Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jimmy Corrigan- a profound read?

During and after reading Jimmy Corrigan I tried to look for meaning in the text.  To me, it seemed like there was no deep story line, just a recounting of uninteresting events in an ordinary man's life.  I do not see what makes this book distinct in terms of provoking thought because there did not seem to be a message.  What I have been taught in terms of literature analysis is that a great book touches on some fundamental aspect of human nature, and I do not believe this was present in Jimmy Corrigan. I do think there were a few significant moments in the book, but these were rare and not as developed as they could have been (i.e. the relationship between the protagonist and his father, which was conveyed well in very few representative panels).  In terms of the word "protagonist", I think Ware did something interesting (but perhaps unwise) by making Jimmy a character whom with it is difficult to sympathize.  Even though Jimmy is supposed to be a "real" character, it almost seems as if he has too many flaws and, arguably more importantly, no significant positive characteristics, to be considered an appropriate representation of human nature.  I would like to add that I believe Jimmy Corrigan is unlike some of the other memoirs we have read, namely Ghost World.  It may be difficult for us to keep this in mind given our age, but Ghost World was one of the first works to provide an authentic perspective of modern (late 20th century) teen angst.  Also, this book portrayed a character that had more facets to her personality than her tough exterior in much less space (in both pictures and words) than Jimmy Corrigan, who was arguably a more simplistic character.  

I think where Ware excelled, as others have mentioned, is in his art style.  He chooses interesting arrangements and interesting ways of depicting ideas (especially the family trees).  I do not, however, think this powerful and presumably meticulous artwork is an excuse for the shortcomings in the text.  I think the book might have been better served without words, so that at least the reader could have a little opportunity to place meaning in the story of Jimmy Corrigan that was watered down by the text.  I think Ware fell victim to an issue I have seen in other graphic novels- too much emphasis on words.  I think some of the best parts of memoir graphic novels (especially Ghost World and Fun Home) are those with minimal/no words.  Ware's artwork is compelling, and I do not appreciate that he often took away from it with an overuse/misuse of words.  I admit that my exploration of the wordless graphic novel genre for my research project likely is influencing my opinion on this subject, so it would be interesting to hear others' opinions.  What do you think?

1 comment:

Ethan said...

Reading through some of the posts, I see that many people feel that Jimmy Corrigan did not have a coherent plot. While I do not necessarily disagree, I think that to focus on this particular point blinds us to the major underlying theme of the novel, which incidentally serves as a kind of explanation for the seeming randomness of the book.

What is this underlying theme? Perhaps the best clue to the answer lies in the author’s notes after the end of the book. In it, Chris Ware talks about his motivation for writing some of the awkward scenes between Jimmy and his father, specifically mentioning that he modeled it after his conversations with his own estranged father. He also talks about how growing up without a father influenced his life as a whole. I think most would agree that a major theme in the novel is the role of parenting, specifically patriarchal influences, in the development of a child and what happens when such an influence is absent.

The flashbacks in the novel serve to illustrate the cycle of parental negligence that has been running in Jimmy’s family. In the main plot of the flashbacks, Jimmy’s grandfather lives alone with his father (Jimmy’s great-grandfather), who is emotionally distant and has a short temper. We see how Jimmy’s childhood is full of socially awkward and embarrassing events, principally (or so the novel insinuates) as a result of this inattention. The flashback arc concludes with Jimmy’s great-grandfather leaving Jimmy’s grandfather behind at a fair, which is a fitting conclusion to their distant relationship.

In the present, we see how not having a father figure has influenced the present day Jimmy Corrigan. He is a shy, socially awkward man-child whose only source of passable human interaction is his mother. His father openly admits that he had never wanted to have a child, echoing the sentiments of disownment and abandonment of Jimmy’s great-grandfather. The novel seems to imply that this is responsible for what Jimmy has become. At the very end, we see that this extends also to non-male members of the Corrigan family tree. After the official end of the novel, we see two pages that depict Amy Corrigan, Jimmy’s sister, as a lonely person as well (having nowhere else to be but the nursing home on Thanksgiving), though admittedly with social skills intact.

So while the graphic novel traditionally offers a plot in which it makes its points, I think the loose feeling of the lack of a plot in Jimmy Corrigan actually makes the reader think deeper about the meaning of the work. Incidentally, this relative inaccessibility, I believe, gives the work more of an artistic feel than most graphic novels. I do not really understand the viewpoint that the words detracted from the art, seeing how a) the work had significantly less words than any other graphic novel we have read this year (including Fun Home and Ghost World, I believe), and b) as I argued above, the point of the novel is independent of the actual plot, which decentralizes the importance of words.