JUDY BLUME’S BLUBBER – BALLAD OF A BULLY


*** Added New thought, I’d forgot , in the name paragraph – Jill Brenner shares the name initials as her creator, Judy Blume!***

 

Blubber - Judy Blume - Flencer costme alone        judy blume blubber newest Blubber Judy Blume - Flencer costume with Tracy Judy Blume's Blubber - scattered Blubber - Judy Blume - vtg
    I’m going to step on some toes here but here goes – Is Blubber a cautionary tale a warning of going along with the crowd or of a bully exposed , glorified even? You decide.

            PART ONE 

                         David Rees , a critic , author and teacher at the university of Exeter once complained that reading Judy Blume ‘feels like a bashing on the head with a blunt instrument’- slightly harsh but I know what he means. When you read a non-series book it’s because it’s supposed to be fresher , offer
you a more complex subject matter with deeper symbolism and compelling characters only with Blume you get the same monosyllabic phrases fleshing out the same stunted, compact plots that you would get in any series fiction. You see you’ve been tricked. What’s scary is that Blume has sold enough books that 1 out of every two children in America could’ve read one of her books at one time or another,  that’s a lot of influence. Could you say that for better authors like Richard Peck , Joan Aiken or Norma Fox Mazer , hardly.

                       So what was the secret of her success? An aloofness partly,  I  mean lets face it, most kids love being able to pick up a book and devour it in one sitting , no complications , no muddle-some metaphors or out-there endings – it’s as neat and tidy a package as a half hour sitcom or a comic book. The only problem being is that when a tough subject is tackled and misses it’s mark, it could have the wrong affect on an impressionable reader.
                      I think that’s Blume’s terrific when her subjects are lightweight – the surface of Are you there God it’s me Margaret , most of Tiger Eyes, the hilarious bits of Otherwise known as Sheila the Great – and all of Just as Long as We’re Together ( what I think is her single-most mundane masterpiece ). But when her plot demands deeper layers, it’s then , that the stories don’t come to emotionally satisfying conclusions.
                       Let’s take Blubber for now , one of Judy Blume’s most known paperbacks written in 1974 and reprinted ad infinitum with new covers to freshen things up every decade or so. The first cover by Dell was probably the most accurate and most known by first generation Blume-fans it featured poor Linda poised at the blackboard proudly giving her report on the whale while Wendy and Jill snicker at their desks. Linda was drawn as we probably envision her – harmlessly plump.                 

Blubber Judy Blume - Chocolate scene

                   The next cover by Yearling – which I bought in 1986,  featured one of the more gruesome scenes in the book of Wendy attempting to force-feed Linda a ‘chocolate covered ant’ while others look on. On this cover Linda looks no more fat than anyone else, as if symbolically trying to reenforce the absurdity of the name and attack. Critics all over praised Blume’s achievement – on the back blurb snippets herald the tale as ‘accurate’ , a ‘good family story’ and most factual – “An inside look at how obnoxious some well-to-do suburban fifth grade children can be to each other and adults.”   
                     For any of you who don’t know the story it’s about Jill a fifth grader, who presumably gets caught up with a pushy classmate named Wendy and cohort Caroline into bullying fellow classmate , a fat student ( but not , as she tells us, the fattest student in the whole fifth grade , other students carry those titles ) , Linda. The story is told from Jill’s point of view and we follow her from the starting point when Linda gives her report on the whale and is henceforth called Blubber which Wendy decides is a good name for her. Jill is too preoccupied with the highlights of Halloween to care much about Linda. There’s pranking crabby Mr. Machinist and attempting to win most original costume but as the harassment on Linda escalates so does Jill’s involvement until predictably Jill finds herself in Linda’s shoes.
                        It’s a compact read but there are a lot of undercurrents disturbing the surface of an already sketchy tale. First off Jill Brenner’s parents have been infantilized while Jill has been exalted to the level of clever maturity. One of the rules of dissecting any bit of art be it book or movie or  pop culture is not to take things out of context. Given the year is 1974 we know Blume was stepping away from what had been the somewhat norm of parents in children’s fiction the yes-mame , no-sir types. She was modernizing them however when the hero’s character is subject to debate – every thing the parents do must come under scrutiny.

          Mom bares the brunt of this transmogrification –
She sneaks cigarettes , and blows bubble gum bubbles,  unaware that she should use alcohol to remove bits left on her chin until Jill tells her , Jill has been wearing her mother’s old Halloween costume for years believing she is sparing her mother’s feelings. On family game night the foursome plays poker with monopoly money! And Jill must keep explaining which suits are
highest to dear ole mom. When Mom decides to quit smoking it’s because she’s impressed with Jill’s willpower – Jill is very proud of her ( how sad that these parents never inspire anything of their own wisdom , or experience in this child ) Sometimes a ‘cute’ verb or image is attached to the parents – when the family is late to the bar Mitzvah the kids are unfazed but the parents are embarrassed , dad reddens , mom fumbles.

             Mrs. Brenner also flops on the couch , is described as not being shy about swearing in front of her kids and when observed calves down from a washroom booth her feet looked like they were dancing. While other moms use lipstick she uses lip gloss. Mrs. Brenner is also in danger of being the friend/mom she ignores the obvious signs of trouble – Jill heading out on Halloween with her bag of tricks , and a pillowcase OVER her costume – Mrs. Brenner chirps the usual momisms like can you see good enough? ( through the holes in the pillowcase – but, not why are you wearing a disguise over a disguise? ) and it’s cold out , wear a coat. When Jill returns , sneaking in and dripping wet , Mom blow dries Jill’s hair ( destroying the evidence? ) with a smile allowing her daughter to suggest the don’t ask , don’t tell motto. Then, as if, summoning the appearance of responsibility for her role, she is made to be shocked, discovering Jill was ( duh! ) up to no good that night. But from what well did this surprise spring forth? and her anger – both seem not so much directed at Jill and her actions but at Jill’s accuser – Mr. Machinist ( echoing Jill’s maligned judgment.) And when she needs to shine as a mom , she fizzles out giving hackneyed advice that even causes Jill to cut and run. And it’s not as if Mrs. Brenner is unaware of her daughter au contraire – she says to Jill – you can be a pretty tough character sometimes – so what do we make out of her, what can we make out of her. One statement which sums up the odd duality of what Mom represents – It’s rough being on the other side isn’t it. Assuming that there are just two sides bully and victim and you better be on the one that covers your ass. ( The mind set ,not just, of a bully but of a bullies comrade – the one who never shoulders the blame but fully participates.)
                     Lets switch to another theme that of the characters themselves being linked to the animal kingdom – noted by Jill herself when she comments that Linda must’ve done her report on the whale because they have so much in common. The story starts in the classroom with students ignoring the reports given by their fellow classmates, engrossed in such behavior as picking their noses and staring at naked people in the National Geographic. Donna a minor character is linked to a horse her choice for her report. Horses represent beauty. And Donna we are told has a body in which everything fits perfectly. She also dresses like a jockey for Halloween which makes the horse analogy turn into a form of competition – and there is a great deal of competition going on in this book though it’s interesting that Donna would be linked through her animal-likeness to it – Donna who had relatively nothing to do with teasing Linda – is always present when they attack Jill. In Jill’s mind Donna bares the brunt of her reproach more so than most characters. There is an unconscious competition going on between the two – Donna’s perfect body vs Jill who is underweight , Donna’s authentic jockey uniform that her FATHER got for her vs. Jill’s thrown together costume. ( I printed father in bold because the father’s – and most men,  in this story are all hero-figures.) And the fact that Donna is dismissed as boring whereas this story being told by Jill assumes her to not be boring.

              Linda herself is linked obviously to the whale. Now whales vary in peoples opinions – in cartoons they are often given goofy voices to coincide with their lumbering gosh-golly-gee personas , they stumble about like big wallowing oafs. On the flip side they are also seen as graceful and lyrical but since Linda is given none of these traits her whale link is stained by the permanent goof impression.

                 Wendy is linked to goldfish , described as being HEAD of the Goldfish committee. Goldfish are part of the pike family , meat eaters. They can devour an entire tank of fish until all that’s left is them. Some kids might not know this but their general identity is equally fitting – they are bright , attractive , seemingly harmless and disposable. Wendy blends – and the term head of – could imply that all the students are like Wendy but she’s the queen ( the kids are seen linked as one unit – not just in their attack but in their unimaginative costumes – as hobos.)  Kenny is linked with a pig – when called one by Jill. This links him to Linda ( not just this once, he has a long chain of links to Linda ) – Pigs you see are perceived as being smelly , vile , fat. That’s a link to Linda who’s name by now has been adapted to smelly whale. Caroline is linked to a hyena by her laugh , and hyenas are usually cruel , torturous , seen in cartoons as dim witted henchmen awaiting instructions. Last but not least our protagonist Jill who were learn did her report on the lion. A surprising twist for our ‘hero’ because lions are seen as vicious , predatory and as being the KING of the jungle.
                       I think that reinforces my next theme which will be to defuse the idea the Jill just went along with the crowd – A misconception that I think has been going on for years. Jill we are told by her best friend is really tough on people – in the first line. Her friend Tracy even wonders how they can be friends. But goes on to expel that statement as a joke because they ARE the best of friends. Having re-read the book several times before writing this – I almost wonder if that isn’t a sly hint that Jill is borderline bigot. In the 70′s it had become fashionable to be liberal especially concerning interracial friendships.  There is no ‘flaw’ with Tracy she is one of the few characters seen in a rosy light – the only thing that makes her ‘different’ is that she is Chinese-American.

               The book is presenting one thing and implying another – Jill is saying look at me I’m liberal ,
socially aware , a non bigot. But if you’re best friend is wondering how she slipped under your
radar it means she is aware of your bigotry and yet,  is somehow deemed worthy.

              The biggest line used to justify the misconception of the going-along-with-it theory is at the beginning when Jill opens the note and smiles – ‘not because she thought the note was funny but because Wendy was watching her.’ Worded this way it leaves a window open. Jill justifies every action – she’s not telling the reader wether she thought the note was funny or not – she’s telling you she smiled to keep Wendy off her case. I believe Jill is an extremely competitive person , and I think that this was also a way of not giving Wendy any kudos for her joke. Mrs. Minish at one point asks Jill ‘can you control yourself’ she means Jill’s laughing – but everything an adult says can be taken two ways and in a sense this statement not only fortifies the competitive undercurrent by posing the question does Jill lose control in the spirit of competition or merely deflect the responsibility of control ( like blaming Robby for laughing. ) but also implies ( through an unsavory character – thereby her belief’s are suspect ) that Jill could have control , it’s a choice. But because Jill resorts to the helplessness of Robby’s provoking laughter , she denies ( for the moment ) control. Again – Jill is playing the shell game – pretending control is not really hers , even though it’s there ,always here in her possession. Like the note which is crumpled and left IN PLAIN SIGHT on the corner of her desk. But because this is a plot maneuver I’m not sure if I can analyze it too much. Though, had Jill been worried about offending Wendy would she have crumpled up the note and left it in plain sight or tucked it into her pencil pouch?
                  When Jill laughs ( along with everyone else ) she explains ( justifies ) that it’s because when Robby Winters laughs everyone laughs. See she has given herself a reason. When the group merrily pitches in to torment Linda on the bus , Jill seems to have an attack of sympathy when faced with Linda who looks about to cry because ,we are told, Jill has seen her look this way before when Robby Winters accidently stepped on her fingers.  Ironic that Robby had once caused Linda to cry , and yet he would laugh at her expense, till tears rolled down his cheeks provoking an entire class to laugh with him ( the link seems to inject a subconscious bit of black humor – Linda’s tears/Robby’s tears = humor ) Poor Linda! ( Robby always seems to be linked with Linda in particularly cruel ways – Halloween night when Jill and Tracy trash Linda’s front yard – Robby’s mom gives them a check for Unicef which they think is neat – like two hitmen getting their pay! And when Linda is humiliated by Miss Rothbelle , and Jill punished – it’s Robby who adding insult to injury asks for the simple answer. ) Back to the bus ,as Jill hands Linda her coat – she says oh here. The feeling achieved isn’t sympathy it’s disgust. Jill is disgusted with Linda. Tears, we learn later on, are symbolic of failure and defeat – Jill vows ‘I’ll never let them see me cry. Never.’Wendy calls the tears stupid – and even a pun is made about Blubber Blubbering. When Linda cries later on her face is described as blotchy red , her nose runs – she seems both vulnerable and pathetic. 

            In the bathroom scene where Linda is ‘stripped’ there are two items that might serve as evidence for the going-along-theory until you examine the whole scene – the attack is introduced curiously on pg 30 when Jill describes precisely why she carried the sword to the bathroom, phrasing it in such a manner that it becomes a defense and inadvertently shifts time making us feel that Jill is telling us ABOUT an event rather than leading us through it. She knows that she wields the sword in a threatening manner to Linda and so justifies her actions BEFOREHAND for bringing the sword to the bathroom – I really meant no harm is the tone. I’m reminded of the beginning of the book – saying one thing implying another. There is also another hint to this when Jill tells us she’d never been in a class with Caroline or Wendy ( implying, contradictory, I didn’t know what I was getting into / everyone knows you don’t cross Wendy. )  When Jill hesitates we assume that she isn’t as heartless as Wendy , but is afraid of backing down. But remember there IS a vein of competition – when Wendy
moves towards Linda in the washroom wondering aloud what’s under her cape that’s an implication of future events – Watch now – as Wendy gets Jill to restate her position as a flencer – ‘that’s right I am,’ while implying that Linda will be stripped , Jill back peddles to shift blame on Wendy – ‘I wasn’t sure exactly what Wendy had in mind.’. A page before she was almost precognitive about her sword and justifying her actions and now hesitates not knowing what Wendy meant – she knew what Wendy meant BUT she didn’t know how FAR Wendy would take it. At the very least – Linda’s cape was history. And it’s Jill who rips off the cape.

             The question is -Would she have gone any further? Considering their isn’t any halt – Caroline and Wendy don’t wait for Jill to obey their command they’re already tearing at Linda’s clothes we’ll never know. Why do they stop? Do tears melt Jill’s heart? Is that why she gives Linda an out and asks her to say the magic word? I doubt it. I think Jill knew they had gone as far as they could take it for TODAY. Jill leaves an opening, an out. In fact, she throws Wendy a lifesaver. Certain ‘pranks’ couldn’t go unnoticed by the adult world. Linda could scarcely be stripped. Ironically a lot of pseudo-psychological finger pointing goes on – Jill essentially blames Wendy it being her idea , though Jill dressed as a flencer invites the scene to happen , but since Linda gave the report all blame must rest on her shoulders. This is backed up later on by Jill who says things like she really asks for it. As for the end of the scene whomper  ‘everyone knows you don’t cross Wendy’ you could take it as there-you-see evidence, until you realize what it follows and can’t be taken out of context – ‘I wasn’t worried about Linda telling on US.’  It clouds the impact and destroys the impression that Jill is herself just a victim – because she betrayed, that her only concern was being caught.
                      One of the major flaws in the going all with it theory is the fact that Jill is not always with Wendy when she attacks Linda – on Halloween she glories in toilet papering Linda’s front yard , spraying the bushes with silly string and writing Blubber lives here all over the sidewalk in front of her house.( considering we only have Jill’s eyes one wonders how many kids take the time to imagine an unwritten scene, of Linda’s parents waking up to the t.p.’d trees , and bushes and the slogan written all over the street – how would Linda explain? What would she say? What if she woke up early knowing what they’d done and cleaned it up herself?)

