The Kids Aren’t All Right
Authors hate kids. I’m convinced.
Okay, maybe “hate” is a strong word. But, many, novelists really enjoy putting their young characters through the literary ringer.
Have you ever thought about how much bad crap happens to kids in famous novels? No wonder they’re all jacked up.
You’d probably be jacked up, too, if awful stuff like this happened to you:
Lord of the Flies: The older of those kids is around 12. One day, they’re dropping water balloons on to cars from trees. Next day, they’re stranded on an island with no food and a few conch shells. Of course, kids like that will be a little screwed up. They’re 12 and left to kill pigs with their bare hands for dinner. Come on.
Never Let Me Go: Oh, man. This is the worst. Those poor kids are like human guinea pigs. They are literally created for the purpose of having their organs harvested. They live to their 20s and they eventually die because, well, all their organs have been taken and given to other more “important” people.
Native Son/American Tragedy: These stories are so similar I put them together. Here’s how Bigger Thomas and Clyde Griffiths solve problems: kill people! When someone gets in the way of their plans, they just kill ’em. As in real life, this an awful solution. Things go from bad to worse for these kids.
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter: Mick Kelly never “suffers” like some other young characters. But you feel her sadness as you read this book. And as the novel concludes, you already know Mick’s destiny. Despite her dreams of wishes to do something big, she’ll be stuck in small-town life barely getting by.
The Catcher In The Rye: I’m a rich white kid and my life sucks and I hate everything and no one understand me and everybody just needs to get a life and hand me a cigarette I can’t take it any more and you are a moron would someone turn the music up so I can think and just shut up people.
Beloved: First off, there’s Denver. Poor girl’s mom, Sethe, has lost it. Then there’s Beloved. Sethe kills Beloved when she was a baby in order to keep slave traders away from her. Yeah, that pretty much sucks.
A Clockwork Orange: Few novels have a way of depicting the screwed-up-ness of teenagers like A Clockwork Orange. Rape women. Beat up old guys on the street. Street fights. Drugs. Violence! Violence! Jail. Governmental reprogramming of the brain. Violence!
Blood Meridian: Imagine going on a day hike with friends. But instead of a day hike, it’s years of wondering through the arid, barren southwestern landscape. And instead of friends, it’s a rag-tag group of Indian scalpers led by a psychopath murderer who throws puppies over bridges just for kicks. That’s a tough life for a kid.
And, guys, that’s just the beginning.
I could probably list 20 more novels, off the top of my head, that treat kids like punching bags.
Why is that? I think authors realize that kids, especially younger children, have a way of bringing emotion and a special kind of tension to the reader. All of us either have kids or have been kids, so we know what it feels like. And we know how easily we can become a product of our environment. Great authors can tease our emotions by placing their young characters in messed up world. We feel that.
But what do you think? Why do so many young characters suffer? And can you think of other examples?