Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Timeline: Tom Franklin and “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”


Thomas Gerald Franklin is born on July 7th in Dickinson, AL. An avid reader of horror and adventure novels, comic books and pulp fiction books, Franklin was far from being an excellent student. In his 2002 interview with Anne Breland, he names Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Conan the Barbarian and the novels of Steven King as his major influences. Franklin also points out that besides drawing various series of comics he enjoyed “playing with G. I. Joes and imagining their lives” and “[b]uilding sci-fi forts from cardboard boxes and bricks, drawing control panels on the walls”.


The Franklin family moves to Mobile where Tom Franklin attends the University of Southern Alabama. As Franklin works part-time besides his studies (“as a heavy equipment operator at a sandblasting grit factory, a construction inspector in a chemical plant, a clerk at a hospital morgue, and he also worked at hazardous waste clean-up sites”, Breland, 2002), it takes him nine years until he can graduate with a B.A. in English.


Franklin teaches at Selma University, a predominantly black Bible college located in Selma, AR. It is affiliated with the Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention.


Franklin completes his M.F.A. in Fiction from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR. --- July: Franklin wins the Writers at Work Literary Nonfiction Contest.


Franklin becomes Phillip Roth Resident in Creative Writing at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA. He publishes his first book, Poachers, a collection of ten short stories. For the title story Franklin receives the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Short Story.


Tom Franklin moves to Oxford, MS, as the John and Renee Grisham Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss.


Tom Franklin is granted a Guggenheim Fellowship.


In an interview with Anne Breland, Franklin names Barry Hannah, Rick Bass, and Cormac McCarthy as major influences. For “aspiring young authors”, he also recommends reading Flannery O’Connor, Faulkner, and Hemingway.


In his first novel, Hell at the Breech, Franklin describes an actual violent feud in 1892 called the Mitcham War which took place in Clarke County, AL.


Aug. 15th: TheAlumni Grill II: Anthology of Southern Writers is edited by Tom Franklin and his wife Beth Ann Fennelly.


His following novel, Smonk, is also set in Alabama. Like Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, it tells the story of a murderer and rapist terrorizing a small town in the rural south, Old Texas.


Oct. 5th: William Morrow publishes Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Franklin is awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award,


Franklin co-authors the novel The Tilted World with his wife Beth Anne Fennelly. The Titled World is set in the South and deals with the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.


Currently, Tom Franklin is Associate Professor of Fiction Writing in the University of Mississippi’s M.F.A. program.

Story timeline


Carl Ott (married to Ina Ott) has an affair with Alice Jones.


Silas and Larry are born.


Alice Jones meets Oliver, her boyfriend for the following seven years.


Larry is allowed to carry a gun.


Carl takes Larry to help at the garage.

1978, Sept.

Larry enters Chabot Middle School.

1979, March

After Silas and his mom have left Chicago, Silas and Larry meet for the first time as Carl Ott picks up Silas and his mother on their way to school.

1979, summer

Larry gets in trouble for a racist insult (calling a black girl “Monkey Lips”).

1980, late Feb.

Larry goes to meet Silas at the cabin and teaches him to shoot.

1980, summer

Larry and Silas draw comic books in the woods.

1980, late Sep.

Larry teaches Silas how to shoot and leaves his father’s rifle with him.

1980, Apr.

Larry and Silas go fishing.

1980, July

Carl makes his sons fight – when Larry calls his half-brother a “nigger”, Silas breaks off their friendship. After that, Alice and Silas move to Fulsom.


Cindy Walker gets killed.


Larry joins the Army.

1986, summer

Carl gets killed in a car accident. Larry is “honorably discharged” to take care of his mother.


Wallace Stringfellow, still a rather young boy, appears in Larry’s barn.


Alice Jones, Silas’s mother, dies.

2006, Nov.

Wallace (now in his early 20s) is back, paying a visit to Larry in a stolen truck.

2006, Dec.24th, Wed

Wallace leaves Larry a gun for Christmas.

2006, Dec. 31st

Wallace comes over to Larry’s for New Year’s Eve.

2007, late Jan.

Wallace asks Larry questions about Tina Rutherford and gets turned away.

2007, late Feb.

Larry makes enquiries about Wallace.