              Jill is with her friend Tracy – and one of the eeriest moments for an eagle eyed reader is that they realize Linda has been watching them destroy her yard and the girls are unscathed. They are equally unbothered by the fact that they have tormented Linda right out of trick or treating. That’s huge! It’s a little like the Santa Claus theory debunked by it’s own rules – the naughty children have gone out for a night reaping the sweets , the fun , the kudos of a good deed ( collecting for Unicef ) done while the good children sit behind closed doors mocked by their own fear ( Linda , and Kenny – see their’s another Kenny/Linda link ) While Kenny is afraid of fictional boogeymen , Linda is afraid of real boogeymen.

               There are also statements Jill begins to make, reinforcing that she is not just going along with it – she IS it. Jill wishes Halloween would come every year ( diplomatic immunity for pranks? ) and describes the vandalizing of Linda’s front yard with sheer joy. If you think about it carefully – Jill and Tracy get to Wendy’s pristine front yard and then demolish it – why do I say pristine – even Wendy had not made an effort to torment Linda that night! Not only that if you think Linda is just one of many kids pranked that night recall that’s it’s written that both cans of silly string are used up on Linda’s bushes – nobody else but the two people, Jill thinks deserve to get punished, are pranked. A person gets what she deserves is sing-songed , they’re not kids being kids, they’re targeting. Contrast that with the nameless pumpkins Wendy smashed which ironically is more to the tune kids will be kids.

            Jill also says she was starting to really enjoy herself when she mocks Linda eating an egg salad sandwich and then starts off chapter 11 with the chilling ‘School isn’t as boring as it used to be’ before we learn what makes it so exciting – the week long torture of Linda with an itemized list no less! The strange thing is Jill wants to have it both ways she wants to slip us the idea that she is just going along with it but isn’t – she draws herself to Wendy when she doesn’t need to – Wendy isn’t the dictator we assume her to be. Jill drags her desk over to Caroline and Wendy already immersed in their own plans. Jill WANTS to be part of it. She justifies her actions by saying that Mrs. Minish was going to take a long time sorting out their trip money – she is pointing the finger , blame with excuses – boredom,  for hanging out with Wendy. But there are other kids in the classroom…..
                 Speaking of which – lets leave off Jill’s going along with it theory I think I’ve proved my
point – even without the courtroom scene, which will lend itself to another theme entirely – lets examine the kids in Jill’s fifth grade. Did you know there are only eleven students mentioned? Jill , Bruce , Wendy , Caroline, Linda , Laurie , Michael , Irwin , Rochelle, Donna, Robby. I have a hard time believing that this is the entire class and yet with the constant use of we , and we all, Jill seems to insist that it is, even pointing out the oddity of the one person who isn’t involved in the torment – Rochelle. When I first read this book back in fifth grade I wholly believed it , I bought into the scenario that Jill was basically a ‘good’, ‘average’ kid who been bitten by karma. But to buy into that you have to believe an entire class works as a gang, a unit. I don’t buy that. Classrooms are too varied for this kind of supreme unity – and the boys in the story are stripped of any gender characteristics they are virtually indistinguishable from the girls ( accept of course for names.). Everyone is essentially a tomboy. To have not one student show one iota of qualms or nerves or disgust was staggering. This wasn’t children of the damned this was children of Hidden Valley a well to do suburb where apparently adults were as completely out of touch with their children, as the children were from  themselves.            

            PART TWO
            Okay we’ve examined the parents , the classroom , and some underlining themes , let’s go to our main source – Jill Brenner herself. The protagonist the I of the story. Jill is, without a doubt, one of the most sour characters written in children fiction. Nothing much meets Jill’s approval with the exception of a best friend who existence seems to hinge on being Jill’s better
‘self’. Tracy is a character who is exactly like Jill only ‘better’- it’s she who invests a month into the Mr. Machinist prank by stashing the eggs in her dresser drawer to rot. And it’s she who fulfills Jill’s fantasy life -Tracy has long, tangle free hair, and a mother who is never too busy to whip up a prize winning costume or a beautiful dress for a bar mitzvah , it’s Tracy’s mom who band-aids each one of Jill’s blistered fingers ( what someone could describe as being overly caring ) , and Tracy’s parents aren’t pushovers they don’t buy into the children’s presumed remorse and demand Tracy to shape up. Another bonus is Tracy is also a single child ( no bratty brother ) , has the cool teacher and most important Tracy isn’t afraid of Wendy.

                There is also one other item – Friendly which links her to an underlying rooster vs chicken theme ,so subtle you might not notice it. Jill loves Tracy’s pet rooster Friendly , roosters – rule the roost. The rooster is a symbolic leader – an unfearing , arrogant – strutting bird – cock of the walk. High above the hens and chickens. Because Jill and Tracy are somewhat the same – though Tracy is the better ( she’s the beauty , wins contests , punches bullies ) thereby linked to the ideal image of this leader – the big bird – Hence her costume Big Bird who is friendly. But Jill as her lesser self is too similar to Wendy and though both have leader images – lion/queen they both have one thing in common
they see Linda as an unworthy chicken. She is literally dubbed a chicken for not coming out on Halloween but the tone is overall – ‘There are some people who just make you want to see how far you can go.’ That’s the implication – a weak person, a chicken – allows this behavior , while a rooster, a leader would fight back. Notice how Jill holds Friendly ( out of all the animals Tracy has – Jill has befriended the rooster! Ahem Wendy. Opies ( the restaurant ) has rat-tails in their chicken. Linda is called a rat-fink. And at the end as Jill and Tracy contemplate who told they still believe it could’ve been Linda. Why let Wendy off like this? – because Wendy is very much like Jill and Jill doesn’t run herself down – and every person-link to Jill she specifically doesn’t run down ( Mrs. Sandmeier , Tracy , her dad , and Mr. Machinist – say what?! Wait and read)

                It’s a little eerie to think that Jill would choose a friend specifically because she echoes what Jill wants to, or does, admire in herself. Tracy becomes the mirror Jill wants to see herself in. At the end of the book Jill winds up with the little seen Rochelle as her classroom friend. She isn’t really noticed by Jill until she appears to ENJOY the torment of Linda ( like Jill – who admits at one point she was beginning to ENJOY herself – while mocking Linda ) , and then because Rochelle wants the courtroom trial to be ACCURATE ( Jill is all about justification , reason , logic )but to bring the symbolism home Rochelle eats peanut butter sandwiches just like Jill.
                 Jill comes from an upper middle class home where both parents work – dad is a lawyer and Mom does something with computers , which would make her a latchkey kid if it wasn’t for Mrs. Sandmeier the family’s indulgent dream-figure housekeeper who teaches the kids french when she isn’t shooting hoops with Kenny or straining the vegetables from Jill’s soup because she knows Jill hates vegetables.

            Jill even engages in a typical oedipal triangle – she locks horns with her mom – whether it’s verbal or mental,  keeping mom at the level of child while she takes her place as the one who scratches daddy’s back. It’s interesting that one of the themes involves Jill’s contest to stop her nail biting habit – the surface goal is a cash prize to buy more stamps however taking into consideration that Jill loves to scratch her dad’s back the real goal maybe the fact that as her nails grow, the back scratch becomes more enjoyable. And notice how scratching is linked to both parents – her father for pleasure – her mother the result of picking out a dumb, itchy dress! Her brother Kenny is a year younger ( though the gap seems wider ) and a fount of useless information honed from his trusty Guiness Book of World records. He is also the most blatant aspect of the kid-as-know-it-all theme which colors most of the characters. While adults spew double meaning admonishments , the kids wisecrack and wink.
                       Lets take the Brenner ritual of poker night played with Monopoly money keeping in mind Jill is eleven and Kenny is ten. You might say c’mon I played poker as a child. In books things are rarely mentioned by accident , even subconsciously,  poker may have been picked to reinforce an ugly theme that is inherent to Jill’s nature while simultaneously bringing in the parents who are supposed to set an example, showing us that they have cultivated this nature. Jill is competitive, and is rather like a lawyer who wants to win a case. Not necessarily achieve justice – just win. As they play poker Jill is noting how her brother always lets it slip what he’s holding – any mention of Kenny is usually done in contrast – Jill picks out Kenny’s fault to elevate herself – She may not be good at poker but she’s not stupid enough to give away her hand. And when they are carving pumpkins, Kenny again is noted for creating a goofy jack-o-lantern which leads us into another tidbit that’s meshed with the competitive spirit – nothing is done for mere enjoyment – when they are carving the pumpkins – Jill explains that this year she got it right ( the face which is never described ) The carving of the pumpkins becomes an act of achievement to do something , to do it better. It’s what fuels Jill – think about Halloween – Jill decides to be a flencer because she assumes it will be so original it’s a guaranteed win – discounting the fact that her attempts to pull this off  are half-assed. She staples dolphins to the brim of a beach hat , paints her boots gold and her cardboard sword gold and makes herself a sign reading flencer. When Jill doesn’t win she is furious, even though the prizes ( two books ) are dismissed as being boring. That’s another key point with Jill – what WE, the readers think, should be the Goal or Prize is never the goal for Jill. She doesn’t want to win the books – she wants to win the title. Although it is so cleverly put – Jill says ‘it wasn’t the prize that mattered. It was the idea of winning.’ that the wording almost escapes us. Jill wants us to always believe that she is a good , socially conscious kid – which is why -the idea of  – is injected into that sentence it’s not the IDEA of winning that’s important to Jill – it may be what fuels her – but winning is what matters! Jill wants to be the kid in gym class hoisted on her classmates shoulders for kicking the winning goal ( pg 72 ) – but not to be good at sports. She wants her dessert without eating her vegetables. ( A symbol which becomes fruition when Jill rejections everything at the Bar Mitzvah lunch but still gets her cake , while Linda makes a point of saying her mother told her to eat everything. )
                             Sometimes Jill’s sour view seems so all-encompassing that it taints characters who should be able to have a moment to shine but are instead victims of an invisible scale that seems to balance things in favor of Jill or rather Jill’s view. Whereby even best friend Tracy gets the most boring book as her prize , and Kenny wins a gift certificate to a restaurant that serves ‘rat tails’ in their burgers.

              This pessimistic state becomes totalitarian when we find that there is nothing delightful to be seen and no one worth knowing to be found. A cool teacher belongs out of sight to Tracy while Jill must deal with a trio of harpies. The custodian delivers the milk early and Jill suspects it to be sour , and imagines her awful teachers munching hamburgers while she must choke it down. Boys exist solely to be the brute force of the attack when they are not described as being nose pickers , gawkers of National Geographic nudes , sticking pins under their fingers , or being even fatter than Linda. New dresses give one rashes , upcoming school trips elicit no excitement because Jill has already been to the destination not once but four times. A visit from grandma could bring on diarrhea while a visit from Great Maudie brings on a unwanted health food diet. A bar mitzvah is arranged with embarrassment , inedible food , a gross guest of honor and a near showdown. And letters from stamp companies only trigger angry responses. When the parents order take out every night it is always nothing Jill wants….. Whew. Remember I didn’t mention or list – the attacks , Wendy , Caroline or Mr. Machinist this is all the in between stuff – it would be easier to list the things Jill likes – Tracy , Ms. Sandmeier , scratching her father’s back , Friendly the rooster , acquiring checks , stamps , Halloween ( specifically trashing Linda’s yard, which is when she comments – ‘I was having the best time. I wish Halloween came more than once a year.’ ) remember what I said about rewards – most kids think Halloween is best for gathering loot – Jill says she’s not even allowed to eat much of what she collects. Nor shows a great deal of interest in it – for her the prize is the pranks.
                          While I was compiling my thoughts on Jill I began to see her more involved – imagine Jill as subconscious catalyst. I pose this question -What if Jill is more an instigator than Wendy? Think of each attack – Ever wonder why Wendy passed the note to Jill in the first place? Was Wendy trolling for a kindred spirit? And then on the bus – Jill is integral – before Wendy gets off the bus she tosses Linda’s jacket to Jill  – meaning carry on without me. The second attack in the washroom is brought on specifically by Jill deciding to dress as a flencer for Halloween ( Jill repeatedly tells us how smart she is – I know this …, I wouldn’t do that because… , I got smart this year and…so she knew that she would be reviving what went on yesterday – that a joke which might’ve fizzled out, now couldn’t be.) Had she chosen something else , would Wendy have continued? – though we might believe Wendy to be relentless , we have to admit she chooses targets based on opportunity – think about it, when Wendy sees Jill dressed up as a flencer ( a person who strips Blubber ) don’t you think that Wendy is looking at someone who is up for more pranks?

                  Jill plays dumb when it’s convenient because being too smart would mean that she was equally responsible , calculating even. The cupcake attack isn’t brought on specifically by anything Jill says or does – however she is WATCHING Linda spread out her lunch while Wendy gives voice to Jill’s inner dialogue – because without missing a beat Jill is pulled into agreeing with Wendy and mocking Linda’s lunch , their back and forth comments propel Wendy, into topping this verbal duel, by doing something physical.

                Linda’s name change – the attack on Linda at lunch where her name is changed from Blubber to my name will always be Blubber a.k.a the SMELLY whale is brought on by JILL crying out hey look Blubber’s on a diet. The first use of the word smelly stems from Jill back during Halloween when Jill called Fred ( the contest winner ) that smelly fried egg. And because of the incident in the music room with Miss Rothbelle -  Linda has brought on the issue of bad smells ( during which of course – Jill was severely punished for being rude but blames it initially on Linda’s ill-timed body function or malfunction ) I can imagine Jill harped about this to Wendy much like she harped about the unfairness of Mrs. Minish.  Wendy concedes and resorts to using Jill’s adjective.

               During the assembly while they are practicing lullabies Wendy keeps poking and pinching Jill trying to make her laugh – then says no one sings breast but Blubber pass it on. Jill does this – even though she is standing right next to her victim. One wonders if Jill had laughed would Wendy have been satisfied -( once more the  competitiveness.) Wendy is like a entertainer whose audience ( the class ) is eager for performances so much so, that Wendy begins to sketch out an itinerary for more scenes. This idea is later on reinforced by Rochelle whom Jill notes that ‘even Rochelle who usually doesn’t pay any attention to us, was enjoying the show.’ Jill is carefully excluded from the creation of the list. Wendy and Caroline had been hard at work before Jill pulls up a chair – but I get the uneasy feeling that Wendy presents the list to Jill almost like it was something for Jill ,  a challenge ( there can only be one leading lady but do try to upstage me , I dare you ) – it’s also interesting that the first attempt to cross off an item on the list is when Jill has left the room so that Caroline can brag later on- You missed a good show as if to say now it’s your turn to amuse us. So far the characters written words have themselves been a duel – note passing , stamp company vs purchaser , Mr. Machinist blackmailing an apology , even homework assignments become a battle ground – isn’t there more than one way to think – Jill cheekily asks her teacher. It’s rather a great coincidence or reinforcement that the next scene is the no-show only tell moment when Jill ‘accidently’ slams a kickball into Linda’s stomach. Take a bow Jill you’ve just topped Wendy tripping Linda , you’ve left a bruise.

          When they are weighed and Jill lingers to hear Linda’s weight – the next thing you know,  perfect Donna is teaching them a mean skipping rope rhyme – probably instigated by Jill telling them what she overheard. But Linda’s week to end all weeks in chapter 11 – is reduced to a strange format – a gang that says we did it – but with no original thought leading to the culprit – though the list has been passed out – it’s not we did item six on Wendy’s list – it’s we made Blubber….Only two people get credit for their own ideas – Irwin who looks up funky words in the dictionary to call Linda and Wendy who brings the infamous chocolate covered ant. But it’s three people who must consummate this act – Caroline holds Linda’s arms , Wendy pinches Linda’s nose – Jill shoves in the chocolate.

               Jill’s  stubborn insistence that Linda told on them vs Tracy common sense that it probably was Wendy brings about Linda’s last attack and it’s the only one which Jill is given full credit for orchestrating – it’s the one which Jill will wholeheartedly admit was her idea ( because Jill in her warped thinking – tends to believe the mere idea of a court room trial equates with justice – even with Wendy as judge!) Remember Jill’s backbone appears when she says she wants an ACCURATE trial meaning a lawyer for Linda – however she knows the trial has no accuracy with Wendy as judge , Caroline as part of the jury and herself as a lawyer. So what is she really doing – Jill is trying to do what she semi-stated in the beginning of the book ,when the story was started , after Jill gave her report on the lion , and before Wendy is mentioned as head of the goldfish committee,  she is trying to reinstate her rightful place of reign. It’s her world , her courtroom , her trial – she is king of the jungle. Wendy the kooky queen with her ‘too high crown’ (part of her Halloween costume ) , like something out of Alice in Wonderland is out , Jill the judging is in. Believe me that’s not the best trade up.                        

                            PART THREE 
           There is a syrupy idealism to Jill’s thinking that has a backhanded effect. Nobody can quite fulfill the contrary notions of openmindedness with political correctness and thus characters be it real or fictional often revealed this fraudulent facade of 70′s modern archetype to humorous effect and none so perfectly as Jill. When she wasn’t patting herself on the back she was telling us what a tender soul she was….really , just look at her list -  smoking is unhealthy , animals are for loving not wearing , snatching kids candy at Halloween is mean , smashing pumpkins unfair , picking your nose during the pledge of allegiance is unpatriotic , swearing all the time is for pent up show-offs , all of these beliefs are made of no effect when her behavior undermines this foundation. Her only self-doubt comes when contrasted against a supposably perfect person – Tracy – and they are pretty insignificant – long hair, a beautiful costume. Wendy has no self doubts and contradicts Jill’s  niceties , she wears a ratty old fur , calls Tracy a derogatory name, manipulates teachers & children alike , and is openly arrogant with no facade of humility. Wendy doesn’t care about scruples and is in some ways more honest than Jill ( for their shared thinking – both are after all bullies )  How is smashing pumpkins deemed unfair and the trashing a front yard fair? What tips the scales? Wendy judges whatever she wants to do as being okay by her. That there-in is their likeness and the hair thin difference between them – if Jill can FIND a justification for her actions she will do it. Wendy just doesn’t bother. She only uses an OPPORTUNITY to better equip the manipulation of drawing the other kids into her attack. Wendy doesn’t call Linda Blubber because she thinks Linda is a whale – the opportunity lays in the book report which leads us sadly into Linda’s character – the Victim.
               Most victims in books are martyrs shown with a modicum of empathy whether it starts out that way or not. Linda achieves an image no character that I’ve ever come across has managed , though she travails a path so emotionally damaging , not once does she ever elicit a proper tone of sympathy or dignity. I am reminded of Nabokov’s Lolita who’s name has been misused to label promiscuous youth while we have forgotten or misinterpreted behind the lyricism of the novel,  that the girl was a victim and her admirer a wordy wretch. A misconception that had been perpetrated by the skewered point of view. And like Humbert all we have is Jill’s word to go by.

           Linda is no ordinary fly in Wendy’s web , she is no victim as we perceive the word to be , she is instead a creature so unsavory , a fly that has reserved it’s own hanging spot within the filmy filaments. Linda is NEVER seen in a good light but then neither are any of the other victims or targets in this book all have physical flaws and weaknesses ( Mr. Machinist – bad hair , turned down eyes , Warren Winkler gross hair , while both Miss Rothbelle and Mrs. Minish are beneath the image of Dracula , ) unlike the ‘heroes’ who may not be beautiful but are unflawed , their weaknesses insignificant. Linda is fat , her head is shaped like a potato , she has a gray tooth , she sings too loud, she whines. Linda is given no good traits to counterbalance this and make her a whole person. At one point she is drawing a picture at lunch, a picture of what we’re never told, or if it was any good , was she pleased with it? was Linda a secret artist? Who knows – in some ways this was more of a disservice to Linda than Wendy tearing up the picture because it ceases to have any importance – it doesn’t become Linda’s creation it becomes an object and Linda’s objects tend to elicit, no sympathy. The red cape , the cupcakes , her jacket , her blouse , her front yard , her flowered underwear. It lessens the impact of what Wendy has done.

          Contrast that with Jill’s objects considered so precious – her pumpkin she got it right this year ( an achievement ) , her heirloom suitcase which she rubs with a leather cream once a week ( diligence ) , her stamps ( a collection an interest ). Most important is when it’s Jill’s turn ( at being mocked ) and how pleased she was about having put off her homework ( though it wasn’t allowed but she got away with it – as usual ) and did a good job ( all build up) only to have Wendy throw it in the gutter. ( We feel for Jill’s things – we feel her loss , her anger , her unfairness.) But Linda is given nothing of value – her blouse ( was it a pretty blouse?, a present? , her favorite?)  is there to be torn, her cape ( was it handmade? , her mothers? ) to be ripped off , her yard to be trashed etc.

                       There is a helplessness to Linda and she is constantly shown as though she has painted the target on her own back. It is rather like wondering why overweight people choose purple or orange to wear – colors emphasizing round images – pumpkins , grapes – when the readers wonders – why would a plump child, choosing an animal subject,  pick one symbolizing bigness,  fat , blubber – but then all the children are linked symbolically to animals they’ve all exposed themselves not just here but later on.
                   Halloween allows the most interesting persona revelations, in the most cockeyed way, by putting masks on the characters as a way of de-masking them. There is also links to heredity in the children’s behavior when it’s noted that each child is wearing something belonging to a parent – Jill rejects the entire ensemble ( witch’s outfit ) belonging to her mother, but still wears mom’s old beach hat – though tries to further disassociate from her mother by saying wearing a beach hat to ward off wrinkles is ridiculous. She is a flencer someone who ‘strips blubber and cuts it into pieces’. Wendy wears her mothers old bathrobe and her grandmothers ratty old stole ( three generations of sociopathic tendencies? ) dressed LIKE a queen ( see how Jill doesn’t even like to give her the authority leaving a discrepancy ) with a VERY HIGH crown ( arrogance )  , though Tracy’s wears nothing passed on her costume is created specifically for her ( possibly giving her the most hopeful upbringing ) she is Big Bird ( who is a friendly Leader ), Donna’s things were borrowed by her father ( the link to the glorious father image is enough for Donna – she represents beauty – possibly one of the greatest gifts in Jill’s mind something that would have to gifted by the preferred parent dear old daddums. ) , a jockey which gives her a touch of competition. Caroline like the other kids gives this theory the biggest hoot factor – the suburban brats who live under an ironic sign WATCH OUT CHILDREN come as they are, dressed as dirty bums wearing OLD – mom’s dad’s grandpa’s clothes!

                 But what about Linda? She is again given no chance to expose a possible side to her , unknown to Jill and the others she is pegged again as weak and something even more disturbing. The red cape is not a full costume there is no link to her family. It’s a symbol however enough that it has Jill and the others nailing her down as Little Red Riding hood. Why not Wonder Woman? Because this symbolic link to the fairy tale suggests that like Red – Linda draws problems. Remember Red foolishly got off the path and found herself a victim of the wolf. One could say that Linda foolishly allowed herself to be in the washroom alone with the Wendy the wolf and her pack.
                 Speaking of bathrooms every time Linda is mentioned she seems linked with an element to human nature that some might recoil from – at the start we are told she is fat and foolishly picked the whale to do her report on – most people would say if she hadn’t done the report none of this would’ve happened. ( You see blame can be cast on Linda without even Jill’s inner voice present – it’s all about tone.. )During the bathroom attack there is sense that though Linda was obviously using the bathroom for her needs,  time passed suggesting a sense of lingering, possibly, as kindergartners would say,  Linda was doing number 2. If you analyze the scene – Wendy , Caroline and Linda were in the bathroom along with other classmates BEFORE Jill joined them. Wendy to our knowledge didn’t harass Linda  – meaning Linda might’ve been in the stall even before Wendy and Caroline came in , because Linda exits the stall without fear, after all the other girls have left. This revelation again casts Linda in a repulsive light , Jill may urinate in the story but it’s turned into a gesture of revenge! 
                     How did Linda get to be so unworthy of any kindness? Look around , it seems as if even the teachers got the note – Blubber is good name for her and heartily agreed – because not one adult in this book has one iota of sympathy for Linda – take Miss Rothbelle even  though everyone has given pretty lame answers to her question ( What was coming out of my mouth while I was singing? ) Linda is singled out and a few strands of her hair are pulled. Later on when Linda is tripped Mrs. Minish who tells her to be more careful and with the adult’s double-meanings, this could imply you’re causing all this yourself. A thought reinforced by the nurse who weighs the students. The nurse seems to stand solely for a creepy theme of bodily perfection sanctioned by the adult world – Jill is told to build herself up , Linda is told she is the wrong weight for her height implying dumpiness – Donna has a body where everything fits where it should – health isn’t made an issue -looks are! and instead of offering Linda encouragement for her diet briskly informs her it’s a step in the right direction ( though her tone is skeptical ) but remember no sweets.  

                But the kicker is the principal who yields to Wendy’s lies during the chocolate ant incident- which would mean,  in his eyes – that Linda is nothing more than a gluttonous thief and in a way she is condemned to this image – her diet has become her saboteur, Mrs. Minish despite my first impression that she would see through such horse pucky not only swallows it up but backs Wendy. By now the reader starts to doubt the veracity of the truth , maybe we even start to believe Wendy a little – we’ve become like Jill who denies the truth ( Linda to Jill – Why do you always pick on me?- I don’t …- Jill pg 75) for the lie – a person get’s what she deserves.    
                When you think it can’t get much worse for Linda lets explore the unsavory theme I hinted at previously. Have you ever wondered what was the loud noise that came out of Linda when Miss Rothbelle tugged her hair? For a long time I assumed it was a belch – but because Linda belches later on and it’s told matter-of-fact, I wondered why the prose allows the incident here to become ambiguous, there’s an opening – especially when we assume Jill isn’t sitting next to Linda but describes the disgusting smell hitting her and clearing up what the noise was , she also says it’s happens to her brother when he eats sauerkraut for breakfast. ( another Kenny link! ) I think Linda farted. It’s another way of making Linda look clumsy ( if she had Frosted Flakes like Jill the underweight champion things like this wouldn’t happen – I mean which would any child rather be 4 pounds underweight? or twenty overweight?) Of painting her own target on her back – if she wouldn’t link herself to whales , if she would give the correct answer if she wouldn’t eat smelly things. She must even bare the blame ( in Jill’s eyes ) when Jill is absurdly rude to Miss Rothbelle ( Jill answers Miss Rothbelle’s question – what was coming out of my mouth while I was singing? – Spit , I mean saliva ) – at the end of the scene we’re angry AT LINDA for having caused Jill’s embarrassment ( which Jill earned – by her unabashed rudeness – Jill didn’t just blurt this out she reasoned – ‘there was only one thing left it could be’ – ) without feeling a shred of Linda’s.

                          PART FOUR  
             Food has a minor role in the book mainly to divide and conquer – Linda’s lunch is described for ridicule and is hardly a buffet – she has an egg salad sandwich , Hostess cupcakes and an apple, pretty standard stuff. I wouldn’t think many kids would understand the fattiness of mayo but there is an element to this lunch that appears to be part of Linda’s repulsive symbolism – smells.

              Linda is associated with bathroom stalls , underpants , a gray ( implied rotten ) tooth- ( rotting teeth stink )  , and because it’s uncertain a belch or a fart  – either or it’s described as a disgusting smell, a stated belch , puke , snot and now we can admit that hard boiled eggs have a robust smell to them which transfers itself to the eater. It’s not long after that this smell- symbolism becomes more manifest when Wendy adapts the name to Blubber the smelly whale.
                   Though Jill might have two bad smell elements diarrhea and urine – don’t be deceived both of these are issues of control ( Jill gets diarrhea when her grandma comes usurping Jill’s control ) , and the urine is turned into an act of revenge!

              Linda’s cupcakes serve another purpose. Because food is hardly mention when two similar items are mentioned it’s interesting to examine both people eating them. The only other person associated with a cupcake in the book – besides Michael and Irwin who stole them – is Kenny. Kenny actually becomes a parallel to Linda , a link a kindred spirit. Food links them – Kenny munches cupcakes , Linda brings them for lunch , they are both terrorized out of Halloween , both had mysterious costumes , they are linked to bad smells and the sauerkraut , Kenny loves to put in his two cents and is constantly ignored , Linda is never taken seriously so it’s not a big shock that when these two meet they get along like peas and carrots.        
                  Lack of food – Linda’s diet, signifies one of the more disturbing themes – though we assume it is a triumphant act of change – Linda asserting her own power – if she’s slim they cannot, legitimately, call her Blubber ( she’s thinking like Jill )it  is, in truth, a compromise. And Wendy quickly brings her back to Wendy-world – you are what I say you are. Linda’s diet doesn’t stem from self improvement. She’s been made to physically alter her appetite, polish out her flaws , conform in order to survive – to no affect. Compare this with the fact that the nurse’s advice to drink a malted daily to Jill is tossed out as absurd while the reader expects Linda to uphold the advice she has been given. Why must Linda strive for change , to overcome her faults? Don’t give them/us a reason? Or is she to be like the ‘good’ socially conscious Jill with her anti-nail biting campaign – Jill is working on her flaws? Pl-ease. You can contrast but not compare the two.Is Jill to be admired? – the readers do, but shouldn’t ,because while we herald her , Linda is mocked. If Jill’s blemish is to be seen as mere fodder for a contest, a game , with a prize at the end then Linda’s is seen as contest as well but as Wendy informs us – no prize and like she tells Linda at the trial – this isn’t a game. Linda’s attempts are met with road blocks on every turn- the nurse has no faith in her , the principal thinks she’s foolishly broken her diet , her lunch is mocked,  a skipping rhyme taunts her that she is not getting thinner but fatter and the very thing that she craves – chocolate , is offered to her in a repellent form – a chocolate covered ant and she is forced to choke it down , knowing she is sabotaging her own efforts, and pukes. Could she ever look a chocolate the same way again?  Meanwhile Jill gets praise , support, rewards. Even when Jill backslides as the pressure is put on ( when the kids attack her ) she is never mocked or chided. When she picks up the contest at the end we’re told I think I can make it – but there is no update on Linda’s diet which I’m betting was by now, kaput. Because if it is viewed as a contest – there is only one winner in a contest. Jill is the winner – she can over come her outward faults ,minor as they may be ( four pounds underweight , nail biting.)but Linda having already been described as someone who lets other people decide what’s going to happen to her ( Jill pg. 148 ) was already declared the loser long before the contest had started.

