Thursday, March 6, 2014

Facing Your Father



One of the most universal themes in all of literature, and one that strikes a special chord in the hearts of almost every reader, is the question: “Who am I?”. Ironically, from an early age, children look to everyone around them to give them an idea of who they are and who they are supposed to be in the future. Without sufficient positive role models early in life, their self-esteem may suffer later on. Chris Ware illustrates (quite literally) this theme in his graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. Jimmy is a 35-year-old, socially awkward man with an overprotective mother who has never met his father. The above image helps to demonstrate the relationship between Jimmy and his father and how his father’s absence in his earlier life has affected him in his later life through the blacked out eyes, dialogue, and variety of faces.
            The image tells the reader many things, but one of the most noticeable aspects of it is that the eyes of the potential father figures are blacked out. In fact, no face is seen in its entirety throughout the first half of the graphic novel apart from Jimmy’s face, and later on, his actual father’s face. The black bar covering the eyes of these men make that fact very apparent since Ware has gone out of his way to make sure that their whole face is not shown. It shows that Jimmy is completely clueless to who his father is at all. After all these years, the prospect of seeing his father causes him to have an active imagination. Jimmy’s father has not even inserted himself into the picture yet, only left Jimmy a note, and already we see ideas flowing around in Jimmy’s head about who his father is, which in turn allows him to come closer to figuring himself out as a person.  Once he figures out the identity of his father, a piece of him that has always been wondering who his father is will be fulfilled.
            Another interesting thing to notice is the actual dialogue that the men are saying in the image. The dialogue flows fluently, almost as if it is the same person speaking, and not twelve different men with their own separate input (although one man has no dialogue at all). This symbolizes Jimmy’s lack of knowledge of his father’s identity, since there is no distinction between the men. To Jimmy, every man he sees on the street is the same, and could be his father. He does not have any memories from his childhood of his father that have shaped his image of him, or the image of any man for that matter. One of the reasons that there is a remarkable lack of faces in the novel is that without a father to shape his image of men, Jimmy sees them all as the same. He does not have a solid male role model to compare them to, and thus is often lost socially. This leads him to appear incredibly lonely for the majority of Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, since he is often quiet with not much to say. When Jimmy does finally meet his father, he begins to hang out with him everyday, and Jimmy is now completely aware of what his father’s face looks like.
            Moreover, the many different faces represent Jimmy’s confusion over both his and his father’s identity. Oddly, although there are very visible differences between these men, a lot of them have very similar attributes. Most of them have a receding hairline or are bald. Many are wearing a suit or a nice polo. A good portion of them even have the same hand gestures, such as pointing to themselves or giving a thumbs up. This tells the reader that Jimmy has a very generalized image of what a father is like. He does not seem to comprehend that men are actually vastly different, and do not fit into the “elderly businessman” stereotype.  This is a very naïve and confused outlook to have on the situation. The many faces may also be a nod to the many faces he has imagined his father to have throughout his childhood and adult life. Having never met his father, his imagination may have thought up many different faces to compensate for who he imagined what the dominant male figure in his life was supposed to look like. Jimmy never has reassurance of the appearance or personality of his father as a child though, and remains confused about it until he is able to meet him.
            Conclusively, Jimmy has an unstable social life and identity crisis because of his father’s absence in his early life. The image of the men highlights the identity crisis through their blacked out eyes, dialogue, and many different faces. While most people have to find themselves mostly by themselves, having a strong role model of the same sex around while you are at an early age is a vital step towards identity and self-actualization. The absence of such a figure can result in decreased confidence and a feeling of emptiness.

Works Cited
Ware, Chris. Picture of many potential father figures. Digital image. Hazelfoster.com.
 N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2014. <http://www.hazelfoster.com/wp-c          ontent/uploads/2012/01/jc06.jpg>.

2 comments:

Tom Kappil said...

I liked your argument that the lack of a paternal father figure was the direct cause of Jimmy’s social limitations, especially how you made the connection on how the image of men with blacked-out eyes and Jimmy’s projection onto other men about what his father looks like. However, the essay could be more fleshed out and specific. The argument is on three points, but without much concrete proof, just generalities about Jimmy that are true because they are vague.
For the third paragraph, a good extension of the point you make there could be about how Jimmy now needs to reconcile his “idealized” father image with the man who he actually meets. You start towards that, but never really reach it, and it could strengthen your argument. You stop at the visual aspect, and by going deeper, you get more into describing Jimmy’s personality quirks.
You mention identity and self-actualization at the end of the essay, and both topics could be developed further. Through the entire essay, you focus on HOW Jimmy is separated from his father, but you need to go into more of the effects, and at a deeper level. What specifically did the lack of a male role model do on Jimmy’s future process of self-actualization? You start towards this topic in the 3rd and 4th paragraph, but stop at “This leads him to appear incredibly lonely” and “This is a vary naïve and confused outlook on the situation”. Add things about his lack of self-confidence, or inability to connect with other people.
Overall, I liked your point about how the lack of a father figure changed Jimmy’s life, but to really improve the essay, you need to go deeper, with more concrete examples, about what specifically it changed in his life, not just generalities.

Adam said...

This introduction opens the risk of being too generic; what I'll be looking for is you to do something specific with the images you've sighted, rather than continuing to generalize in a way that simply relates to them.

The next couple paragraphs *are* sometimes too generic, but you also have very good material: "He does not have any memories from his childhood of his father that have shaped his image of him, or the image of any man for that matter. One of the reasons that there is a remarkable lack of faces in the novel is that without a father to shape his image of men, Jimmy sees them all as the same. " This is an excellent idea. You aren't quite making the argument yet - this is something which needs more evidence behind it - but you are using *this* image to get at what the *general* tendency towards facelessness means. I think highly of the direction, though I'm of two minds about your execution of it.

"He does not seem to comprehend that men are actually vastly different, and do not fit into the “elderly businessman” stereotype.  This is a very naïve and confused outlook to have on the situation" - I think there's a mistake here. You are assuming from the start that he has no idea who his father is, then you ignore the visual evidence that he does, in fact, have some understanding - his father is an older, possibly somewhat more functional version of himself. You're reading ignorance, but it might be better to see some kind of self-knowledge here.

Overall: You have some good material, but struggle to really find your focus, especially at the start. If you revise, I think you want to really think about what you have two say in the closing paragraphs and come up with a more clearly argued, united version of those ideas - then really focus on evidence.