Thursday, April 10, 2014

House of Leaves - Tom and Will: Brothers Never Apart

            From the beginning of the discussion of Tom and Will’s relationship, it is clearly presented that, despite the same upbringing, they are clearly different people on the ends of the societal spectrum. Will is a well-respected famous photographer, and Tom is an adolescent middle-aged man with nothing to show for himself.  It is blatantly obvious that Tom is dependent on Will, but it is also the case that Will is dependent on Tom.  This was the case of their childhood.  In their childhood, they practically raised each other while attempting to raise themselves personally also.  After years of separation, for somewhat unexplained reasons, this is still the case.  Tom needs Will (and subsequently Karen) as “parental figures.” (Danielewski 251) Will needs Tom for Karen, the kids, his exploration of the hallway, and ultimately, the escape from the hallway.  Tom and Will may be presented distinct in character, but they are, in fact, very interdependent.  They are brothers as physical people, but really represent the same person caught in different times of progressing adult life and personality. 
Each brother is not fit for life alone, hiding from the exposure upon separation.  Without one part, the psyche of this person is unfit for certain aspects of life: unstable.  It is first important to note that parts of the novel, House of Leaves, make it seem like there needs to be large distinction between the two brothers in certain aspects.  The novel uses the biblical story of Esau and Jacob as a descriptor of Tom and Will’s relationship.  (Danielewski 250-252) Also, Danielewski uses structure, as he does in other parts of the novel, to coincide with content flow.  The divide in person and relationship between the two brothers is embodied by two distinct columns of text he implements in writing Chapter 9.  However, these columns quickly dissolve into the personal accounts of the characters.  His use of one word would strike the reader as odd after the discussion of the divide in character between Tom and Will, when talking about Will.  “Will Navidson, on the other hand, is respected by thousands but ‘has never commanded the kind of gut-level affection felt for his twin brother.” (Danielewski 247) The use of the word twin here is significant.  Upon his first introduction into the story of the book, it is noted that Tom and Will are fraternal twin brothers (Danielewski 31).  However, not even a page later, “it seems hard to believe these two men are even related let alone brothers…Tom just wants to be, Navidson must become.” (Danielewski 32) So, the context of the word twin shifts throughout the book, as the relationship between the two brothers is able to mend and heal after years of separation, which has clearly caused a lot of personal issues within each character.  Thus, it is not simply used again after this to speak of a biological connection they did not make a decision about (ie. they share the same parents).  Tom asks Will, “Navy, you know what Dean Martin said,” to which Will knowingly replies, “Sure, You’re not drunk if you can lie down without holding on.” (Navidson helps his twin up). Tom drunkenly goes on to say, “You've always got the floor for your best friend.  Know why?” Navy responds with cheeks “flushed with emotion,” “it’s always there for you.” Tom says that Navy is like the floor: always there for him.  (Danielewski 340) Here, the brothers have banter surrounding knowing what the other is already thinking, and the interaction goes far beyond the initial investigation of the dimensions of the house; it is emotional and connecting.  Despite the years of separation and somewhat harsh first encounter, the relationship of the twins is loving: one. 
There is a subtle complexity to the dynamic of the brother’s relationship.  They are contrasted time and time again, only to come together and display some of the same character responses, namely obsession, and the way in which they come to deal with hardships: they don’t.  The defining difference is the characterization in their years, though the actual thing is the same, representing the same person caught at different times of life showing different parts of what would be a complete personality.  Tom is the caring, loving part that still has many attributes of being a kid.  When scared in the hallway, he reverts to jokes of a high school locker room, shadow puppets of a “piggy wiggy,” and reverts to calling the “ghost” Mr. Monster, in order to distract himself from the terror he has.  (Danielewski 260) Upon first arrival to the house, “the children immediately take to him.  They love his laugh,…” (Danielewski 31) Tom takes care of the children and treats them like he would his own.  His obsession is his addiction, using it to shield him from his problems.  When Tom thinks he has lost Will after Reston and Tom are rescued from the hallway without Will, Reston notes, “Tom felt like a part of him had been ripped away.” (Danielewski 319) He becomes childish, but in a different way: selfish.  He shuts off everyone else, locking himself in the study only to go on a couple day bender filled with drugs and alcohol, while the people he cares about hang in the wind over Will.  There are two days where he doesn't make an attempt to leave the study, “attempting to drink his grief into submission.” (Danielewski 320) This is not the first time that has occurred with Tom either, apparent during Will and Tom’s falling out after Chad’s birth from which he, “succumbed to chemical dependencies, went on unemployment…” (Danielewski 250) Without the presence of Will, Tom loses any sense of responsibility or being grounded, slipping into exclusion and self-medication.  Will is the professional, “Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist,” hardworking part that is always the adult in the situation.  (Danielewski 332) Will seeks progression and achievement with ambition, achieving fame, and revered by thousands.  Constantly, the skill of his photographic and cinematographic is esteemed, as breathtaking, even in times of turmoil, but only, “in an attempt to fill the emotional void.” (Danielewski 250) He, like Tom, also has a large void, filled with disdain and suicide, “it’s there before I sleep, there when I wake, it’s there a lot.” (Danielewski 332) His obsession is his work, using it to shield him from his inner struggle and his family.  The entire purpose of the move to the Virginia house was to foster a new beginning for his family, but that quickly disintegrates with the unveiling of the anomalies that Will cannot help but film and investigate.  When going back in with Tom and Reston to rescue the Holloway team, Will even has Karen involved, manning the radios during their descent despite how against Karen was to the hallway in the first place.  Karen ultimately edits some of the film of the project as well.  Upon Tom’s death, Will uses his work, as Tom uses his vices, to escape the reality of his other half’s death.  “Towards the end of October, Navidson went up to Lowell to take care of his brother’s things.  He assured Karen he would join her and the children by the first of November.  Instead, he flew straight back down to Carlottesville.  When Thanksgiving came and went Navdison still had not made it to New York,” and this goes on for multiple months.  Will decides to reside away from his family, grieving the loss of Tom by keeping himself busy in other facets of his work.  Without the presence of Tom, Will loses his sense of familial ties, abandoning them for his personal pursuits. 
The brothers are twins physically and mentally within the context of time.  They are each part of one whole, not able to face time without the other, slipping into individually mutual obsessive behaviors.  Tom doesn't truly exist without Will, nor does Will without Tom.  They are forever interdependent.  Everything changes when faced with an incomprehensible reality of a loss of one part. 

