: Zsadist has this in spades. He was abducted from his family as an infant, sold into slavery, and then the moment he became an adult his mistress began raping him. Often she'd let her other male slaves watch, or even have them join in. He was sometimes kept bound to a pallet on the floor, flat on his back, for days at a time—y'know, so he'd be in the right position when the mood struck her. She'd often neglect to feed him or give him the blood he needed, and liked to beat him when he offered any form of resistance. (His back is a mass of scars because of this.) It took more than a century for his twin to track him down and rescue him, and in the attempt his mistress' enraged husband scarred Z's face with a sword. Oh, and later on his girlfriend is kidnapped and tortured by vampire-slayers.
  • Seyonne in the Rai-Kirah books. He's been a slave for sixteen years by the time we're introduced to him, and is basically just waiting to die. Then things get worse. He spends a good chunk of the second book in hell being arbitrarily tortured, and the third book ends with him stripped of his powers and about half his memory...and those are just a couple of the highlights.
  • Alex Rider's parents are killed when he's an infant, he's raised by his housekeeper as his guardian is either away or training him to be a spy, his uncle dies and he is recruited into taking his place, he witnesses enormous horrors and is scarred for life. And then there's Jack's death, which destroys Alex.
  • The Hunger Games: Peeta Mellark is routinely beaten by his mother, falls in love with Katniss, is thrown into an arena to fight her to the death, nearly dies of sepsis, loses his leg, finds out the girl of his dreams only faked loving him back, goes back into the arena to fight her to the death again, has a heart attack, gets left behind when Katniss leaves, is tortured to the point of seemingly irreparable insanity, is present while everyone else on his squad (save Katniss) discuss killing him, and never stops having insane outbursts. Ouch.
    • And Katniss: Her father is killed in a mining accident, she nearly starves to death, she goes to The Hunger Games, she is forced to fake love to someone who really loves her during and after the Games, she goes back into the Games, she watches her close friend being beaten before her eyes, she accidentally becomes the face of a rebellion, she watches the boy she loves get beaten on live television, then realizes everything she does to help the rebellion leads to torture for him, he then tries to strangle her when they reunite, she goes into a battlezone and watches her sister explode. Not to mention her breakdown after she shoots Coin.
      • They both saw a lot of people die.
    • Invoked by the Capitol for all victorious tributes. As children they are put through Deadly Games, where they are forced to kill or be killed not only by other tributes but also by most of the things in the arena. These experiences are enough to make most of them Shell Shocked Veterans, but the Capitol doesn’t leave them alone even then, and puts them through even more suffering for the rest of their lives, making sure There Are No Therapists to help. They can’t even fight back, with the lives of their loved ones on the line and are Forced to Watch as people they know participate in the same Deadly Games. Taken Up to Eleven when victors are faced with a possibility of coming back on the arena and having to kill people they’ve became friends with. At the end only seven victorious tributes remain (out of 50), because both Capitol and rebels target them to make sure they can’t support the opposite side.
  • For someone whose books are geared towards women, Danielle Steel tends to employ this with disturbing frequency. One of her books starts off with the protagonist's mother dying from cancer, then killing her father after years of him sexually abusing her (which her mother has told her that she must submit to, as she can no longer fulfill his sexual needs). Then she's sent to jail for murder, where she's nearly beaten by her fellow inmates. After her release, she starts to rebuild her life—and then she's viciously attacked and beaten on her way home from work and left unable to have children. Then after she's married a wonderful man and built a life with him, revelations about her past come out and nearly destroy her marriage, etc. The only redeeming factor is that ending is always Scenario A.
  • Heroines in Catherine Cookson books are born to suffer, and spend much of the novel(s) having all sorts of angst thrown at them. They don't necessarily get a happy ending either. They very often settle for a life that's not quite as miserable as the one they've gone before. Example: One girl became a mistress to her rapist (and father of her child) when she decided he was actually quite a nice man. He had undergone some character development, but even so...
