Change of Heart by Jodi PicoultThe Messianic Archetype; Commentary on Religion without Faith

(June 10, 2015) This criticism is an overview of the significance of the Biblical allusions and archetype in creating the meaning of the novel as a whole that asking questions and maintaining a personal interest are vital aspects of faith. This criticism also provides an analysis of the theme of redemption and the metaphorical and literal significance of the heart.


In her novel, Change of Heart, Jodi Picoult portrays a convicted murderer as a hero, provides commentary on religion, and focuses on the theme of redemption through the establishment of the main character (Shay Bourne) as the archetypal Christ figure, an examination of the metaphorical and literal significance of a change in heart, and through the use of Biblical allusions.

Published in 2008, this novel is very modern and deals with contemporary issues. Several aspects of the author's life and time period have influenced her writing. Picoult grew up in a supportive family of “non-practicing Jews,” which may have contributed to the religious aspect of her novels. Her care-free, uneventful childhood fostered by two loving parents likely inspired the themes of family and relationships also present in this novel. Her knowledge of many Old and New Testament stories is evident in her work and enhances the subtextual statements about religion.

At the opening of the novel, Shay Bourne’s contradictory motives initiate the motifs of ambiguity and mystery. It is all but obvious why a prisoner waiting on death row should feel compelled to bestow an act of kindness upon the sister of a girl (Elizabeth Nealon) whom he allegedly murdered. Even though he pleads guilty, the other characters cannot help but wonder how a man of such innocent demeanor could have been responsible for the murder of a police officer and the officer’s ten year old daughter. While Shay is fully responsible for murdering both the young girl and her father, neither the jury nor anyone else is ever informed that Claire’s father’s sexual abuse of and intentions to murder Claire. The defense attorney did not allow Shay to tell anyone that his murder of Elizabeth and the officer was not intentionally, but only a defense mechanism, an attempt to save Claire from the murderous rage of her father. Rather than point out that he is not guilty, Shay decides to take the blame for the sins of Claire’s father, even going as far as to die for the cause just like Jesus died for the sins of all mankind. Rather than worrying about his imminent execution, Shay’s primary concern is that he will be allowed to donate his heart to Claire Nealon, a young girl who is in dire need of a heart transplant. However, the situation becomes awkward because Claire is Elizabeth’s sister, thus creating the themes of uncertainty and forgiveness.


One of the recurring themes throughout the novel is Shay’s desire to donate his heart to Claire Nealon. He insists that it is his moral obligation to restore a small portion of joy to the Nealon family, even though he never destroyed it to begin with. By donating his organ, Shay is literally changing Claire’s heart through the transplant process. However, Claire’s mother experiences a metaphorical heart transplant in deciding whether or not to accept Shay Bourne’s donation for her daughter. At first, she is adamant that she would never accept a transplant from a donor who previously murdered two members of her family for fear that her daughter’s personality would change upon housing the heart of a criminal in her tiny chest. June’s anger clouds her judgment, making it impossible to further investigate the situation. However, Claire’s heart is progressively weakening, so June begins to change her mind upon learning that the Shay’s heart is miraculously a perfect match for her eleven year old daughter. Later in the novel, Shay’s sister reveals a secret to June that confirms her decision. Shay’s sister convinces June that Shay is actually a good man who has a habit of sacrificing his life and reputation for the benefit of others. She explains Shay’s side of the story to June, knowing that Shay would never defend himself. June is sickened upon discovering the truth about her husband’s sexual abuse of their daughter, suddenly understanding a myriad of previous mysteries such as finding Claire’s underwear tucked away in the couch. Floods of indignant and pained emotions change the decision in June’s heart so that she can forgive Shay and accept his offer of donation, setting the theme of redemption which connects ties directly to the use of the Messiah archetype.


Picoult establishes similarity between Shay Bourne and Jesus Christ through a physical description. Shay is a 33 year old carpenter who grew up in a town called Bethlehem and has been sentenced to death based a faulty conviction. Shay chooses the execution method of hanging from a wooden gallow rather than lethal injection so that he can be viable as a subject for organ donation. Not only does he sacrifice himself for Claire Nealon, but he also sacrifices himself for the sake of making a statement about capital punishment. His lawyer explaines to him, “Your case is going to shine a beacon on the issue of capital punishment, Shay- but you’ll be the sacrificial lamb” (164). Jesus was also the son of a carpenter, born in Bethlehem, and 33 years old when he was sentenced to crucifixion on a wooden cross, as a sacrifice for all mankind. This comparison yields similarities beyond the realm of coincidence.

Picoult successfully manages to present Shay Bourne as a Christ figure through numerous Biblical references and seemingly miraculous occurrences. While in prison, he performs unexplainable feats which many people begin to label as miracles. Similar to the well-known Bible story of Jesus feeding 5000 people with only one loaf of bread and two fish, Shay is able to appease seven prisoner’s sugar craving with one stick of gum, “..it was reported that Shay had taken one tiny rectangle of Bazooka gum and multiplied it… The gum was magically replicated. But we- the blatantly greedy- balanced the needs of the other seven guys and in that instant found them just as worthy as our own. Which, if you asked me, was an even greater miracle” (135). Not only did Shay perform a supernatural feat, but he also managed to stimulate benevolence and altruism amongst seven malevolent criminals. Also, the prisoners soon learn that the gum possesses a healing property. After chewing the gum, Lucius, a prisoner suffering from HIV, is amazed to feel his symptoms slowly subside as he chews the gum. The following is the initial reaction of the recovered HIV patient:

“At first I could barely stand it- the sweetness against the sores in my mouth, the sharpness of the edges before it softened...I held up my hand, ready to spit the gum out when the most remarkable thing happened: my mouth , my throat, they stopped aching, as if there were an anesthetic in the gum, as if I were no longer an AIDS patient but an ordinary man...” (77)

Picoult has drawn a parallel situation between Shay’s ability to heal Lucius of HIV and Jesus’s ability to cure multiple diseases and disabilities such as leprosy, paralysis, blindness, and deafness as is reported in the New Testament. Shay also seems to have acquired Jesus ability to raise the dead, as he revives what appeared to be a lifeless robin, “In the long run though, it hardly matters how Shay did it. What matters is the result: that we all heard the piccolo trill of that robin; that Shay pushed the risen bird beneath his cell door onto the catwalk, where it hopped, like broken punctuation, toward Calloway’s outstretched hand” (57).

