Saturday, May 21, 2011

Freak the Mighty

            Freak the Mighty is a story of the power of friendship.  Two boys who were so different, and yet so much alike, found companionship and comfort from one another.  Each had their limitations, but together they became the unconquerable dyad, Freak the Mighty.  The story gets its power from the point of view, the character development, and the conflict of the plot.
            The book is written in first person, in the words of Maxwell.  Known as a giant without a brain, he is satisfied being just that until Freak comes along.  Max would most likely have remained in the down under forever if Freak had not rescued him from himself.  Through their adventures, Freak and “his steed” seem to become one entity.  When Max loses Freak it is like losing a part of himself and the source of his identity.  Because of the point of view, we feel the pain of that loss as well.
            To anyone who looked at them, Freak and Max would seem to be contrasting foil characters.  Indeed, there are very pronounced differences between the two.  Max is very large, somewhat of a slow thinker, and a follower.  He runs when there is trouble, or if he can’t run, he doesn’t resist.  The only time he stands up to someone is when another person, Loretta, is in danger.  Freak, on the other hand, is very small, but amazingly smart, and not afraid to go anywhere or face anyone.  He is the leader of the group and very outgoing and inventive.  When the two combine forces, nothing can stop them.
            Taking a closer look, the two boys are very similar.  Both have not known their fathers, both have something that handicaps them, and both are hiding from something they fear.  For Max, the thing to fear is life; for Freak, it is death.  Max deals with his by retreating to the down under.  Freak deals with his fear by believing that he will be saved by bionics. 
            By joining forces, both are able to overcome their opponent.  Max learns that he needs to live.  Because he is busy rescuing damsels, unearthing treasure, and slaying dragons, Max does not even realize that he has begun to live.  Freak knows that he must die, but at the very end, he also knows that he will live on through Max’s story.  It is only by his death, that Max is compelled to tell it. 
            Along the way, Max learns several important lessons.  The first is that life cannot be lived alone… “no man is an island.”  He realizes that he needs another person in his life for him to meet his full potential.  He also learns that he is not “dumb.”  Maybe he doesn’t fully realize it until he writes his story, but Freak helped him to learn that he could do things that no one else thought that he could.  One of the most important lessons he learns is that he could choose not to be “an accident of nature.”  Grim tells him that, “All you got from him is your looks and your size.  You’ve got your mother’s heart, and that’s what counts” (139). 
            Another important lesson Max leans is about death.  He learns about the loss that is involved, the hurt, and the anger.  He feels lost and does not want to do anything with himself anymore.  After all, what was the point since we are all dying anyway?  Finally, Loretta gives him some wisdom by telling him that doing “nothing is a drag. Think about it” (160).  He does, and, realizing she is right, he begins writes about his time with Freak until it doesn’t hurt to remember anymore. 

