Friday, March 28, 2014

Revision 2

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 objectification of women in the comic. This illustration of women as lesser beings is challenged by Jimmy’s unique (from other male characters in the story) desire to be with a woman more than just sexually. Thus, his want to have a woman as an equal companion sets him up as a hero (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth) despite his lack of strength and confidence. The images of peaches help prove Jimmy as the superhero in the narrative.

First, it is important to look at women’s representation in the story from the very beginning. 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” (Ware). At first, this might seem to suggest that women are not smart enough to read the comic, so they should not even bother testing their ability to understand it. However, women are fairly represented in the other sections of the General Instructions. Ware even takes care to say “him- or herself” and “he or she” when using pronouns; though, using masculine pronouns alone is widely acceptable in the English language. Therefore, the exam’s exclusion of women seems to mean something more than simply women are unequal. This is exemplified by the other questions in the exam, which relate to a man’s childhood, sexual lifestyle, and relationship with his father. The test suggests instead that women might not be able to relate to the comic as well as men because of the nature of the main character and the story overall.

With this establishment of women’s place in the comic, we can turn to our first image of peaches that 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. Peaches are round, soft, fuzzy, and juicy with a light pink coloring. All of these descriptions are arguably feminine and representative of the female genitalia or breasts. 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. Contrasting his idol Superman (who has a one night stand with Jimmy’s mother), Jimmy wants something more permanent. He wants to stay rooted, like a peach tree.

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?” (Ware). An article titled “Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research” explains, “SO occurs when a woman’s body or body parts are singled out and separated from her as a person and she is viewed primarily as a physical object of male sexual desire (Bartky, 1990)” (Szymanski, 8). Looking closely at the frame, it is not exactly clear whether or not Jimmy is in fact looking at her breasts. His eyes are glancing sideways towards them. However because it does not show his line of sight from his own perspective, it is unclear if he is looking at her breasts, at someone or something across the aisle, or whatever else. Nonetheless, whether Jimmy is looking at her breasts or not, several things make him unique from just any guy checking out a girl. One, he is quiet and hunched over, making him appear anything but sexually aggressive. Also, in none of the frames is he fantasizing about being with the woman, which is often present when Jimmy is attracted to a woman (e.g. with Peggy earlier and later on with the female doctor). 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). He is a hero in the sense that he wants a woman to be his partner, not just his plaything.

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 (Ware). Then he explains to Jimmy a brief history of where peaches originated and how they spread around the world. This description is also seen at the end of the book in the Corrigenda. At the end of the definition it says, “see SYMBOL”, whose own interpretation can be read a few sections below that of peaches (Ware). This solidifies that peaches are an extremely significant image in the narrative. Although there is no reference to women in the frames with the old man, it is curious that he 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. Again, Jimmy plays the ‘hero’, becoming increasingly annoyed at the old man for snatching his fruit.

The next time we see peaches is quite awhile later in what seems to be a flashback. A Mr. Corrigan (Jimmy’s great grandfather) 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…” (Ware). Mr. Corrigan quickly hands his son the peaches to take to the kitchen. It is important to note that the male perspective of women in Jimmy’s family skips generations. His great grandfather objectified women, his grandfather was more like Jimmy himself, and his father was similar to Jimmy’s great grandfather. Thus, it is also interesting to look at each man’s interaction with peaches individually. We have seen several examples of Jimmy depicted with peaches. However, his father never seems to be shown with the fruit. This correlates to the skipping of generations. Jimmy’s great grandfather (like his father) is not often seen with peaches. When the neighbor brings the fruit as a gift, Jimmy’s great grandfather hurriedly hands them off to his son. The son (Jimmy’s grandfather) takes the peaches, holding and sniffing them, which relates more to Jimmy’s framing with them. This trend of skipping generations is prevalent throughout the story in other respects. Though each generation does improve upon the previous in certain ways, making Jimmy the most ‘heroic’ in respect to women of the all the Corrigan men.