  • Sidney Sheldon was awfully fond of this trope too. What's worse is that he often likes to cap it off with a Scenario B or C ending.
  • The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin is this and nothing but this for the whole way through, because the reality occupied by the characters is designed by the Lord in White to be as miserable as possible.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire is one big conga line for several characters, but the ones inflicted on Arya and Sansa Stark, starting with their father's death, are especially brutal.
    • Not to mention the brutality of pretty much everything that happens to Theon Greyjoy in A Dance With Dragons
    • Heavily implied that Littlefinger, perhaps the closest thing to the Big Bad in this series (besides The Others), went through this when he was younger, leading to Result B with a splattering Result D. From what we know, he was always mocked for being the lowest lord in the realm, as well as being physically weak in a Rated M for Manly culture. Then, when he challenged the betrothed of the woman he loved, he was beaten, nearly killed, and then, while still weak from his injuries, raped by his love's sister.
    • Tyrion Lannister's life takes a sharp nose-dive in A Storm of Swords including a ghastly facial injury, being denied credit for his accomplishments, betrayal from people he was starting to think of as friends, being falsely accused of murder again and being convicted, and discovering a past betrayal from his family. He finally snaps from this abuse, commits two revenge-fueled murders, and flees Westeros vowing to return someday to take his revenge. And then it gets worse in A Dance with Dragons.
    • Jaime Lannister's adventures as a prisoner of the Boltons.
  • Michael gets dragged through one in the first two books of the Knight and Rogue Series, consisting of multiple abductions, use as a test subject, and ostracization. He spends the second book a little broken but manages to come out in almost as good shape as he was in the beginning, by means of lots of distractions and help from Fisk.
  • Stoneheart has Edie, whose backstory is horrifying (especially for a children's book) and whose role in the actual story isn't much better. Because most of it happens in backstory, it's unclear what Edie would have been like without it, but she seems to become more generally badass as the series goes on, though not without a touch of woobie thrown in. What makes all this even worse is that she's only twelve.
  • A few of the characters in The Emigrants go through this, but perhaps Kristina more than anyone else. Her infant baby dies, her three year-old dies a rather painful death, she almost dies from scurvy on the journey across the Atlantic while pregnant, nearly loses her only surviving daughter on the shores of the Mississippi, Indians point a loaded gun at her, she goes through a hard and drawn-out delivery, spends the second half of her life longing for friends, family and places she can never go back to, for all intents an purposes loses $4000 (a lot of money in the mid-19th century), goes through a severe crisis of faith, miscarries her baby, finds out she can never be intimate with her husband again and...dies before she's forty.
    • Robert is a pretty good contender as well. His master hits his ear so hard he gets tinnitus and chronic pain, his master whips him with a branch for something that wasn't his fault, he gets lost in the desert with his best friend and has to watch him die a slow, agonizing death, loses several teeth, gets conned, tends to his dying master, comes home to his brother sick with yellow fever and completely disillusioned, finds out he's been conned and traded his gold for counterfeit money, his brother accuses him of knowing the money was fake all along and the last time he sees his brother Karl Oskar punches him in the face. Then he dies from his illness all alone by a stream at the age of 22.
  • Nearly everyone—hero, villain, or otherwise—in the GONE series by Michael Grant. It would actually be easier to name the EXCEPTIONS, Brianna and Albert being the only characters out of a cast of 400 kids who don't get tortured every book. And even Brianna got radiation poisoning and even Albert was robbed and shot in the leg. These are the lucky characters. Here are the most noteworthy examples of characters undergoing the trauma conga line, though, you could make long examples of every character;
    • Brittney Donegal had to watch her little brother get eaten by coyotes, before she herself is tortured by the boy responsible for her brothers death, then, Edilio mistaking her for dead, she's buried underground fully conscious (because of her sucky power of immortality), and has to dig her way out. Then she discovers she has to share a body with the boy who murdered her and her family. Then she's tricked into becoming a slave, and is tortured various times; and because of her sucky power she just keeps coming back for more torture—decapitation, getting shot 9 times in the face, you name it. She probably wishes she didn't have her power so she could curl up in a ball and die.
    • Hunter was attacked by his racist, bigoted "best friend", before being framed for a murder that wasn't his fault and being kidnapped and hung half to death by said "best friend". He doesn't die, but is permanently brain damaged and deformed as a result of the torture, and is then exiled from Perdido Beach for the murder he hasn't committed. Then, his body is infested by flesh eating bugs who chew on his brain and further deform him. Then he's burnt to death in "mercy". Fun times for Hunter.
    • Ooh, Diana. The last few books haven't been kind to you have they? First, being tortured by your worst enemy and nearly dying from internal wounds. Second, starving to death for months to the point where you're driven to eat human flesh. Shortly followed by a nearly-fatal plunge off a cliff, Post-Traumatic Dtress Disorder, and a Teen Pregnancy cultivating in your boyfriend, the only person you've been able to trust this entire time, saying that you repulse him and he wants nothing to do with you anymore. Then you are forcibly kicked out of your home, and with no choice but seek refuge in your enemies terrain whilst you suffer the indignities of everyone knowing about your fall from grace. Next up? You're kidnapped and tortured by the boy who nearly killed you while heavily pregnant, as you are forced to walk miles across sandstone with no shoes whilst suffering contractions. You are whipped, psychologically tortured, threatened, humiliated and at one point forced to crawl in the mud on your belly. Then, when you give birth at 15 years old in a steaming hot, pitch black mine with no medical assistance, congratulations! It's a Queue becoming a slave to your own child and suffering pretty extreme postpartum depression. Oh, and great news! Once you outgrow your usefulness to your daughter, she or Drake will probably kill you, and it's implied you're going to be raped by Drake. Laser-Guided Karma for all the heinous things she did just for malicious glee, or Disproportionate Retribution for a girl who in reality was just a bit of a snobby bitch?
  • Given the Crapsack World (or possibly World Half Full) setting of The Wheel of Time, it's probably not surprising this happens to quite a few of its characters. One example is Morgase, queen of Andor, who is brainwashed and raped, then forced to flee her country, then tortured and forced to Abdicate the Throne and probably raped again. Until one of the Deuteragonists comes across her, basically everything that happens to her is immensely traumatic.
    • Rand, the pivotal character and The Chosen One, doesn't have it easy either. He finds out that he is adopted while his father is near death from an infected wound, he is slowly (or rapidly) going insane because that's what happens to all males who are born with the ability to channel, and, due to him being a channeler, he is alienated from pretty much all of his family and friends, many of whom later view him chiefly as a force of nature that needs to be controlled and/or manipulated. This is one of the factors that makes him decidedly paranoid...or justifiably suspicious, considering all those assassination attempts by everything from sentient mist to normal people out for glory or money. He's also suffering from a wound that won't heal for the longest part of the series, giving him a physically exhausted look and a twisted relationship to pain. There's more, but needless to say, he adopts the maxim; "Duty is heavier than a mountain, death is lighter than a feather" from Lan, to explain his relationship to the whole "save the world business".
  • Beatrice Löwenström in Simona Ahrnstedt's Överenskommelser becomes a type G example in the end. She's smart, competent, and tough, but life has been really hard on her. Not only did she lose her mother when she was only six years old and her father when she was only fourteen years old. But she also has to live with her tyrannical uncle, who abuses her for five long years, forcing her into a marriage with a man, who's like forty years older than her and treats women like dirt under his shoes. Beatrice's relationship with Seth, her love interest, is also complicated to say the least. And just when she thought that things would turn out good between them, cue her sadistic cousin ruining everything! Not to mention that she was brutally raped and almost killed on her wedding night...
