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Confusing Moments From Where The Crawdads Sing Explained

"Where the Crawdads Sing" was a 2018 best-selling novel that combined coming of age with a murder mystery in its story of "marsh girl" Kya. Like many best-sellers, especially ones that pop up on Reese Witherspoon's book club list, "Where the Crawdads Sing" was adapted into a film version in 2022.

The movie stars Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya, a girl who is abandoned as a young child and learns to survive on her own in the marshes of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, in the 1950s and '60s. Her childhood friend Tate (Taylor John Smith) teaches her how to read and write, and eventually, the two develop a romantic relationship as they grow into their teen years. When Tate leaves for college, Kya starts seeing popular quarterback Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). But when Chase is found dead at the bottom of their small town's fire tower, Kya is immediately a suspect. A retired lawyer named Tom Morton (David Strathairn) takes up her case to defend Kya against the prosecution's pursual of the death penalty.

The film also co-stars Sterling Macer Jr. and Michael Hyatt as Jumpin' and Mabel, two shop owners who become Kya's parental figures when her parents have gone, Ahna O'Reilly as Kya's mother, and Garret Dillahunt as Kya's father. So did Kya actually kill Chase? Spoilers ahead! Here is the answer to that question as well as a few other unanswered mysteries in "Where the Crawdads Sing."

The following article includes descriptions of domestic and child abuse.

Did Kya kill Chase?

The film version of "Where the Crawdads Sing" leaves the viewer with a bit of an ambiguous ending. But in the novel, Kya's involvement in Chase's death is a little bit more clear. It's implied at the end of the movie that, when a much older Tate discovers the old seashell necklace that Kya made for Chase in one of his journals, he realized that she did in fact kill Chase. It's more than implied in the book, however, when Tate also reads a secret poem that accompanies the necklace: "Luring him was as easy," the poem begins, later reading, "The last step, a trap/ Down, down he falls/ His eyes still holding mine/ Until they see another world."

So Kya did kill Chase. But how did she do it? Essentially, the night unfolded exactly as the prosecution theorized it did. Kya used the alibi of her meeting with publishers in Greenville, but after her successful dinner, she boarded a night bus back to Barkley Cove in a disguise, lured Chase to the fire tower, pushed him through the open grate, then boarded another night bus back to Greenville in a second disguise and woke the next morning to meet again with her same publishers. What's not really clear, from either book or film, is how Kya got in touch with Chase, so even a few mysteries remain. 

Was Kya a secret poet?

The reason that Tate realizes Kya killed Chase is because of not only the necklace, which Chase wore at all times but because of the poem that accompanies the necklace, which in the novel is called "The Firefly." This poem also reveals something else about Kya as well: that she was secretly a poet, writing poems under the name Amanda Hamilton.

Amanda Hamilton's poems are sprinkled throughout the original novel version of "Where the Crawdads Sing." Kya often refers to Amanda Hamilton as an author, as if she were another person, and also references many of her poems. At the end of the book, the readers learn that Kya was Amanda Hamilton, and she had been publishing various poems in the Barkley Cove local newspaper throughout her life. The poems are usually about nature, love, or independence — all things important to Kya, especially the brutal aspects of nature and how prey can survive particular predators. 

The film didn't include any of Kya's poetry, however. Director Olivia Newman told The Wrap, "There's so many amazing parts of Delia's book and it was a very hard and painful decision of what to include in the movie and what we had to leave out. We hope that [Kya's] poetry comes through in the visual language and in the way that she talks and the way that she observes the world."

Who owned the red wool hat?

During the investigation of Chase's death, the detectives and forensic scientists working on the case discover red wool fibers left behind on Chase's jacket. In snooping around Kya's porch, they see a red, wool hat inside her house and use that as probable cause to search Kya's home and confiscate the hat. But whose hat is it? Earlier in the film, after Chase and Kya start seeing each other, Tate hears Chase talking about his conquest to his friends on a dock. Tate confronts Chase about it, and the two have a minor scuffle. All the while, Tate is wearing the same red wool hat.

