The Wonder Years
The young adult reader has a very impressionable psyche. A book or a specific character can either help a teenager rise above whatever strife they are experiencing or it can push them over the edge. Both my brother and I lived with a very abusive father, and we found solace in reading Catcher In The Rye. This isn’t just a book about a mis-interpreted Robert Burns poem. It is a metaphor for life, its personal growing pains and ironic contradictions that Holden Caulfield, the protagonist, faces. David and I used this very book as a crutch to help us get through some very trying times. However, this same book can have the opposite effect on a young reader if their emotions are not kept in check.
There are many reasons why a court would change custody of the children from a mother to a father. Reasons such as: drug abuse, prostitution, child abuse, and/or neglect are the most common. However, when a court changes custody based solely on a “wait and see” approach, or an experiment to explore how children would get along with the other parent, it is outright irresponsible and wrong. Unfortunately, this is a common trend that occurs in the court system in southern California. Not only has this happened to my brother and myself, but this also happens to many children as a result of inexperienced judges who choose their own ideas over what’s in the best interest of the children.
When my brother, David, turned thirteen in 2004, he was given a copy of Catcher In The Rye as a gift from my father’s girlfriend for his Bar Mitzvah. David and I really don’t enjoy reading books as much as we enjoy playing video games or watching movies, but our father insisted that he read it so as not to insult his girlfriend. When David was finished with the book, he urged me to read it too. We were both still shaken from the change in custody and we often cried and acted out as a way of protest against having to live in our new situation. Our father would ignore us, but David tried to cheer me up by saying, “if you think you have problems, read about Holden Caulfield, he’s really screwed up.” I picked up the book and attempted to read it, but the subject matter was too difficult for me to understand, so I returned it to David.
David and I are like typical brothers who would fight over most everything, but still make up and remain very close. David is two years older than me and very different from whom I am; in fact, most people can’t even believe that we are brothers. Differences aside, we knew that we needed to watch out for each other because our father wasn’t going to. One example is that if ever he or I were involved in an argument with our father, the other would automatically jump to the defense of the other. We had an alliance that was very strong. That being said, David again urged me to read the book “Catcher In The Rye”, the book that he now carried with him everywhere.
Fast-forward to the year 2009, David and my father’s relationship was getting steadily worse, and my father evicted him after one of their usual fights. This wasn’t any ordinary argument where he was being thrown out because of drugs or bad behavior. My parents really lucked out when it came to us because we were never problem children. We were always respectful and never used drugs or alcohol. This was one of my father’s typical psychotic episodes where if we didn’t do what he said, we suffer the consequences. In this instance, my father wanted David to give up his cell phone (which my mother bought and continued to pay for as a gift for David). He refused, so my father told him to “get out and not come back.” I remember the night well. David had just come back from jogging on the Santa Monica Pier in nothing more than a t-shirt and shorts. It was finals week at Palisades High School, and he was coming into the house to start studying when my father decided to confiscate his cell phone, completely out of the blue. David was a good student who did well despite the troubles we had at home. He was four weeks away from graduation and was excited about the end of the year coming up so that he could leave and live on his own.
When my father blocked David’s entry into the house, I had to run upstairs and throw his backpack with his schoolbooks out the second story window. I then had to grab whatever clothes I could find and stuff them in a paper bag to throw those out to him as well. My mother was able to arrange for emergency shelter for David until he was able to complete his finals. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stay there for longer than a week, so David had to take the grades he had earned and check out of school early. He never got to walk the stage at graduation with his friends, and he had to receive his diploma in the mail. My mother sent him a one-way ticket to New Hampshire so that he could settle in early at college. I would see David at school that last week and his spirits were actually pretty good despite all that had happened. The day before he left for New Hampshire, he handed me The Catcher In The Rye. By now, the paperback copy was torn and crumpled, but he made me promise to make an effort to read it.
The weekend after David was gone, I settled onto my bed and began to read. At first I was hesitant because I missed him so much that just touching the book made me sad. A promise is a promise, so I read it cover to cover in one day. When I was all finished, I even went back to reread certain parts that David had book marked for himself. It suddenly occurred to me why David was so insistent that I read the book. David had been more like a father to me than my own father was. I felt as though David had to step in on many occasions in order to keep me safe. Just like Holden believed that he was the “catcher in the rye’ who needed to protect the younger more innocent children from going astray, David felt similar emotions towards me. I thought back to how David was my very own “catcher.” For example, it was David who helped me with my homework; it was David that went to the drugstore to pick up over the counter medications for me when I was sick because my father wouldn’t. It was David that rode the bus with me to make sure that I got to where I needed to go, because our father wouldn’t take me. It was David who smuggled food into me at night when my father refused to let me eat because I couldn’t pronounce the name of the meal that was being served as a result of my stutter.