In addition to healing a prisoner of HIV symptoms, satisfying seven sugar-deprived men with one piece of gum, and bringing a bird back to life, Shay also manages to predict a peanut allergy as cause for the warden’s daughter’s fatal illness as well as transform sink water into wine for all the prisoners on death row. Some people even began to label Shay as the Messiah. By suggesting that a criminal could be the Messiah or presenting a murderer as a Christ figure, Picoult has masterfully included the elements of confusion and ambiguity in her novel. Clearly, the idea of a murderer playing the role of Jesus surpasses the realm of human reason, allowing for discussion of and questions about what faith truly encompases.

Picoult reveals other hints such as the revelation of Shay’s real name, Isaiah Matthew Bourne with the initials I.M. Bourne. Reading this abbreviation of the name aloud reveals the phrase I am born, common religious jargon referencing the metaphorical rebirth of the soul after making the decision to follow Christ. Similar to the drops of blood that Jesus sweat on the night before his crucifixion, Shay was “bathed in sweat, which- from the dim crimson light on the catwalk looked like beads of blood”(331). Finally, Shay references coming back three days after his execution which is the exact period of time that Jesus was dead before he arose to life and returned to earth. Picoult is making it very clear that Shay is supposed to represent Jesus Christ. However, this confuses many of the other characters in the novel, especially the Catholic Priest, Father Michael. Working with Shay has caused the priest, who dedicated his life to religion, to question every aspect of his belief. Years of memorizing scripture and attending church every day have only constituted a wavering and uncertain faith for the lost priest. He becomes so confused, that he quits his position and stops going to church. Picoult seems to be commenting on readiness of “religious people”to believe the pastor’s interpretation of the Bible or any religious text without reading it themselves. She is warning against the danger of blindly going through the motions of a religion without truly understanding the faith. She seems to be promoting curiosity in believers so that they can ask and eventually answer the “difficult questions” as well as establish a strong basis for their faith.


(K.T.M. 2015)



Allusion in Jodi Picoult’s Change of Heart
(Essay date 13 June 2014) In this criticism L.S. discusses the allusions in the novel that relate the main character, Shay Bourne, to Jesus Christ and how this contributes to the theme of belief.
The theme of belief is laced throughout the novel, Change of Heart. The author, Jodi Picoult, challenges the beliefs of the reader and the characters in topics of religion, the death penalty, and the goodness of human kind. The biblical allusions of miracles performed by Jesus Christ and the characteristics that both Shay Bourne and Jesus Christ share, force the reader and the other characters, in particular Father Michael, to question whether or not a double-murderer on death row can have the same characteristics as Jesus Christ. Jodi Picoult writes with this purpose, to make her audience question their beliefs, which is a main theme in the novel and several other Picoult books.
The supernatural element of this novel where the inmate, Shay Bourne performs miracles just as Jesus did enhances the theme of belief. It starts from the very beginning in Shay’s jail cell on I-tier, Shay turns the water in this particular section of the prison into wine and no science can prove it. And just pages later Shay is believed to have saved a correctional officer’s daughter from dying. In a conversation between CO Smythe and Shay this exchange is made:
“Listen,” Smythe said. “Last week, you said something to me.”
“Did I?”
“You told me to look inside.” He hesitated. “My daughter’s been sick. Really sick. Yesterday the doctors told my wife and me to say good- bye. It made me want to explode. So I grabbed this stuffed bear in her crib, one we’d brought from home to make going to the hospital easier for her-and I ripped it wide open. It was filled with peanut shells, and we never thought to look there” (44-45).
Smythe’s daughter was simply allergic to peanuts and Smythe believes that Shay knew this and gave him the clue to save his daughter. This is the first account when beliefs are questioned, does Shay have some kind of supernatural power? Or is it just a coincidence? Picoult wants these questions to be asked, the purpose of her novel is to make us question what we believe in, and if what we believe in is correct. The “miracles” performed by Shay escalate. Shay brings a pet bird of one of the other inmates back to life, “it hardly matters how Shay did it. What matters is the result: that we all heard the piccolo trill of that robin; that Shay pushed the risen bird beneath his cell door onto the catwalk…” (57). Shay appears to cure a fellow inmate, Lucius, of AIDS. He also performs his own version of the biblical “loaves and fishes” story with a piece of bubble gum, a single piece is enough for all seven inmates on I-tier. (76-78). These miracles leave us wondering if Shay really is the messiah, if this is purely coincidental, and can someone who committed murder really be the risen Christ?
One character whose beliefs are certainly challenged is Father Michael, a Catholic ordained priest who is appointed to be Shay’s spiritual advisor while he awaits his death. Father Michael goes in with the attitude that “my job here wasn’t to feed into Shay Bourne’s delusional belief . . . only to help him accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior before his execution so that he’d wind up in the Kingdom of Heaven” (110). Michael did not believe that Shay had any kind of holy powers at first. But carrying along with Picoult’s theme of doubting your beliefs, Father Michael begins to consider all the characteristics that make Shay similar to Jesus Christ: Shay is a 33 year old carpenter, his real name is Isaiah Matthew Bourne (both names of biblical significance), his initials are I.M. Bourne (I am born), and Shay quoted the long-lost gnostic gospels (a set of gospels containing quotes directly from Jesus Christ) without ever having read them. This is when Michael begins to doubt his Catholic faith and everything he had learned and dedicated himself to believe in. Michael’s doubt is present in this passage:
There were two ways of looking at any situation. What one person sees as a prisoner’s babble, another might recognize as words from a long-lost gospel. What one person sees as a medically viable stroke of luck, another might see as a resurrection. I thought of Lucius being healed, of the water into wine, of the followers who had so easily believed in Shay. I thought of the thirty-three-year-old man, a carpenter, facing execution. I thought of Rabbi Bloom’s idea-that every generation had a person in it capable of being the Messiah.
There is a point when you stand at the edge of the cliff of hard evidence, look across to what lies on the other side, and step forward. Otherwise, you wind up going nowhere. I stared at Shay, and maybe for the first time, I didn’t see who he was. I saw who he might be. (250)
Not only is Father Michael questioning his beliefs, the reader is questioning who Shay really is as well as the rest of the New Hampshire community where Shay resides. Some are protesting and others are waiting outside the prison for Shay to save their sick family members or heal their wounds. The peculiar abilities that Shay seems to obtain are making people across the globe begin to believe, doubt what they already have been believing, or stop believing all together because how could a man who committed a double-murder be the son of God? These are all questions Picoult wants us to ponder as we read on about Shay’s remarkable powers and his relations and similarities to Jesus Christ.
The final similarity between Shay Bourne and Jesus Christ is that they are willing to die for the sins of others and to save the rest of humankind. According to many religions, Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world. The reader learns that Shay has been falsely convicted of murdering both Elizabeth Nealon and her step-father. When in reality, Shay was in fact saving Elizabeth Nealon from her step-father, Kurt Nealon who had been molesting her. Kurt Nealon was the one originally holding the gun and through trying to save Elizabeth a shot was accidentally fired, killing Elizabeth. The Christ-like characteristic that Shay has at this point in the novel is his willingness to die for the sins of Kurt Nealon in order to give Claire Nealon the heart that she desperately needs to survive. This selfless action that Shay is willing to do in order to save Claire Nealon is paralleled to Christ’s willingness to die to save the world and under the consequences of the sins of others. Father Michael’s reaction to Shay’s confession is:
The pundits who downplayed Shay’s miracles were always quick to point out that if God were to return to earth, He wouldn’t choose to be a murderer. But what if He hadn’t? What if the whole situation had been misunderstood; what if Shay had not willfully, intentionally killed Elizabeth Nealon and her stepfather-but in fact had been trying to save her from him? It would mean Shay was about to die for someone else’s sins. (368)
Father Michael recognizes that this action resembles that of Jesus Christ and is further convinced of the possibility that Shay may be the Messiah. Jodi Picoult instills this same sense of wonder in her readers. She urges the reader to recall what they believe and determine if it is right or wrong and ask questions of their beliefs. This allusion also points to an issue with the death penalty, Shay Bourne is now an innocent man being executed. Picoult includes this to challenge the reader’s beliefs about the death penalty and how valid or invalid the death penalty is. Picoult is raising an interesting point which forces the reader to consider his/her view on different topics like religion and the death penalty. However, along the way Picoult is pointing out that people can believe in something so passionately and sometimes even be forced into questioning it like Father Michael. The author is portraying that this is okay and that questioning your beliefs is natural.
Ultimately, the powerful story of Shay Bourne and his selflessness, courage, and questionable actions deliver the theme that beliefs are something for everyone to have, no matter what the beliefs are. And that sometimes it is okay for a person to question their beliefs or to have varying beliefs from someone else but that both people can still be right and have valid beliefs. The parallel drawn between Shay Bourne and Jesus Christ through allusions in Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult points out and demonstrates this very theme of belief. Belief is a complicated process and it takes a lot of trust to believe in something. For example, Father Michael was so dedicated to his Catholic faith and trusted in it so much that he struggled deeply and was challenged severely with the possibility of Shay Bourne being the Messiah. At every page, Piccoult encourages the reader to stop and consider what he/she just read. She points out the flaws in religion, the flaws in the death penalty, as well as the flaws we share as a human race in being prejudice. She points out these flaws with the intention to make the reader question his/her beliefs. The allusions in this novel contribute to this complex theme of belief and what leads us to trust and believe in them.
(L.S. 2014)