2007, June

Larry thinks about training Wallace to be a mechanic.

2007, late July

Larry reflects on his going to church and speaks a prayer for Wallace.

2007, Aug.

Morton Morisettte gets killed, presumedly by Charles Deacon, “a well-known crackhead”

2007, mid-August

Tina Rutherford gets killed (“8 days ago”).

2007, late August

Start of the plot: Silas starts investigating the Tina Rutherford case.

2007, early Sep.

Wallace nearly kills Larry. Larry is taken to hospital.

2007, a week later

Silas finds Tina Rutherford’s body buried under Larry’s cabin.

2007, a few weeks later

Silas is injured by Wallace, who dies a few hours later.

2007, some time later

Silas is released from hospital.

2007, 5 days later

Larry walks home against his doctor’s advice to be welcomed by Silas and Angie. End of the plot.

Symbolism in “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”

  • Cabin: Carl Ott’s hunting cabin far out in the woods serves as a symbol of an uncomfortable past – decades later, it has been reclaimed by nature; it represents the secrets related to Silas’s origins, Carl’s guilt, Silas’s and Larry’s friendship. Finally, it becomes a crime scene when Silas discovers Tina Rutherford’s body.
  • Zombie mask: The zombie mask appears frequently in the plot. It allows Larry to enjoy a brief moment of popularity when he wears it on the haunted house party. As long as he wears the masks, he feels accepted for the first time: Larry experiences a sense of belonging. He also uses the mask to scare off Wallace Stringfellow. Later on, it is worn by Wallace when he shoots Larry. Eventually, it helps Silas to identify Wallace as the person who has shot Larry and as the prime suspect in the Rutherford case.
  • Snakes: Snakes are an old Biblical symbol of evil and are usually associated with death and danger when they appear in the novel. They are attributes of Wallace who collects them, and it is also a snake which appears in Irina’s mailbox. Larry spots a snake on the road in the night when Cindy disappears and Silas sees one when he approaches Wallace’s house. Larry brings snakes to school to impress his peers and teaches Silas to catch snakes in their barn.
  • Crooked letter: Based on a widespread rhyme to memorize the spelling of Mississippi (the “crooked letter” being the letter S), the title “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” has several functions for the novel. It refers to the setting (the state of Mississippi), but it also symbolizes the meandering plot with its various flashbacks, the “crooked” ways in which Chabot is run, and the “crooked” characters appearing in Franklin’s novel, especially Larry and Silas.
  • Kudzu: Kudzu is an invasive vine which was introduced from Japan into the United States in the late 19th century (more specifically in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia). In the novel, it can be seen as a symbol of time - it overgrows the remainders of the past. Plants such as kudzu can also be interpreted as a symbol of repression – the truth is overgrown with lies.
  • Gun: Guns are not such a surprizing symbol in a crime novel: Larry is shot by Wallace and is later found with a gun in his hand despite the fact he has not got a licence. As a policer constable, Silas owns a gun but has never used it. Carl had a number of guns as well, including the rifle which Larry lends to Silas. In the ensuing fight, the rifle serves as a symbol of maturity and masculinity. Last but not least, a gun is Wallace’s Christmas present for Larry.
  • Books: Larry is a lover of books which makes him appear effeminate in his father’s eyes. Larry uses books to escape his problems. However, they also help Larry to establish a connection with Silas. Later, Larry spends his lonely hours reading as there are hardly any costumers to serve.
  • Horror motifs: With various references to Southern Gothic fiction, horror movies and the works of Steven King, the presence of horror motifs in “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” is not such a big surprise. The setting and weather conditions contribute to the dark and gloomy atmosphere in the novel, but he most important horror symbol is the zombie mask which appears at crucial points of the plot. Another motif commonly found in horror motifs are run-down cabins far out in the wild and erratic characters like Wallace Stringfellow. While “Scary Larry” is only said to be a monster, Wallace’s lust for violence and dominance make him a real “monster”. As soon as he opens up about his obsession with rape, Larry ends his friendship with Silas.