David and I both used the Catcher In The Rye as a means of survival. We each had different reasons for feeling an attachment to the book and at the end of day, we could always compare our lives to Holden Caulfield and think, “I guess we’re not so bad off.” Holden had a very strong bond with his sister, much like the bond that I have with my brother.
In writing this essay I had to reach out to a “reader” and get his perspective on this book. David was my reader and for the first time in three years, we discussed the book. I asked him why he felt compelled to carry it around in his backpack in high school and why he made me promise to read the book when he left. He replied that, “I carried the book around so that I wouldn’t feel alone in my thoughts.” He went onto say that, “I couldn’t talk to you about things because I had to take care of you, and if you thought that I was upset, it would upset you more.” He ended our conversation by saying that he left the book with me to read so that I wouldn’t forget about him. Our father tried very hard to keep us apart after he left. It would be weeks or months before I would be able to speak to him, so I guess David left me with the one book that he relied upon for so many years to keep me company.
David and I are just one example of how Catcher In The Rye innocently impacted many lives. Alternatively, this same book has been linked to several tragedies. One must then question, what could happen if the book gets into the wrong hands and its message is misinterpreted? One such event in which this occurred was the shooting of John Lennon, by Mark David Chapman. Chapman was so engrossed in the character of Holden Caulfield that he allegedly wanted to even change his name to Holden. As earlier mentioned, Catcher In The Rye has been touted as a very controversial read. Although it is deemed appropriate for young adults, fanatical readers may too easily distort its content Therefore, it is important to look deeper into the book so as to take away its positive lessons and not succumb to its negative undertones.
“An American Scholar Article Links Holden Caulfield and Mark David Chapman.” Character Sketches Archive. N.d. Web. 02 May 2012.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company, 1990. Print.
Capturing the Essence of the Maturing Adolescent
Keri Lynne Curtis
What makes an adolescent novel successful? The arena can vary, but the characters should experience the self-awareness craved by its reader balanced by the reality of his or her age. Young adult (YA) fiction is typically marketed to someone between twelve to eighteen years old. This span of years encompasses some of the most rapid changes in a young person’s life. To relate to this demographic, the story needs to express the frustration they feel as they test their boundaries and independence. To challenge the reader, the hero or heroine should encounter conflict that will help define who they are and who they want to be. A good adolescent novel does not have to mirror the reader’s environment, but it should address the realizations, influences, and inevitable events readers will encounter as they mature.
Adolescent fiction is a broad genre which covers everything from sci-fi and fantasy to drama and comedy. It can take the audience to places only the imagination can conjure, or dwell on the difficult realities many teens face. Inside all these possible storylines, a common thread often emerges; the character is trying to determine his or her place within society. The same can be said for most young adults. These readers are no longer blameless children. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, they are starting to take control of their lives and define their identity. Unfortunately, as they distance themselves from their caretakers, adolescents may feel isolated or uncertain of their choices. “YA literature assures teens that the world is capable of understanding and sympathizing, and that it can provide a safe place to explore the unknown, including the unknown parts of oneself”(Iyer 20). It is important the story validates the reader’s concerns and insecurities so that they know these emotions are normal.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger is a great example of a novel which allows its lead character to frankly analyze himself and the world around him. The story revolves around the few days Holden Caulfield spends wandering through New York City as he avoids going home to tell his parents that he has been expelled from school. He is a teenager with a rather low regard for society, but readers cannot help but sense the loneliness and disappointment behind his rants. The opening paragraph of the book introduces the reader to his current despair. “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth”(Salinger 1). The subject matter is not pretty, but Salinger does not shy away from the fact that our thoughts can be contradictory, cynical, and even destructive. Many critics have called Holden an anti-hero, but his internal dialogue is more realistic than authors who portray their protagonists as accepting, moral, and endlessly hopeful. Perhaps he isn’t so much a role model and instead, just the darker side of our psyche. I agree with Lisa Privitera who, in her essay Holden’s Irony in Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, describes him as “a boy bordering on being an adult who fights every step of the process with extreme emotions, bizarre reactions, and obsessive lying”(203). His reactions to society are not enviable, but they are authentic. During a time when adolescent readers are confused and even ashamed of their negative or wavering views, The Catcher in the Rye can be a voice that speaks to the outsider in them. “Holden makes it okay not only to search for the answers and not find them but also to admit that he still feels”(Privitera 205).
