Thursday, March 6, 2014

States of the Table

“Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth” is laced with images that have meanings other than their apparent ones. There is a repeating image of the table during the scene in which Jimmy and his father visit the diner. This image simply includes the contents of the table at multiple times during their conversation. The items on the table are the only traces of what is happening during the scene. Through analysis of these “states of the table”, we can better understand the relationship between Jimmy and his father, as well as how they live their lives.
Once they sit down, both men order drinks. Jimmy’s father a coffee, and Jimmy a Coke. This first action of drink choice shows their status. Jimmy’s father is an older gentleman who seems to be wise with his years, as he gives Jimmy advice and tells of his exploits all throughout this lunch. Stereotypically, older people order coffee, so of course this is the drink of choice for Jimmy’s father. Jimmy, ordering a Coke, demonstrates that he is taking on the role of a child. Generally, children order soda when they go out to eat. It is also important to note that, even though it is part of his demeanor, Jimmy sounds unsure when he is ordering, like a child would be. In addition, their food orders reflect a stereotypical child and adult scenario. Jimmy orders a grilled cheese with no salad, a very plain meal. Jimmy’s father’s meal is not extravagant, but his turkey club and salad show a little more diversity and class: more adult features. Their orders reflect their roles in their odd relationship.
The state of the table represents how they tend to go about their lives. From the very start, Jimmy’s father’s side of the table is a mess. He drips his creamer, drops a piece of lettuce, and throws the toothpick from his sandwich to the side. From the stories he tells during this meal and beforehand, he also lives in this messy, haphazard way. At this point, halfway through the graphic novel, we know that he has another daughter, refused to date a woman because she had children, and has slept around. In addition, he is reaching out to Jimmy for an undisclosed reason. His lifestyle, demonstrated by these stories, is not at all a life of a well put-together and responsible adult.  On the other hand, Jimmy’s plate goes mostly untouched. He may have taken one bite out of his grilled cheese, and he placed it directly back in the spot where it originated. His actions in the first half of the book show that his lifestyle is also cautious and boring. Other than his trip to see his father, he leads a monotonous life mostly alone, aside from the constant phone calls from his mother. His eating habits reflect his lifestyle, as well as his discomfort with the situation he is presently in.

The table starts out full of dirty dishes from the previous owners. As the waitress seats Jimmy and his father, it is shown that the table is now clear: a “fresh start”. This symbolizes the start that Jimmy and his father are attempting to have. At the end of the meal, the table is shown again, wiped clean. It shows no traces that the pair were ever there. This may be foreshadowing that the visit isn’t going to mean much in retrospect, or simply that this meal won’t be remembered later. Either way, this meal is a small occurrence in each of their lives. Some time passed, as demonstrated by the shadows, but the meal begins and ends with a clean table. The relationship that was represented in their meal has left no lasting traces. There is now a fresh start for the next patrons at the diner.  In reality, their fresh start was nothing special.

The repeating image of the table at the diner symbolizes many themes that are evident in the first half of the graphic novel. Jimmy and his father’s lifestyles and roles are demonstrated in the way they approach their meals. The table itself, clean and dirty, represents a clean slate, new beginnings. Through these images, we can better understand how Jimmy and his father relate to each other. An adult wisened by irresponsible experiences, and the child he never raised, these two men are starting a relationship that is unknown territory. 


Kyle McManigle said...


I thought the approach that you took for this essay was very intelligent. I honestly didn't even think of what you said as a possibility. The relationships you drew between the orders of both Jimmy and his dad in relation to how they are presented was very smart. I also thought there were a lot of great context clues into Jimmy being a child, even though he is an adult physically. The fact that you drew on these from a simple meal was strong. I actually really enjoyed the level of depth you got into your essay. The only thing I could think of to make this essay better is to expand on the conversation that Jimmy's dad tries to present with his up-talk of other women and what he does. I thought it was interesting you brought this up, but I want to know more how this makes him more adult compared to Jimmy because Jimmy also tries to talk to women and has different day-dreams that include his intimate interaction with women (like with the nurse when he broke his nose). I think you have a good point to make with this essay, and if you were going to revise it, you can add other examples that add directly into what you are saying. I would draw on these instances, and maybe expand on the actual father son relationship between the two. Since it is after such a long time when they have had a relationship, it is evident that Jimmy's dad really does treat him as a child, though he himself also has child-like attributes. If you could also explain this complexity, I think your essay would benefit greatly.

Adam said...

I like your narrow, interesting focus - small, ordinary things are obviously of interest to Ware.

You maybe go on about the coffee & Coke longer than you need to. It's a good point, of course - you just squeeze it dry, and then some.

The discussion of the two sides of the table is very good. I could have done a little more with Jimmy putting things back almost untouched - a think you were a sentence or two away from drawing the full implications out of this one.

Fresh start... nothing special was excellent. While I liked it just as an analysis of Jimmy and his father, if you revise I'd like you to at least consider things I said in class - the intersection of the personal and the historical. In other words, I'd like you to consider the ways in which this whole scene and your analysis of it is also an unpacking of Ware's ideas about America (possibly with emphasis on the midwest/Chicago).

Overall - excellent choice of material and excellent analysis. It's a little long for what you do, and I think there are many more implications to draw - whether you go in the historical direction or whether you simply expand this analysis to other moments from the book. But this works very well as is, too.

Kyle's suggestion would be a big change in direction, but it's a smart idea and an interesting possibility.