Later on in the film, when Tate visits Kya after years away he gives her the wool hat because she's cold. Now, the red fibers could have ended up on Chase's jacket after their fight, and in the book, Tate and Kya have a catch with the hat and it's not really clear who ends up with the hat in the end. As a reader, this makes you start thinking about the possibility that Tate may have been the one to murder Chase, which is also a plausible theory. But in the movie, Kya certainly ends up with the hat. The fibers could still have ended up there from the fight with Tate, but the scene with Kya and the jailhouse cat, where Kya examines the cat's fur left behind on her hands implies she believes the fibers are from her. 

Did Kya and Tate get married?

Tate and Kya thankfully get their happy, romantic ending after Kya is acquitted of Chase's murder. They spend a night on the beach together, and Tate moves into Kya's shack the next morning, which has been renovated with the help of her book money. Tate actually proposes to Kya, but Kya says to him that they're basically already married like the geese. (Geese mate for life, which Kya and Tate seemingly did long before any of her business with Chase.)

So no, Kya and Tate don't get married in the traditional sense. But they have a long and happy life together. Kya doesn't ever really go back into the town of Barkley Cove, though she does attend Jumpin's funeral (in the book she stays home). Tate and Kya try to have kids, but find that they cannot conceive, so Kya devotes herself to her continued study of nature while Tate works at the lab. Jodie does get married, however, and brings his wife and kids around often, so they have a relationship with their nieces and nephews. Tate and Kya do devote their lives to one another in full and complete love until Kya's early death. One day, at the age of 64, she dies of a heart attack while out in her boat. The film handles this moment beautifully, with Kya seeing her mother waiting for her on the shore. Tate finds Kya and has her buried on her own land.

Did Chase marry Pearl?

One of the turning points in 'Where the Crawdads Sing" is when Kya discovers that Chase is engaged to a young woman named Pearl, whom in the book Kya refers to as "always wears pearls." Kya doesn't go to town often but has to do so to grocery shop and get anything else done or fixed that she needs to keep her home running. One day while shopping, she spies Chase and says hello. They'd been seeing each other intimately for a long while, so she thinks nothing of it that she could approach him out in public. Of course, Chase acts standoffish because Pearl and her friends are around, too, and he doesn't exactly want the town to know he's close to the "Marsh Girl." When Pearl and her friends come over and introduce themselves to Kya, Pearl identifies herself as "Chase's fiancé."

That's the point that Kya realizes that Chase was using her all along. That she was just a conquest, a side piece to Chase's real life and "proper" marriage to Pearl. When Chase explains that he just has to marry someone like Pearl, it's clear that he is going to continue lying to Kya, using her as another woman outside of his marriage. Chase does go on to marry Pearl, though he continues to have affairs with women in town. In the novel, Pearl assumes that Chase kept sleeping with Kya and believes their marriage was her motive for killing him. 

Did Kya write more books?

After finding success with her first book — thanks to Tate's help finding an editor — Kya does indeed go on to write more books about the nature and wildlife of the Carolina coast. Her first book, "Shells of the Carolina Marsh," earned her an advanced payment of $5,000, which allows her to pay off the back taxes and fully own the 310 acres of marshland. 

At the end of the film, when Kya gets acquitted of Chase's murder, her editor, Robert Foster, is in attendance. Foster was actually a key witness in the trial since it was he that planned Kya's trip to Greenville and had met with her for dinner the night of Chase's murder. He proved a valuable alibi, and when the jury reads the verdict of not guilty, Foster reaches for Kya's hand saying, "Now let's forget about all of this. I'm looking forward to the next book."

Kya went on to write seven more books throughout her life, using the marsh as her subject. A few of them can be seen in the window of Jumpin's Bate and Gas. "Insects of the Eastern Marsh," "Sea Birds of the Eastern Seaboard," and "Mushrooms of the Carolina Woods," are just a few of the titles that Kya publishes. Jumpin' and Mabel were obviously proud of her enough to display her work and help the sales. 

Why didn't Tate contact Kya while he was away?