Young adult literature is targeted towards a teen audience. As this group matures and begins to make important personal decisions, they still have to abide by society’s hierarchy. They are caught between two roles, independent individual and dutiful minor. This struggle is a frequent theme in adolescent novels. Author Roberta Seelinger Trites feels it is commonly expressed through power plays. “Adolescents must learn their place within the power structure by experiencing each of three interrelated issues: They must learn to negotiate the many institutions that shape them; they must also learn to balance their power with their parent’s power, and with the power of authority figures in general”(Trites 473). She cites Harry Potter as an example of a hero who is asked to develop his powers yet at the same time is expected to restrict and temper them. “In the case of the Harry Potter books, school serves as an institutional setting of socialization that teaches the protagonist both his abilities and his limitations”(Trites 474).This seesaw between growth and control is especially evident in the early chapters of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry uses his magical ability to involuntarily levitate his horrible Aunt Marge. After casting this spell, Harry is afraid he will be penalized or possible expelled from Hogwarts for committing underage magic. Fortunately, the Ministry of Magic downplays this violation because they are more concerned with his safety, since the deranged convict Sirius Black has escaped from prison. So suddenly a once punishable act is now ignored? This turnabout, although not relatable concerning the wizard elements, is a reality which may be puzzling to a young adult. They are told to take action within their life, be responsible for their decisions but then have to further navigate how society positively or negatively reacts to these choices on any given day. What was once wrong is sometimes forgiven in certain contexts. What was once right may now be inappropriate due to the timing. I imagine it would be very confusing when an adolescent learns not everything is black and white. This scene, in The Prisoner of Azkaban, might help the reader to understand that these circumstantial reactions are par for the course. Although they are beginning to have some control over their life, teens are still ultimately governed by their parents, school, society and sometimes, the situation at hand.
Adolescents are guided in multiple ways on their journey to self-discovery. They have the advice of their parents and mentors offset with the lure and acceptance of friends and peers. These can be positive influences, but they can also leave the young person feeling pulled in too many directions. The best YA literature will address the complex dilemma of when they should listen to these voices and when to trust their own. In Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior wants to leave his high school on the Indian Reservation to attend a school in the mostly-white farming town of Reardon. Although they lack the resources to regularly drive him the twenty-two miles to school, his family supports this decision. Unfortunately, his community and best friend, Rowdy, are against it and show their disapproval with taunts and brutality. “About ten o’clock, as I was walking home, three guys jumped me. They didn’t beat me up too bad. I could tell they didn’t want to put me in the hospital or anything. Mostly they just wanted to remind me that I was a traitor”(Alexie 79). Amongst animosity, Junior has to decide whether to sacrifice this opportunity or his standing among his tribe. Ultimately, he chooses Reardon and although this further cements his status as a sellout, the reader is left encouraged. “I wept because I was the only one who was brave and crazy enough to leave the rez. I was the only one with enough arrogance. I wept and wept and wept because I knew that I was never going to drink and because I was never going to kill myself and because I was going to have a better life out in the white world”(Alexie 217). Not all young adults are faced with such weighty decisions, but this novel showcases the perseverance and courage that is sometimes needed to wade through conflicting influences. I asked my adolescent reader, Ben MacLeod, what he thought of Junior’s predicament and if he has ever been in a similar situation. Ben said he could not believe what a terrible friend Rowdy was. “My friends would have had my back, not punched me.” He also related to Junior taking the unpopular road to find his happiness. “This year I decided to join the drama club instead of playing football. Some kids teased me a little but no one kicked my ass. Eventually a few of them joined too” (MacLeod). From what Ben told me, following one’s heart is not always as controversial as Junior’s actions, but it is a universal action.