The Original Structure of Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes

In this literary critique, JS analyzes the specific structure of the novel and how greatly it effects the development of the characters and plot.

Nineteen Minutes, one of Jodi Picoult’s many novels, tells the story of a school shooting, and all of the victims of the tragedy. As in many of Picoult’s novels, the structure is very important in character and plot development. The structure of the novel is arguably its most significant quality because of its effect on the storyline. Without the specific structure choices in narration, flashback, and other choices as well, the novel would have provided a much more shallow development of the characters and their resultant actions.

Picoult uses the first person narrative of many different characters to convey that there are many different ways that a person can be the victim of such a tragedy. Mainly, the story follows Josie Cormier, a teenager whose boyfriend was killed in the shooting, but the narration also visits Peter Houghton, the school shooter; Alex Cormier, Josie’s mother and a judge involved in Peter’s trial; Lacy Houghton, Peter’s mother; Patrick Ducharme, the detective investigating the case; Jordan MacAfee, Peter’s defense lawyer; and many other characters that become weaved into the web of the story. The narrative style is very interesting, considering the fact that first person narration typically remains inside the mind of one protagonist. In eliminating the idea of a protagonist and shattering the status quo in terms of narration, Picoult provides a powerful slew of perspective. The emotional effects of such a chilling situation on a society as a whole are illustrated through the thoughts of the different people involved. However, while doing this, Picoult manages to keep enough mystery between the character and the reader to never reveal what actually happened until the final pages of the book. Despite being in the minds of many involved characters, including a witness and the actual criminal, certain details remain hazy even as others are pieced together. When the truth is finally revealed, it is a shock that proves almost unbelievable in merit, but that fits into the story and makes sense from the details that were exposed.

In addition to switching perspective, the novel also alternates every chapter between present time and flashbacks. The flashbacks range from seventeen years before the shooting to the morning before it occurred, as well as returning to the moment the shooting happened after the rest of the story has moved five months past it. Picoult uses these flashbacks to develop many of the characters from way before the event in question to show how they became who they were and point out what past events may have led to the disaster. The case of a murderer becomes more controversial when it is discovered that the crime was an act of revenge against those who tortured him for most of his life. A witness becomes far more significant when her past is interwoven with that of the guilty. Significant details from the past enhance the experience of learning about the present, and this also illustrates Picoult’s use of selection of detail. She flashes back and forth between the present and the parts of the past that contributed to the present. Some of the flashbacks do not even appear to be entirely significant or important to the plot, but each contribute to it, even if a scene only reveals a small character quality that relates to the plot.