                  If only Linda wasn’t so flaky so relentlessly pathetic – every time she opens her mouth she sets up a wisecrack for Wendy or Jill. Most of the laughs are not only at her expense but triggered by her. The reader is also suspicious of everything she says – did she really have a black and blue mark on her stomach after Jill ‘accidentally?’ kicked the ball at her ( though in all fairness – we believed Jill’s bruise in clear view after her attack ), did she really run into a tree and kill her tooth? We know she’s melodramatic – when faced with having to eat the chocolate covered ant – she says ‘I could get sick and die and then you’d be in big trouble.’ And faced with the trial at the end of the book naively says ‘I don’t want to play that game.’ When she appears to have a back bone at the bar mitzvah she douses her power by setting a time limit – If you call me that TODAY I will tell  , she even saves Jill’s hide by not allowing their mothers to chitchat, nor does she make good on the threat when Jill manages to get her digs in , she turns purple when she is embarrassed ( the normal hue is saved for Mr. Brenner ) , her accident during kickball is turned into slapstick , and she trills the Br on breast when she sings just like the teacher ( an implication of  teacher’s pet while if we take this and apply it to the fact that Linda says momisms like – You shouldn’t waste good food when there are starving people in the world – levels her with the adult world which isn’t the best position for her considering all the adults in the book are childish and clueless. )
                  At one point in the story Linda attempts to dissuade one of her attackers namely our ‘hero’ Jill – but is ripped off of her grand moment  -  not only is the story told from Jill’s p.o.v. overall but in this scene twice – we are distanced two steps back. First of all watch – the story is taken from Jill’s p.o.v. ,already a sketchy view, but this scene doesn’t lead us in through Jill’s eyes, instead it takes a back-step – Jill is telling the story to Tracy over the phone- already circumventing any sentiment to seep through. Linda is done a great disservice in this scene because it is the only scene in which it’s just Jill and Linda , alone together. It’s sabotaged by the directness of the retold dialog -Why do you always pick on me – I don’t.

              There is no hint of emotions in what should have been a highly emotional moment – Jill is airy and matter-of-fact she says Yup and cracks jokes and is more focused on the fact that the nurse idiotically ( in her eyes ) put a thermometer in Linda’s mouth and Jill called her on it. Linda like the accused in the trial is never given a chance – ever – to plead her case. The courtroom is corrupt.   
          

              So are the scales of ‘justice’ – the one person who might’ve become Linda’s friend – Rochelle who appeared on the surface to be the only one interested in Linda’s outcome – is ‘stolen’ by Jill. While Linda is saddled with a gray tooth for life , Jill luxuriously loses a tooth and gains a check , while Jill is faithful she will win her anti-nail biting bet , it’s uncertain if Linda continued with her diet and there is no result to her minor efforts. ( Jill is blessed with seeing her results though nibbles  them away .) Linda is force-fed what she believes is a chocolate covered ant – but even that impact is watered down by the possibility that it wasn’t even a chocolate covered ant, while Jill is told reassuringly she doesn’t have to eat anything she doesn’t want to at the bar-mitzvah and even Jill’s parents uphold this philosophy elsewhere – Jill doesn’t like vegetable ( they are strained out of her soup ) , and even they order take out every night not bothering to stomach Great Maudie’s health food ( though one wonders how this batch can operate as a unit – with no compromises.)

            When Linda is made the fool of in front of the teachers she is belittled and shouted at ( Miss Horvath , Miss Rothbelle , Mrs. Minish , the Principal ) when Jill is made the fool – Mrs. Minish is defanged she doesn’t seem to care whether Jill showed up with her homework or not and even reassures an upset Jill not to worry!

               You might even say their names exposed a set up at first conception , check it out – Wendy’s name if it’s to be derived from Wanda means Wanderer , wandering from friend to friend a little untrustworthy. Tracy from Teresa is a reaper , harvester -towards the end – Tracy appears to back off – seemingly the only one who gets it ( though the wording once again implies maybe not , as she says she promised her parents no more trouble – instead of just leaving it as her own decision and not shifting blame. ) Kenny means sacred oath and could imply a hopeful future for Linda when he joins their school next year. Jill if derived from Jillian means youthful and has already ingrained implications of her
babyishness – she is targeted after-all as Baby Brenner – ( Notice that Jill Brenner shares her initials with her creator Judy Blume? Hmmm very interesting ) – And the reader may wonder where this came from –
is Wendy that perceptive?- does she know Jill needs her vegetables strained , that she panicked when she learned her housekeeper was leaving for two weeks? But what of Linda she bares the most kick-in-the-teeth revelation , you see the identity of which she is denied throughout the entire book , the new hideous name she is given to blot out the old – her name actually means Pretty. How’s that for irony.                        

                          PART FIVE
         Ever wonder why Wendy told on Jill? I don’t buy the vague, leave it open statement Jill allows – Do you think we’ll ever find out the truth?- I believe the truth is staring them smack in the face -Wendy told. First of all you have to think of Wendy and Jill as two peas in the same pod – two bullies separated by seemingly minor points. If you go to their meeting on Halloween you can see just how these two bullies differ. Wendy ( or Caroline who speaks for Wendy ) explains that they’ve had the BEST time smashing pumpkins. Six pumpkins ( there are actually six major attacks on Linda involving Wendy- first the bus ( giving her name to everyone ) , the bathroom incident , stealing her cupcakes and apple ( provoking the diet ) , nobody sings breast but Blubber , forcing her to eat the chocolate ant , and the trial ) There are also only six items mentioned on Wendy’s list to get Linda.

         Jill thinks it’s not FAIR to smash a CARVED pumpkin because she knows how it FEELS because somebody smashed hers. She also says this year her and Kenny got smart and kept theirs on the inside window where they’ll be safe. Jill and Tracy have kept SIX eggs rotting in a drawer and crack the rotten eggs in Mr. Machinist’s mailbox because he is cranky. ( There are six moments when Jill is a major catalyst to Linda’s torment – the Flencer costume , trashing Linda’s yard , passing on the message nobody sings breast but Blubber , kicking a ball at Linda ‘accidently’ and refusing to feel any remorse , Jill shoves in the chocolate covered ant , and at the bar mitzvah Jill refuses to get the real scoop and end Linda’s torment – think about it what if the book had turned on it’s heel – Jill believed Linda and the two hatched a plan where everyone turned on WENDY – that Wendy was shoved in the closet and become the defendant in the trial. ) The link with the number six is important because it equals Jill and Wendy, they’re both bullies – however the difference is told to us by Jill – Jill doesn’t think it’s fair to smash pumpkins – not because she feels empathy for the carver of the pumpkin as much as she thinks – if Linda had a carved pumpkin do you think they would’ve smashed it ?- yes!  The author is trying to imply that Jill has already reached a point that IF she can feel what a person feels she will not do something – which is supposed to be the metaphor to sum up the book, once Jill lives in Linda’s shoes she’s certain never to attempt another hate campaign again.

            However the way everything is phrased sabotages that message. Jill equates the pumpkin to an accomplishment , entry into a contest , the smashing of the pumpkin then becomes a form of un-targeted,  cheating. The competition is taken out , namelessly without cause or reason. Jill’s hard work on her test is fruitless while Caroline is allowed to cheat off Wendy and gain results she didn’t EARN. They get the enjoyment , while Jill’s hard work goes down the drain – or smashed into the gutter. It’s Not FAIR. However because Mr. Machinist is a crank , because Linda is Blubber both of them GET WHAT THEY DESERVE! Both victims are sing-songed the same phrase – once while Linda’s yard is being trashed the next is when Tracy and Jill are urinating on Mr. Machinist’s lawn.

           Wendy on the other hand picks her targets due to opportunity – they’re out ( like the pumpkins ) , they’re vulnerable. If Bruce had given a report on the Whale he would’ve been called blubber, it had nothing to do with Linda accept the opportunity she gave them – SHE PUT HERSELF OUT THERE. While Jill picks her targets due to a sense of justified malice – if it’s deemed LINDA IS BLUBBER well then I agree ( she keeps the blame on Wendy’s shoulders ). If Mr. Machinist does a few creepy things than he is a creep through and through. Especially if everything ads up – not how  it was added up -remember Mrs. Minish telling her that she had to think through her problems that just because she got the write answer didn’t make the process right?!
                   By the end of the book – Jill thinks through the problem but still comes up with what she believes is the right answer that Linda deserved it , she is essentially Blubber – but not because WENDY decreed it but because Linda did. See how Jill is more dangerous than Wendy. Wendy waits for someone to mess up , targets them , she picks on the weak or different and gets the others to join in but all in all she knows it’s NOT fair. However if Jill represents the others , she is more evil because she DECIDES what’s fair.   
                  So why did Wendy tell? – She was annoyed that someone would imply that her way of having fun – smashing pumpkins- was not the best. That Jill’s prank – the rotten eggs in the mailbox was better. The reader is asked in a way to choose – whose prank was the best. Since we root for our hero , Jill, we think the rotten eggs in the mailbox was the superior trick. But we have to examine what they represent. Jill’s rotten eggs = Justification by adding up minor flaws , allowing the judge to bare no responsibility because she is only dealing with the evidence presented to her thereby the judged bares the burden of target , punishment and guilt – if only you weren’t…or didn’t.

          Now Wendy’s pumpkins represent -whims ,opportunities ( Linda’s report ) , victims are faceless targets whose only slipups are to make themselves available. They exposed a vulnerability, a weakness and Wendy saw it. I think Wendy wanted to teach Jill it wasn’t about fairness , that’s not why they pick on Linda , it’s about opportunity and if Mr. Machinist came to my door – why not tell. She was trying to expose Jill’s absurd justifications. They aren’t teasing Linda because she deserves it there are doing it specifically because they can , that it isn’t fair and that’s what makes it fun. Remember Wendy shoulders most of weight of the attack on Linda – her telling is also teaching  Jill , you’re just as guilty , you cannot point fingers and avoid receiving due punishment ( but notice that Jill isn’t remorseful about her joke on Mr. Machinist and the shift of blame for her punishment turns to whoever told not on her own actions.)

            Everyone looks to Wendy to insure Linda won’t tell , they may get nervous when she shakes a fist in Linda’s face but so long as re-enforces their safety , who cares. It’s Wendy who lies to the principal and organizes the attacks complete with look outs – she, we assume bares the weight of exposure but notice how Linda didn’t blame Wendy for the chocolate covered ant – Linda blamed everyone – she said the class made her eat a chocolate covered ant. Linda sees them all to blame.
                 For me the book is summed up in two extremely strange symbolic links to Jill. One is the victim Mr. Machinist. If you don’t buy that he’s a link just check this out. Three people’s sense of humor are questioned in the book – Linda’s , Mr. Machinist’s and Jill’s. Though we assume Jill’s link is more towards Linda , the fact is she bares more of a likeness to Mr. Machinist. Jill is never quite a victim in the sense that Linda was , Linda made herself a victim by exposing her vulnerability – linking herself to the whale. Jill made herself a victim by attempting to overthrow Wendy’s kingdom. Jill is brave , Linda weak.

          Mr. Machinist you might say is brave , what other adult who when frustrated with kids soaping his windows on Halloween night would hide in the brushes to spray them with a hose? And though Jill declares he has no sense of humor , she becomes Mrs. Minish in this statement. ( Remember Mrs. Minish says it’s foolish to laugh if you don’t know what’s funny in the first place, implying Jill doesn’t know but she does ) I believe Mr. Machinist finds spraying the kids hilarious – it’s his joke/prank on them. Is he any different than Jill trashing a classmates lawn?

        They share another link -mailboxes. Because Jill collects stamps , mail becomes a treat to her , imagine how she would feel if someone had stuck six rotten eggs in her mailbox. The crime then becomes the ultimate insult. Mr. Machinist sends a scathing letter to the parents , echoing Jill’s belittling tone to her stamp company. Mr. Machinist blackmails the parents into giving the girls a suitable punishment that will profit him. Jill uses words – namely wait until I tell Wendy , to blackmail Linda into keeping her mouth shut at the Bar Mitzvah. Jill also uses the ‘punishments’ on Linda (  remember she tells us a person gets what she deserves so they’d be on the same level of a punishment ) – to get what she wants – popularity. Jill has been elevated in the classroom to a person on the know, she’s not just on the inside circle she is the circle. Wendy isn’t a mere bully she represents power and popularity – why else would she have been elected to rule so many organizations? Mr. Machinist rubs it in that the girls must rake up all the leaves by pointing to them. But Jill noting this tone forgets how she attempts to rub Linda’s face in the fact that she’s not supposed to eat the birthday cake at the bar mitzvah with ‘no sweets remember?’ echoing the nurses sentiment and reinforcing the unnoticed punishment at Halloween – no sweets then either.

          Mr. Machinist is Jill to a tee – his first name is William , Bill/Jill? Get it. Mr. Machinist also fits Jill’s sanctimonious mode becoming judge , jury and executioner in one swoop. He believes his actions are justified because all kids are brats – notice how he sees through the kids. He doesn’t buy for one second that Jill and Tracy are remorseful ( unlike Jill’s parents – adults are out of the loop ) he’s just glad to have executed his revenge, his justice. Jill doesn’t make any slights against Mr. Machinist which cinched it for me.

     Normally Jill is quite scathing to all , but it’s Tracy who points out Mr. Machinist’s flaws – turned down eyes , and a possible toupee. Instead Jill is wondering ( possibly about her future if they are to be a link ) if he has been left alone in that big house ( wealth ) or if he is married ( issues of abandonment – remember Linda is alone at the end of the book – a fate Jill doesn’t accept – she feels it’s a choice.)  The fact that Mr. Machinist is up in the air about being alone is the fact that Jill finds Mr. Machinist’s behavior outwardly antisocial – like Wendy he’s abandoned niceties – he doesn’t give to Unicef , doesn’t give out candy he doesn’t make a pretense for social obligations. He also is quite blunt to Mr. Brenner calling the girls brats to his face. Notice that Mr. Brenner flares up with anger that his daughter has been slighted – he seems to have forgotten why he’s there , the girls did behave as brats , whether or not they are remains to be discovered. But where was his anger at Jill’s actions?- the discovery of Jill’s prank is the shortest chapter in the entire book. See how blame shifts to accuser – Jill is a product of her parents. They know their daughter is unremorseful but have come full circle into acknowledging with a hrumph! That Mr. Machinist
probably deserved it. Mr. Brenner even allows Jill to get one last dig in – I told you didn’t I. And Mr. Brenner is all out of pretty speeches. The one statement that held some weight – ‘maybe this way you’ll both learn that it’s not up to you to decide who gets what in this world.’ is forgotten. But then the  statement lost some of it’s impact right off the bat by hinging it’s understanding on whether or not Jill could accept her only day off as the day she was to receive her punishment. Which she never did.
                The last theme which helps us to fully grasp Jill’s final dismissal of Linda is a triangle of events that happen between Robby , Linda and Jill. Robby has a habit of sticking pins in his FINGERS – a trick of keeping them on the top layers of skin to avoid pain ( remember he is the one who stepped on Linda’s FINGERS and caused her physical pain and tears! ) , and walking around like a zombie in an attempt to scare the girls. Jill is immune , Linda screams. Jill tells us she used to think that was very brave of him , until she tried it. And it doesn’t even hurt. ( dismissing the reality of Linda’s pain ) Later on at the very end of the book – a chapter Linda has been omitted from , Jill accepts a challenge of putting pins in her fingers and does it, winning the wager of a quarter.

          If you take this tone in context with the rest of the book it confirms several things Jill believes – no 1 is that the future promises better things than the present – notice that if she had not tried out the trick, she would’ve screamed like ‘Blubber’. ( Linda bears this thinking in a way as well – she believes in reincarnation – but then how can you blame her for not wanting a second shot since the first was so dismal.) Jill doesn’t believe in the hope of reincarnation she makes her own future by taking a chance( like approaching Rochelle.) Essentially being brave. No 2 that physical pain is of more importance than emotional pain. Because she doesn’t physically see Linda hurt ( dismissing the tears as failure, denying the validity of Linda’s bruise ) she figures the bullying is of no effect – ‘it doesn’t even hurt.’ Jill only sees her own pain both physical and emotional. Don’t think that because SHE feels pain she will recognizes others,( The supposed pumpkin theory of I know how it feels ) or she would’ve offered to take her brother out trick or treating , she would’ve thought less of Wendy than even Linda and Wendy is never thought of in a harsh light – Jill says I’m tired of her bossing everyone around , she has allowed verbs to condemn Wendy , her actions. Wendy is still seemingly justified in Jill’s mind. Wendy isn’t bossy , she bosses. But Linda will always be Blubber.

