In “The Little Girl at the Door” by Joe Mackall, the author recalls a memory of his grandchild while threading in personal narrative and self-reflection. In the story there is a grandfather, the narrator, and he is obsessed with protecting his grandchild from a poor child. The family that the child comes from is not very well to do and lives on very little. Their house “screams of too much activity and not enough care.” The narrator personifies the house by saying it screams. He uses this technique to portray to the reader how alive the house is with too many people. The narrator makes it sound like the house itself is a living, breathing thing that bustles with activity. The reader gets an image of this house as being almost a nasty creature. The fact that the family has poor living conditions irks the man. He seems obsessed with their poverty and doesn’t want his grandchild tainted with it. The reader infers from this information that the narrator is a loving man. He cares for his granddaughter and wants what is best for her. But this information is a double-edged sword. We also pick up that he is slightly racist and prejudiced. It’s up for the reader to decide if this makes him a good man or not. Leaving this question up for the reader to decide makes the story feel like a puzzle. The reader has to figure out the man’s character. This makes the reader feel smart and that they are reading for a purpose. At one point in his life the old man was poor. The narrator explains:
The house is unkept and neglected. The whole place reminds me more than a little of where I grew up.
That’s another reason why he’s so fascinated with his neighbor’s situation. The man knows what it’s like to be poor and in their shoes. We trust the narrator because we know he has been in their situation. This is a very bold statement by the author. There is no metaphor or hidden meaning. His views are very clear to the reader and are laid out in a way as to make the reader know the man’s position quite easily. He describes his grandchild as naïve by saying, “Ellie likes everybody.” He states this almost like a reprimand to Ellie. He wants her to not be so naïve. But he expects this of a child. Ellie is a kid. She is pure and hasn’t experienced the harshness of the world like he has. He is protective of her because of her pureness. He even thinks about what boys would do to his grandchild. The narrator explains,
I imagine the little girl and Ellie walking around the neighborhood in a few years, acting bored, smoking cigarettes, being pursued by boys I know all too well, romantic young boys lured by the hum of dusk, boys bruised by a world they don’t understand, boys eager to bruise back.
The reader learns more about this character because of this wild hypothetical he dreams up. He wants his grandchild to live a life that is trouble free. He understands that if she hangs out with the poor child then she will be led down a road of destruction. The narrator experiences inner turmoil. He wants to protect his granddaughter but also realizes that to assume the worst of the poor child is wrong. The narrator states,
I turn from her gaze, holding tight my anger and fear, but mostly my shame, watching my granddaughter and the little girl at the door run smiling through dappled grass.
The narrator realizes his faults. He tried to hide it, is even ashamed of his hatred. The narrator explains,
I watch her through my reflection in the window, and I see us both clearly—someone to love, someone to fear.
The narrator realizes that he is as much to fear as the poor little girl because of his vile hatred. He is likable because he does have good qualities, such as being kind and loving, but his good qualities are tainted by his prejudice. This major juxtaposition of qualities leaves the reader confused. It is up to them to decide if the man is good or not. The author leaves this decision up to the reader to bring the story open to different interpretations. This causes argument about the story, which makes it interesting and exciting.