Before every chapter of the novel, Picoult provides an excerpt from what appears to be a journal or a suicide note written by Peter Houghton. Each is a chilling look into the mind of the murderer, perhaps because his first person narrative is limited and focuses almost exclusively on his feelings at the present moment instead of the day of the shooting. One particularly disturbing excerpt begins the novel.

“By the time you read this, I hope to be dead. You can’t undo something that’s happened; you can’t take back a word that’s already been said out loud. You’ll think about me and wish that you had been able to talk me out of this. You’ll try to figure out what would have been the one right thing to say, to do. I guess I should tell you, Don’t blame yourself; this isn’t your fault, but that would be a lie. We both know that I didn’t get here by myself. You’ll cry, at my funeral. You’ll say it didn’t have to be this way. You will act like everyone expects you to. But will you miss me? More importantly- will I miss you? Does either one of us really want to hear the answer to that question?” (Picoult 4).

The structure of Jodi Picoult’s novel, Nineteen Minutes, is possibly the most significant aspect of the story because it adds so much to the plot and characters. Without the unconventional narration, flashbacks, and writing excerpts, many of the characters would be poorly developed and the story would be much less powerful. Through all of these aspects, a central motif of the novel is clearly illustrated: sometimes the villain is a victim himself.
(JS 2011)

The Ten Levels of The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
In this literary criticism, JS analyzes each of Dante’s levels of Hell alluded to in the novel, and how each one relates to the storyline of the novel.
Jodi Picoult’s The Tenth Circle is a novel about Daniel Stone, a freelance comic book artist and the father of fourteen-year-old Trixie Stone, and his relatively normal family. Normal, that is, until Trixie comes home from a party one night claiming to have been raped by her former boyfriend, Jason Underhill, turning her father’s whole world upside down. Structure, again, is important in this novel. Daniel’s wife, Laura, is the professor of a course on Dante’s Inferno at a local college. His first independent comic book, “The Immortal Wildclaw,” which he is writing simultaneously with the rest of the storyline, features Duncan, a father much like himself, who travels through the nine circles of Hell to rescue his kidnapped daughter. Although he has no control over his transformations, each time Duncan does become Wildclaw, a part of him remains the beast that he changes into. As the real story goes on, the novel is interspersed with pages of Daniel’s comic book, which proves to be very similar to his real life. Each of the circles, including the tenth circle of his own creation, holds an aspect of Daniel’s life that is significant to the story. This helps to show how Daniel is affected by these events and characters.
The first circle of Dante’s portrayal of Hell is for the non-believers. This is where those who are sinless except for their refusal of Christ are held. Dante gives them a Heaven in Hell, but one only as good as their human minds could conceive because in life that is all they could hope for. Picoult condemns them to a more demonic existence as “formless, nihilistic shadows” (Picoult 59). The town that rallied around Jason instead of believing Trixie could be considered to symbolically fall into this category because Jason was easier to believe.
The second level of Hell is that of the adulterers. This crime is considered so low on the totem pole of damnation because it is a crime of passion. Dante ranks these sins much lower than those that the sinner thought about and planned. Adulterers are doomed to be joined together for eternity. Laura clearly lives in this circle of Hell after her affair with one of her students.
Dante’s next circle is for the gluttonous. They are forced to spend forever in a vile slush that rains upon them eternally. This circle is guarded by Cerberus, the large three-headed dog of Greek mythology. Gluttony can be observed in the actions of Laura in her affair. Although the automatic first choice would be to place this sin in the circle of lust, it could also be considered a crime of gluttony because she continues her affair for an extended period of time implying that some thought must have been put into the decision. Lust is only the second level of Hell because it is a crime of passion, but Dante is less kind to crimes that are more premeditated.
The fourth circle of Dante’s Hell is for the greedy. The sinners on this level suffer a lack of individuality and eternal poverty. Greed is found in this novel especially through Seth Dummerston, Laura’s student and lover, who apparently moonlights as a drug dealer. He distributes to anyone who will buy, including Laura’s fourteen-year-old daughter. These actions can only be explained by greed, as he is willing to sacrifice morality and law in order to make money.
The fifth circle of Inferno is the Swamp of the Styx, which houses the wrathful. They are found fighting each other for an eternity without joy. Daniel believes that not only is this what he used to be, but who he will become again as the problems of his life unfold. After learning to control his anger over many years, the hatred that Daniel feels toward Jason Underhill once again brings out his wrathful side.
“For someone who had never given himself over to rage, it would be hard to understand. But for Daniel, it felt like shrugging on an old, soft suede coat that had been buried so deep in his closet he was certain it had long ago been given away to someone else who needed the cover. Lucid thought gave way to utter feeling. His body started to burn; his own anger buzzed in his ears. He saw through a crimson haze, he tasted his own blood, and still he knew he could not stop. As he gloried in the scrape of his knuckles and the adrenaline that kept him one step ahead, Daniel began to remember who he used to be” (211).
The sixth circle of Hell is for the heretics. Those who are guilty of this crime are punished by being entombed in flames. An example of heresy in this novel is Jason’s haunting of Trixie after his death. She sees his ghost on a regular basis, and the heresy of this is especially evident during his funeral. As the pastor repeatedly quotes the bible, Trixie endures an experience where Jason’s ghost is raping her. “His breath fell onto her lips, but he tasted of worms. His fingers bit so hard into her wrists that she looked down and saw only his bones, as the flesh peeled away from him” (258). Even at Jason’s funeral, amidst many blessings of the dead, Trixie is haunted by the image of his corpse raping her.
Dante’s seventh circle of Hell is reserved for the violent. There are three branches of this level: for those who are violent against people and property, for those who were violent against themselves (suicides), and for those who are violent against God and nature (blasphemers and sodomites). Picoult focuses on the branch of suicides, which have been transformed into gnarled bushes and trees off the branches of which their own mangled bodies hang. These are the only souls to whom Dante does not grant bodily resurrection on the final judgment day, because they have already surrendered their bodies in suicide. Jason Underhill is obviously the person that Daniel places in this circle because of his alleged suicide. Despite the fact that the suicide is eventually determined a homicide, Jason’s assumed suicide had a great effect on the entire Stone family, particularly Daniel, who had beaten and threatened Jason on multiple occasions before his death.
The eighth circle of Dante’s Hell is for the fraudulent. This circle is split into ten branches, the first of which being the branch of the panderers (pimps) and the seducers. These sinners are made to march for all of eternity, as punishment for using the passions of others for their own personal gain. One of the seducers that Dante meets here is Jason, who seduced Medea and Hypsipyle (both of Greek mythology) for personal gain, and later abandoned both. Picoult may have been alluding to this Jason through the character of Jason Underhill. Trixie views Jason this way throughout the novel, especially when he begins to date Jessica Ridgeley right after their breakup. She fears that Jason was only using her while they were together, just like Dante’s Jason.
The ninth and final circle of Dante’s Hell is for those who committed the sin of treachery. There are four branches of this circle, representing treachery against family, treachery against political entities, treachery against guests, and treachery against lords and benefactors. These criminals are doomed to be frozen in an icy lake for eternity. In the center of this level of Hell lives Satan himself, for his sin of betraying God. Dante’s theory about the reason that Satan fell, according to Picoult, was that the whole thing started with a disagreement. “One day God turned to his buddy Lucifer and said that he was thinking of giving those cool little toys he created- namely, people- the right to choose how they acted. Free will. Lucifer thought that power should belong to only angels. He staged a coup, and he lost big-time” (25). Many characters in this story could be considered guilty of treachery. Laura could be said to have betrayed her husband and the sanctity of a student- teacher relationship by engaging in an affair with one of her students. It could be argued that Jason had betrayed Trixie by raping her. Perhaps Zephyr, Trixie’s best friend, betrayed her by not believing Trixie or supporting her in her time of need.
Instead of stopping at the ninth circle as Dante did, Picoult adds a final circle of Hell. This is the circle to which Duncan is sent in order to complete or fail his mission. In order to rescue his daughter and leave Hell alive, he must first find himself. He enters a room where he is surrounded by mirrors, each portraying a different version of him. To win, he must shatter all of the mirrors but the one showing the true him. In doing this, Duncan discovers that he has become exactly what he was afraid of becoming, but when at last he is reunited with his daughter, it does not matter. She recognizes him as what he has become for her, and they go home together.
The graphic novel portion of The Tenth Circle allows Daniel to portray his true feelings about many of the people and situations in his life. Through his alter-ego protagonist, Duncan, he is able to express the way that all of this has affected him, sometimes making direct connections between the graphic novel and his life, for example, using his wife as a model for a demon of adultery. Picoult uses each level of Hell to show what Daniel and his family have been through throughout the novel.
(JS 2011)

