Friday, November 8, 2013

Jimmy Corrigan And The American Dream

Jimmy Corrigan Revision
            While taking one read through Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth it is fairly plain to see that Jimmy has an immense amount of problems. He has an overbearing mother, lack of a father or father figure, a boring job, and is sexually, emotionally, and socially frustrated. With that being said, most of these problems could be solved if he was able to find a companion to share his life with. Jimmy Corrigan’s greatest desire is to find someone he can spend the rest of his life with and live out his American Dream.
            Author James Truslow Adams coined the term “The American Dream” in his 1931 book The Epic of America. He described this dream as “That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” (Adams) This idea stems back into the days where immigrants would flock from all over the world to enter the land of opportunity. Every immigrant that stepped off the boat on Ellis Island had their own American Dream. Some would dream of becoming famous, some wanted to become rich, but most simply dreamed of a life where their family had food and a safe place to stay. The American Dream is different for every person, so the important question is what is Jimmy’s American Dream?
Image 1
            Throughout this graphic novel, one of the themes that is prevalent and unchanging is Jimmy’s desire to find a companion. Jimmy is so hell-bent on finding a companion that he fantasizes himself with almost all the women he sees in the book. One of the most convincing and absurd examples of this can be seen in Image 1. In this image we see Jimmy in a presumably loving relationship with a women, getting married to her, and living in a cabin in the woods with her. This would be a pleasant fantasy to have if it weren’t for the context in which is presented. The woman from the picture is the nurse Jimmy met only moments ago at the doctor’s office.  So just from the nurse being kind to him and also being cute, Jimmy imagines them growing old together and spending the rest of his life with her. This is not the only time Jimmy imagines a situation like this. Even though he knows that Amy is his half-sister, Jimmy still can’t help envisioning himself with her. We see in Image 2 that this fantasy may be even more ridiculous than the first. After holding Amy’s hand, Jimmy imagines a random explosion almost killing them both. Jimmy luckily saves Amy and they live happily ever after in a log cabin as the only two humans left on Earth. These are not normal fantasies for anyone to have, and shows that Jimmy is in desperate need for a companion.
Image 2
Through Ware’s depictions of Jimmy’s family history we can see that loneliness and isolation are almost genetic traits passed through the Corrigan family. The source of this longing starts with the stories of Jimmy’s grandfather. Although Jimmy’s grandfather and Jimmy are different people, Ware deliberately makes them look identical as children so that we can draw conclusions about why Jimmy is the way he is. Because of this, it is fair to say that one of the sources of Jimmy’s loneliness stems from when his grandfather is left at the top of the building at the World’s Fair. However this is far from the only time we see Ware explains Jimmy’s isolation through his grandfather. Another example of this is when Jimmy’s grandfather makes horses with his Italian friend from school. After going to the boy’s house without permission, he quickly falls in love with the boy’s father. Unlike his own father, the boy’s father is extremely kind to Jimmy’s grandfather and is supportive of even his awful work on the horse he is creating. Jimmy’s grandfather wishes he had something like this so much that he imagines that he is now the Italian man’s son, before his dream is crushed by his real father. One final time Jimmy’s grandfather represents Jimmy’s innate longing for a companion is in Image 3. This image depicts Jimmy escaping from his home, building a cabin in the woods, rescuing the girl known as “McGinty girl” and trying to have sex with her. This girl is actually very cruel to Jimmy for the most part, but since she is the only girl that Jimmy really knows, he imagines himself living with her in a cabin in the woods.  It is clear to see that through the experiences of Jimmy and his grandfather that a companion plays an integral part of the Corrigan American Dream.
Image 3
We have now identified one of the key pieces of Jimmy’s Dream. However there is another piece to the puzzle. Why does Jimmy continue to imagine living these women in the isolation of a log cabin in the woods? We see this cabin in all three of the images shown. This is because Jimmy desires freedom. Jimmy may live by himself and support himself, but it is hard to argue that he is free. He is not free from his mother, who is constantly on his back and is extremely oppressive. He is not free from his job. So much so that he dreams that he is a robot. This is an illusion to what we see things like Modern Times. Jimmy is such a slave to his job and the rate race that he no longer even feels human. Finally, he is not free from himself. Jimmy is constantly plagued by his inability to be social and connect with other human beings. What better way to represent freedom than by a cabin in the woods? In that setting, Jimmy is finally free. He is presumably self-reliant, can’t be shackled by his mom or job, and is living with someone he loves.
Jimmy is not alone in the idea that being independent can be a source of freedom. While reading Jimmy Corrigan I couldn’t help but notice similarities between Jimmy’s American Dream and George and Lenny’s of John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men. The only major difference was that George and Lenny’s dream was more explicitly expressed. Throughout the novel all George and can talk about is buying a farm that they can run on their own and “live off the fat of the land.” (Steinbeck) This depiction of the American Dream is very concrete. You can pinpoint exactly what it is that Lenny and George desire. This is why Ware purposely uses the cabin in the woods to represent freedom. How many people in the 1980’s lived in a cabin in the woods and “lived off the fat of the land?” Ware uses this image so that we can have a concrete image of what Jimmy wants in his American Dream, freedom.
Image 4
So if Jimmy is going to find his cabin in the woods or buy his own farm, what is going to take him there? Ware uses horses as another symbol of Jimmy and his grandfather’s quest for freedom. Jimmy’s first interaction with a horse comes when his father forces him to kill his miniature horse, Amos. I believe Ware is making another Steinbeck reference here because before Jimmy shoots Amos, he tells him all the things they were going to do together. (Also in a Midwestern accent) This is exactly like the famous scene where George tells Lenny how they were going to tend the rabbits on the farm they were going to buy right before George shoots Lenny. Ware inserted this to show that Jimmy believes his American dream is dead. We see the horse several more times with Jimmy’s grandfather. In Image 3 we see that the horse is giving Jimmy freedom in the way that he is carrying Jimmy away to freedom. The horse is doing this literally by carrying him from his home, and figuratively by carrying him to his American Dream of the cabin in the woods. One of the most vivid frames where Ware uses the horse as a symbol of freedom comes in Image 4. Notice that the grandma is telling Jimmy that they can make breakfast themselves, with the word “ourselves” in bold. This implies that in Jimmy’s literal dreams he wants to be independent and free from his father. Ware places the silhouette of a horse in the background to confirm that this is a part of what Jimmy desires in his American Dream.
Why do we need to know what Jimmy’s American Dream is to understand Jimmy Corrigan? It is because when you understand what someone’s intentions are, you can understand the actions they make. Jimmy’s American dream is to live in freedom with someone he loves. He cannot have one without the other. This gives us more of an understanding of why Jimmy acts the way he does around women or why he dreams that he is a metal man. Can he live in a cabin in the woods with the love of his life? Jimmy believes that he cannot but he can dream that he can get away from all that is shackling him in his life by finding someone he loves.
 Works Cited:
Adams, James Truslow. The Epic of America. Boston, [Mass.: Little, Brown, and, 1931. Print.  
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men. New York: Penguin, 1993. Print.
Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.        