 

 

My apologies to anyone who adores Blubber. I still like the book for nostalgia purposes – but I see through it. Six well placed sentences would’ve relieved my sense that Linda was not someone who had what was coming to her but an actual victim. Any thoughts on the book let me know.

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109 Responses to JUDY BLUME’S BLUBBER – BALLAD OF A BULLY

  1. book chick says:

    Wow, I want to dig out my copy of Blubber and re-read it now! Sadly, that’s easier said than done, but in about six months, look for a response :-)
    But seriously, really interesting analysis – I remember thinking it was poor old Jill, going along with the crowd, until they turned on her for sticking up for Linda – can’t wait to check it out from the new perspective!

    • peacharino says:

      Thanks! My main reason for digging through the layers of Blubber is when I realised that Linda not being able to go trick or treating was brushed off as mere cowardice and I didn’t like that implication. I could sympathize, as I had a similar situation in the mid 80′s. The older kids ( hoodlums ) in our neighborhood had begun terrorizing trick-or-treaters – stealing their candy and throwing lit jack-o-lanterns and firecrackers at them. Halloween ceased to be fun. I never felt that it was MY fault for not being brave enough to face them, they carried the blame – it was THEIR fault for being such creeps. Wording that was never offered to Linda.

  2. Kim says:

    This is an incredibly in-depth analysis and I’m so impressed with the thought and critical eye you’ve brought to this book. I haven’t reread this one as an adult, but now I really want to.

    • peacharino says:

      Thanks! You should check it out from the library or buy it used – I have yet to find a used bookstore ( at least within my area ) that doesn’t have a copy. I’d like to do a few more in-depth analysis of other books. I was thinking of Otherwise Known as Sheila the great or Daphne’s Book or maybe even There’s a bat in Bunk five but if anyone’s got any ideas for one let me know. Ballad of Blubber took me a total of one month – writing it on and off , I had to keep setting it aside as my head was spinning , rereading it and organizing it – I’ve almost got it memorized!

  3. Celia says:

    Hi, I just recently discovered your blog and looove it. So many books (and those awesome 80s covers) I haven’t thought of in years! It really takes me back. I too was a series reader: Couples; Fire and Ice; Girls of Canby Hall; SVH; etc., etc. A friend recently sent me a huge box of SVH (and related series) books that I’m looking forward to sifting through.

    I recently reread Blubber (after decades since the initial read) and was shocked! I really wish I could remember what my reaction was to it as a kid, but can’t imagine I was traumatized since I couldn’t even remember that Jill treats Linda like crap, and that Linda wasn’t portrayed in a manner that made her especially likeable.

    On a slight tangent, I make a zine about children’s books and would love to send you copies if you’re interested. And, if you have the time and inclination, would like to invite you to write something for the zine. Send me an email with you address if / when you get a chance!

  4. Nancy says:

    Even when I first read this book at the age of 11 (or so…) I knew Jill was a majorly flawed character. Interesting take on the book though, that was an enjoyable read! Just curious and because I care about these shallow things: what cover edition was it when you first read the book? For me, it was the Dell Yearling edition. When I first bought it 10yrs ago or so, it HAD to be that edition or nothing. And in my mind, the two girls whispering in front of Linda were Caroline and Wendy.

    • peacharino says:

      The first time I recall reading it was with the old 70′s dell cover where it had the same pic as the dell Yearling cover but it had Blubber written in pinkish bubble letters -probably taken out of the school library. I always wavered as to who I thought the two girls in front were, part of me thought the big girl was Caroline whispering to Wendy – but I couldn’t picture Wendy as being that cute looking. But then again I couldn’t quite picture it beind Wendy whispering to Jill because I never thought of Wendy as being that big. If it is Wendy and Caroline – which it probably is , it’s a totally bizarre concept to not have the protagonist on the cover. I bought the pink cover which is the one that truely sticks in my mind – back in 1986. But I know I read it before hand. It was one of those books that circulated between me and my friends when everyone had to read Judy Blume. One item I forgot to put in the article that I now recall and wanted to include as it being more evidence that the only thing Jill cared about was appearance was the moment when Wendy is lying to the principal and Jill worries if this will go on her permanent record and she might not being able to go to college! Jill , Jill, Jill.

  5. Vannie says:

    I read this book for the first time in about grade two or three,and it got to me mainly because I was not only a precocious reader but also the fat kid in my class. However, a particular character quirk of Jill’s, coupled with her sharing in the torment of Linda, made me think of something else I’d read by that age: articles in my mother’s women’s magazines about eating disorders. Jill is shown as being both a pathologically fussy eater AND underweight enough to mildly concern the school nurse (four pounds is small potatoes for most adults, but somewhat significant on a growing ten-year-old’s body). She pretty much lives on peanut butter (to the point that she has to take it with her to the Bar Mitzvah because she’s absolutely certain there will be nothing there that she can stomach), eats only the broth from soup, and seems somewhat disgusted by the nurse’s (absurd) suggestion that she drink a malted every day to make weight. In fact, the only thing we really see her consume other than peanut butter and milk are small amounts of bland, mess-free, unobtrusively-textured food: the two pieces of melon she finds in her fruit boat at the Bar Mitzvah before foisting the remainder off on Kenny, who in contrast to his sister, eats everything that’s put in front of him. In addition to which, Jill possesses and extraordinarily pessimistic outlook even for a prepubescent girl learning the harsh realities of life, and her obsession with perfection in everything she does is a huge red flag. I’ve often wondered over the years if some of Jill’s part in the Blubber debacle stem from deep-seated psychological issues with food, weight, and outward image, which may not be a full-blown eating disorder yet but which put her at significant risk as she develops.

    • peacharino says:

      Good observations! I wish I’d been able to discern better as a child – unfortunately I thought Jill was cool. But you’re right , Jill is probably driven by body issues – and I think that’s one of those hidden elements in the writer sneaking out – Ever seen a picture of Judy Blume? She’s thin in that Jane Fonda way ( exercise! exercise! exercise! ) I also read somewhere that her mother was a bit of a perfectionist who expected as much from her daughter. If you’ll notice most of Judy Blume’s characters worry constantly about how they look ( Davy in Tiger Eyes rifles through her closet looking for the right shoes to wear to her fathers funeral! and both Stephanie and Margaret worry about having cut their hair too short – and most of the girls have so called friends not to shy to point out their faults – Otherwise known as Sheila the Great and Are you there God it’s me Margaret – I could go on and on). None perhaps though is as personal as Jill Brenner who bares the same initials as her creator with the exception of perhaps Rachel Robinson.

  6. Jenna says:

    Even when I was little I wondered if Judy Blume was anorexic. All her heroines are slim and petite, some underweight (Jill, Sheila, Winnie). The hefty characters are given almost no redeeming qualities and are generally met with disdain. That said, I loved this book. Linda sounds like someone my 10 year old self would have picked on and Wendy sounds like someone I would have feared. Judy hit the nail on the head with having many of the attacks and trash-talking take place in the bathroom. That certainly happened at my school. Bathrooms are notorious lairs for bullies. I also identified with being so distressed about being picked last that you play terribly. I couldn’t help but think that Linda did bring a lot of it on herself, especially after Jill sacrifices her social standing to defend her and she proceeds to side with Wendy. After that part I didn’t feel bad for her at all.

    • peacharino says:

      Yes , there was something about washrooms that suddenly became bully territory! In my school we had this terror named Dana ( I think ) who used to smoke and force girls to kiss the toilet seat. She never got me though. I was pretty tough when I was young. I agree that Linda was a person who did draw trouble after all she was a whiner. But I think Blubber should almost be read with the 100 Dresses by Eleanor Estes. It’s a little dated but the victim is given some dignity , and the heroine doesn’t sound so justified.

  7. Carolyn says:

    Wow!!! That was a thoroughly in depth review of the book, & included many things that I never thought of before!! Eg: All the animals in the book & what they all symbolize with each individual. With noted exception of the whale with Linda, I never once thought about the other animal symbols.

    Your observation that Donna is the one perfect girl in Jill’s class is not quite true, however. In the first chapter, where Donna is doing her report on horses, & Jill describes how obsessed she is with them, Jill says that she sometimes thinks that “Donna even smells like a horse, but, doesn’t want to tell her this, in case she takes it as a compliment.”

    As for why Wendy and/or Caroline clearly ratted Jill & Tracy out, I always figured that she was using it as an opportunity to have a reason to beat up on Linda. When Jill tells Wendy that she & Tracy got caught, Wendy doesn’t look surprised(because she was the one who told), & immediately points the finger on Linda.

    (One final note: I always thought Linda stuck her diet out.)

    • peacharino says:

      Good points! Yes, Wendy probably did rat out Jill and Tracey merely too point the finger at Linda and add fuel to the fire and Caroline is mentioned as smelling like a horse – almost forgot about that and oddly , that would link her ,smell wise, to Linda! Yikes, I spiral this off into another tangent!

      • Carolyn says:

        You mean “Donna smelling like a horse.” ;-)

        Actually, there were quite a few things that I remember from ‘Blubber,’ that I could have commented on here, but, figured would have taken up too much of your time.

  8. Carolyn says:

    Please allow me to begin by commenting upon the various book covers on the book, over the past 40 years: The ones with the kids taunting Linda are spot on, because that is exactly what the book is about. The ones Jill hanging out with Tracy fail to convey what the story is about.

  9. Carolyn says:

    Like most other people who have read this book, I always thought Jill was just going along with the crowd, even though, as you had noted Wendy & Caroline were not present when she(Jill) & Tracy sprayed Linda’s lawn.

    Your observation is probably correct in that Jill & Wendy were probably more about competing who could be Linda’s chief tormentor. That said, it is interesting to note, that in spite of all the times they made Linda cry, Jill did have standards or limits. So long as the bullies found the attacks funny, then it was all games. When Wendy threatened Linda, after Linda decided to go on a diet to discourage people from making fun of her, Jill was somewhat horrified by the incident. It was at that particular case, where she compared Caroline to a hyena, because of the way she was laughing.

    Later on that night, before going to bed, Jill tells her Mom that if people were to ever make fun of her, she would punch them out, just like Tracy did some time back, when someone called her a “chink.” When her mother explains to Jill that it is better to laugh off the insults, its then when she tells her about the girl in class whom everyone makes fun of, & that she “really looks for it.”

    Her mother suggests to Jill to wonder how she would feel if she were in that girl’s shoes, & Jill says it could “never happen”(of course, we all know that towards the end of the book, that it does).

  10. Carolyn says:

    One of the curious aspects of the novel, is how most of the characters–both major & minor, & I am referring to the kids now, not the adults–are given both a first & a last name. However, a few of them, we only know by their first names, & 2 of these people happen to be Wendy & Caroline, who both play a major role in this book.

    It is curious that Judy Blume chose not to give these 2 girls surnames. Wonder why that is…?

  11. Carolyn says:

    Walked into my local book store this evening, & took a quick rereading of ‘Blubber.’ This was because I couldn’t recall Jill’s mother being angry at ol’ Machinist for wanting to punish Jill & Tracy (I remembered Jill’s father was angry at him when he called them both brats though). Looked through the chapters dealing with it, & she only seemed to be mad at Jill for what she & Tracy did.

    BTW: Even though Mr. Machinist was entitled to dislike Jill & Tracy for trashing his mailbox, Jill’s father was well within his right to be mad at him for calling Jill & Tracy brats right to his face. To call a kid a brat to his/her parent’s face, even if the kid is one, is just like calling somebody’s mother a bitch to their face, even if she is one.

  12. Carolyn says:

    I should have added though, that Judy Blume shouldn’t have concluded the scene at Machinist’s door with Mr. Brenner saying “Hmph,” in reply to his daughter telling him that Machinist did deserve getting egged. She should have had him telling Jill, that she still shouldn’t have done what she did, & to simply stay away from people such as Mr. Machinist.

    Way back to your very first question here, concerning what type of book ‘Blubber’ is: From my own opinion, I always thought it was clever, because of the fact that it was told from one of the bullies’ POV, rather than from the victim herself. Usually, when writers make stories about bullying, it’s either from the victim’s POV(& the fact that Jill ends up becoming the victim doesn’t count)or from somebody who stands up for the victim. So, it’s interesting that she chose to show the tormenting from the tormentor’s own eyes.

  13. Carolyn says:

    In regards to the coincidence of Jill Brenner having the same initials as Judy Blume, Rochelle, the quiet new girl in the book has the same first initial as Judy Blume’s daughter, Randi, who by the way, was the inspiration for Rochelle.

    The reason why Judy Blume wrote “Blubber,” was because her daughter Randi told her that there was a girl in her third grade class who was being ganged up upon, & another girl was the leader of the bullying. Her daughter was a very shy, quiet type, who wanted to stand up for this girl, but was afraid to do so.

    • peacharino says:

      Yes , I read that somewhere that her daughter had inspired the Blubber book with an incident she had at school. Didn’t know the daughter inspired Rachel though.

  14. Carolyn says:

    The reason why Miss Rothbelle singled out Linda & pulled her hair, as opposed to the other pupils before her, is because by the time she got to Linda, she was starting to become frustrated. She honestly thought that “melody” was the most obvious answer, when in reality, most adults would never have even it out.

    There is another thing disturbing about when the principal & Mrs. Minish swallow Wendy’s “horse crap” about Linda going crazy over Wendy’s chocolate: It shows that Linda’s parents did not follow up with the principal on what happened in the class. Because if they did, they would have most definitely heckled story, & made sure something more was to be done on what was going on in that class, than simply driving Linda too & from school, thus minimizing the bullies access to her.

    One final thing on the principal coming to the class & asking about what had happened there: It is interesting that it is here, that Jill finally starts to wonder about what kind of consequences they all may have to do for their actions. However, her worse fear is that it might prevent them from “going to college” later. If that is all she is concerned about, then she has a lot to learn about harassment. You see, what few kids even realize is, bullying is a crime. They could all be charged for what they did to Linda there, as many kids in real life, can be charged for the cruel things that they do to others, in school, camp, & other clubs that they belong to.

    • peacharino says:

      I know, I laughed and kinda groaned when I reread this and saw that Jill is only worried that this might ruin her chance for college. She is such a self centered twit! Notice, she didn’t sweat one iota at what her parents might do, I think because she knows, she’s got them snowed. She managed to defuse the Mr. Machinist situation by saying “I know what we did was wrong but he also deserved it” – which she really didn’t ( she felt justified and her and Tracy had been planning it for a friggin month!) but she told her parents what they wanted to hear.

    • Jennifer says:

      Back in 1974, when Blubber was written, bullying was not a crime.

      • Jennifer says:

        Not that any of the bullying against Linda really is justified, just that Jill would not reflect that she or her classmates could face criminal charges for the chocolate incident.

        • Carolyn says:

          Neither Jill nor any of her classmates even reflected that what they were doing could cost them their chances for college either, until the principal came to the class. All they cared about was torturing Linda.