Nineteen Minutes: Imagery

P.H. discusses the powerful use of imagery by Picoult to simulate a vivid harsh display.
Nineteen Minutes tells the catastrophic story of a school shooting. Picoult uses imagery to provide a very realistic sensory experience. Picoult uses incredibly graphic diction to build the effective imagery. This contributes to the work as a whole by making the story relatable and therefore allowing for a more intimate reading.

When the detective on the case of the Sterling High Shooting, Patrick Ducharme, thinks about when he was asked to confess the "worst thing he'd ever seen," repulsive imagery is used in the following

He'd answered truthfully--back when he was in Maine, and a guy committed suicide by tying himself with wire to the train tracks; the train had literally cleaved him in two. There had been blood and body parts everywhere; seasoned officers reached the crime scene and starting throwing up in the scrub bush. Patrick had walked away to gain his composure and found himself staring down at the man's severed head, the mouth still round with a silent scream (44)

This disgusting imagery communicates the horror of this scene. Picoult provides the clear image of death and alarm by writing specific details. Picoult includes the material the man used to kill himself, the regurgitation of the officers in disgust, and the shocking severed head with a scream still on the face to portray an amazingly powerful scene. Yet this scene is only used as an emphasis for the tragic, catastrophic scene at Sterling High when the shooting takes place, as revealed with, "That was no longer the worst thing Patrick had ever seen" (44). After constructing such a surprising image, Picoult announces that it only gets worse, and then presents more terribly sad imagery.

There were still students streaming out of Sterling High as teams of EMTs began canvassing the building to take care of the wounded. Dozens of kids had minor cuts and bruises from the mass exodus, scores were hyperventilating or hysterical, and even more were in shock. But Patrick's first priority was to take care of the shooting victims, who lay sprawled on the floor from the cafeteria to the gymnasium, a bloody trail that chronicled the shooter's movements. The fire alarms were still ringing, and the safety sprinklers had created a running river in the hallway (45)

Picoult creates such an array of chaos with this imagery that every sense is affected; the sight of blood and bodies everywhere is provided, the sound of panicked breathing and an urgent fire alarm, the feel of cold safety sprinklers and of the "shudder" that went through his body. Picoult establishes such a traumatic feeling through the intense imagery. The terror and shock is palpable and it makes for a highly relatable and compelling novel.

(P.H. 2011)

My Sister's Keeper: Point of View and Symbolism

In the following, P.H. analyzes how the author, Jodi Picoult, uses point of view to provide a better understanding of the major characters and how Picoult uses symbolism to emphasize important parts of the novel.

Point of view is utilized all throughout this novel as a means of opening a window into the heart and minds of the major characters. The novel contains chapters that are titled with the names of a major character, and are then written from the first-person point of view of that character. This greatly increases the understanding of all the different perspectives and emotions that are part of any situation; in this case, Anna Fitzgerald's act of suing her parents for medical emancipation with the supposed hope that she will not have to donate a kidney to her sister afflicted with cancer, Kate.