  • The Copper, one of the three protagonists of Age of Fire, has a rough life right from the start. As per dragon traditions, as he and his brothers hatch, they fight to the death, and while the Copper lives, he still loses and is cast out by his family, with nothing but a permanently broken front leg to show for it. Then, after months of scrounging for food to survive, he's captured by dwarves, who trick him into selling out his family's location (after breaking his tail For the Lulz) so they can kill them all, succeeding in the cases of his parents and one of his sisters (namely, the one who was the only family member to show him kindness), and as a parting gift, their dragon-hunting mercenary gives him a wound that guarantees one of his wings will never grow in properly, denying him the chance of ever flying. And then his surviving sister, on running into him shortly after, nearly gouges out one of his eyes as revenge for his treachery, leaving him practically half-blind. Things start to look up for him after that, as he finds his way to the Lavadome and starts a new life there, but he carries his wounds (both physical and psychological) for the rest of his life.
  • The Martian: Author Andy Weir cheerfully admits that this is exactly what he was doing when he wrote the book. He started with the premise of an astronaut accidentally left behind on Mars, trying to survive until the next expedition from Earth arrives, and then made a list of every disaster he could think of that might happen to the poor guy. For each disaster, he then tried to come up with a way that Mark Watney could overcome the problem and soldier on. If the answer was "Nope, this would definitely kill him", then that disaster was dropped from the list. The result is a story in which Watney endures every possible disaster that he has any hope of surviving, and triumphs over them all.
  • Queen Mary I goes through this in The Queen's Fool. First she loses her sister's love, then her first child, then her husband (who never even loved her, but she fails to realize this), then her second child.
  • This trope can sum up the second Neogicia novel. It starts with the protagonist getting kidnapped, then getting a Mercy Lead that gets followed by a series of From Bad to Worse and Out of the Frying Pan situations, even after a rescue party reaches her. Dealing with the new situation always spends more physical and mental energy than what she managed to recuperate after the previous one, to the point that her Post-Victory Collapse becomes more of a Post Victory Several Month Long Coma.
  • Warrior Cats: SkyClan gets this a lot: originally they lost most of their territory due to Twolegs and began to starve, and then were driven out of the forest by other Clans; when they found the gorge, the remainder of the Clan was either killed by rats or split up. Special mention goes to their situation in Hawkwing's Journey: First they lose Duskpaw in a fire, then are unable to figure out the meaning of the prophecy Echosong received: when they try to follow it, cats (including Billystorm) die. The Clan is also attacked by raccoons at least twice, killing at least one and injuring others. Then Darktail's allies attack the gorge, forcing the Clan to flee. Several cats are killed in the battle (and one drowns in the river during their flight); several others go missing. The Clan decides that their only hope is to leave to find the other Clans, and several of their cats stay behind. SkyClan ends up running into trouble in Stick and Dodge's city and an apprentice is taken hostage, although at least SkyClan makes it out without losing anyone. Two cats leave to stay with Barley in his barn. During their journey, the pregnant Pebbleshine is kidnapped by Twolegs, and cats are frequently injured. They think they've found their new home by the lake, but the Clans have never lived by this particular lake, and the area proves to be too dangerous after multiple encounters with a hawk, dogs, and Twolegs (during which several more cats are captured by Twolegs, including a medicine cat apprentice.) A couple cats more decide to become kittypets. Then SkyClan falls ill with a sickness while the medicine cat is away, which kills a few more. They are in their darkest hour, saying that SkyClan is over, when finally a few missing Clan members find them, they are able to cure the sickness, and Echosong receives a new prophecy, leaving a spot of hope.
  • Happens to protagonist Bobby Marks in One Fat Summer by Robert Lipsyte over the course of the titular summer. It culminates in Bobby winding up stripped naked on an island in the middle of the lake his family is staying at by the bullies who've been harassing him. As the rain begins to soak him, this proves less a breaking point and more a turning point, with Bobby resolving to not merely lay down and accept what's happened, but push on to try to get himself out of the situation. The resolve becomes necessary later when he has to confront the leader of the bullies who has since become deranged and is threatening Bobby with a gun.


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