  • Decay: The setting mirrors decades of economic decay in the American South. After years and years of economic decline, the area around Chabot seems deindustrialized, Larry’s farm is run down and his garage does not serve any customers. The inhabitants of “White Trash Alley” are affected by unemployment, poor education and little prospect to move ahead.
  • Friendship and guilt: Guilt is a central theme in “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”. The novel is not so much about finding the murderer and solving the case, but about Silas’s acknowledgment of guilt and the brothers’ final reconciliation. Silas is guilty for his continued silence about the true course of events that lead to Cindy Walker’s disappearance – due to him, Larry is ostracized and lives the life of a social pariah. Carl Ott is guilty of being unfaithful to his wife, but also for his rude ways with Larry and ruining his friendship with Silas. Wallace Stringfellow is guilty for the terrible crimes he has committed. Larry is guilty of ruining his friendship with Silas when he deeply hurts Silas, calling him the N-word.
  • Secrets: There is a long list of secrets that help to create suspense – Alice Jones’s affair with Carl Ott is one of them – it is only unveiled when Silas finds a baby photograph of him in a drawer at Larry’s house. Another secret is Larry’s fascination with Cindy Walker which he decides to share with Silas; in a crime novel, we can also expect that the case remains unsolved for quite a while – both murder cases remain mysterious. Finally, Silas’s secret affair with Cindy Walker is a secret which results in Larry’s demonization and exclusion from society. The focus of secrets in the novel is Larry’s cabin. This is where Alice and Silas live to be kept secret by Carl. This is where the two boys live out their secret friendship, and it is also where Wallace opens up about his secret fantasies and where he buries Tina Rutherford’s body.
  • The past and the present: The plot of the novel jumps back and forth in time – the past (1979-1982) has a strong impact on the present. Larry’s farm makes the impression of a time capsule – he still wears his old clothes and reads the same books. Stigmatized and excluded from society, Larry is still a mechanic like his late father, he cannot leave his farm nor undergo a change in his personality. Silas, too, cannot move ahead as long as he cannot confess and atone for his guilt. When he opens up to Larry, Larry becomes painfully aware of the 25 years he has lost.
  • Memories: In various flashbacks, Silas and Larry look back at the lost innocence of their childhood and reflect on the passage of time, noticing the changes that have taken place in Chabot ever since. Feeling guilty for his behaviour as a teenager, Silas avoids and represses memories of his mother. He also distances himself from the events related to Cindy Walker’s disappearance. In contrast to Silas’s evasive attitude towards the past, Wallace Stringfellow has very vivid memories of his encounters with Larry which illuminate not only Wallace’s personal obsession with “Scary Larry” but also the stages of Larry’s exclusion from society.
  • Loneliness: Loneliness is a problem that accompanies Larry’s life from infancy to adulthood; his mother prays for him to find a friend, at school he is avoided by most of his predominantly black peers and later on he feels so desperate and lonely that he accepts such a weird character as Wallace Stringfellow as a friend. Wallace is also an outsider who appears to be lonely because of his deviant behaviour and strange habits. Larry’s loneliness makes it easy for other people to deceive and manipulate Larry – this is why he is willing to join Ken and David in their racist pranks and it also explains why it is so easy for Cindy Walker to manipulate Larry. The only moment when Larry can break free from his loneliness is when he enjoys a brief moment of belonging at the haunted house party. Alice Jones, too, is forced to remain lonely due to the fact she has a son with a married man. Silas is well aware that his mother is starving for loneliness. Ina Ott also suffers the impact of her son’s role as a murder suspect – other inhabitants of her nursery home avoid her.
  • Betrayal: First of all, Carl betrays his wife by sleeping with Alice and allowing Alice and Silas to live on their land. Larry betrays his father by telling his mom that Carl has given Alice and Ina a ride. We can also argue that Larry betrays Silas when he offends Silas using the n-word – ashamed of losing the fight for the rifle in front of his father. He regrets his lack of self-control immediately, but it is already too late. It is also possible to say that Silas has betrayed Cindy. He does not rescue her from her father, he breaks up with her to start a career in baseball and he lets her walk home in the dark. In the wake of her disappearance, he betrays Larry because he does not speak out about his secret date with Cindy. As a consequence, his former friend is stigmatised and ostracised. Even before that, Cindy has betrayed Larry to be able to meet up with Silas. In a way, Wallace betrays Larry who sees a friend in him; in reality, Wallace idolizes Larry because he sees a killer in him.