In My Sister's Keeper, the characters who narrate alternately are Campbell Alexander (the lawyer), Julia Romano (the guardian ad litem), Sara Fitzgerald (the mother), Brian Fitzgerald (the father), Jesse Fitzgerald (the oldest child), Kate Fitzgerald (the child with cancer), and Anna Fitzgerald (the main character). Picoult use first-person point of view for the major characters to communicate their feelings. This adds greatly to the novel as a whole by fully developing the complexity of such a severe circumstance. Where Jesse may appear to be an out-of-control young man from another character's point of view, the use of this literary device displays Jesse's true inner turmoil and the reasons he acts out. Jesse is not just some crazy rebel, but a boy wracked with the hurt, stress, and disappointment of having a sister with a terminal illness and the knowledge that he can do nothing to help her. Jesse acts out because he is neglected and feels powerless. The actual character is very complicated and this important aspect of the novel would not be known without Picoult's use of point of view.
Picoult enriches My Sister's Keeper with symbols as well. This can be shown in passages such as

When I was seven I got it in my head to dig to China. How hard could it be, I figured--a straight shot, a tunnel? I took a shovel out of the garage and I started a hole just wide enough for me to slip into. Every night I would drag the old plastic sandbox cover across it, just in case of rain. For four weeks I worked at this, as the rocks bit into my arms to make battle scars, and roots grabbed at my ankles.
What I didn't count on were the tall walls that grew around me, or the belly of the planet, hot under my sneakers. Digging straight down, I'd gotten hopelessly lost. In a tunnel, you have to light your own way, and I've never been very good at that.
When I yelled out, my father found me in seconds, although I'm sure I waited through several lives. He crawled into the pit, torn between my hard work and my stupidity. 'This could have collapsed on you!' he said, and he lifted me onto solid ground.
From that point of view, I realized my hole was not miles deep after all. My father, in fact, could stand on the bottom and it only reached up to his chest.
Darkness, you know, is relative. (193)

This scene of a reckless, young boy is indeed very meaningful. In the passage, Jesse is seven years old, and has yet to hit the point in his life where he is engaging in major criminal activity. There is a symbol, however, of Jesse's future behavior and the parts of his personality that lead to it. Jesse drags "the old plastic sandbox" over his mischievous plan to escape, the tunnel. The sandbox is a symbol of childhood and innocence, the very things that Jesse is beginning to lose in his life. The covering of the hole with the sandbox is reflective of Jesse's apparent innocence and the deep hole of pain growing inside him. The tunnel that he is digging deeper and deeper is symbolic of the path of crime he goes down; emersing himself in digging to relieve himself from the reality. This is precisely what Jesse does when he is older. He tries to escape and in the process digs himself so deep, he cannot get out alone. His father has to retrieve him from this darkness when he is seven and later in the novel when he discovers that Jesse is performing criminal acts. The phrase "you have to light your own way, and I've never been very good at that" reflects Jesse poor judgement and inability to take care of himself sufficiently as a young adult as well as a child.

Another very evident symbol used by Jodi Picoult is that of rain signifying change. At the end of the novel, Anna Fitzgerald is tragically killed in a car accident. Directly before this takes place, almost every character begins their chapter with the words "it's raining." Before it is even disclosed that Anna is dead, the rain immediately sets the tone for change. As the announcement of Anna's death draws close, the "rain, if possible, comes down even harder" (411). It is a symbol of the drastic altering of the lives of every character, especially those of her family members. The intensity of the rain increases as a symbol of the horrific change that takes place.

(P.H. 2011)

My Sister's Keeper

Jodi Picoult



[(essay dated June 10, 2010) In this literary criticism of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper, E.B. analyzes the author's process of weaving a story based on individual philosophies dealing with control over one's life, carefully using first person perspective to allow characters to reason through the struggle of a terminally ill child, meanwhile dealing with concepts of what is right and wrong.]




My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult is a novel written from several first person perspectives on one of the most conflicting scenarios anyone can be presented with: death. It explores the complex moral struggle of the Fitzgerald family, faced with the reality of a dying daughter and sister, Kate, and her genetically specific sibling, Anna who possesses the ability to save her life. At age two, Kate was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. Without an exact genetic match in her older brother Jesse, or her parents Sara and Brian, Kate will ultimately die from a disease, almost literally, physically deteriorating her body. Intending to guarantee the health of their daughter, her parents go through genetic counseling to ensure a match in their third child, Anna. In the face of their own desperate attempts to save Kate, Brian and Sara neglect to take into consideration the physical, mental, and emotional demands that Anna will have to face as a donor to her older sister. The main conflict arises as Anna makes the decision to medically emancipate herself with the help of Campbell Alexander, almost definitively sealing the fate of Kate in the process. Jodi Picoult weaves a story based on individual philosophies dealing with control over one's life, carefully using first person perspective to reason through the struggle of a terminally ill child. Moreover, Picoult contemplates the inability to create harmony between what is ideal and tangible paired with the fine line between right and wrong.

The first person perspective of Anna Fitzgerald is critical to the plot of the story. Ultimately on a mission to emancipate herself medically as to no longer continue bone marrow transplants, cell evaluation, shots, surgery, and sickness associated with being a donor, Anna makes the conscious decision to essentially end her sister's life. Although still a child, Anna perceives her identity to only be closely associated with her sister's sickness. -

"It made me wonder, though, what would have happened if Kate had been healthy. Chances are, I'd still be floating up in Heaven or wherever, waiting to be attached to a body to spend some time on Earth. Certainly I would not be part of this family. See, unlike the rest of the free world, I didn't get here by accident. And if your parents have you for a reason, then that reason better exist. Because once it's gone, so are you." (Picoult 1-2)

