The graphic Novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth is complex reading and could easily be read multiple times from different perspectives. One way to read this novel is in light of Jimmy's contradictory relationships with his mother. By piecing together and observing Jimmy's relationship with his mother, the reader can get a glimpse as to why Jimmy is the way he is and use this as a lens to analyze just about the whole novel. It is the duality of pushing away and using her as a safety net that defines Jimmy.
It is important to note here that although the image is blue, the man appears to be the superman actor who took advantage of Jimmy’s mom in the first scene of the novel. The reader should also quickly note that a boy of that age would likely be with his mother so this likely foreshadows how protective Jimmy is of his mother which helps us read some of the scenes with his father and further complicates his overall avoidance of his mother in the nursing home. Jimmy's mother is also very controlling of his life and this scene seems to give us the impression that Jimmy would kill his very hero to protect her, at least early on in his life. This aids us in our understanding of why he avoids his mother's constant attempts to call him and tell him what to do but also his utter inability to function without her. It is that conundrum that will come to define Jimmy in this novel. The fact that this image appears so early in the novel, it is easy to assume that this was Jimmy's first experience with his mother's love life. However, the way this is presented, as a banner introducing the rest of the novel, it is not unexpected that this will not be the last time (14).
Indeed, Ware goes on to give us other examples of his mother's quest for love and young Jimmy's reaction. While his father is discussing the impending Thanksgiving holiday, Jimmy remembers two past Thanksgivings, one when he was young, and one more recent. In series, we see Jimmy talking to his mother on the phone about perhaps missing Thanksgiving with her and also a remembrance of something that happened over Thanksgiving dinner years ago. The scene of the recent Thanksgiving, represented only by the image of a phone and Jimmy's words, furthers the idea that although Jimmy cannot seem to function without his mother, he also has an urge to break free of her altogether, making up excuses not to spend the holiday with her but finally offering a tentative concession to please her. The other scene embedded here is one of a young Jimmy asking “who was that man...?” referring to yet another one of his mother's failed love interests. The ensuing crying keeps Jimmy awake that night. Below this scene is a picture of a photographer trying to capture Jimmy and his mother and Jimmy trying to pull his mother away. Taken separately, this may just be viewed as a child that doesn't want to have his picture taken. However, in light of the information before and surrounding it, it is clearly a very scared boy trying to keep his mother away from a man that may hurt her and cause another night of crying. The man is probably very well just trying to take a photograph at the mother's request, but at this point, the young boy cannot separate men, his mother, and crying (Ware, 116). Jimmy is quite clearly not “tolerating” the recognition of his Mother’s sexual side because he sees it causing her pain.
Jimmy Corrigan, because of these experiences, is a walking contradiction. On one hand, we see that he is very protective of his mother and doesn't want to see her get hurt. However, we also see evidence that he believes he has failed to protect his mother from the men who cause her to stay awake at night crying. This gives Jimmy a double dose of inferiority complex. Dose 1: He couldn't protect his mother from men and their ways and is therefore unworthy of love himself and Dose 2: He is a man and can't separate himself from the types of men his mother attracts. These two conclusions cause Jimmy to want to strike out on his own, so to speak, and push his mother away as the wellspring of these feelings. Despite all of this, she is still his safe place. We see this when Jimmy is having a minor crisis in a diner with his father and sneaks off to a pay phone to call his mom (176). So he doesn't want men to hurt his mother, and he also doesn't want to lose his safe place. However, he still pushes her away whenever possible. So let's examine how this manifests itself in the novel.
The first woman we see Jimmy interact with other than his mother is Peggy, the mail clerk at his workplace. First, we're given a view
of Jimmy's fantasy, sitting by a fire with Peggy in pure bliss. Following it though, is the actual reality that she barely recognizes his existence and when she does, it is in an air of annoyance (13). Jimmy calls her once, before he leaves town, to get his mail which is of course silly because that is her job (21). Looking at this scene in light of his inferiority complex, it is easy to see why Jimmy makes no move and even seems to accept the harsh treatment from Peggy. He's a man after all and she is probably just protecting herself. Beyond that, he does not talk to Peggy at work, or at least that we know of, he simply day dreams about her. When he does finally strike up enough courage to talk to her, it is by phone. We see Jimmy on the phone with exactly 3 parties: The airline, Peggy, and his mother. There is no doubt he chose to call her to keep his distance, the same way he stays distant from his mother. He also prefaces the call with his mail at work, a further safety net. He is at least trying to grow beyond his dependence on his mother, but he's still doing it with his mother in mind, distance and safety.
These are just a few examples. In fact, the whole book is full of examples of how Jimmy's Mom pervades every second of his life. She is at once his lifeline and safety blanket and the bane of his existence.
Britton, Ronald, Michael Feldman, and Edna Shaughnessy. The Oedipus complex today clinical implications. London: Karnac Books, 1989. eBook.
Spavento, Elizabeth "Exploring the Nature of Individual Identity in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The
Smartest Kid on Earth," The Oswald Review: An International Journal of Undergraduate Research and Criticism in the Discipline of English:
Vol. 9: Iss. 1, Article 5.
Available at: http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/tor/vol9/iss1/5
Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. New York City: Pantheon Books, 2000. Print.