Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Brainwashing that worked

I had to read a lot of short stories in high school and a few of them actually stayed with me ALL this time. There are three in particular that have made lasting impressions and they have all come up in conversations over the years and over the past few days.

The most recently discussed is "The Story of the Five Dollar Lawn." I think the teachers hoped we would be inspired to work harder, go the extra mile, just to prove to ourselves and to others that we could do it. I know that was my goal when I printed it out for my son. This is his take on it "The guy was an idiot. He did an extreme amount of extra work for a one dollar difference. The marginal cost of the 5th dollar was not worth it. Besides, the lawn was just going to be imperfect again the next day. He would have been better off getting another job working for another crazy old lady." I have to wonder if the failure to impress lies somewhere in my presentation of the material. I still need to point out that it was a 20 percent difference, not "just a dollar."

The second one is the one I use when describing Nick as a little boy. I always said I didn't worry about Nick being kidnapped. My boy was just like the kid in "The Ransom of Red Chief." The bad guys would bring him back out of self preservation. Heck, his dad made them pay him before he'd take the kid back. He said the neighbors wouldn't approve.

Last was "The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson. I very carefully avoided rereading it when I looked it up for you and I know they made my son read it, too. This one was, I suspect, intended to teach us not to follow others like sheep. It is the classic anti-peer-pressure story and Damn, did it work on me. Nick didn't need a story to tell him to avoid his peers and crowds. If I did, it was effective. I avoid places where people will get worked up and excited as a group - no rallies or concerts for me. Group think petrifies me because there's no thinking involved. I also tend to instinctively oppose the crowd as a self defense mechanism. I'm not sure Nick needed a story for that, either. He's been oppositional since before he could read.

I'm not sure it's a good sign when all of the short stories you read as a teen are available free on the internet since that means they're all out of copyright.

I have discussed all of them with my son at one time or another. He is particularly on my mind right now because tomorrow he graduates from high school. Sending them off into the big world without us there to protect them is as scary for us as it is for him. I just hope some of the brainwashing worked as well on him as these stories did on me.

2 comments:

Courtney said...

Judy Blume books sufficiently left me petrified of my period... does that count? :) congrats to Nick!

Wendy said...

Courtney, I have been looking for my copy of "Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret" and have been unable to locate it. I really thought it was a great book for Carlan to read! How did you find it scary?

Gnaed, I had Halton read The Lottery as summer reading this summer. I am so happy that you included it! I also gave him We Have Always Lived In the Castle but he seemed to be plodding along so much I changed it to something else. I adored that novel in high school, though!

My change was actually to Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. I'm not a huge fan of his genre but that series has stuck with me as having a bit more meaning for some strange reason. Apparently Halton agreed because his on to Forever Odd (not my favorite Odd but you gotta read them all in order, right?)