There is a fine line between the perception about what is right and wrong in the novel. Is it truly wrong for a young girl to want to live independently from a sickness that is not hers, yet defines her? Conversely, is it an unfathomable injustice for Anna to seal the death of her terminally ill sister by emancipating herself, knowingly and willingly refusing to provide Kate with the essentials to life? Anna Fitzgerald is not an unfeeling, unloving sister. The first person perspective proves this. She shares a bond with her older sister who literally has Anna's blood flowing through her veins, and cannot be seen as a malicious person with ill intentions towards anyone. In order to understand Anna's perspective, it's critical to consider the sacrifices she has made in her life in order to fulfill her duty as her sister's lifeline. She admits that Kate's death could possibly be the best thing to happen to her. First person perspective allows the reader to gain insight into her thought process which softens the reader to Anna's profound decision to emancipate herself. The reader comes to understand situations of Sara forcing Anna to leave her friend's birthday party in order to take Kate to the hospital, Anna's inability to attend hockey camp despite her talent and desire because of Kate's need for bone marrow, and Anna's realization that she will not be able to attend college, or lead a normal life as long as her sister exists in it. The struggle that Anna faces as some look upon her act of emancipation with disbelief details her inability to reconcile what is tangible for her own life and what is ideal. In a perfect world, Anna would be fulfilled by her donations to her sister, as symbolized by the locket given to Anna by her parents after a particularly grueling transplant. She is supposed to feel a sense of duty to her sister in a perfect world, selflessly giving parts of herself to keep Kate alive. However, Anna makes it clear that she can no longer dedicate her identity to her sister's sickness, and sells her locket in order to pay for Campbell Alexander's services. The simple reality of Anna taking control of her own life does not satisfy everyone's wishes, yet Anna finds resolve despite the ridicule she faces.
Is it wrong for parents to essentially design a child with the full intention of submitting him or her to a lifetime of prodding and poking to save another child? Sara and Brian Fitzgerald represent two characters that struggle with the central theme of the inability to create harmony between what is ideal and tangible paired with the fine line between right and wrong. When Sara Fitzgerald realizes Anna's intention to emancipate herself, she struggles for control over her life, which seemingly revolves around the health of her daughter, Kate. Ultimately, Sara cannot perceive Anna's claim of emancipation to be a legitimate one, instead dismissing it as a cry for attention. As a mother, Sara is motivated, first, by the desire to control the life of Kate in terms of her survival. From the time Sara was pregnant with Anna, she thought of her in terms of Anna's specific gene combination which would allow her to be a donor for Kate. On the same hand, from the time Anna was born, she begins to give herself to Kate, symbolically and physically. Umbilical cord blood is harvested from Anna, which turns out to be Sara's main focus, instead of focusing independently on the birth of another member of her family.

"The baby's head slips through the seal of my skin. The doctor's hand holds her, slides that gorgeous cord free of her neck, delivers her shoulder by shoulder. I struggle to my elbows to watch what is going on below. "The umbilical cord," I remind him. "Be careful." He cuts it, beautiful blood and hurries to a place where it will be preserved for Kate". (Jodi Picoult 104)

Sara does not consider the idea that Anna could be genuinely unhappy with being Kate's donor, reconciling her own desperate desire to keep Kate alive with how she perceives Anna should feel. The first person perspective of the novel allows the reader to understand that, like Anna, Sara is not an evil person for trying to grasp onto the only control she has over her life. In the face of a terminally ill daughter whose life is filled with uncertainty, Sara grasped that control by deciding to have Anna. Because Anna has decided to take control into her own hands, Sara is forced to examine the fine line of right and wrong. She is put up against Campbell Alexander in court, against her own daughter in order to secure rights to her body, perhaps for her own selfish desire to keep Kate alive, as perceived by first person narration. Sara struggles with the ideal of keeping Kate alive, with the reality that Anna does not share the same rigor to preserve Kate's life.

Sara's husband, Brian, is deeply conflicted by the lines of right and wrong. He loves his daughter deeply, and recognizes that she is genuinely unhappy being a donor for Kate. His main struggle consists of whether to support Anna in her emancipation, or identify with Sara who sees the lawsuit as indulging Anna's need for attention. Brain Fitzgerald recognizes his wife's deep desire to keep Kate alive, however he agrees to testify on behalf of Anna in court for her medical emancipation. Is it perhaps more unjust to help seal Kate's death by supporting Anna, or to ignore Anna's cry for independence? He is one character who cannot find an ideal outcome, based on his conflicting feelings toward the lawsuit. Brian has virtually no control over his personal life concerning Anna and Kate, instead preferring to escape his complicated home life by working as a firefighter. In this sense, he is able to gain some sort of control over his life by extinguishing even the most uncontrollable fires, and saving lives. Jesse Fitzgerald, Kate's brother, similarly possesses little control over the situation concerning his terminally ill sister. Although Jesse's destructive behavior, namely setting buildings on fire, is a clear cry of unrest, he never directly communicates a clear reason as to why he engages in such behavior. However, through examination of his relationships with his sisters in first person perspective, the reader is able to better understand that just as Brian extinguishes fire for control, Jesse creates fires as a form of control. Jesse cares deeply for his sister Kate, never hesitating to take her to the hospital, or for example, offering his own kidney to her. When his kidney is rejected as a match, he becomes angry and self-destructive, correlating his inability to help his sister with worthlessness. On the other hand, Jesse identifies with Anna as a person who has no control over her own destiny, symbolized by a situation Jesse presents where he and Anna are both enthralled by a lit match. Ultimately, Anna lacks identity because she has always been Kate's donor, just as Jesse lacks identity because he cannot help Kate. Jesse's struggle between what is ideal and what is tangible is marked by his desperate, yet futile attempt to help Kate.

(EB 2010)



The Pact

Jodi Picoult


[(essay dated June 10, 2010). In this literary criticism of Jodi Picoult's The Pact, E.B. analyzes the use of flashback narration used by the author to create a story based on dimensions of grief, specifically focusing on Emily Gold's decision to end her life, and the subsequent affliction plaguing her parents."]


The Pact, written by Jodi Picoult is a novel written in a series of flashback and present tense narration, detailing the tragic events of the life and alleged suicide of Emily Gold. It explores the complex issue of assisted suicide, and grief, tracing a tangible path towards Chris Harte's ultimate decision to fulfill his lover's desire to help kill herself. Chris Harte and Emily Gold have been destined to be together from the time they were born, bonded by their mother's friendship and their longtime relationship, dating back to a time before they were even able to talk. When tragedy strikes, and Emily Gold ends up dead in the hospital, with Chris Harte as the only witness to her alleged suicide, suggestions of Chris's involvement surface to a full blown murder accusation. The novel follows the main plot, the arrest and trial of Chris Harte in the present tense, supported by subplots in flashback style narration. Moreover in the use of this literary technique, Jodi Picoult weaves a story based on the dimensions of grief, specifically focusing on Emily Gold's decision to end her life, and the subsequent affliction plaguing her parents.