Exam Questions and Tasks

  • What is the significance of the title “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”?
  • What role does the setting of “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” play?
  • How does Larry’s and Silas’s childhood influence their adult life?
  • In how far does Silas assume responsibility for his actions in the past?
  • Analyse the role of fathers in “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”)!
  • Contrast Larry’s and Silas’s relationship with their mothers!
  • Discuss whether Wallace (or: Silas) can be seen as Larry’s friend!
  • What does the zombie mask represent in the novel?
  • Why does Larry feel sorry for the “monster” that attacks him?
  • How does the term ambiguity of belonging apply to the novel?
  • Discuss whether it is the characters’ fault not being able to bond with other people!
  • Analyse the relationship between Silas and Larry and explain their feelings of ambiguity!

Topic: The Ambiguity of Belonging

Belonging and place

  • Larry wants to fit in with the male-dominated culture of the South – but he is rejected by the chief representative of southern masculinity, his father Carl.
  • Larry feels attracted to guns and hunting which makes him spend time with Silas in the woods. He is familiar with the surrounding area to which he belongs, and he is deeply rooted in the traditional ways of the South, and yet cannot gain access to the local community after he has become a murder suspect. Rejected, ostracized and marginalized, Larry feels stigmatized and is detached from everyone else. He has no other chance but to withdraw from the community.
  • Silas, on the other hand, seems to fit in perfectly with the concept of masculinity prevalent in the South; but he moves away with his mom to Chicago. He gains acceptance with the urban black community of Chicago’s south side, but becomes an outsider and feels uprooted when he returns to Mississippi.
  • Despite the fact that he gains recognition as a baseball champion, Silas cannot reach full acceptance in a place which has a long-standing tradition of racial prejudices.

Belonging and race

  • Racism affects Larry’s and Silas’s friendship as well as Larry’s role as an outsider as school. More generally, it is present in the way people speak (Carl calls the Walkers “poor as n****s”), but also in the way people behave (the population still appears to be segregated),
  • As one of only few white boys after rezoning the school districts, Larry is excluded from the community of mostly black students. When he insults a black girl, Carolyn, to impress Ken and David (two other white boys), he is beaten up in front of his peers. As an adult, Larry seems to have distanced himself from racism – he does not share Wallace Stringfellow’s hatred against other races.
  • Larry’s friendship to Silas is also hampered by racism; in a society still drenched with racism, the two boys have to keep their friendship a secret.
  • In the black neighbourhood in Chicago, Silas feels well-accepted and well-integrated – but once he has returned to Chabot, he is confronted with white racism and cannot establish a network of friends. He is only superficially acquainted with his co-workers (such as Voncille) and his relationship with Angie doesn’t seem very profound as he flirts with Irina.
  • Alice Jones’s reluctance to let Silas spend time with Larry is due to her personal experience with Carl, it is not primarily due to racism.
  • Silas realizes that his mother behaves differently when she addresses white people.

Belonging and family

  • Being part of a family can make its members feel a sense of belonging.
  • This is not the case with any of the protagonists we meet in the novel: Silas can feel the lack of a father and is in a complex relationship with his mother. Larry is not accepted by his dominant father who ruins his son’s self-esteem and Larry’s only friendship with Silas.
  • Alice Jones has high expectations of Silas and sends him off to college.
  • Being half-brothers, Silas and Larry belong to each other; while Silas reflects their father’s side, Larry seems to resemble his mother’s side of the family (such as Ina Ott herself and his uncle Colin).
  • Ina seems to be relatively close to Larry and includes him in her bedside prayers.