Children of the River

            “When I read the words you wrote/ I thought my dying hour had come/ You say you’ve found a new life, a new wife/ In a far-off foreign land” (61).  The words of this song embody the struggle that Sundara and her family are facing.  They must decide how much to accept of their new life in a foreign land, and how much to hang on to the old life they have left behind.  This affects every aspect of their lives and relationships.
            There are three main conflicts in the story.  The first is the one mentioned above, that of the old vs. the new.  This conflict causes the second conflict which is between Sundara and Soka.  The third conflict can be found within Sundara herself as she attempts to overcome the horrors of her past and deal with the love in her present. 
            The fist conflict can be seen in the different ways that the characters deal with the new world.  The grandmother has the hardest time adjusting.  She wishes for her old home, her old garden, her old food, and her old way of life.  She stays inside the house, and inside of her memories of her old land.  Soka and Naro are one step away from that.  They have jobs and have learned some English, but they still cling to many of their old ways.  They still desire to follow the traditions of their home country, and they talk about it constantly. 
            Sundara is still one more step away.  She has very fond memories of her home, but is trying to adjust to American culture.  She goes to school and plans to be a doctor.  She has American friends, and even falls in love with an American boy.  Ravi and Pon have adjusted to American culture almost completely.  They understand American traditions and games and love American food.
            The second conflict, between Sundara and Soka arises when the old and new begin to be at odds.  There is also the matter of feeling responsible on the part of both women.  Sundara feels responsible for the death of Soka’s baby.  Soka feels the weight of taking care of Sundara so much that she forgets to love her.  It is only after Sundara’s emotional crisis that the two begin to be reconciled. 
            The third conflict, the one inside of Sundara, is the one that I identify with the most.  It is so difficult to come from a country where war and suffering are a part of life, to a country where people seem to complain about every minor inconvenience.  Sundara feels caught between the need to remember all of the suffering of her people and moving on with her life.  All of the Khmers do this, and finally one says, “I am tired of feeling guilty.”  In the end, Sundara is able to find a balance between caring for her people, and living life where she is.
            The romance in the story is wonderful.  Through it, Sundara is able to bring a whole family to awareness of a people other than themselves.  Jonathan grows from a boy who’s worst bother is cafeteria food to a young man who is aware that there are people in the world who are suffering.  He realizes that he must pursue what is important to him, not what everyone else thinks that he should go after. 
            The climax of the story is when Sundara sees the doll’s arm and breaks down.  She finally comes to term with the emotions that are stored up inside of her, and she allows them to be released.  Her family interprets and deals with her outburst in a way that is totally unfamiliar to us, but somehow, it helps the whole family to connect.  After the experience everyone becomes more accepting and understanding of one another. 
            The cultural aspects were very interesting.  The song was especially touching.  It was a symbol of the grief of the Khmers.  It was interesting because very sad songs are not really a part of popular culture in America.  There are songs about loves leaving, and hearts breaking, but there are no songs that are wrenched from the heart, full of aching sadness and loss.  African Americans have such songs that were passed down from the time of slavery.   In the Middle East, where war has been such a part of life, heart-breaking songs are played right along with the latest love songs.  In fact, the two are often intertwined.  It was interesting to see another culture where the war has created these sad songs.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

            “It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.  Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.  She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward” (178-9).

            This quote sums up the overarching theme of this book.  Since fantasy is an illumination of reality, the quote also sums up the theme of life itself.  In this book, Lewis has created a world that is a mirror to our own, even though there are obvious differences between the two.  He has craftily spun out the tale of salvation as it would happen in a world of talking animals, dryads and nyads, river god, mermen and maids, and magical stags that give you wishes.  
            Lewis was a master at creating worlds of fantasy.  His story contains all of the elements that make fantasy believable.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is firmly grounded in reality.  Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy begin their holidays in an ancient house in the English countryside to get away from the air raids.  Life is portrayed as very real and normal.
            When Lucy first experiences Narnia, all of her siblings are skeptical of her story.  When Edmund enters Narnia, he lies about his experience, and the reader finds himself or herself siding with Lucy and thus, believing in Narnia’s existence.  This belief is strengthened further when the other children go to the Professor and he points out that for the time being, they must believe Lucy’s story. 
            The world of fantasy is strengthened by the descriptions of setting that Lewis provides.  He paints Mr. Tumnus’ cave, the Witch’s castle, the Beavers’ lodge and all of Narnia with such vivid pictures that the reader feels as though he or she has been there.  The language and habits of the characters are appropriate as is the framework for a land where beasts are the inhabitants. 
            The conflict, as is usual in fantasy, is between good and evil.  Peter, Susan, and Lucy stand on the side of good, while Edmund joins the side of evil.  When Edmund is rescued from the Witch, we think that all is resolved until Aslan agrees with Her that She has the right to blood.  When the Witch kills Aslan, the reader feels as though the world has come to an end, even if Peter does manage to defeat the Witch’s armies.  It seems as though evil has triumphed, and it was justice itself that allowed it to triumph. 
            It is the Magic from before time that allows good to win.  A willing sacrifice for sin works against death and begins a whole new order of things.  The Witch is defeated, Narnia is saved, and the children will never be the same again.  Lewis paints a beautiful picture of Christ’s love and sacrifice, and the triumph that it gains for mankind over sin.  
            The only weakness I see is an underdevelopment of characters.  The reader does not get to know any one of the characters very well.  We have a general idea about each, but we do not have the personal view that a first person point of view would offer.  Perhaps this helps the story by making the characters more general, and so applicable to every person. 
            Edmund is the only real dynamic character.  He begins as a beastly, annoying boy who likes to pick on others, is proud, and does not have the best set of morals.  He is swayed to evil by his desire for power over his siblings.  He continues on his path to destruction, even when he knows in his heart that he is wrong.  When he finally realizes that he will be killed, it is too late for Edmund to save himself.  Aslan must both rescue, and redeem him.  After this salvation, Edmund is a new person as he becomes good, thoughtful, and just.   

