Thursday, March 6, 2014

Images in Jimmy Corrigan

The illustrations in Jimmy Corrigan are important to the overall understanding of the narrative. They create a sensory experience. Looking closely at the images reveals subtle hints and clues that elucidate the less explicatory ideas of the comic. One such image is peaches. Peaches are depicted repetitively throughout the story, sometimes in Jimmy's reality and sometimes in flashbacks/his fantasies. What exactly do the recurring images of peaches mean? A close viewing of the placement and use of the fruit suggests its symbolism, which is specifically related to the representation of women in the comic.

Peaches are soft, fuzzy, and juicy with a light pink coloring. All of these descriptions are arguably feminine and representative of the female genitalia. In Jimmy Corrigan, women are treated as sexual objects both by men and women. Their place is established on the inside front cover of the book in the General Instructions. Under 5. Exam it reads, "Begin. 1. You are a. male b. female - If b. you may stop. Put down your booklet. All others continue." The first image of peaches occurs around page 15. Jimmy is fantasizing about planting a peach tree grove with his coworker Peggy. In his daydream, he is sitting on the floor with his head between her knees, and she is rubbing his head. In the next frame, he is holding his mail container filled with peaches. Although there is no direct sexual imagery, these two illustrations used together suggest that Jimmy wants a romantic (emotional and sexual) relationship with Peggy. As the narrative progresses, we come to learn that Jimmy has an infatuation with Peggy, while she is indifferent and even mean to him. We also learn that Jimmy's desire for women differs from that of other male characters in the story.

Peaches are next depicted at the end of Jimmy's dream while he is sleeping on the plane. A peach tree hangs in the frame. When he awakes to the stewardess asking if he'd like anything to eat, the woman sitting next to him strikes up a conversation. She begins to criticize him for choosing meatloaf and draws attention to the basket of fruit at his feet, in which is another peach. Then she accuses Jimmy of looking at her breasts, "…I get so sick and tired of men staring at my breasts…can't you look me in the eye?" Although she is accusing Jimmy of objectifying her, the woman's misinterpretation of Jimmy's sideways glance in fact makes her draw attention to herself as a sexual object. Although Jimmy wants to be with women, both sexually and emotionally, he does not see them as pieces of meat (or in this case fruit).

Later, while Jimmy waits at the airport to meet his father, an old man engages him about the headlines in the newspaper. He reaches into Jimmy's basket and pulls out, of course, a peach. "Une peche! Ecouter ~ 'A soft, single-seeded stone fruit, with a pinkish, red-tinted downy skin and moist, dewy flesh…'" he says. Then he explains to Jimmy a brief history of where peaches originated and how they spread around the world. Although there is no reference to women, it is curious that the man singles a peach out of the basket and knows so much about the fruit. Also, his description could be considered feminine and suggestive of the female anatomy.

The next time we see peaches is quite awhile later in what seems to be a flashback. A Mr. Corrigan (it is unclear which generation) welcomes a neighbor into his home who happens to be caring a basketful of peaches. The neighbor, Mathew, says, "My wife wanted to send you some of these…peaches…they came in fresh today…" Mr. Corrigan's son takes the peaches to the kitchen and smells them. A few pages later, we see the peaches sitting on the table covered in flies. Again there is no direct connection to women, except perhaps that the neighbor's wife sent the peaches, but the depiction of the son sniffing the peaches suggests something sexual about them. Also, the flies on the peaches make them unclean, which could be reflective of several other illustrations in the comic of what appears to be women being paid for sex. This happens shortly before the sequence when Mathew delivers the peaches. Mr. Corrigan is seen having sex with a woman whose, "...widow's body has lost the novelty for him." He leaves money on the bedside table. At another point, a woman is even described as a "cocktease whore".

Other more explicitly suggestive imagery (e.g. the Chicago sign with a woman's exposed breast and a poster of the female reproductive system in the doctor's office) depicts women as sexual objects in the comic, but the repeated illustrations of peaches emphasize that women are essentially meaningless; they are perhaps sweet and pretty but as common and disposable as fruit. This is not entirely true for Jimmy however. Although he certainly imagines having sex with women, like when he fantasizes about the nurse, he also wants to have a deeper relationship with them. This is suggested a few frames later when he imagines the nurse cooking him breakfast and putting a ring on her finger. The representation of women is mostly as sexual objects, but their worth (especially for Jimmy) is more complicated, which is represented by peaches.

Works Cited
Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth. New York: Pantheon, 2000.


Kurt Wichman said...

I think your interpretation of peaches is fascinating. Having skipped the front cover initially, I was alarmed when I saw the overtly "anti-female" view throughout the comic.
Your interpretation of peaches was so direct that I can't believe I didn't make this connection before!
My only recommendation, if you so chose to revise this, is maybe add a section about how his mother comes into play (with your interpretation of the peach symbolizing women). His mother obviously plays a major roll in his life from what we see and it might be worth mentioning how she fits into this.
Overall though I think you bring up some very interesting points that some people, like myself, may have completely overlooked.

Adam said...

Re: peach as symbol - check out the inside cover of the book on this subject.

The 2nd paragraph is fine, although almost too straightforward.

In the 3rd paragraph, is it true that she misinterprets his behavior? To me it's never been obvious, but the question is really fairly important. Why didn't you explain *why* you see it as a misinterpretation? Is he the victim, or is she merely (loudly) calling him out for obnoxious behavior? Or is it a little bit of both?

The paragraph both the peach in the airport bothers me. You're observant and correct, but what is the purpose of this material? Why the appearance of femininity /sexuality at this moment? If you revise, the thing I want to see most is more of an overall analysis of *why* what you see (accurately, I think) as a blatant symbol of female sexuality keeps appearing in the places where it appears.

The discussion of peaches, flies and uncleanliness is clever and detailed. I still want to see more of what you think of what it means, though. For my part, I want to connect it to the grandmother's death (remember the line about his dying grandmother's arm being the first woman's bare arm he has ever seen?).

I very much like your closing point that Jimmy's fantasies are fantasies of sexual relationships, rather than simply of sex. That's good, and your analysis of the immediate meaning of the peaches is also good. You're not done connecting the two, though - not in my view. Are the peaches, then, a symbol of *mere* sexuality (as opposed to the relationship which he really craves), or are they a symbol of something more complicated than just sexuality? I think you're going in a very positive direction - I just don't think the analysis is at all complete.