Belonging and friendship

  • Larry is excluded from his schoolmates’ activities and has a low self-esteem because nobody befriends him. He feels so utterly lonely that he longs for friendship. This makes him vulnerable for others’ attempts to manipulate him. This is true for Ken and David’s whom he wants to impress with racist pranks, but also for his unfortunate date with Cindy. The only occasion when Larry wins some short-lived sympathies, he is wearing a horror mask at the haunted house party.
  • What connects Larry and Silas is their lack of a father who takes care of them; they also share an interest in storytelling. Moreover, they spend time together, exploring the woods, hunting and fishing. Larry achieves a sense of belonging when he befriends with Silas. They are both outsiders, which is why they bond.
  • Silas’s friendship with Larry is over after the fight for the rifle: Larry feels humiliated by Carl and makes a highly offensive remark (he uses the N-word, fully aware that it will definitely hurt Silas). This scene provides a motivation for Silas’s betrayal. Silas fails to exonerate Larry and betrays their friendship when he conceals the details of his relationship with Cindy.
  • Isolated from the sphere of human relations, he even bonds with Wallace and assumes responsibility for him (he even has plans to hire him as an assistant at the garage). In a way, Larry serves as a father figure for Wallace.
  • As an adult, Silas seems to have accepted his loneliness which he compensates by resorting to horror novels.
  • Later on, when Larry has been shot, Silas is at first hesitant to respond to Larry’s phone call. However, he changes his mind and wants to amend for his betrayal of Larry by taking up investigations in Larry’s case. Confronted with his own guilt, he is eventually ready to forgive Larry and asks his half-brother for forgiveness. He even agrees to share a room in hospital with him.
  • In the end, however, it looks as if Larry and Silas have come top accept their negative feelings towards each other and start to reconcile. Angie and Silas assume responsibility for Larry by taking care of his farm and the chickens before he returns from hospital. It seems as if Silas wants to atone for his guilt and right the wrongs of the past. Larry is also ready for reconciliation when he promises to look after Silas’s car. He obviously feels comfortable with Angie and Larry.
  • Carl Ott is friends with Cecil Walker, Cindy’s abusive stepfather – a rather unhealthy relationship which leads to excessive drinking and inappropriate behaviour on Cecil’s side which Carl is well aware of. This friendship among fathers can be seen as an anticipation of Larry’s friendship with Wallace.

Belonging and class

  • The most obvious examples of class adherence are Cindy Walker and Tina Rutherford. Cindy’s father Carl is a simple man, an alcoholic and good-for-nothing. When Cindy disappears, nobody even sheds a tear. Tina Rutherford is the daughter of a well-off mill owner. When her body is found, the whole community is grieving – and Silas perceives the difference between Tina Rutherford’s funeral and his mother’s tomb.
  • There is also difference in status between Larry and Wallace Stringfellow. Both of them are outsiders, but Larry is the son of a middle-class garage owner who lives on his own turf and Wallace comes from a poor background indicated by his use of sub-standard language and his simple manners. The same applies to Irina (who lives in “White Trash Alley”) as well as to Ken and David.

Belonging and partnership

  • Silas and Cindy are in a secret relationship. Cindy is attracted to Silas for defending her against Cecil, her abusive stepfather. She also watches him during baseball matches. Cindy sees Silas as a way to leave her native Chabot and start anew somewhere else. However, Silas realizes they will not be able to live as a mixed couple. Moreover, his mother (Alice) is opposed to their relationship – she has experienced what it is like to have a secret relationship with a white person.
  • Larry is enthusiastic about his first date with Cindy Walker for which he gains his father’s respect, but he soon realizes that he is not much more than a tool for Cindy to meet Silas.
  • When Cindy disappears, Silas is depressed and finally joins the Army.
  • Carl Ott lacks the emotional depth and thoughtfulness to be a real partner for his sons’ mothers; his marriage with his wife Ina seems rather unsatisfying for both sides, and Alice Jones is left alone with her baby boy.
  • When Ina Ott and Alice Jones meet again, Ina Ott suffers from an internal conflict between her urge to helping Alice and her desire to take revenge on her rival.
  • When Silas opens up to Angie about his affair with Cindy Walker and his behaviour towards Larry, she has ambiguous feelings about him.



