Thursday, June 24, 2010

ANTAGONIST: One Crazy Summer (Post #5 of 6)

Dear Allyson and Meg,

We haven't talked much about antagonists in the books we've read so far, although we have meet some doozies (the Blackbringer in Laini Taylor's fantasy novel Blackbringer and Wendell in Marcelo in the Real World  come to mind). The antagonist in One Crazy Summer is another doozy: Cecile Johnson, the mother who abandoned the three sisters when the youngest was still nursing.

We readers learn about Cecile through the eyes of our narrator, Delphine, who explains that the term "mother" is
"a statement of fact. Cecile Johnson gave birth to us. We came out of Cecile Johnson. In the animal kingdom that makes her our mother" (p. 14).
Delphine's explanation sounds fairly straightforward and unemotional, but we readers can't help but feel her underlying resentment toward her mother. What I found fascinating here was how the narration clues us in to the possibility that Delphine may not be a completely reliable narrator when it comes to her mother.

Then, of course, we actually meet Cecile when she arrives late at the airport to pick up the children. She looks "more like a secret agent than a mother," Delphine thinks, judging by the way her mother appears dressed in big sunglasses, a scarf, and a hat. We are still in Delphine's head, still seeing Cecile through Delphine's point of view. Is Cecile really so crazy? So horrible? So uncaring?

Rita Williams-Garcia uses Delphine's narration to create questions in the reader's mind before letting us see Cecile in action for ourselves. And when she does, her words and actions clearly show that Delphine's fears were justified. She exhibits no warmth toward the girls, just hustles them into a taxi and takes them home. She mumbles
"I didn't send for you. Didn't want you in the first place. Should have gone to Mexico to get rid of you when I had the chance" (p. 26).
While this statement confuses the girls, they are even more offended when they discover that Cecile has no food for them, offering them a choice between eating "air sandwiches" and walking down the street alone to order take out from Ming's.

What's interesting about Cecile as an antagonist is that she doesn't so much oppose Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern through her actions the way that Wendell in Marcelo in the Real World actively tried to thwart Marcelo. Instead, Cecile's inactions--her lack of motherly warmth and concern--leave the girls off balance and force Delphine to take on more responsibility than an eleven-year-old should have. She is an antagonist because she withholds the very care and emotional connection that the girls crave.

StorySleuths Tip #80: An antagonist can provide opposition to the protagonist through inaction by refusing to interact with the protagonist or withholding emotional connections.

Post #6: Interview with Rita Williams-Garcia