      • Carolyn says:

        I was only 3 years old in 1974, but, I would say that yes, even back then it was a crime. At least, the kind of bullying antics done in’Blubber’ anyway (attempting to strip Linda; forcing food down her throat; vandalizing her property, etc). Surely Linda & her family could have charged her classmates with any one of those things.
        ———————————————————————————————————-
        Funny to have to reread my comments again after all these months, & realize some of the posting mistakes I’ve made here. When I posted about Miss Rothbelle’s frustration over the kids not figuring out what was coming out of her mouth, I pointed out that most adults wouldn’t have even have *FIGURED* it out, only I left out the “FIGURED.”

    • Jennifer says:

      One other thing: Since the principal and Mrs. Minish do the denial thing on the same day, later in the afternoon, that Linda swallows the chocolate, Linda’s parents probably wouldn’t have had time to react. If the school staff did it the next day, there quite probably would have been some kind of reaction from the parents.

      • Carolyn says:

        True, but, you would think that Linda’s parents would have contacted the school the day after the attack, to follow up on what was happening. And that respond in kind at the naivety, of the principal & the teacher!!!

  15. Carolyn says:

    As for Linda’s grey tooth: it was explained later in the story by Linda to Jill(at the Bar Mitzvah)that Linda had an accident as a child(running into a tree). It killed the root in the tooth. While this may sound absurd to the reader, it could very possibly be true(well, true as far as fiction goes, if you know what I mean). Were it to actually have been a cavity, her dentist might have actually put a filling in it. But, since it was an accident, her dentist may have decided to let Linda wait until she is older, before actually doing something about it.

    I speak from experience here: I myself had an accident with my own front tooth as a child(fell off my bike, & chipped on the pavement). My dentist felt that it would be too complicated for me to go through to have it capped, so for the next 12 years, I went around sporting a chipped tooth. When it finally was capped, all he did was grind the tooth down & put a cap on it. Something the dentist could have done for me when I first chipped it in the first place.

  16. Carolyn says:

    By the way, referring back to the incident with Miss Rothbelle pulling Linda’s hair & thus causing her to break wind, I just thought of something this morning: Although Jill blamed Linda for her own stupidity, she had, in actual fact, inadvertently did Linda favour: you see, by her unintentional rudeness to Miss Rothbelle(the only reason she came up with saliva was because she just could not think of anything else), she made everyone else forget about Linda. This may have been before Linda & Jill switched places, where the bullying was concerned, but, everyone else noticed Jill’s brazeness for telling Rothbelle that it was spit.

    Proof: Notice how, Jill doesn’t mention anybody taunting Linda afterwards about farting. That means they all immediately forgotten about it, because of Jill.

    That is why the following week, when the class was all rehearsing to sing in front of the entire school, Wendy was poking & pinching Jill in the back, in a failed attempt to make her laugh: Because she was hoping that if Jill got Miss Rothbelle annoyed again, she might end up saying something incredibly stupid again.

  17. Carolyn says:

    About the fact that Linda was at her window, when Jill & Tracy trashed her front yard on Hallowe’en: Actually, they didn’t realize that she was up there looking down on them, until Wendy & Caroline didn’t come. It was Caroline who looked up & saw her staring down at them, & says “What a chicken, not coming out on Hallowe’en.”

    Actually, we (the readers) don’t even know if Linda had actually been “tormented out of trick or treating,” because of what had been happening to her at school. We only get that impression because of the fact that Caroline called her a chicken for not coming out. Thing is, all this harassment that Linda had been enduring, had only started up a few days earlier. As horrible as it all was, it would not have been enough to scare the victim out of going trick-or-treating, as the abuse would not have quite sunk in the victim at this particular point in time.

    My own personal view as to why Linda did not go out, was that her parents were already concerned about her weight gain, & practiced tough love, by telling to give it a miss this year. Remember, at the Bar Mitzvah, Linda told Jill, that it was her mother who gave her permission to take time off from her diet.

    That is why, in my first post to you, I said I never got the impression that she had quit her diet. I believe that her parents wanted her to lose the weight, even before she made up her mind to do so herself.

    • peacharino says:

      I think I have to disagree with this one. I’ll have to check my copy of Blubber to be sure -( I’m writing this in a coffee shop right not ) but from what I remember, Linda was very nearly stripped the afternoon of Halloween. And since they all live in the same neighborhood, I think she stayed home to avoid a follow-up run in – I don’t even think she was dieting at this point. The cape costume was as sorry as her classmates attempts at hobos – she might’ve been wanting to hide her weight , but I don’t think her mother had anything to do with this or even the diet until Linda came up with it – which I think comes later on.

      • Carolyn says:

        True, the attempted stripping had already taken place, but, the abuse that she had been enduring was still very new. As you just said here: she had been stripped *that afternoon.* All she wore at school was a cape and nothing more. By contrast, the hobo costumes everyone else would have worn would have included dirty makeup, old hats etc.

        I didn’t say that she had already started to diet at this point. I said that her parents may have been concerned about her weight gain(obviously would like to see her on a diet), & suggested that she skip out on the trick-or-treating that year.

        If it was fear of meeting up with any of the kids who had been bullying her, her parents or someone else, such as an uncle or an older cousin, etc, could have gone out with her.

        (I was a victim of much bullying, while I was growing up, myself. While there are some things that they succeeded in getting me to chicken out of, going out trick-or-treating on Hallowe’en night was not one of them.)

        The only reason for the window scene(truth is, the reason for Linda’s staying at home is only for the reader’s own personal interpretation)was so that Linda would later end up as a likely suspect in the “Mystery of Who Ratted on Jill & Tracy.”

        (Of course, careful reading clearly shows that it was Wendy & Caroline.)

        • peacharino says:

          I agree that Linda could’ve asked her mom or dad to take her trick or treating – I think though , Linda was hiding the fact that she was being teased. Even protecting if you will the bullies. I sometimes wonder if her mother knew how friendless Linda really was. Asking her mom or dad to take her trick or treating might’ve gotten too many unwanted questions. This is where I do think Blume trips up – leaving so much ambiguity or maybe that’s her genius. It’s truely a veiwpoint from a bully with a totally slanted view of the victim.

          • Carolyn says:

            If Linda was trying hide the fact that she was being teased, she obviously didn’t try hard enough. Reading the story, it is pretty clear that her parents do. At what point they found out, is entirely up to the readers’ own POV. I always figured they found out, the day it all started to happen, when Linda came home crying; As you noted, the fact that Jill & Tracy vandalized Linda’s front yard on Hallowe’en night, would not go unnoticed by Linda’s parents; then there was the day they all attacked her in class, by forcing the chocolate “ant” down Linda’s throat. Linda ends up vomiting, thus causing the one time where she *HAD* to tell on the class, & is taken home; When Jill & her mother run into Linda & her mother at the Bar Mitzvah, & Linda’s mother realizes that its Jill “from Linda’s class,” Linda’s mother abruptly ends her conversation with Jill’s mom, & leaves when Linda asks to; the final clue revealing that her parents knew what was going on, is on the day of the mock trial. Linda hadn’t shown up for school for a few days, & when she finally does come, she tells the teacher that her mother “is going to be driving her to & from school, from now on.” The reason is, of course, is to minimize the bullies access to her daughter.

            Do Linda’s parents realize how friendless Linda really was? Actually, WE don’t know how friendless she really was. Clearly she didn’t have any friends in her class, but, that doesn’t mean that she didn’t have other friends from outside of school.

            However, now that you’ve mentioned it, it brings me to another point that you mentioned in your article about Jill “stealing” Rochelle away from Linda. I’m sorry, I have to disagree with you on that one. Linda had plenty of opportunities to befriend Rochelle, & yet she never made the effort to. We do not know how new to the class Rochelle was(all Judy Blume wrote about her was that “she was the new girl”). It is quite possible, she was new since the very first day of school(& although I live in Canada, I know that down in the United States, kids return to school in August. In Canada, they go back in September, the day after Labour Day). In all that time, nobody in that class made any attempts to befriend her, Linda included. Her final opportunity to do so was the day Linda blew her friendship with Wendy, & she didn’t take it. So, Jill took her own opportunity to make friends with her.

            • Carolyn says:

              I should add, however, that even if Linda did take the opportunity to befriend Rochelle, it wouldn’t have prevented the bullying she endured, contrary to what Jill thinks. Rochelle was in many ways, at greater risk for bullying than Linda was, precisely because she was “the new kid.” When a kid is new to a school or neighbourhood, etc., they can be just like “fish out of water,” in their new environment. In spite of the one time where she was smiling, when the class was singing “Blubber ate an ant…” she really wanted to tell them all off for the way they treated poor Linda (To tell you the truth, I think the only reason why she was smiling, was for the same reason Jill smiled after reading Wendy’s note in the first chapter) but, knew that it would only be futile because of the fact that she was new. She was looking for an opportunity to defend Linda, that would not ultimately make HERSELF the target, & when the class tried to set up the mock trial, Rochelle had her opportunity, as she probably figured that the class would have neglected to give the accused a defence attorney like she is entitled to have.

              Notice how when the class turned on Jill, Rochelle retrieved back into her “tortoise shell” again, not saying anything to the class about what they were doing.

              • peacharino says:

                Totally agree with Rochelle being in a vulnerable state as the new girl. She also hadn’t really made any friends yet , and was probably sitting back to decide who she wanted to befriend. I think she was a person that didn’t want to rock the boat. Also agree that Linda blew her opportunity with Rochelle and that Jill really didn’t have to steal Rochelle. My issue more is why didn’t Blume write just a little something for Linda – some hope. She seemed so friendless , so hopeless. In fact Linda is a major fool.

              • Carolyn says:

                I agree that Judy Bloom kinda made Linda look rather stupid at times. A perfect example is the bathroom incident, where they had all ganged up on Jill. Jill managed to get out of that mess, by pinning Caroline & Wendy against each other. Linda fell hook, line, & sinker for Jill’s trick, when she put her arm around Wendy, & told Caroline that she & Wendy were going to be partners for the class trip. By doing what she did, she lost her new found friend(of course, Wendy wasn’t really worth being friends with anyway, but, that’s beside the point). I think if she said nothing, Wendy probably would have told Caroline that she was going to ask Mrs. Minish if they(Wendy, Caroline, & Linda)could all be a threesome on the trip. I think such an answer would have probably satisfied Caroline, as that on a class trip, when kids are told to partner up, & there is just one kid left, that kid is usually put with 2 others.

              • Carolyn says:

                Sorry, I forgot to add something else as to why Linda comes off as a fool in ‘Blubber:’ As you noted earlier in your assessment, most bullies in books come off as “martyrs.” However, that’s because the books are usually from the victim’s point of view. ‘Blubber’ is not from Linda’s point of view, it is from Jill’s point of view, & this is exactly the way Jill sees Linda: a complete & total fool. Same with Wendy, Caroline, & pretty much everyone else in the class.

                You will find that when kids are being bullied in school, the stupid things that they do stand out much more than the good things that they do.

              • peacharino says:

                Actually the books with the bullied character being shown as a martyrs were more along the lines of ‘junk’ a.k.a series fiction in which the writers don’t have time to go the subtle route. One dynamite book I read from the bullied characters perspective ( actually one of my all time faves – ) is Mrs. Fish , Ape and Me the Dump Queen by Norma Fox Mazer – reissued as Crazy Fish. The bullied character is never shown as a martyr. I do agree however that being from Jill’s prospective her vision is skewered towards her prejudice and sees only the bad things about Linda. Their is an old book , a precursor to Blubber called 100 dresses by Eleanor Estes but the bullied child , though never has her day or come uppance – the ‘Jill’ character feels regret for having participated in teasing her. While the character may look the part of a martyr , being poor ,and humble, she is given a bit of dignity and a talent. The fact that Linda is given nothing is too unsettling for my tastes. I’d really like to know why Blume wrote her off so completely.

  18. Carolyn says:

    Sorry, I forgot to add one of the other reasons I took as a clue that her parents were too concerned about her weight to let her go trick-or-treating: The “costume” Linda wore to school. All she had on was a red cape over her own clothes, & nothing else. That is not really a costume. No mask; no makeup; nothing. She only wore that because everyone else in school were going to be wearing the costumes that they were later going to go trick-or-treating in, so she did not want to look like the odd one out.

    • peacharino says:

      Nowadays people go all out for Halloween – that wasn’t always the case in the 70′s and 80′s. I wore a slip , a foil crown and went as a ‘princess’ everything was rather slipshod and done at the last minute. Readers now, might wonder why they don’t dash to the nearest store and pick up an inexpensive Halloween mask. The ones I recall weren’t cheap. A lot of costumes were thrown together.
      I think Judy Blume as usual kept Linda’s costume vague to keep us on the Little Red riding hood vibe. The fact that she wasn’t wearing much under it also means that perhaps the costume was complete but nobody – Jill , Wendy or Caroline- gave it any credit as being a full costume.

      • Carolyn says:

        “Nowadays people go all out for Halloween – that wasn’t always the case in the 70s’s and 80′s.”

        I know it wasn’t, as I grew up in that era too. If people back then could look to the future & see how we celebrate Halloween today, they’d be wishing that they were not doing so already. (on a personal note, what I like to do every year when I am giving out Halloween candy is wear my beauty mud mask, along with my witch’s costume. Hallowe’en is the only time in the year that a woman can appear at her door with her beauty mask on. ;-) )

        Still, a cape & nothing else still isn’t much of a costume, particularly if you plan on going trick-or-treating. She still could have gotten a mask or a hat or something.

        But, now that we are on that “Halloween at School;” it brings me on to another thing I wanted to comment on: Jill’s Flenser costume. As you noted, Jill’s attempts at making a flenser costume are “half-assed.” Thing is, the kid who did win the prize, was even **MORE** half-assed. All he did was put some white & yellow felt on. He didn’t even intend on being a fried egg!!! That was just was the members of the PTA interpreted it to be. In truth, Jill’s idea of being a flenser WAS more original than being a fried egg, even though a flenser is an occupation(hence a person), & a fried egg is an object. The problem was, it was **TOO ORIGINAL.** The chances were most likely that none of the PTA knew what a flenser was, & the sign with the picture of the dolphins(even if it were a picture of whales), are not enough to reveal what a flenser does.

        Speaking personally, the only reason I know what a flenser is, is because of this book(Blubber). Had it not been for the fact that I have read this book, if you were to come up to me & ask me what a flenser was, I would have absolutely no clue, whatsoever.

        • peacharino says:

          What’s interesting is that this incident ( Jill not winning the most original prize ) almost mocks the idea of the book – think about it. Jill is harping about being WRONGLY JUDGED – sound familiar – ha! like Linda being wrongly judged.
          Personally I always thought middle school costume competitions were fixed , based more on what the teachers felt were the best. I noticed most of the winners at my school were kids who generally did well , and were liked by the teachers.
          As for Jill’s costume being the most original – definitely in concept it was – a flencer is the most original – however in actuality did Jill pull off a flencer with her gold sword , gold boots , and dolphins stapled to her hat brim? Probably not.
          P.s. – It must be fun to still dress up! – we don’t get a lot of trick or treaters where I live.

          • Carolyn says:

            While we did have Hallowe’en parties in school, I don’t ever recall actually having the teachers judge our costumes. I remember one year our class that did it, but, it was us–the pupils–that did it.

            Yes, it is still fun to dress up for Hallowe’en. Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of trick or treaters in my neighbourhood either.

            Last Hallowe’en, there was a story that happened in the Toronto media, that reminded me of ‘Blubber.’ Not what was happening to Linda, but, Mr. Machinist. This one guy who had just moved into a house(he was a young man, only in his 20s), was not home on Hallowe’en night. Next morning, when he went to get his mail, there was a letter written to him complaining about the fact that he wasn’t home to give out candy, & even saying that the previous owner used to give out candy apples every year on Hallowe’en. The letter told suggested to him to make up for it by giving out candy that weekend.

            At first, the guy felt kind of bad about not being home, but, after reading the letter a few times, he realized that the letter was a little bit too sophisticated for a young person to have written on his/her own. An adult helped write the letter!! This ticked him off so he wrote a response to it & put it in his community’s website & other media to find out who sent the letter(eventually the person did come forward, & yes, it was an adult helping a kid write it).

            Can you believe an adult actually helping a kid write such a letter to someone for not handing out candy on Hallowe’en?!?! Unbelievable!!!

            • peacharino says:

              I can believe it – I’m not totally into the parents create bullies thing – because I do believe kids get caught up in a group. But I think parents need to be more aware of what their kid is up too. I had a Blubber incident happen in my school – and guess what? I was the part of the teasing group. The child wasn’t overweight , he was a skinny kid and was targeted because of a class project. It was a form describing their interests and likes and the class had them pinned up in the hall. We read his , decided he was a major geek and began making fun of him. It’s one of the few incidents , I’m totally ashamed off , even to think of it makes me cringe. What’s worse is my parents raised me to be very sensitive to peoples feelings and I had my opportunity to tease knowing a lot of children with disabilities whose foster siblings weren’t too kind. Why did I go along with it? I won’t blame my reading material but I’ll tell you , Blubber was one of my favorite books -and during the same year me and my friends loved Jessica Wakefield and the damn Unicorn club. I will say that this daring game provoked us , taking it one step further. Almost what happened between Wendy and Jill. The incident finally stopped when a teacher addressed our class telling whoever ( and he knew it was us ) to knock it off or he’d bring our parents into it. We immediately apologized to the boy ( who by that time didn’t want our apology ) and oddly never talked about the incident afterwards. Though, I do believe all of us felt we’d gone too far,
              we began to rethink what being cool really meant. Especially when it created no infamy like Jessica Wakefield – only trouble and a sense of shame. Maybe that’s what I believe is missing from Blubber and even which I hope to delve into with Jessica Wakefield and the Unicorn club – I never felt that they ever felt ashamed for their actions. I know I did! In fact I still do.

              • Carolyn says:

                I read the Sweet Valley books too. Not the ones where Elizabeth & Jessica Wakefield were in elementary school. The Sweet Valley High series. I read it for about a year, but, the fact that time stood still in the series(they remained the same age–16 yrs–throughout the series even though they went through numerous Summer & Christmas specials).

                Like I said in a previous post, I too experienced a lot of bullying in school. Occasionally, I took part in the bullying, but was for the most part, the victim, rather than one of the perpetrators.

  19. Carolyn says:

    Ok, we have discussed at length, the way the class has treated Linda, & how Linda has taken it all in. Let’s go back to focusing on Jill’s parents: Your observation that Jill’s parents have been made to look “infantile,” while Jill has a kind of “clever maturity,” isn’t necessarily so. Yes, her mother sneaks cigarettes, & when she’s not, she blows bubbles, when chewing gum, but, so what? Most people who ARE trying to break from smoking, have the occasional fallbacks, & when they don’t they usually develop the habit of chewing gum, because they really need something, while they are battling their nicotine cravings.

    Today, there are numerous gimmicks to help smokers quit(eg: Nicotine patches, etc). But back when ‘Blubber’ was first published, none of these existed.

    (Discuss further, tomorrow.)

  20. Carolyn says:

    Admittedly, it looks kind of stupid that it takes Jill to remind her mother to clean her own chin with alcohol. According the scheme of things, Jill really shouldn’t know the purposes of alcohol at her age. Also, it was clueless on her part, on Halloween night, to see Jill & Tracy leave the house, with their pillow cases their heads, & Jill return later soaked, & not realize that she had been up to trouble, until a few weeks later, when she & her husband read Machinist’s letter, accompanied with the photo. I guess, she naively thought that the kids were going to playing jokes on ONE ANOTHER, as opposed to committing actual acts of vandalism to other people’s property that night.

    That said, some of the other things she & her husband do, are not characteristically infantile, such as being embarrassed at garnering all the attention, when they arrive late for the Bar Mitzvah, as opposed to Jill & Kenny who don’t even care. Rather, it would be infantile of them if they were the ones who didn’t care, whereas Jill & Kenny did.

    (More tomorrow.)

    • peacharino says:

      Whereas I agree that sure the parents not being embarrassed would’ve been strange – it was all the little things adding up that made them appear juvenile COMPARED to Jill. I know that Blume was going with the flow of things and trying to lighten up the image of mom and dad from the 50′s and 60′s and could even be her genius of making Jill cut her parents down to size ( in her eyes ) and elevating herself to the most intelligent being around. Notice how mom’s advice never quite cuts it – laugh it off doesn’t work. What if you were in her shoes never quite comes about. Dad alone has the best line. I would definitely say Blume in real life has mother issues. But – who doesn’t, ha!

      • Carolyn says:

        One more thing I should add here is that, as although its true that Mrs. Brenner’s advice on laughing it off didn’t work, she didn’t say that it always works; she said it **USUALLY** works. And there were reasons why when Jill tried it, it didn’t work.

        1)By the time Jill & LInda switched places, the class was already well into the bullying, that although they had a new victim, & their original one had just been admitted into the “in crowd,” they were not going back to “A,” with their taunts. They were already at onto around “F,” or “G.” Had Linda laughed off being called ‘Blubber,’ right on the very first day all this was happening to her, she might have been respected as a good sport, as per Mrs. Brenner’s wisdom.

        2)The fact that Jill herself was a bully. Although Linda is the only known victim of Jill’s bullying(because its her harassment that Jill only tells us about), we know that she’s not her only victim, because Jill said so, right in the very beginning of ‘Blubber.’ Now that Jill is on the outs with everyone, because she has incurred the Wrath of Wendy, all the other kids in the class, who may have at one time or another been a victim of Jill’s taunts, now have their opportunity to have their revenge. Certainly, it is Linda’s chance at revenge on Jill. And any other kid in the class who may, in previous years, have also either been taunted by Jill, or have had a friend who had been taunted by her, will want a shot at her also.

  21. Carolyn says:

    I’m still not sure that I necessarily agree with you concerning Jill’s mother. For one thing, it was her mother, who got Jill over being jealous of the fact, that she will never have a Bar Mitzvah, by telling her that “having a Bar Mitzvah doesn’t necessarily mean having a huge party & lots of presents. It’s the ceremony that counts.” Now that of course, was a the big BS. It would be just like saying “Weddings do not necessarily mean having a huge reception, presents, and white dress & veil. It’s the ceremony that counts”; or even “Christmas doesn’t necessarily mean having decorated trees, turkey dinners, & presents. It’s attending Mass that counts.” However, Jill bought it. Why does her mother tell her this? Because Jill will never have one, & the reason why is, although Judy Blume never reveals in the book what religion the Brenners are, the indication is they are not Jewish. The first clue is right in front of us at this scene: Jill says “I wish I could have a *BAR* Mitzvah.” Except we all know that the girls’ Coming-of-Age ceremony in the Jewish religion is called a *BAT* Mitzvah. The fact that Jill didn’t know this, shows she knows absolutely nothing about them.(Note that her mother doesn’t even bother to correct her on this. And I have never in my life, known a Jewish family that did not throw a huge party for their child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah.)

    The second clue that the Brenners are not Jewish is the fact that they celebrate Christmas. As we know from reading ‘Blubber,’ Jill is trying to break her habit of biting her nails, so that Daddy will give her money to buy stamps from her favourite stamp company.

    Now, Judy Blume might not have known this(at least not when she first wrote ‘Blubber’), but, Christians also have a Coming-of-Age ceremony (or Sacrament, as they are referred to in our faith), called Confirmation. She could have had Mrs. Brenner tell her daughter, that if she liked, they would throw her a party for her Confirmation. But, she doesn’t have her do this. Instead, has her give Jill a line, so as not to be upset about not having a Bat Mitzvah. By the time Jill does realize that all Bar/Bat Mitzvahs come with huge parties, she will be too old to care.

    I don’t know if whether or not Judy Blume had mother issues. However, she WAS a Daddy’s girl, when she was little. She dedicated “Otherwise Known As Sheila The Great’ to her late father, & their game of “Hide & Seek.”

    • peacharino says:

      We agree to disagree – no problem! I love you observations on the issue of religion which I missed. I’m going to have to do Are you there God it’s me Margaret one of these days because it’s interesting that Blume isn’t too sure whether she wants her characters to be Jewish, they always seem to be battling religion. I don’t know if it’s because of the upheavel of ideas in the 70′s or her own personal issues or maybe she wants to play it safe with the readers. Yes the Bat mitzvah Jill missed – interesting that Blume did make Jill make a mistake, I wonder if she made any more that I missed. It makes Jill seem more human.

      • Carolyn says:

        Thank you. Yes, I noticed Jill’s mistake on the Bat Mitzvah, years ago. I should have mentioned in my earlier post that MOST religions have a Coming-of-Age Ceremony, BTW. And some other kinds of cultures do too.

  22. kathy says:

    OMG. U RULE. Most involved, fascinating analysis of a book ever. WOW.

  23. kathy says:

    …have you reviewed any other books?

    • peacharino says:

      If you mean really analyzed a book – I did Flowers in the Attic – CLICK HERE FOR LINK I’m thinking of doing Are you there God it’s me Margaret or Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great but I’ve got to hunt up my copy of Sheila it’s missing. There are book reviews on here – but not to the extent of Blubber. I’m trying to finish up Cliquey Pizza 3′s list before I start in on reviewing more non series books.

  24. Carolyn says:

    Hello Peacharino, I’m back you miss me??? ;-)

    Anyway, revisiting an earlier discussion, Mr. Machinist: You raised an interesting theory that perhaps the reason he hides in the bushes on Hallowe’en night, waiting to spray kids attempting to vandalize his property, was his way of playing jokes on them & that he finds it hilarious. There’s just one problem with that theory: In addition to hosing the kids down, he snaps their photo to take it to the police. If Machinist found this to be funny, he wouldn’t get the police involved.

    • peacharino says:

      Hi , yes I did. I’m enjoying the discussion! I still think Mr. Machinist enjoyed spraying the kids. He thinks he’s defending his home from window-soapers and might not have known at that point that the girls had egged his mailbox. In fact this picture taking scene could be a flaw of Blume’s to hinge a plot point on Mr. Machinst going around showing off the pictures so we can see what a rat Wendy is , and how Wendy can use this incident to point a finger at Linda. On the other hand – he could’ve taken the picture because he assumed the girls wearing pillowcases over their costumes had been up to no-good and having examined his mail box discovered his hunch was right. And because they’d stepped it up from window soaping – he stepped it up by threatening the police.

      • Carolyn says:

        Thing is, he didn’t just start going to the police with those photos after Jill & Tracy egged his mailbox. He was doing that to kids who were vandalizing his property before that. Jill mentioned that when a kid was caught trying to soap his car windows the year before, Machinist hosed him down, & then after snapping the kid’s photo, took it to the police.

  25. peacharino says:

    Was he?… hmmm missed that one. You’re eagle eyed! but than the question sitll begs to be asked – why hose them? It’s a very childlike thing to do. He could’ve merely snapped
    their picture and then took it to the police. I still think he had fun hosing them.

  26. Carolyn says:

    Another thing to discuss about Jill’s Hallowe’en pranks: Jill says that the one thing she doesn’t ever do is smash other kids’ jack-o-lanterns. In your essay, your figured that she would probably do it to Linda. There’s another way to look at Jill’s claim to “not go there,” where jack-o-lanters are concerned though. Jill’s reason for not smashing them is because it happened to her & Kenny, so she knows what it’s like. Perhaps this is Judy Blume’s way of hinting that the only way to discourage Jill’s bullying of other children is when she is the one who is picked upon(& this does happen, as we all know). Jill never says where Linda’s jack-o-lanterns were on her property. They could have been in the house, but, they could have been outside too.

    • peacharino says:

      Yes, I would loved to know if Jill would’ve avoided smashing Linda’s jack-o-lantern. I wish Blume would’ve followed up on that. She wants us to believe as long as Jill can relate to a mean action she won’t participate in it. However by the end of the book – doesn’t she continue to toss Robby’s jacket? I would’ve preferred if she would’ve just thrown the jacket back to Robby and sat back down with Tracy in a kind of manner that she was above that sort of thing now. But the end of the book continues on in the same manner as the beginning suggesting that this an ongoing cycle.

      • Carolyn says:

        Actually, it was his hat, not his jacket.

        2 things here, that you must take into consideration:

        a)Robby was the one who ridiculed Jill’s attempt to laugh off being called a baby, & hence discouraging any possibility that the class might not continue to tease her. Even if Jill learned what its like to be a victim of bullying from this incident, does not mean that she won’t take a shot at revenge, if the chance comes her way.

        b)The fact that everyone on the school bus was tossing his hat around, is no indication that Robby is Victim # 3, alongside Linda & Jill. Jill does not mention Rob getting a brand new nickname(read:INSULT), or enduring any other kind of abuse. Kids often play “Keep Away” with other kids hats, jackets, etc., without the intention of turning into full fledge bullying.

        • peacharino says:

          True that Jill probably wanted to stick it to Robby ( who could blame her !) – but when the end mirrors the 1st chapter ‘s end. ( I think ) it’s giving us a sly wink to the kids will be kids idea behind the game of keepaway. Do you remember if Tracy joined in? – I’ll have to check that out. If she didn’t, maybe it’s cause she got it ( or doesn’t want any more trouble with her parents. )

  27. Carolyn says:

    It was only a small reflection of the first chapter. As I previously stated, Robby is not given a brand new nick name(insult), nor does anything else seem to happen here. By contrast, the kids did much more to Linda way back in the first chapter, than simply play Keep Away, with her belongings. They were all laughing while she was doing her whale report; when she got on the bus, they sang ‘Blubber’ to her to the tune of a song they all heard on the radio; some of them were even spitting spit balls at her(& as someone who has had those tiny things spat at me, when I was a kid, I can tell that those tiny things can be damn painful). It was no wonder that by the time Linda was getting off the bus, she was in tears!!!

    Jill doesn’t tell us who started to play ‘Keep Away,’ with Robby’s hat. For all we know, it may have been one of his best friends, & if it was, then it was done in harmless fun. I don’t think Jill mentions if Tracy took part in the game. There again, for all we know, maybe even Linda took a part in it too.

    • peacharino says:

      Was Linda back on the bus at that point – I’ll have to check that out.

      • Carolyn says:

        Yes. That was how Jill was able to break up the “Clique.” Because she noticed Wendy sitting next to Linda on the bus, as opposed to Caroline, & so Jill rubbed that in Caroline’s face, in the girls’ bathroom.

  28. Carolyn says:

    By the way, I read somewhere that the name Wendy is short for Gwendolyn. However, Wanda is a possibility too.

    As for Linda meaning pretty: I suppose it implies that if Linda WERE to lose weight, she probably would look very pretty.

    Mind you, my own personal prediction was that Linda probably ended up with either bulimia or anorexia in high school, based simply on those few weeks in fifth grade, where she was nick named Blubber.

