Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Prompt 2 - Jimmy Corrigan and Instructions

Instructions and the Female Illustration

            When we first open Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth we are confronted with a set of instructions. These instructions cover everything from the design and layout of the graphic novel to the history of pictographic media. However in one section of these instructions there is a simple question that foreshadows and relates to many of Jimmy’s upcoming interactions; exam question number one asks “You are: a. male b. female.” It goes on “If b, you may stop. Put down your booklet. All others continue.” It would appear that that the author does not intend for the fairer sex to read this book. Quite possibly because the female reader would be dismayed at the way their gender is displayed in the world of Jimmy Corrigan. Whether his overbearing mother, the passenger seated next to him on the plane, his waitress, or his nurse Ware illustrates these women as objects; objects not in the same class as men but existing only to provide physical stimulation and reproductive means.  
            The first woman we meet is Jimmy’s mom. While not a direct object of Jimmy’s sexual desire she is depicted as being nagging and overbearing. It is no coincidence that, whenever she is speaking, her words are outside of the frame. This symbolizes that her words do not merit their own speech bubble the way many of the other characters, including Jimmy’s father, do. Not only do we see Jimmy’s mother illustrated this way but we also see her as the object of sexual attraction; while at the car show she meets and ultimately sleeps with the superman figure that Jimmy idolizes. This superman character’s relationship with Jimmy’s mom signifies the sexual nature that Jimmy will ultimately hold in high regard through the rest of the book.
            One of the next female encounters for Jimmy is the stranger he meets on the plane. In one of the first frames when we are introduced to this woman, only breasts and a pair of legs represent her. It is not until a few frames in that we eventually see the back of her head. This is a representation of how Jimmy sees things; the first and often only thing he notices are those features that have a distinct sexual connotation. It can be observed that there are very few females that we actually see the face of throughout the book. This woman goes on to even question whether Jimmy is staring at her breasts. And to top it all off, Jimmy’s sense of rejection is represented by the banana, a very phallic symbol, which this woman does not touch when she receives her fruit basket and bran muffin.
            Another female that Jimmy encounters is the waitress at the diner where his father and him go to eat. Our first description of this young lady is that of Jimmy’s father: “I hate that little teenage bitch.” He then goes on to say “she’s got a great pair of tits on her, though doesn’t she.” This is just another representation of how women are portrayed as lesser and only as objects of male sexual desire. Not to mention that in the same series of slides she is portrayed feeding a baby further conveying her willingness to engage sexually. Also in subsequent slides she is either pictured bending over or with a speech bubble blocking out her face only leaving her breasts visible to the reader this also symbolizes Jimmy’s focus during the extent of his interaction with her. This encounter, similar to the one before, also ends in rejection; however this is the imagined rejection that Jimmy perceives as part of any female that he finds sexually appealing.
            One of the next female representations comes when Jimmy is at the doctor’s office. First there is what appears to be a poster with the female reproductive system hanging on the wall in the background; this is another portrayal of Jimmy’s fascination with the sexual aspect of females so much so that it is the backdrop prior to his interaction with the female nurse. This is yet another communication sequence where we do not see the face of the desirable female. We initially see her pink and blue bracelets, which symbolize male and female together, most likely in Jimmy’s mind, sexually. Also we see Jimmy’s first person view of her bra from the top of her shirt. Finally the one facial feature we do see is her puffy pink lips, which also serve to epitomize certain features of the female genitalia. Jimmy then goes on to fantasize about a sexual encounter with the nurse that ultimately results in marriage and a little house in the mountains. Finally this scene ends with Jimmy’s dad complaining about the color of the office and upon exiting the building his dad says: “Does everything look sort of pink to you?” This is yet another innuendo illustrating that all he does is think about sex.
            Throughout the novel we see Jimmy looking at women the same way his hero superman viewed his mother at the start of the novel. This may be a disturbing glimpse into the mind of Jimmy, the author, and unfortunately most men; however if the female reader finds this depiction disturbing maybe they should have followed the instructions.


Abby Peters said...

Hi Carl,
I thought your argument was a very interesting interpretation of the instructions. You related the part instructions to the rest of the novel really well and really illustrated how they can be used to read/interpret the book. You used many examples to illustrate your point which was helpful. I might add how Jimmy never acts upon his “sexual desires”. I think that without addressing Jimmy’s inability to talk to women or look them in the face and possibly his resulting inner frustration the argument is not fully developed. Jimmy acts very different from the way you claim he thinks. If you choose to revise I would discuss that aspect of the novel.
Another thing that you could address in your second paragraph is why the mother is the only woman whose words appear outside of the frames. What makes the mother different from the other women?
There is also room to expand on the way Jimmy’s dad and the other men in the novel behave and think about women. You begin to address this in fourth paragraph but I think you could definitely dig deeper into that.
Overall, I thought your argument it quite strong and you use the images that use chose very effectively to demonstrate your point.

Caleb Radomile said...

You provide a very clear thesis and the examples support that thesis well. You're analysis of the examples are clear and concise and relate to the instructions at the beginning, as the prompt says to do. That being said, I feel like you can add more of an in-depth analysis of what implications of Jimmy always thinking about sex has to do with other parts of his life. Does it affect his relationship with anyone else? Besides his mother, can this behavior be derived from his father's and/or grandfather's pasts? If you choose this for revision, answering questions like these will improve your essay beyond just relating the instructions to specific panels.

Adam said...

Question re: your introduction (which is good and focused). Do you see the book as portraying women as objects, or as portraying women to be perceived relentlessly as objects by men? A book which portrays women as objects, or a book which portrays men portraying women as objects? That's a good question to think about if you revise. It's similar to asking, for instance, if a television show is racist, or is about racism.

Good discussion of Jimmy's mom - I like the focus on the visual dimension of her words.

"This is a representation of how Jimmy sees things;" -- this implies that you're leaning toward one side of the dichotomy I discussed above. Good use of detail with the fruit basket.

Re: the waitress. Clearly she is framed (clearly by the father and likely by Jimmy) as a sexual object. Yet she is also a struggling mother - we have the material to understand that. Is Jimmy checking her out, is he empathizing with her struggle, or is it some of each?

Re: the nurse. You use the details very well (I'd never really thought through the bracelets before - thanks for that!).

Overall: You make masterful use of the relevant details throughout, and beginning with the question from the introduction was effective. But still, a fundamental question remains: is this a book which objectifies women, or is it a book portraying (satirizing?) the objectification of women? I see you taking both sides, and although there's nothing wrong with that for a first draft, figuring out whether we should read it as one way or the other (or is there a third way to understand how we should interpret what the objectification of women here *means*. This is good work, with a clear pathway to even better work, through taking it to a higher level focused on meaning.

Abby's advice is useful - I especially like her question about the mother's words.