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