Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Critical Analysis of Judy Blume

Every writer seeks to produce a memorable contribution to literature. In addition to the many challenges presented throughout the
writing process, in some ways, the successful completion of a piece of literature is the smallest in a series of feats. Writers are then met with the challenges of sustaining career longevity while creating fresh, original storylines and characters with each new endeavor. Judy Blume is no exception to this challenge. What is remarkable, however, is the fluidity Blume employs when approaching a new book, with its own distinctive theme.

There are many Judy Blume books to choose from, however two that provide a strong example of this, are Judy's books: Iggie's House and the very well known and lovable, Superfudge. Superfudge, is one in a series of Judy Blume books, following the life and adventures of Peter Hatcher and his younger brother Farley Drexel Hatcher, better known as Fudge. Judy has professed in many an interview that she tends to begin a new book at the pivotal moment that something changes in the life of the central character. In Superfudge, twelve year old Peter Hatcher is introduced to a world of change when his family announces they will be moving from New York city to New Jersey while his father attempts to write a book, and that his mother is pregnant with a new baby sister. Among the changes Peter faces, are those children face with the prospect of a new school and leaving the safety of a known entity, as was Peter's life in New York city. Adding to the mix of an already terrifying situation for Peter Hatcher, are the ongoing antics of his brother, Fudge, as he struggles to acclimate to family changes and a new environment. Peter finds himself having less time to devote to his own struggles, as most of the time, he winds up having to rescue Fudge from the newest mess he has made, and explain the ins and outs of change to his little brother.

Superfudge, is an example of one of Judy Blume's most recognized abilities to see the world of a child through a child's eyes. By means of this ability, she is able to speak to the issues children face as central and of utmost importance, as well as to reflect on how the decisions sometimes deemed trivial by adults, can deeply affect the lives of children. One of the ways she achieves this, is by writing in a manner reflective of everyday speech, specifically children's speech, and setting the stage of action in each chapter around everyday 'stuff', as she does in the first scene from Superfudge:

Life was going along okay when my mother and father dropped the news. Bam! Just like that!

From there, the reactions of the central character, Peter, are much as any child's would be, instead of excitement, he responds to the news of a new baby, with complete disdain. For the the few issues that are presented in Superfudge, it is primarily a lighthearted, comedic story about adjusting to change and the upside to new beginnings in life. This comedic lightheartedness is one of the book's many strengths, and also one of its few limitations. For all the laughs the reader will get at Fudge's expense, the storyline occasionally lacks any and all direction, becoming more of a snapshot into the everyday life of a family. For many readers, this serves to be a point of interest, for others, such as myself, it allows all too much room for the reader's interest level to fizzle. Though the chapter lengths in Superfudge assist with shifting the readers interest, the overall length of the book might benefit from being shorter.

Another strength of the book is the ever encourable, Fudge. He is depicted as a fun-loving, quirky and inquisitive menace. However, for as enjoyable as the messes Fudge makes are to read, there are some instances where the wrong message could be conveyed to young readers. Blume devotes an entire chapter to Fudge's first introduction to kindergarten and and his kindergarten teacher. The title of the chapter is: Farley Drexel Meets Rat Face. From the title alone, it is clear that Fudge's first impressions of his teacher are not favorable, and in the chapter itself, Fudge acts out when placed in a foreign situation. His brother, Peter, is brought in to intervene and remedy the situation. In an effort to avoid his teacher, Fudge has perched himself above the shelves of the cubby holes in his classroom and refuses to come down until his demands are met. To accomplish the task of getting Fudge down, this chapter concludes with the transferring of Fudge to another classroom where he might have full reign, per his demands.

Fudge climbed down to the top of the cubbies, and Mr. Green reached up and lifted him the rest of the way down.

"Good-bye, Farley Drexel," Mrs. Hildebrandt said.

"Good-bye, Rat Face," Fudge said to her.

I gave him an elbow and whispered,"You don't go around calling teachers Rat Face."

"Not even if they have one?" he asked.

"Not even then." I said.

