Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Industrial Society on Earth
Jimmy Corrigan is a graphic novel that follows Jimmy through his troublesome, monotonous life as well as the life of his father and grandfather. Jimmy does not have an ideal life mostly because of the way he was raised, the way his parents were raised, and his reluctance to try to attain a better life that fills his imagination. Chapter nine of Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man discusses why a developed society always desires to better itself and its relation to philosophical and scientific ways of thinking. Surprisingly, Marcuse’s writing provides a clear tie in with Jimmy Corrigan. Jimmy is essentially the industrial society described in this chapter, with the different facets of his life relating to different characteristics of a society trying to further itself and achieve liberation.
To understand this metaphor it is important to first discuss Jimmy’s life and how it relates to the two ways of thinking in society as defined by Marcuse; philosophically and scientifically. Jimmy did not have a happy childhood. His mother is overprotective and verbally abusive, while his father was absent for the majority of his life. In his later years, Jimmy works a job he is obviously not happy with as shown by his complete lack of friends in the workplace and poignant expressions. His mother is still constantly bothering him and his new relationship with his father is awkward at best (Ware). This is the reality that Jimmy lives in, or as Marcuse would say, the scientific or reason-based part of his life. Marcuse describes reason as “repress(ing) and even destroy(ing) the urge to live, to live well, and to live better.” (Marcuse Ch. 9) Reason, although capable of progressing society, is the cause of an unfulfilled life. Jimmy’s reality, or reason, is the cause of why he is so down on himself. Reality pushes his life forward, but it is not enjoyable for him as an individual. To fight his harrowing life, Jimmy often has fantasies of what he really wants to happen; actions he wishes he could take if he wasn’t restricted by reason. For example, Jimmy fantasizes about killing his father for not being there for him, and also about having sex with the nurse after the car hits him (Ware). His fantasies transcend reality, just as philosophical thinking transcends science and reason in society. Marcuse writes, “philosophy transcended, subordinating it (scientific thought) to be the ‘good life’ of a different law and order. And this other order, which presupposed a high degree of freedom from toil, ignorance, and poverty, was unreal...” (Marcuse Ch. 9) Philosophy is not bound by scientific thought which is the “universal reality.” (Marcuse Ch. 9) Philosophy goes beyond that and allows individuals of industrial societies to think freely no matter what their situation is. This is exactly what Jimmy does with his fantasies. He expresses his actual wants in his fantasies, which translates into the freedom desired by the society described by Marcuse.
As stated before, the role models in Jimmy’s life have not exactly been the most upstanding. His father left for yet to be seen reasons at this point in the book, and his mother seems to not put too much thought into raising her child (Ware). Just as Jimmy’s reality and fantasies can be viewed through One Dimensional Man, so are his role models. First, let’s look at mom. She does genuinely seem to care about Jimmy, but she displays it in all the wrong ways. As a child, his mom constantly scolded him for things as childish such as sticking his hand out the window like superman (Ware). She had unrealistic expectations of him as a kid to act as a little adult. When Jimmy does finally become an adult, she is still overbearing; calling him everyday at work and getting into his personal business (Ware). His mother is oppressing him. She is the obstacle in his path of living a happy life. Looking at this relationship through Marcuse, she is the oppression that stops society from truly enjoying life. “For the translation of values into needs is the twofold process of (1) material satisfaction (materialization of freedom) and (2) the free development of needs on the basis of satisfaction (non-repressive sublimation).” (Marcuse Ch. 9) This quote from Marcuse explains that in order for societies’ values to become reality, society must be free to develop their own desires without oppression. In Jimmy Corrigan terms, this quote explains that in order for Jimmy’s desires (freedom) to become reality, he must be able to freely express these wants without interference from his mother. However, just halfway through the book it is apparent his mother is not going to stop trying to interfere so he won’t be able to truly express his desires in life. His father on the other hand represents nature. One Dimensional Man describes nature as a, “legitimate object not only of Reason as power but also of Reason as freedom; not only of domination but .also of liberation.” (Marcuse Ch. 9) Since Jimmy’s father was absent for his childhood so was nature. Jimmy was not able to experience “reason as freedom”, or in other words, the reality of having a father figure. If his father would have been there for him, he would have had an “object” of “liberation” from his oppression that was his mother. “All joy and all happiness derive from the ability to transcend Nature…” That is, happiness in Jimmy’s life could have been derived from his father if he had been there for him. To further drive this point home, Jimmy’s dad is pictured in a flannel for a good part of the book (Ware); an image commonly associated with outdoors and nature.
Marcuse describes a society with two trains of though. A philosophical path that is free thinking and able to permeate oppression, and a scientific path that is restricted by reality and seeks liberation so it can express itself freely. Nature can be part of the reason-dominated society, but it also serves as a source of freedom as it is not completely conquered by science. Being able to embrace nature and freedom depends on whether or not the industrial society has historical context of why reason has conquered them (Marcuse Ch. 9). Jimmy Corrigan has a bleak reality. It is only lightened by his thoughts of transcending the restrictions placed on him, and acting out against the oppression (his mother) that had defined his life. He seeks a good relationship with his father, who could potentially liberate him from his oppression, but the only way of doing this is knowing his father’s history.. This history is provided to us through flashbacks in the comic, but it still unknown to Jimmy (Ware). Knowing how his father and grandfather were raised could help him understand his father more and conquer his dislike for him. With these metaphors and direct quotes from One Dimensional Man, it is easy to see how Jimmy Corrigan fits a Marcusian way of thinking so well.
Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon, 1964. Web. <http://www.marcuse.org/herbert/pubs/64onedim/odmcontents.html>
Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. New York City: Pantheon Books, 2000. Print.