When Tate leaves for college, Kya is obviously sad, but Tate promises her that he will come back for the Fourth of July to visit. He doesn't show up, which breaks Kya's heart and turns her further into a recluse. But why didn't Tate start writing to Kya as soon as he left? He did teach her to read and write, after all, so they could have been in contact before their Independence Day date. There are a few different possibilities why Tate didn't contact Kya. First off, the mail situation at Kya's shack isn't really established in either the book or the movie. Kya's Pa does get a letter from Kya's Ma earlier in the film, so perhaps she can get mail at the shack. Tate also could have sent a letter to Jumpin' and Mabel and they would have been sure to get it to her. 

The real reason, however, lies deeper in the book, which goes into more detail about how Tate cares for Kya very much but also doesn't know if he can meld his real-world pursuits and life with Kya's reclusive marsh life. In the film, Tate comes to Kya's shack after learning about her relationship with Chase, trying to persuade her he's using her. He explains that leaving her was, "The worst thing I've ever done and the worst thing I'll ever do in my life." In truth, Tate was scared and made a poor choice. 

What happened to Jodie?

Kya's mother leaves the family shack after being the victim of domestic abuse for many years. Soon after Kya's Ma leaves, her older siblings go as well. First, her oldest brother Murphy leaves. A few months later, her older sisters Mandy and Missy depart as well. Finally, her brother Jodie, closest in both age and to Kya as a sibling, heads out, with cuts and bruises on his face from their father's fist. It seems that as soon as Kya's Ma left, Kya's Pa just went down in the line of birth order with who he'd abuse next. Kya manages to learn how to avoid him and manipulate him enough to spare herself her father's temper.

Years later, after Kya publishes her first book, Jodie returns. He had seen her book on the shelf in Ashville and came back to the shack to see if she was still there. Dressed in his military uniform, Jodie tells Kya what happened to their Ma (which we'll get to in a minute). But the book offers up more of Jodie's life than the film does. On their visit, Jodie tells Kya about his time in Vietnam and getting his mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech. Later on, Jodie gets married and has kids, which he brings around often to visit Kya and Tate, making them a full family once again.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

What happened to Kay's Ma?

Jodie is also the one that ends up telling Kya what happened to their Ma. The book details that Ma was from New Orleans, and that Pa had won her heart yet lied to her about his financial situation. When they married, she was disappointed to find that he only had a small shack on the Carolina coast. During their reunion, Jodie tells Kya that he wasn't sure what happened to their older siblings, but he found out that Ma had been mentally unstable when she left. Years of abuse made her revert into survival mode, and she didn't even realize when she left that she had abandoned her children. She went to her sister Rosemary's house and about a year later realized what she had done. Ma wrote a letter to Pa asking if she could come to get the children, but he threatened to beat them further if she ever came back. Ma wasn't aware that all of the kids except for Kya were gone by then anyway.

Jodie then tells Kya that Ma developed leukemia and died just two years prior to their reunion. Kya's Ma was such a profound influence on her throughout her life. She knew her mother's situation was not right, and just like her Ma did, Kya had to choose to stand up to Chase and assure her own survival. Kya held her Ma so tightly in her heart that she sees her Ma, just as young as when she left, walking down the lane moments before her own death. 

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

What happened to Kya's Pa?

Kya's Pa also had a pretty serious impact on Kya's life. After he was wounded in World War II, Kya's Pa returned home to live off of disability checks from the military. He managed to woo Kya's Ma by overspending on dinners out but basically deceived her into believing he was someone he was not. Kya's Pa drinks heavily and begins abusing his entire family as a result of his bitter, toxic attitude.

After observing how her mother and siblings are treated, Kya learns how to avoid her father when he's drinking, and she learns from him in her own way how to survive. It's Pa's abuse of her mother that also inspires her to do something about Chase. She fears that Chase will never leave her alone and eventually kill her if she doesn't take action first. Kya's Pa often takes Kya out fishing, or he goes out by himself drinking at the bar or elsewhere. One day, Kya's Pa simply doesn't come back, and it's never really revealed what happens to him, though we can assume he simply died from his own vices. Either that or perhaps Pa went to New Orleans to find Ma and was put in jail instead. Or maybe one of his poker buddies got mad at his cheating and killed him in a fight. Perhaps he simply walked off. Either way, Pa's leaving meant Kya had to fend for herself for good.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.