1 comment:

Adam said...

Your intro is clear and concise, with a clear argument that, while not quite as narrow as I might like, is interesting and not obvious. Your intro to what the American dream is works well - not too long, not too short. Your use of the double fantasies of the cabins with the nurse and Amy is really good. I haven't been getting many essays with a clear argument that then simply present lots of great evidence for that argument. I appreciate it! You do a lot of good work in not much space here.

Again, your continuation into the grandfather's matching fantasy is great - no screwing around, just a clear argument well made. I can't resist pointing out how funny it is that the "American dream" is also a childish sexual fantasy here.

You also do good work setting up the robot fantasy against the cabin fantasy. This could be expanded to include his other dreams (e.g., of the farm and the miniature horse) if you had the time and space to do it. Your discussion of the Modern Times is a little sloppy but not therefore wrong - it just needed polished a little if you were going to do it.

I'm not crazy about your transitions into Steinback and then Jimmy's grandfather's grandmother. I also think you overstate the case by arguing this is a *reference* to Steinback - I'd back off a little and simply say that both authors have a similar approach to the American dream. That being said, you do perfectly well discussing the Steinback connection/similarities and analyzing the role of the grandmother and of the horses. One thing that I think you downplay a little is the brutality of the satire here, with changing times. In Steinback's time, it was *much* less absurd for most people to imagine life as subsistence farmers - for Jimmy in the city it's a much sillier dream, and I'd like to see you deal with that more.


This could be expanded in various ways - for instance, by incorporating the postcards (which are a broadly political/historical in scope) and how *they* skewer the American dream; by dealing more with the humor of Jimmy's dreams; by further developing the Steinback connection; by developing the contrast between Jimmy's robotic life and agrarian dreams more thoroughly.

However, this essay has boundaries, as it properly should. You make a clear argument, you present great evidence for it, you connect it (sometimes better, sometimes worse) to other parts of the book and to Steinback, and you begin to explain how this theme helps us understand the book as a whole. It's thoughtful, well organized, and well argued, with good use of research and showing an excellent, detailed understanding of Ware's text.