  • Franklin, Tom (2010): Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. New York, William Morrow (orig. ed.)
  • Franklin, Tom (2011): Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. London: Macmillan, 2011
  • Franklin, Tom (2017a): Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: [Klassenstufe SII, Schulform GES, GYM], ed. Rudolph Rau. Braunschweig: Diesterweg
  • Franklin, Tom (2017b): Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, ed. Paul Maloney. Berlin: Cornelsen
  • Franklin, Tom (2017c): Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, ed. Harald Weisshaar. Stuttgart: Klett, Sprachen


  • Franklin, Tom (2010): Krumme Type, krumme Type, ed. and transl. by Frank Nowatzki (2018), Berlin: Pulpmaster

Secondary Resources

  • Klein, Ulrike & Gabriele Kugler-Euerle, Edd. (2018): Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: Von Tom Franklin. Paderborn : Schöningh Westermann, EinFach Deutsch
  • Nowotny, Sarah (2017): Tom Franklin, Crooked letter, Crooked Letter: Interpretationshilfe für Oberstufe und Abitur. Stuttgart: Klett, Lerntraining, 2017
  • Stritzelberger, Ingrid (2017): Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: Study Guide. Braunschweig: Diesterweg, Diesterwegs neusprachliche Bibliothek
  • Tonn, Horst & Florian Nuxoll (2018): Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: Interpretationshilfe mit deutscher Zusammenfassung. Braunschweig: Diesterweg, Diesterwegs neusprachliche Bibliothek
  • Weisshaar, Harald (2017): Guided Reading Journal: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. Stuttgart: Klett, Sprachen
  • Weisshaar, Harald (2017): Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: Teacher’s Guide. Stuttgart: Klett, Sprachen
  • Missel, Lena (2018): Lektürewortschatz zu Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Stuttgart: Klett, Sprachen
  • Maloney, Paul (2017): Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter: Interpretationshilfen. Berlin: Cornelsen, 2017 (Cornelsen Senior English Library)

Media: Audios and Videos


Belonging (Sample Essay with Annotations)

A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don't function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick. (Brene Brown, American author)

TASK: Belonging is an important topic in “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”. Explain the quote above and assess in how far the concept of belonging has an impact on Larry’s development!


  • State the topic!
  • Show how relevant the topic is!
  • Name the source of the quote!
  • Name the text and its bibliographical details!
  • Tell the reader what the text is about, focus on the relevant topic
  • Name the relevant aspects pf the task description!

The concept of belonging has a strong impact on each and every one of us – it defines who we are. In Tom Franklin’s novel “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter”, published in 2009, two protagonists struggle to find out where they belong. Larry, the murder suspect, has become an outsider and lives an isolated life on his farm. His half-brother Silas, a police officer, has also experienced how difficult is to feel accepted. In the following, I will assess in how far the concept of belonging has an impact on Silas’s and Larry’s development.


  • Name the topic of the quote!
  • Describe the author’s position!
  • Focus on the main aspects!

In one of herr essays, the American author Brene Brown illustrates the importance of belonging. She explains why love and acceptance are essential for our psychological, physical and social welfare. She also points out the consequences of not belonging. If we don’t belong, we very likely to become dysfunctional and suffer from mental problems. Also, we are more likely to harm others.


  • Make paragraphs: topic sentence, body, conclusion
  • Name the aspect!
  • Tell the audience to what or to whom it will be applied!
  • Give evidence!

In how far can these aspects be applied to Larry’s development? Even as a child, Larry does not feel accepted by his father. This makes him feel vulnerable and ineffective. Thus, it becomes difficult for him to make friends. Silas is his only friend – playing out in the woods, they establish a friendly relationship. Even if Larry does not know they are actually related, he feels connected. Being one of few white boys in a predominantly black school, he also feels rejected and racially abuses one of the girls by calling her “Monkey Lips.” This only intensifies his isolation. At high school, he even brings snakes to school to impress his peers and gain some respect. Nonetheless, all his efforts come to nothing. With no support by his peers or family, he loses touch with the community altogether when he becomes a murder suspect. Later in the novel, we can see how he longs for attachment when he moves closer to Wallace Stringfellow who is socially dysfunctional himself. Towards the end of Franklin’s novel, we can see that Silas and Larry might grow together again when they find out they are half-brothers. To sum up, Larry’s development is strongly influenced by his constant struggle for belonging.


  • Answer the guiding question!
  • Justify your answer!
  • Show why the topic matters for the overall interpretation of the novel!

All in all, it can be said that Larry’s development is clearly shaped by rejection and exclusion. Larry cannot gain acceptance in his social environment and feels he doesn’t belong. Once he is falsely accused of murder, he realizes that his efforts are in vain and withdraws from society altogether. 

