The Robot, a Bird, and Peaches
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth is equally visual as it is textual. Frequently, the images are even more important than the text, conveying thoughts or emotions in a way which words cannot. They also help to smooth the difficult transitions between the various time periods, or between dreams and reality. Each time the setting changes, there is generally a cue; something appears to help guide us to the next time, or the next dream, or back to reality. Throughout the story these cues take on three different forms: the robot, a bird, or peaches.
The image that most perfectly exemplifies this concept is shown below (Fig. 1). To the best of my knowledge, this is the only image which contains all three cues. In this case, however, it is the peach tree which is guiding us back to reality. Previously, Jimmy was dreaming about a life with his father and brother. In the final panel of the dream, his father is coming to kill him after killing his brother. We can see him advancing towards a frightened Jimmy in the background, but in the foreground there are some tree branches, with a single peach growing on one coming from the right. The next panel is the robot sleeping on an airplane, with a bird on its seat and branches with peaches coming from the left. It’s almost as if the peaches are growing from the same tree as in the previous panel, with the trunk running up the spine of the book, and some branches extending left and right into each panel, respectively. By the next panel we are squarely back in reality. Jimmy is sleeping on the airplane and there are no peaches in sight. Without that single panel with the robot and the peaches, this transition would have been terribly abrupt, and much more confusing.
This is not the only place within the novel in which this occurs. Frequently, the bird is used to ease our way into another scene. More often that the robot or the peaches, the bird is used to signify the passage of time. We see it at the beginning, after the first scene with Jimmy as a kid. The bird watches as the house is abandoned and eventually destroyed, and as it flies away it brings us to the window of Jimmy’s office, roughly thirty years later. However, I believe the most prominent example of this is during the flashback to the Battle of Shiloh, where Jimmy’s great-grandfather fought. Before we realize that we are reading a flashback, there are two panels with a bird on a branch (Fig. 2). This cue tells us that we are about to see events from another time. Ware then goes on to relate the events of the battle, showing us how Jimmy’s great-grandfather lost his finger. There is then another page in which the bird appears (Fig. 3). This page looks almost exactly like the page just before the battle except each panel is flipped, telling us that we are returning from our flashback. The bird then flies past five different hospitals. First, the one from the battle, where there is a pile of amputated foots. Second is a hospital with horses and carriages near it. Third is “Lincoln Hospital” which seems to be more modern, with early cars parked on the street in front of it. Fourth is “St. Mary’s,” which seems to be more modern yet, with cars that look quite contemporary. The fifth and final hospital is “Medlife Clinicare,” where Jimmy happens to be staying after his run-in with the truck.
These symbols are not only helpful, but necessary to our understanding of the novel. Without them, there would be little to no consistency between the flashbacks and dreams which are so frequently brought up. While we may not have consciously noticed, by the end of the book I’m sure each of us subconsciously prepared ourselves for some irregularity in the story whenever we see one of these cues. Ultimately, this device is a genius way to condition readers to the author’s style, which would otherwise be incredibly difficult to understand.