As children mature, they begin to take a more active role in mapping out their future, but sometimes circumstances beyond their control, just happen. The most prevalent one in adolescent literature is death. Whether it is in books or real life, the loss of a loved one can change a person forever. In the Harry Potter series, the death of his parents and his own subsequent escape from death is what drives the plot of the story. Their murder and Harry’s survival becomes his legacy. Fortunately, it also gives him strength and determination in the face of so much mounting danger. A lot of adolescents who have lost someone can draw solace from Harry’s tragedy. Death is a challenging and personal subject, yet Rowling handles it with compassion and candor. Harry’s situation is extreme, but the sorrow, fear, and confusion that accompany it are not. There is a scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban where Harry is learning how to cast a spell to keep the soul sucking Dementors away. Whenever these creatures approach him, he cannot help but hear his mother’s last moments. “He tried to keep his mind on flying, but something else kept intruding…but he shouldn’t think about that, or he would hear her again, and he didn’t want to…or did he?”(Rowling 238). This fluctuation between dread and desire to hear his mother’s final words may seem morose, but it is the only memory of her he can access. No one can blame him for wanting to hold onto it. This is the kind of honesty young readers should be exposed to. They need to know it is normal and healthy to reflect on their grief in order to come to terms with it.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, approaches the subject of death in a different way. The protagonist Junior loses his grandmother, a close family friend, and his sister throughout the book. Each time his outlook changes. When his grandmother is killed, Junior is rightfully angry. “Grandparents are supposed to die first, but they’re supposed to die of old age. They’re supposed to die of a heart attack or a stroke or of cancer or of Alzheimer’s. THEY ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO GET RUN OVER AND KILLED BY A DRUNK DRIVER!”(Alexie 158). When his father’s best friend is shot in a bar, Junior is mad but also feels guilty and disillusioned. “I could have easily killed myself, killed my mother and father, killed the birds, killed the trees, and killed the oxygen in the air. More than anything, I wanted to kill God. I was joyless”(Alexie 173). Finally, his sister dies in a fire. By this time Junior is bitter, overwhelmed and exhausted by his unrelentingly sad reality. “My dad was trying to comfort me. But it’s not too comforting to learn that your sister was TOO FREAKING DRUNK to feel any pain when she BURNED TO DEATH! And for some reason, that thought made me laugh even harder. I was laughing so hard that I threw up a little bit in my mouth.”(Alexie 205) Junior’s reactions are not wrong or inappropriate; they are just his way of processing all this tragedy. Death is unavoidable, but his community is especially plagued by its presence and he has to take that into consideration when planning his future. “I was making my attempt, too. And maybe it would kill me, too, but I knew that staying on the rez would have killed me too. It all made me cry for my sister. It made me cry for myself. But I was crying for my tribe too. I was crying because I knew five or ten or fifteen more Spokanes would die during the next year, and that most of them would die because of booze” (Alexie 216). Junior uses his misfortune as a springboard, not a crutch. It is an inspiring lesson for young adults. Contemplating the difficult theme of death in literature can console the reader as they learn to accept, grow and thrive in its aftermath.
For an adolescent novel to succeed, it needs to capture the evolving emotions, relationships and milestones of its maturing audience. The reader should connect with the hero’s burgeoning desires and perceptions of their world. They ought to root for the protagonist as they navigate new responsibilities and limitations. Along the journey, there will be people who help the characters, but as in real life, they need to learn to trust and believe in themselves. In the face of failure or misfortune, there should be a message of hope which tells the reader “you shall overcome!” Whether fiction or non-fiction, the best adolescent novels will inspire a young person to embrace their uniqueness and the adventures that lie ahead.
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2007. Print.
Iyer, Niranjan. “She Reads You YA YA YA!” Herizons 25.1 (2011): 20-23. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 20 April 2012.
MacLeod, Ben. Personal Interview. 15 Apr. 2012.
“Normal Adolescent Development Part 1.” American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (Dec. 2011) 57. Web. 18 April 2012.
Privitera L. “Holden’s Irony in Salinger’s The Catcher in the RYE.” Explicator 66.4 (2008): 203-206. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 25 Apr. 2012.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press, 1999. Print.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1991. Print.
Seelinger Trites, Roberta. “The Harry Potter Novels As A Test Case For Adolescent Literature.” Style 35.3 (2001): 472. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.
Claws Response Paper
Will Weaver’s Claws compels me to think about how deeply our actions affect others. Jed’s father and Laura’s mother have an affair with each other, and their broken marriage vows affect not only their spouses, but many others. Throughout the story, I feel awful for Jed as his life spirals downward. As one young girl in the book says to Jed, “I like looking at you…Preppies in a downwards spiral are fun to watch” (Weaver 113). Many of the circumstances in the story are out of Jed’s control, but there are areas in his life, like his relationship with his mother, that I want him to work at and quit being selfish. His mother is one of the very last people left in his life, and I desperately want him to support his mother and receive the encouragement she wants to give him. In spite of his selfish attitude towards his mother, I am proud of Jed for the difficult choices he makes that are right. For example, when he is supposed to be at a school meeting, he chooses to help Laura find her younger sister Jenny in the BWCA. Even though both Jed and I know he will be busted by his mother for not attending the meeting, as a reader I am right there in the car with Jed racing down the highway away from the meeting to the BWCA. I feel that in the book, a lot of the time Jed shows care only for himself, but I gain a new respect for him when he demonstrates an out-of-character action. This can be compared to when I gained a new admiration for my older, successful cousin. After years of being unnoticed by her, she invited me to live in Texas with her. This was unexpected act of kindness towards me that gave me a new and positive view on her, just as I felt when Jed acted out of kindness and selflessness.