If we consider that Franklin’s novel deals with the significance of race and the urge to overcome the past, we can see how difficult it is to create a sense of belonging in a fragmented world full of ambiguities. If you don’t fit in, your struggle for acceptance can easily fail.

Belonging (Sample essay)

Task: Examine whether belonging an important factor in the development of Silas in Tom Franklin's "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter".

Heading: Composition: Is belonging an important factor in the development of Silas?

Introduction: In Tom Franklin's "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter", Silas is one of two protagonists who are in a quest for belonging. Franklin's novel was published by Harper Collins in 2010 and oscillates between crime novel and psychological novel. It is set in Mississippi and tells the story of two half-brothers, Silas Jones and Larry Ott, who are torn apart and slowly come together again. At the end of the storyline, they have discovered that they actually belong together. In the course of the novel we learn to see the past from the perspective of Silas. Who or what does Silas "32" Jones belong to? Can we notice a change in his sense of belonging? How does belonging - or not belonging - affect his behavior?

Analysis: In order to answer these questions, we need to clarify what exactly is meant by “belonging” in this context. When people develop a sense of belonging, they feel emotionally attached to a place, group, or person. Typically, they receive esteem and moral support from the community to which they belong - in return, some degree of loyalty is expected from them. Belonging is a basic human need; the feeling of not belonging can lead to an identity crisis and a desperate struggle for a sense of belonging. In the course of the novel, Silas goes through various stages of his development. These have a lasting effect on his sense of belonging.

Paragraph I: Childhood: First of all, belonging is an important factor in Silas' early childhood. Silas grows up without a father. Despite being supported by his mother Alice Jones, he feels lonely and disconnected. At a very young age, Silas travels to Chicago with his mother. When they are forced to leave their entirely black neighborhood in Chicago, Silas is again uprooted. Back in Chabot, he met his half-brother Larry at the age of 13. Without knowing that they are actually related, the two boys begin to bond and develop a sense of belonging to one another. However, it is not easy for a black boy to be friends with a white boy these days - their friendship therefore remains a secret. The end of their friendship can also be seen as a struggle for belonging; When Larry notices that Silas is getting his father's approval for his manliness, he insults him with the N-word. In other words, Larry makes Silas realize that he is not part of the predominant white culture of Mississippi. To sum up: In his childhood, Silas clearly does not gain a sense of belonging.

Paragraph II: Adolescence: The next step in Silas' evolution involves a romantic love affair with a white girl, Cindy Walker. Once again, their relationship is disrupted by the issue of race. Although Silas gained has some reputation in the local community by becoming a seasoned baseball player, he is still black and there is no way he can date a white girl. The fact that he is not fully accepted by the white population of Chabot would have exposed him as the most likely suspect in relation to Cindy Walker's death. So he prefers to stay inconspicuous while Larry becomes an outcast. Silas leaves Chabot for Oxford, where he pursues his own career. In conclusion, it becomes clear that Silas has managed to become part of his peer group while sacrifizing his most intimate friend: Larry.

Paragraph III: Adulthood: The final step in Silas’ evolution leads him back to Chabot. At first glance, he is now a respected member of the community. He's a police constable and has a girlfriend, Angie. Even so, he still lives in a trailer that symbolizes his incomplete struggle for belonging. He feels guilty and yet he can't admit what he has done to Larry. Only after his confession does he find his way to atonement. He takes responsibility for Larry and regains his sense of belonging. This allows him to open up to Angie about the wrongs of the past. Finally, Silas has reached a new level of belonging. Not only has he made it possible for him to restore his friendship with Larry, he has also deepened his relationship with Angie. 

Conclusion: With these three steps in Silas' development in mind, we can clearly see that the challenge of not belonging has shaped his entire life. So yes - belonging is indeed an important factor in Silas ’development. When we turn the last page of the book, Silas's problems are not entirely solved. But we can see that he has taken steps to heal the wounds of the past. Silas's development  reflects a change in the social reality of the American South - it is now possible to tear down the barriers of the race. Thus, the reconciliation of two friends and two half-brothers is a powerful symbol of change.