    • peacharino says:

      Yes, when I looked up Wendy in my name books there were some contradictions – one thinks it’s a stem from Wanda – others a stem from Gwendolyn – the names were a bit of a stretch as I doubt Judy Blume actually picked them out for symbolism , but sometimes symbolism sneaks up you without you even knowing it. As for poor Linda , I doubt she ever lost the weight. I knew a girl in grade school who was like Linda in the fact that she was very hard to like. Me and my friends tried to befriend her because she always looked so lonely, but she was abrasive and odd. I think if we would’ve held out a bit maybe she would’ve lost some of her strangeness, which I believe stemmed from her never knowing how to behave with other people – but I looked her up out of the blue. Her weight has boomed over the years. But on the plus side , she looks like she’s doing well , very successful. Have you ever
      read Buddies by Barbara Park? – a hilarious book about an unlikeable
      girl whom three cabinmates are forced into making her part of their
      crowd until they decide enough is enough.

      • Carolyn says:

        I always thought that she probably did lose weight, but, probably ended up with some eating disorder, later on.

        As for the girl whom you mentioned, she probably suffered from Asperger’s. I have it myself, & was only told so by my psychiatrist a few years ago. As for the weight gain she has. A lot of kids who were either skinny or average weight even, end up becoming heavy in their adult years. Myself included, but, lost it thanks to my Mom finding an amazing diet for me!!!! :-)

        • peacharino says:

          I know what you mean about your weight turning on you. When I was 9-13 and even younger, everyone thought I was anorexic and kept pushing food and treats on me – a few years later , I could no longer eat the same way as I started to gain and it took me till I was twenty-five to get back to my ideal weight. Never heard of Aspergers so I looked it up. Not sure if the girl I knew had it. Now that I think of it – I seem to recall her mother remarrying and having a baby with her new husband – which always was a thorn in the girls side. Maybe her behavior resement based. Don’t know. I do remember she had a habit of screaming if you interrupted her while reading in school mind you! and unlike Blubber – the teacher didn’t punish her , the teacher punished me and my friends the interrupters for bothering her! Lol.

          • Carolyn says:

            Aspergers’ is a mild form of Autism. Funny enough, right up until my psychiatrist told me that I had it, I never heard of it myself. Since then, I’ve seen it mentioned in the media almost all the time, plus, I know people who say that their children have it.

  29. Carolyn says:

    Just came back from the local book store tonight, for further readings on Blubber. Reading the part where Jill & Tracy tell Wendy & Caroline that they had been caught, & how Wendy immediately places the blame on Linda. The interesting thing there, was that Wendy had contradicted herself. First she said that she didn’t think that Blubber would have the guts to tell; then a moment later, she said that “she’d sell out her own mother,” if she could.

    • peacharino says:

      Probably knew the heat might come down on her! Especially with Tracy
      there. Tracy was no fool. Not that Jill was , but Jill is all about
      reasons and since she’d been nice to Wendy – couldn’t see any reason for her to tell on her. Linda yes , Wendy no.

      • Carolyn says:

        As you noted earlier, it was staring them right in the face that it was Wendy & Caroline who told, & Tracy figured that out right on the school bus(probably got vibes all of a sudden), & yet, when she & Jill were sitting around wondering, it’s interesting that Judy Blume has Tracy say “it **COULD** have been Wendy & Caroline,” rather than stating more firmly that it was Wendy & Caroline. I sometimes wonder why Judy Blume has her say that. I suppose if she did have her give a more assertive statement that it was Wendy and/or Caroline, it wouldn’t have allowed for the reader to figure out on his/her own(which I’m guessing is what Judy Blume wanted us to do).

        • peacharino says:

          That , plus Blume knows kids. They ( Jill especially ) want the tattletale to be Linda to justify their behavior and feel less guilty. Who wants to admit the person they teamed up with , is that double crossing? Plus Blume to my
          recollect kept everything about these kids skimming the surface , no depth. Since Jill didn’t really think things through before teasing Linda , neither does she think things through concerning her relationship with Wendy. But like you said , Blume probably wants to leave it up to an astute reader.

          • Carolyn says:

            “They (Jill especially) want the tattletale to be Linda to justify their behaviour and feel less guilty. Who wants to admit the person they teamed up with, is that double crossing?”

            I don’t think Jill secretly knew(as Tracy figured it out)that it was Wendy & Caroline. I think she thought they were good enough friends that they *WOULDN’T* rat on them. She initially blamed Linda when the letter got sent to their homes, because Linda warned her that she would get back at all of them, for the way they had been treating her. But, after their confrontation at the Bar Mitzvah, Jill started having her doubts a couple of days later. Hence, when she & Tracy were talking to Wendy & Caroline on the bus, she kept insisting on being sure, that it was LInda, before beating up on her.

            • peacharino says:

              But then they still question it at the end. I think Linda, not telling at the Bar Mitzvah was in fact very telling. Jill won’t even admit to the reader she escaped a very sticky situation. As whiny as Linda is, I don’t believe she ever told – accept for the chocolate incident. Maybe to get her mom to drive her to school – which I think happened after the chocolate incident. Linda , was for me, sort of like a kicked dog – no matter how much she was kicked she still wanted to be friends with her tormentors. Notice how she brushes off most of Jill’s cracks at the Bar Mitzvah

              • Carolyn says:

                I think it was only Jill who really questioned who tattled on them at the end. Tracy figured it out that it was Wendy & Caroline, but, didn’t want to say directly, as there was no concrete proof that it was them. You are right when you point out that Jill wouldn’t admit that she got out of a very sticky situation in the washroom(at the Bar Mitzvah), when her mother met Linda’s mother. She is already in trouble with her parents for committing an act of vandalism to somebody’s property on Hallowe’en night. So you can imagine how angry they would also be, were they to find out that she had also been taking an active role in the bullying of a fellow pupil at school. However, your wrong by pointing out why “not telling at the Bar Mitzvah.”: Remember, when Mrs. Brenner & Mrs. Fischer meet, & then proceed to introduce their daughters, Mrs. Fischer suddenly says to Jill, “Oh, wait a minute. Aren’t you in Linda’s class?” This clearly shows that she knows that Jill is one of the kids at school, who have been harassing her daughter. The fact, that she abruptly leaves the washroom with Linda, is probably only because of the sanctity of celebration that they were all attending, & chose to pass up the golden opportunity she had, to confront one of her daughter’s tormentors(right to her mother, no less). Linda actually did warn Jill when they were all at their tables, that if she called her a “smelly whale” or anything like that, she would go & tell her. She was there to enjoy the celebration, & did not want what she endures at school to ruin the party for her.

                As for why she never told at school(with the notable exception of when they forced chocolate down her throat), it was probably because of the fact that Wendy warned her if she ever told on them, she’d be in real trouble with all of them.

                And yes, Mrs. Fischer’s decision to drive Linda to & from school did take place after the chocolate incident. In fact, it took place right after the Bar Mitzvah, which was why, Jill suddenly became convinced again, that Linda was the one who had told. Obviously, it didn’t occur to Jill that their treatment of Linda was so bad, that her parents were trying to protect her, regardless.

              • peacharino says:

                Sometimes Blume’s vague writing is too much, too much as in the contrary not enough! Oddly, I never got the impression that Linda’s mom was informed at this point that Jill was one of Linda’s tormentors or even that Linda was being harassed at school. She’s left as blank as Linda , she doesn’t frown , or purse her lips or give that little oh, that means so much more than oh. Neither does she tell Jill’s mom we need to talk later
                on. It reminds me of those movies in the 80′s where a friendless teen always protected their parent by glossing over the fact that
                they were a. being mercilessly teased or b. didn’t have a friend in the world. Sometimes, I thought Linda talked about wishing she could befriend Jill. But then that’s only an opinion based on
                a weird vibe I get from Linda. She is so pathetic , that it’s right up her alley. Also, with Jill not getting the reason why Linda is being driven to school. Maybe she knows Linda hasn’t told yet and is only snowing her mother into an escuse of not riding the bus. Maybe it’s the times but Mrs. or Mr. Fischer’s inability
                to act suggests they don’t really know how bad it’s getting.

  30. Carolyn says:

    I got the impression that she did know at this point, hence the reason why she abruptly left the washroom with her daughter. As I said in my previous post, I think she only cut Jill a break because of the sanctity of the situation: They were at a Bar Mitzvah celebration, & for Jewish people Bar/Bat Mitzvahs are as serious a celebration as a wedding or Christmas is for Christians.

    I don’t think Linda really cared if Jill ever befriended her or not. Just that she could get in with the “In” crowd.

    • peacharino says:

      True , I think Linda wanted in with the in crowd. Sometimes I thought , Linda believed
      it would be easier to use Jill as an in -then again, sometimes I think she thought Jill was just as bad as Wendy. Jill gave her the jacket back on the bus – but it was her and Tracy who trashed her house. Jill who possibly stopped the stripping but then said nothing when Wendy shook a fist in Linda’s face. I think the Bar Mitzvah scene for me, is the most baffling. I do get that it’s a important occation but like Jill, a lot of the children would be viewing it more as an elaborate birthday party. But if you’re right that makes Linda a really caring person – not wanting to spoil someone’s birthday, even as Jill provokes her into doing it.

      • Carolyn says:

        I don’t think it was Linda who didn’t want to spoil the Bar Mitzvah party by using the occasion to tell on Jill. I think it was her mother who decided to cut Jill a break because it was a Bar Mitzvah party. Don’t forget that when Linda was eating with Jill & her brother, Linda threatened to tell on Jill there, if she called her a “smelly whale,” or “Blubber,” at the party. Linda wanted to enjoy herself. The last thing she needed was to endure at the party, what she already had been enduring at school.

        • peacharino says:

          [ "You two must know each other,"Mom said.
          "We do," I mumbled.
          "Oh....are you the Jill Brenner in Linda's class?" Mrs. Fischer asked.
          That did it! "Yes," I said, "but..."
          "Mom!" Linda tugged at her mother's arm. "Come on..." ]
          from – Judy Blume’s Blubber. The exact scene and it gives the vague impression that Mrs. Fischer might possibly lay into Jill, but could also
          support a theory that Linda isn’t telling her mother what’s really
          going on. Everything hinges on that – oh. Notice how Jill flies right into
          lawyer mode – Yes …but! Always ready to defend her actions! and Jill
          doesn’t even recognise in the next scene that Linda saved her skin –
          she’s off believing her crackpot theory that Linda told. Even in the face
          that Linda had the perfect moment to tell on Jill and watch her get it!

          • Carolyn says:

            You left out what happened as soon as Linda & her mother left. Jill’s mother asked “What was that all about?”, & to which Jill gives the understatement of the year: “Linda & I are not exactly friends.” That would indicate to me that the way the 2 of them(Linda & her mother left), seemed to take Mrs. Brenner aback.

            That said, you do have a point here: By getting her own mother to leave the bathroom, Linda saved Jill from getting into further trouble, by her own mother telling Jill’s mother, what Jill had been doing to Linda at school. She’s already in it pretty deep, for committing an act of vandalism on Hallowe’en night. Imagine what her parents reaction would be, if they also found out that she had been taking an active role in the bullying of a classmate!!!

        • Jennifer says:

          I don’t think it was because Linda didn’t want to spoil the bar mitzvah that she didn’t tell, although I can agree that she probably did want to have a trouble-free day. Linda never tattles except after the chocolate incident, and even then, as peacharino says, she complains that the class collectively did it to her; she doesn’t name anyone specific. She’s drank the “tattling is wrong” Kool-Aid along with everyone else in the class, and probably even gotten into trouble for it. And what happens when she does tell? Mrs. Minish says, “I just can’t believe my class would do such a thing,” and Mr. Nichols buys Wendy’s lie. So Linda knows she doesn’t have anything to gain by telling. She just doesn’t want to think about the bullying and didn’t expect Jill to be at the bar mitzvah, so she cuts the interaction as short as she can.

          • Carolyn says:

            I don’t think it was Linda who didn’t want to spoil the Bar Mitzvah. I think it was her mother who didn’t want to spoil it with a confrontation with Jill’s mother. If anything, I think Linda would have thoroughly enjoyed finally seeing one her bullies getting their just desserts!!

            The reason Linda didn’t “tell on anyone in specific,” when she was forced to swallow a chocolate-covered ant, is because the entire class was in on the attack, not just Wendy, Jill, and/or Caroline. Remember, even Rochelle was “smiling” at the incident.

            • Jennifer says:

              I have to disagree that it was Linda’s mother who didn’t want to spoil it-she asks Jill if she’s the Jill Brenner in Linda’s class. So it sounds to me like she was ready for a confrontation. I get the image that Linda just tries to avoid it in general. That’s why she doesn’t stand up to Wendy et al. She probably wouldn’t have followed through on any threats to tell, including the one where she responds to Jill calling her a smelly whale. She doesn’t tell the nurse or anyone else about Jill kicking the ball at her, for example-she just moans (of course, the nurse has stuck a thermometer in her mouth so she can’t say anything). I think Linda realizes that the adults in her life simply aren’t going to be sympathetic if she does tell. The most she does is name names to her mother but apparently that’s all she’s done.

              • Carolyn says:

                I do agree that initially, in the washroom, Linda’s mother was all for the confrontation. But, when Linda, said “Come on, Mom,” & abruptly walked out with her, she decided to cut Jill a break, because of the occasion. Otherwise, she would have gone ahead with it, in spite of Linda’s protest to the contrary.

                I also think that Linda would have made the Bar Mitzvah the one occasion where she would have told. Remember, they were at a huge party away from school, & Linda wants to have a good time, without the usual harassment that she endures at school.

              • peacharino says:

                I just had the strangest idea – Linda is seen as a bit of a flake, certainly imaginative. Dead tooth. Reincarnation. What if she told her mom, Jill and her were friends? And didn’t want that goofy lie exposed. This could actually have some merit because Jill says we’re not exactly friends ( instead of — that’s the girl I was telling you about. ) Plus, this idea also gives the phrasing of ‘I really will tell today’ some reinforcement that she still hasn’t told her mother. Tell becomes center stage, the threat, not the mention of a parent
                which I think if she did mention her mom, that might bring to Jill’s mind the near-confrintation in the washroom. With the threat of tell, it’s like it lets Jill know she’s in the clear – for now.

              • Carolyn says:

                @ Peacharino: The dead tooth story was possible. No, she did not tell her mother that she & Jill were friends. You could tell from the washroom incident that she knew that Jill was one of Linda’s bullies.

                Linda told Jill that she would “get back at her” one day. She never said exactly how. As Jennifer noted, telling the teachers at school was not much help(that doesn’t mean that the adults at the Bar Mitzvah wouldn’t be).

                I think the real reason for Linda’s “Come on Mom,” in the washroom was simply because she wanted nothing to do with Jill, whatsoever. Even to the point of getting her mother to pass up an opportunity to rat Jill out, right in front of her own Mom.

                (Of course, if that theory is right, she must have been damn disappointed at having to sit with Jill at the children’s table.)

    • peacharino says:

      I’ll keep her in my prayers! She gave me my two fave books as a kid – Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great & Tiger Eyes. Oh, and Are you there God it’s me Margaret is pretty awesome too.

      • Carolyn says:

        Yes, she’s in my prayers too. Personally, my favourite books of hers’ were Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing, & Super Fudge.

        Mind you, I think she shouldn’t have made any further books about Fudge & Peter, beyond those 2.

  31. Stumbled across your page!! Great analysis. Judy Blume wrote a couple of adult novels in which the protagonist was very thin, and it was mentioned repeatedly. Interesting. I loved superfudge. Anyway, awesome. :)

  32. Carolyn says:

    Hello Peacharino, long time no see!!!

    With Hallowe’en approaching, made me think about ‘Blubber,’ of course, the great analysis of the book you made of it!!! :-)

    So how are things here?

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