Works Cited:

Danielewski, Mark Z., and Zampanò. House of Leaves. New York: Pantheon, 2000. Print.


Tom Kappil said...

I really liked your essay. Personally, I never really considered exactly how close and important Navidson and Tom’s relationship was, besides being brothers. I liked how you made the connection that each man is fulfilled when they work together. Tom being less chemically dependent when around Navidson and his family, and Navidson being more available to his family while Tom is around. Even though they are individuals, you were really able to elucidate that Tom and Navidson, through the strange qualities of their upbringing, really only function when together, and are dysfunction adults while apart.
One thing you could have elaborated more is how Tom and Navidson together made Navidson’s relationship with Karen better. You start to touch on it when you mention how she manned the radio station whilst on the rescue mission, but there was a lot of room for expansion, including Tom saying “I love you” for Navidson, or how they are able to connect with the children better together. When Tom dies, Navidson also effectively leaves Karen, and Karen is unable to connect with Navidson. This point could help to strengthen your argument.
Overall, I liked the piece, and thought it was very well done, but could have used some more elaboration.

Adam said...

"They are brothers as physical people, but really represent the same person caught in different times of progressing adult life and personality. " - clever. You have my full attention. The intro was a little long.

You do a lot of things in the long second paragraph. You reveal that the two of them are still close in a sense, in spite of everything (end of paragraph). You raise the idea that they are incomplete or incompetent individually (start of paragraph), and you write about some straightforward differences between them. You now have several distinct claims: 1) they are the same person. 2) they are deeply inadequate without each other, 3) they are close even when separated.

Which one of these three ideas is central? You are trying to do too much, and are at least in danger of contradicting yourself.

The long paragraph on obsession was reasonably focused and good. It could have been trimmed and clarified, but the idea that they are both obsessive/addicted in different ways, and both selfish in different ways, is very insightful. Maybe it would have been better to start with these details and then get into some of your previous ideas as a way of interpreting these similarities in their personalities. Also, it would be interesting to have more of your thoughts on why, if they have so many deep similarities, why they have such different outcomes.

Overall: Really, there's a lot of exceptionally good material here. It has your characteristic problem of trying to do seven things at once, but this time you have almost a complete essay on their similar obsessions as well as some other stuff. It would have been much better if you'd still just done one thing, though.