In the second half of the story, peaches are seen less frequently but are still significant. There is an exhibit on peaches at the fair that Jimmy’s great grandfather works on and brings his son to. Also, there is a painting of peaches at the hospital where Jimmy and his sister go to visit their father after he has been in a car crash. Ironically, he skidded off the road into a fruit orchard. Though it is not confirmed a peach orchard, the fact that he was severely injured by fruit trees (a clear symbol of women in the story and fertility in general) is suggestive of his treatment of women.

Apart from the actual image of peaches in the narrative, the color peach is seen often. Women, specifically those considered love interests to the Corrigan men, have red hair in the story. Women that are desired, but not realistic partners, don’t have red hair though (e.g. Peggy and the nurse). Most often we see a girl with red/orange hair in the frames with Jimmy’s grandfather. He plays, explores, and even fights with the girl (and obviously likes her), but never succeeds in winning her. This might be connected to his, “…first view of a naked female arm…” which his that of his grandmother (Ware). This sequence of frames is closely connected to a fear of bugs – which we first see when Jimmy’s grandfather tries to eat a spoonful of sugar only to realize it is full of flies. The flies then gather on the peaches that he recently took from his father. All of these images together suggest uncleanliness and set a precedent for the Corrigan men’s difficultly with women. On the last few pages, Jimmy meets his own red headed woman, Tammy. Though their interaction is a little awkward, Tammy is nice to Jimmy. Mostly she alone talks, but Jimmy is able to respond. This two-page sequence suggests that maybe someday Jimmy and Tammy will be together as equals.

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 when he imagines the nurse cooking him breakfast and putting a ring on her finger, and it is made hopeful when he meets Tammy. The representation of women is mostly as sexual objects, but their worth (especially for Jimmy) is more complicated. Men’s relationships with women and their representation in the story are complex. Exploring the image of peaches in correlation to these complexities helps to clarify them a bit. By making Jimmy the hero (although quite contrary to what one might first imagine when picturing a hero), Ware is both critiquing objectification of women and suggesting that just because men have sexual fantasies and desires does not mean that they see women as lesser than themselves. Neither peaches nor bananas are above each other. A peach might have a soft exterior, but it has a solid core. And a banana might have a thick skin, but it has a mushy inside. In the end, they’re both fruit.

Works Cited
Szymanski, Dawn M., Lauren B. Moffitt, and Erika R. Carr. “Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research.” The Counseling Psychologist. N.p., 22 Sept. 2010. Web. 28 Mar. 2014.

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

1 comment:

Adam said...

Your argument is surprising but not so weird as to be unbelievable. I'm looking forward to it.

Interesting point about the him-and-herself, etc. in the introduction. I'd never noticed that before, but it's an important (not to mention relevant) insight.

You know, my tendency is to think of peaches as highly *im*permanent. They ripen, then they are only good briefly before turning into mush. But you're turning that upside-down a little bit by pointing out that Jimmy fantasizes about the trees and not just the peaches. Interesting.

Your analysis of his interaction with the woman on the airplane is good, mostly because of the things that you point out he *isn't* doing, rather than the ones he *is* doing.

One thing I'll add to your discussion of the old man (I like your point about Jimmy's annoyance, by the way). Why does the history of peaches come up here, rather than just the fruit themselves? I think this is an opportunity to connect back to your claims about the peach tree being of interest to Jimmy, rather than just the peach. We're not just interested in the peach and what it most immediately symbolizes, but in the tree from which it came and even the species as a whole...
Your argument about the role of peaches through the generations seems a little abbreviated, but not therefore wrong. One thing I'd like to add is that if you're right about the peaches being connected to the skipping of generations, then his grandfather should be heroic too (McGinty?).
Thank you for the ending sentences. Very nicely done!

Although the very ending was funny, I think you lost your thread a little at the end. My own tendency is to think that at the end you need to deal more explicitly with the peach vs. its orchard, or its history. You do very well to point out, for instance, that Jimmy's dad possibly dies because of a peach orchard, while Jimmy's fantasies include planting one, but you don't bring it all together as clearly as you could.

You imply more than you say, in other words, about Jimmy as cultivator of peach groves vs. his father as mere consumer - that's where the difference or the "heroism" lies.