I struggle to like the character Jenny, Laura’s mentally unstable younger sister; I have mixed emotions about her. In the beginning of the book I wanted to duct tape her mouth shut whenever she speaks. Her favorite action, flicking the middle finger, and her choice of friends, who take drugs regularly, display her outright rebellion towards authority. I am also disgusted with the way she treats her parents by openly talking back and constantly disobeying them. As I read further into the book, I had just about given up hope on this girl. The last tiny bit of sympathy I had for her disappeared when she ran away into the BWCA, which eventually led to Laura dying in the process of rescuing Jenny. In the last few of the chapters in the book though, I saw a drastic change in Jenny. She quits wearing the green wig, comes to visit Jed at his house to try to mend their friendship, and actually invests energy into making sure someone else is doing okay. I was stunned at her turn around, and I re-thought my negative attitude towards her. Up to this point I had been very hard on Jenny, and could not find any trace of morality or love in her. But her turn around demonstrates to me that there is hope for everyone, even if it’s miniscule. The physiological effects the affair brings on the family members, specifically Jenny, leads to the death of a medical team and Laura. A statistic that shows this well is, “Teenagers in single-parent families and in blended families are three times more likely to need psychological help within a given year” („Parental Rights: 10 Shocking Statistics about Children and Divorce”). This is yet another reminder to me that our actions effect people far beyond ourselves. It is heartbreaking to see Laura and an innocent medical team die because of one young girl’s stupid actions. This is another point I in the book where I am torn with emotions. I am angered that Jenny runs away, but as a reader, must also face with the fact that she would not have acted so foolishly if her mother had not torn their family apart.
Overall, I appreciate the realism of this story, and the lessons I learn from watching the characters struggle through life. The largest realization I have is that, “Life will sooner or later show its claws” (Anton Chekhov, on the Claws cover). I love the fact that this story does not sugar coat the harsh reality of life. The characters struggle physiologically, people die, families are torn apart, and life shows no sympathy to its victims. At the end of the story, I was left with a depressed feeling because it does not show a lot of hope that Jed will recover and once again lead a normal life. I waited the whole story to see how Jed would finally put his shattered life back together, but there are no signs that he will. Again, the hard, cold fact hits me that our actions affect others more than we will ever know.
Conflicts and Characters
There are strings connecting all things, animate and otherwise. These strings move and shift, becoming slack or taut, with the objects that connect them. As the string hangs loosely, the objects are free to move about however they desire, but as the string becomes tighter, the objects are restricted in movement and must either work as one or struggle to achieve. This string is the tension between characters. It represents the relationship that they have with each other and how they act and react. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the tension is what allows the characters to grow and exist with one another. Though the stings are invisible, what it represents is real. This representation is important in developing realistic characters. Readers, especially adolescents, seek this tension as a means of relation, as they do in their own life. They need to be able to empathize in order to believe in what they read. Proper and complex character tension is not only important, but also mandatory, in creating a story in which an adolescent falls in love with.
Until reading the Harry Potter series, Rob had, “…never really been able to make it through a book”(Abrahamson). He found most of the books that he was forced to read boring. He felt there was nothing “[he] could relate to”(Abrahamson). It seems to most students in middle and high school that they are forced to read mostly “classic” books, which a lot of adolescents find hard to relate with. These books, although classic for a reason, can be seen as somewhat archaic in the fast-paced world of today. The Harry Potter series fills that void with books that bridge fantasy and reality, while still retaining modern adolescent relationship dynamics, and the common conflict and resolution that all adolescents go through. This is what becomes the driving force in securing readership among adolescents. They get to live a fantasy life, but still see the characters interact in a way that is similar their own lives.