Clearly, as a reader can extrapulate through this chapter, this scene is particularly comedic in nature, but not necessarily the best of examples as to how to respect adults or behave in new social situations. Such, are examples were the book's very strengths also serve as its primary weaknesses. The book is effectively designed with the purpose to engage children in a playful read with which they can relate on an everyday level. The book does not strive to make a political statement, preach morality, or establish a code of ethics. It is quite simply a book about 'being', and Judy Blume does 'being' very well.

An interesting meeting would take place between the character, Fudge and Winnifred Barringer, the central character in Judy Blume's novel Iggie's House. In contrast to Superfudge, Iggie's House is a book about what happens when just 'being' is no longer simple, and the challenges overcome the everyday. Judy Blume successfully depicts the most ordinary, sheltered suburban neighborhood. The house on Grove Street belonged to Winnie's best friend Iggie, and was a place of refuge for Winnie, one where she could explore her own ideas and be heard as an adult. Determined to keep the legacy of Iggie's house alive, she sets her sights on welcoming and befriending the Garbers, the new family set to move in. The Garbers are the first black family to settle into an all white neighborhood, and Winnie discovers she is one of the only people eager to welcome them. Blume began writing Iggie's House in the late 1960's when racial tensions were high and cites that her own naivety on the issue was similar to that which she creates in Winnie.

In contrast to the flow of the book Superfudge, Iggie's House is a book with a resonating plot and a very distinct path down which it takes its readers. The book is a strong exploration of both sides of the racial coin, through the heartfelt experiences of children as opposed to the more prevalent issues involving adults at the time. Every neighborhood has the characteristics of Grove Street and into every neighborhood a little Mrs. Landon must fall. Mrs. Landon, better known to Winnie as Germs Incorporated, is the character Blume creates to encapsulate the role of ring master. Each neighborhood has its most vocal leader, and in this case, Mrs. Landon has always been the neighborhood's most outspoken proponent for change. However, as the book evolves, it becomes clear to the reader that the change Mrs. Landon hopes to make is one much like the sign she chooses to nail to the Garber's lawn that reads: Go back where you belong. We don't want your kind around here!

The dialogue used throughout the course of the book is an effective blend of a child's voice, as manifested through Winifred, that evolves and matures as Winifred begins to take in the various experiences she encounters through befriending the Garbers. The scene selection is also concise and effective, moving the reader through a series of events from introduction and friendship to later rifts and turmoil surrounding the choice to make a stand. Young readers can identify with the emotions Winnie experiences and through her, be guided towards peaceful and open minded resolutions. In contrast to the journey of Superfudge, Blume takes a stand in Iggie's House and emphasizes human compassion and understanding as most important.

Glenn read the sign in a hoarse and whispery voice, as if he needed to say it out loud to believe that it was real.


Mr. Garber grabbed the sign, yanked it out of the ground and broke it in half over his knee. Winnie felt her cheeks burning. She was shaking all over. "We're not all like that," she heard a small voice say. "We're not...we're not...we're not." She realized the voice as her own and that she was crying. She turned and fled, tears streaming down her face.

The success of this book, is its ability to bring an issue as complex as racial equality, to the forefront in a way that pertains to us all. There exists an innately universal quality to the sentiment expressed by Winnie in this scene. At one time or another, most people have encountered some type of situation in which they felt much like Winnie does here. The limited weakness the book encounters at certain turns is the loss of the storyline to the enormity of the issue of race. At various points, it becomes difficult to separate the story of a girl named Winnie and her new friends the Garbers, or to identify an alternate theme, from that of the central one taking place about race.

Despite the weighty issue at the heart of Iggie's House, the book is a welcomed departure from the typical book one has come to expect of Judy Blume. The same characteristics of comedic playfulness set against a similar theme of change and new friendships arise in Iggie's House as they do in Superfudge. Both books begin at a very pivotal juncture in a child's life---change. The central characters in both are strong willed, eclectic, and witty individuals struggling to adapt themselves to their world(s) and the other way around. Judy Blume takes her readers on two very unique journeys, each most definitely worth the trip.

No comments: