Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Confrontation with a Bacon Plate

Chris Ware’s use of a graphic novel narrative results in a storytelling style in which each individual image must be scrutinized to perceive the emotion, intent, and context of the situation. Ware alludes to this necessitated scrutiny in the pages before the narrative begins with the depiction of two images under different extremes of magnification. By examining a specific image, characters and situations may be understood on an entirely new level. The graphics above belong to the scene after Jimmy wakes on his father’s couch and is presented a breakfast meal. This presentation of a meal is a scene of particularly intense drama for the narrator, and dissecting this image provides proof of the intensity.

Superficially, the image contains an emotional confrontation (to a comedic level) between Jimmy and the bacon plate, prepared by his father. Immediate scrutiny of noting his body language reveals Jimmy’s distress. His brows and eyes are turned in fearful suspicion, and his hand, literally covering his mouth, reveals his refusal to eat the meal, or even touch it. This anxiety over the plate stems from his distrust from his father. Later in this same scene, Jimmy’s paranoia appears in his daydream of his dad slitting his throat with his razor. He dares not eat food prepared by a man who he fears may murder him. Jimmy’s exaggerated mistrust for his father is an obvious result of the abandonment, and his refusal to consume his father’s meal is his refusal to assume any level of trust in “this ‘dad’ chacacter” as he is referred to in the summary pages.

The arrangement of the bacon into the salutatory phrase “Hi” is addressed by Jimmy with concern as well. It is a colloquial greeting among informal acquaintances, but Jimmy is confounded by the fact that his “dad” would address him this way. The only person in the world that would greet him in a friendly nature is his mother (barring people like his colleague who just needed something from Jimmy). And how would Jimmy respond to his father saying “Hi” to him? He would never be able to sincerely return the friendliness. The following delusions that Jimmy has about addressing his father emphasize the anxiety he feels about a simple phrase such as “Hi, Dad.” This mounting pressure of a home-cooked meal and friendly greetings only works to disturb Jimmy, instead of easing him to the idea of his father. As a culmination of all this emotional disruption, Jimmy must make an escape from his father, just as his father made an escape from Jimmy. He feels the necessity to call his mother and he reverts to his fatherless youth.

The choice of bacon for the served breakfast must not be ignored. In one of Jimmy’s fantasies about his father, he lives on a farm with an abusive, homicidal father. The connection here is that the bacon would come from a farm like the one of Jimmy’s nightmare. While this seems to be a stretch, Ware frequently emphasizes the importance of understanding the origins of everything. He emphasizes the importance of understanding that Bill Crosby is a descendent of slaves and, in the book introduction, that the relationship between the mouse and cat head is more complex than the superficial appearance. Thus, understanding that the pig is a product of a farm and that his anxiety of a homicidal father manifests itself in a farm environment adds a level to the anxiety of this scene. This is a necessary connection to make when understanding the leap that Jimmy makes to fear his father. By accepting this premise, any connections between real life situations and Jimmy’s delusions must be considered as a something that will disrupt Jimmy. The bacon from a pig on a farm is just an example of this phenomenon that shows the complex level of relations that the graphic novel attempts to express.

Like all images in Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, the graphics of the breakfast scene must be dissected on many levels to understand them in their full complexity. Jimmy’s sour relationship with his father is more deeply comprehended by inspection of the emotional weight behind every aspect of the meal. In this especially high drama scene, every aspect is telling to the story of the whole and aids in understanding Jimmy’s range of disturbed emotional state. 


Jessica Merrill said...

In your essay, you analyze the image deeply and well. As you progress through your essay, you analysis gets deeper; I like this structure.

I think your second paragraph may need a transition in the middle. Indeed, he does look like he is in physical distress, but then you jump to his paranoia of his father killing him. This is a big transition to make. Obviously, his father is causing him distress in many ways, and you talk about this in the rest of your essay. I think you would benefit from moving this part of the paragraph to a point of its own, and expanding it. Why does he feel such distress towards his father that he fears that he will kill him?

The paragraph about the bacon itself is done very well. Pointing out Ware's concentration to origin really strengthened your argument.

If you were to revise this essay, I would add possible reasons why he is so distrusting of his father, and possibly mention his sister (the part you took out before). Both of these points could definitely add to your argument. Overall, great job!

Adam said...

I'm a little torn here. Part of me thinks that you're taking an interesting but minor subject and beating it to death. I fully agree with your analysis about his inability to respond to or accept a simple "hi" from his father - so even if I think you're belaboring things a little bit, I still think there is a good *core* analysis of a deceptively interesting scene here.

Where I really become torn is in your discussion of the farm. Your attempt to connect this scene to the fantasy of the farm and the homicidal father is *clever*, but it's so thin, too. So I'm skeptical, but it does give me an idea - if you really wanted to revise this, I think the way to do it might be to use the bacon as just an introduction to an analysis of the ways in which his fantasy fathers impinge upon his real father, making it impossible for him to actually speak to him.

I guess what I just said is the more I think about it the more you're convincing me - but I still think you need more evidence in fewer words.