The Role of Friends in Billy Letts’ Novel “Where the Heart Is”

The friendships one makes play a crucial part in defining who one is and helping one through their lives. Many times friends are the lifeline when life throws obstacles that appear overwhelming and they are the ones who know how to share the moments of joy untainted by jealousy or envy. As one grows up and leaves home the friends one makes become a second family, giving strength when needed and offering laughter unconditionally. In the novel “Where the Heart Is” by Billie Letts the theme of friendship is explored in the life of the protagonist, Novalee Nation. The story opens with Novalee being abandoned by her boyfriend at a Wal-Mart parking lot far from Novalee’s home. Pregnant, Novalee is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers who help her unconditionally, teaching her the value of friendship and how friends can become the family one seeks when their real family has abandoned them.
One of the first friendships Novalee makes is with Sister Husband, a humble woman who is in charge of the town’s “Welcome Wagon,” a committee of one dedicated to welcoming new people into the community. Sister Husband seems eccentric but her heart is kind and Novalee realizes that Sister Husband asks nothing of her and expects nothing of her albeit her generosity and open heart. Sister Husband welcomes Novalee into her own home and Novalee initially does not comprehend such unwarranted kindness for a stranger. From Sister Husband Novalee learns that everyone can be a friend and that the barriers we erect against strangers are only as real as one wants them to be and it is just as easy to label someone as their friend. As a mother-figure to the seventeen year old Novalee, Sister Husband radiates compassion and becomes Novalee’s first friend in Sequoyah, Oklahoma, showing her that friendship can take the place of the real family one has left behind.
Novalee also meets Moses Whitecotton during her stay at Wal-Mart. Moses is a photographer who offers Novalee advice on naming her expected child. He tells her that she should name her child a name “that will mean something” and be able to “withstand a lot of bad times.” He also gives Novalee a photoalbum and offers to take a photo of her baby when it is born. Moses Whitecotton plays the role of a father-figure to Novalee. He gives her fatherly advice from his years of experience and gives her the album, a symbol for the holding of memories that a paternal figure holds. Later in the novel Moses Whitecotton also teaches Novalee to take photos of her own and passes on to her the skill of being a photographer as well as a photo camera for her to start. This passing on of a skill is also in accordance with the father-figure Moses Whitecotton plays. He becomes the ideal father Novalee never had, guiding her with wisdom, offering her with advice that helps her throughout her life and passing to her a skill, symbolically giving her a piece of his legacy.

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In the Wal-Mart parking lot, Novalee also befriends Benny Goodluck, a Native American boy who is the son of the owner of the local nursery. As a gift, Benny gives Novalee a buckeye tree upon their first meeting in the Wal-Mart parking lot, telling her that buckeye trees are meant to bring good luck. Novalee holds to the tree, believing in its power to bring her the much needed luck she seeks, not knowing that in accepting the tree from Benny, she gained another friend. Against the odds of unsuitable conditions the buckeye tree survives and becomes a main focus of Novalee’s life as she spends hours tending to it and assuring it is healthy. In Novalee’s makeshift family in Oklahoma Benny plays the role of brother, someone Novalee can count on and who teaches Novalee much about herself through simply being in her life. Benny becomes the subject for the first photo competition Novalee enters and wins, symbolically helping Novalee out in the unexpected way one would find in a brother. Benny is a person Novalee can depend on and trust despite differences in background and age.
Lastly Novalee makes friends with Forney Hull, the librarian of the town library who is shrouded in mystery since the death of his sister and is considered an eccentric person by the community of Sequoyah. Novalee first meets Forney’s acquaintance when she goes to the library to find information on how to care for her buckeye tree. Forney initially is secretive and introverted but as Novalee frequents the library her friendship with Forney tightens and he becomes a large part of her life, being there when she gives birth to her baby daughter inside the Wal-Mart and helping her in her new life of raising America, her daughter. Together they form an intimate relationship and help one another smooth out the knots in their lives. Forney is not so much a friend who replaces the family Novalee is missing from her life but shows Novalee the value of true, unconditional friendship. He teaches Novalee how to give and take, how to listen as well as talk. Forney becomes one of her closest friends and defines for Novalee real love that asks nothing in return.
These friendships that Novalee makes help her through the toughest time in her life. At a point when she hit rock bottom and was stranded miles from home with $7.77 in her pocket and a baby on the way, these friends came into her life and helped her to pull through. Sister Husband acted as a mother to her when Novalee needed a shelter over her head and unconditional support without judgment. Moses Whitecotton played the role of a father to Novalee, giving her wisdom and advice as well as passing to her a part of himself–his ability to take pictures. Benny, with his friendship and kindness, was the brother Novalee never had, helping her when she didn’t expect it and giving her hope in the buckeye tree he presented to her. Lastly Forney acts as the true friend Novalee never had and the person who best encompasses the meaning of unconditional friendship, trust and acceptance. These friendships forge a circle of support for Novalee and her daughter and show Novalee the meaning of friendship, the importance of having friends in one’s life and how, miles away from family, one can find a family in the friends they make.

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