The Outsiders

          The main theme of the story can be summed up in Johnny’s words to Ponyboy in his letter, “There’s still lots of good in the world.  Tell Dally.  I don’t think he knows” (179).  It is the story of a boy’s journey to a deep understanding about the world he lives in and the people that inhabit it. A strong symbol in the story is the poem by Robert Frost.  Ponyboy learns the true meaning of it when Johnny explains it to him, how the world all around was grown up and hard and bitter.  The good in the world was the gold that was hard to see, but was still there to find.  In the end, Ponyboy finds his way to hope and decides to share what he has learned with the world.
       The book, as the lessons that Ponyboy has observed, is written in first person.  In this case, it is valuable as a tool to bring us very close to the action.  We feel the emotions that Ponyboy experiences very closely.  We experience the frustration of having nothing as a greaser, the despair of having killed Bob, the pain of losing Dallas and Johnny after discovering that they were good people after all, and the joy of finally finding the way home when Ponyboy is reconciled with his brother Darry.
    There are two main plot conflicts in the story, that of the greasers versus the Socs, and that of hope versus despair within Ponyboy.  The first is easy to observe, and is simple at the beginning.  The greasers and the Socs hate each other, fight with each other, and think the worst of each other.  Through the story we see Ponyboy learning to look at the Socs as people, rather than as a group to be hated and feared.  The first thing that happens to change his mind is when he meets Cherry.  She is a Soc, but she listens to him explain about life as a greaser.  When he tells her of Johnny’s being beat up, she pleads with him that not all Socs are the same, pointing out that not all greasers are as rough as Dallas.  Then she tells him that, “Things are rough all over” (35).
       It is Cherry who first draws the parallel, although unknowingly, between her boyfriend, Bob, and the greaser, Dallas.  Although the two are from opposite sides of the conflict, they are parallel foil characters.  Both are the leaders of their gangs, because there is something in them that makes people want to follow them.  Both of them are rough and appear to have no feelings -- Bob beat Johnny senseless and almost killed Ponyboy, and Dallas was a true hood who had been in jail and his own gang members feared to cross him. 
    As the story progresses, however, we see that both have another side to them.  A theme is woven through the story, that people are more than what they seem to be, and usually have some good to them. We see Dallas taking the heat from the cops for Johnny and Ponyboy after he helped them escape.  He faces the fire to rescue Johnny and we find out that he truly loves his battered friend.  We never really see Bob’s good side, but we hear of it from his girlfriend, who says that he can be sweet and that there’s something in him that makes him better than the rest of the crowd (129).  We also hear it from Bob’s friend, Randy, who says that Bob was the best friend that he ever had, and that all he ever wanted was for someone to stand up to him (117).  It’s in this exchange, through the parallel that he draws between Bob and Dallas, that Ponyboy learns something valuable, “Socs were just guys after all.  Things were rough all over, but it was better that way.  That way you could tell the other guy was human too” (118).
    The other conflict, that of hope and despair battling within Ponyboy, is perhaps more difficult to see.  Hope and despair battle in him as he is involved in a murder, becomes a hero, loses two of his best friends, and goes through a long period of depression.  It is only when he finds Johnny’s note that he is finally rescued from despair.  Johnny tells him that it was worth it, dying for the kids and that Ponyboy can make something of himself if he wants to.  He tells him to “stay golden”, to keep loving sunsets, and to remember that there was good in the rest of the world.