To better illustrate this, an example from The Prisoner of Azkaban demonstrates a specific set of circumstances that represent tension. The three main characters (Harry, Hermione, and Ron) are involved in a situation regarding Harry’s broom, the Firebolt. Harry receives a new broom, anonymously, in the mail, to replace his old broom that was shattered in a prior Quidditch match. His two best friends, who have both been on good terms with Harry, take two opposite positions towards the gift. Ron is immediately enamored with the broom and very happy and enthusiastic, “Malfoy! Wait till he sees you on this!… This is an international standard broom, this is!” He understands the relationship between Harry and the broom and wants to be supportive. This eases tension and forms a sort of ad hoc alliance. Conversely, Hermione is suspect of the broom from the start, thinking it is from Sirius Black; Harry’s alleged would-be killer. Indeed, “Hermione did not appear either excited or intrigued by the news. On the contrary, her face fell, and she bit her lip” (Rowling). She proceeds to go behind Harry’s back and reports it to Professor McGonagall, “Miss Granger just informed me that you have been sent a broom stick…Well, I’m afraid I will have to take this Potter” (Rowling 231). This betrayal results in the alienation of Hermione by Ron and Harry. However, despite being angry, Harry empathizes with what Hermione was trying to do. At the beginning of chapter 12, Rowling writes that, “Harry knew that Hermione had meant well, but that didn’t stop him from being angry with her”(233). This shows that understanding and accepting the tension created is a sign that “adopting the prospective of the other person in a conflict situation may lead to a better understanding of the other’s position…”(de Weid 33-34).
When Rob read this, he sided with Harry and saw her as a traitor, “I feel like she back-stabbed him; I would have been mad.” From that moment on, he was skeptical of what Hermione’s intentions were. As a reader, Rob joined the alliance with Harry and Ron. J.K. Rowling does a wonderful job of making her characters relatable to readers and thus allows them to empathize. She makes a world that mirrors the tension that adolescents have in their real lives. Similar to the characters in Rowling’s books, adolescents in real life handle conflict like this. According to Anupama Joshi, “[They] initially may use habitual or unconscious strategies and, if the conflict does not end, may produce an alternate strategy in response to specific conflict”(134). This is one way that Rowling’s books are great. It shows the diversity in dealing with tension and conflict among peers through empathy and other methods.
According to de Wied, “[Empathy] is thought to promote good communication, and successful conflict management in ongoing relationships”(33). For young readers, this is key to understanding conflict in their own lives. They read such situations and immediately they decide how they would handle the same situation. These acts to empathize and understand the tension between characters in the book, and in within the readers’ own lives, draws the reader in more than a book with unrealistic character tension. “When I read the part about the broom being taken away, I immediately thought how I would have felt if one of my friends had done that to me”(Abrahamson). He went on to explain that when it was all over, he saw Hermione’s point in what she was doing, and no longer felt animosity towards her.
Like all conflict and tension, the dynamics change as new events take place, and people are forced to reassess their previous thought processes. When the broom is given back to Harry in the same condition it was before being confiscated, he can further empathize with Hermione. Harry is able to look back and understand that her intentions were noble, and that she was simply acting as a concerned friend. At the end of the book, when all is well, they find out that it was from Sirius Black, only not with the same false pretenses it had had earlier. They are able to joke about it “’Ha!’ Said Hermione triumphantly. ‘See! I told you it was from him’”(Rowling 432). This shows that through their own individual methods, they reconcile their differences, alleviate the tension, and return to normalcy.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione all deal with an individual tension with each other, and each handle it with unique perspectives. Tension isn’t a single entity; it’s a multifaceted component to the larger spectrum of relationships and interpersonal communications. It involves insight, knowledge, personal experience, etc. Everyone handles each situation differently according to his or her own unique background. Just as every character’s tension with one another is unique, so is that of every reader, and that’s another way they become relatable.
Every reader can relate in some way to each of the characters in Harry Potter. This is what makes the books so good. Readers see the tension and watch the dynamics of how it is handled and see themselves in the same role making their own decisions. To be able to crawl inside a character, to be able speak their words, to be able to see through their eyes, to be able to understand what they think, to be able to go through what they do. This is the mark of highly developed characters. Characters whose tension makes them real to the reader, makes them human. This is what makes superb reading and what makes adolescents turn the page.
Abrahamson, Rob. Personal Interview. 29 June 2011.
de Wied, Minet, Susan J. T. Branje, and Wim H. J. Meeus. “Empathy and Conflict Resolution in Friendship Relations among Adolescents.” Aggressive Behavior 33.1 (2007): 48-55. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 25 July 2011.
Joshi, Anupama. “Conflict Resolution Between Friends During Middle Childhood.” Journal of Genetic Psychology 169.2 (2008): 133-148. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 25 July 2011.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York: Scholastic Press, 1999. Print.