The subplot of the text is an extremely important aspect to understanding the dimensions of grief which surface in the novel. Emily Gold, Chris's girlfriend, specifically experiences events in her life which lead her to the conclusion of ending her life.

"His breath falls into my mouth, the only air I have. His hands start at my ankles and slide up my shins, pulling them apart like a vise, and I know what is coming as his fingers stab into me. He won't let me close my legs, he won't let me curl away." (Jodi Picoult 173-174)

Through the flashback narration, the reader comes to understand that Emily was sexually assaulted as a child; a fact that she confided in no one. The effects of the molestation become evident as the novel progresses, as posed by the discomfort she feels engaging in sex with Chris, and her fear of intimacy. Additionally, Emily becomes pregnant after having sex with Chris, leading to another point of conflict within Emily. Not only can she not get an abortion, stemming from the fact that the abortion doctor is male, and thus she cannot go through the procedure due to her intense fear of men, but she begins to question her affection for her boyfriend. The flashback narration in particular allows the reader to gain insight into the longtime relationship between Emily and Chris. Because the author focuses heavily on the childhood friendship between the two characters, it becomes clear that Emily Gold essentially has sisterly feelings towards him. In particular, a flashback solidifies these emotions to Emily in the memory of a break in the relationship between Chris and Emily, when Chris decides to date another girl. She longs for his presence, but fully realizes that her need for Chris is more as a friend, than a lover. This point of contention is exemplified by her unwillingness to tell Chris about her pregnancy, fearing that Chris will insist on marrying her, despite her feelings. Emily Gold's recollection of her past allows the reader to fully grasp the intensity of her grief.

The subsequent affliction after Emily's supposed suicide is tremendous, and multi-dimensional. Her parents and the Harte family are utterly devastated by the events. However, flashback narration on two fronts allows the reader to gain insight into the conflict which arises between Michael and Melanie Gold. Melanie Gold's grief allows her to cling to memories of her daughter, painting her in a light which reflects an impossibility of suicide. To Melanie, Emily was nothing but happy, in love, smart, talented, and looking forward to a prestigious college experience. She thus accuses Chris of absolute murder before case investigation or a court trial has even begun, dismissing Chris's claims that it was a suicide pact gone wrong. Even after Chris is found not guilty in court, Melanie seemingly cannot accept any other notion about what happened but her own. Michael Gold, her husband, finds solace in another point of recollection. He refuses to believe that Emily was murdered, instead focusing on the relationship between Chris and Emily, drawing an impossibility about what occurred, just as his wife does. Specifically, he remembers witnessing Emily and Chris's first kiss, and clings to the idea that Chris could not have possibly taken his daughter's life maliciously. Additionally, Michael Gold recollects instances when Emily and Chris were young. When Emily stumbled and fell, physically inuring herself, Chris would cry as if he was also affected by the pain that Emily felt. In this light, the reader is able to take in the consideration that Chris felt the emotional pain Emily did, and thus the notion of a suicide pact gone wrong is legitimate.

(E.B 2010)




Vanishing ActsJodi Picoult: Finding your identity

[(Essay dated June 10, 2010) In the following criticism, T.S. discusses the search to find an identity when everything that you thought you knew about yourself was a lie. She also focuses on the use of racial stereotypes to discuss the importance of names when it comes to identity.]

“What you’re called is hardly ever who you are” (Picoult 221)

In Picoult’s Vanishing Act, the age old question of “What’s in a name?” is asked yet again. For thirty-two year old Cordelia Hopkins, life gets confusing when her father is taken to jail for kidnapping her when she was just four years old. Suddenly all that Cordelia thought she knew about herself is false, including the name she’s used for twenty-eight years. Bethany Matthews is who Cordelia used to be, and as Cordelia journeys back to her “home”, she also embarks on a journey to find who she is and who she was. So the question is who is Cordelia? How can she establish an identity when she can’t even remember anything about her mom and the childhood she had before the kidnapping. As Cordelia learns who her mother is, and who she used to be (an alcoholic), she gets even more confused. Her mother is Elise Vasquez, married to Victor, the man with whom she cheated on Andrew Hopkins, Cordelia’s father, with. In court, Cordelia learns more and more about her past, and why her father stole her away from her alcoholic mother and her child-molesting boyfriend, Victor. As Cordelia learns more about her childhood, she starts to remember bits and pieces, she starts to learn who she really is.
Picoult uses Cordelia’s father in prison to create a parallel journey of finding an identity as Andrew Hopkins learns that in prison, what the color of your skin is affects how you will be treated, and people aren’t always who they seem.

“Who I am, and what I am capable of doing, has always managed to surprise me (294)

Andrew Hopkins used to be a vital part of his community, used to help all those around him in need, but in prison, he did things he never would have imagined doing. The first day he is in prison, Andrew stands up to the leader of the Aryan Brotherhood. Later, he takes the blame for his roommate, a black, who he considers a friend, even though races don’t mix in prison. Andrew finds himself involved in the dealing of Meth, to help his roommate save money for his son. What Andrew did in prison, were things he never would have done outside in the real world. His identity gets mixed up as well, as he fights to be true to himself, even though he doesn’t know what he, himself is capable of.

“These are words we use to refer to one another: Forty Ounce, Baby G, Buddhe, C. Bone, Half Dead, Deuce, Trigga, Tastee Freak, Preacher, Snowman, Floater, Alley Cat, Huero, Demon, Little Man, Tavo, Thumber, Bow Wow, Pinhead, Boo Boo, Ichabod, Chicago Bob, Pit Bull, Slim Jim, Die Hard”
“In Jail, everyone reinvents himself. You would never call a guy by any name except the one he gives you. Otherwise, you might remind him of the person he used to be” (200-201)

In jail, Andrew Hopkins wasn't the respected member of the community he once was, he was treated as a criminal, and he became who he wanted to be, he reinvented himself. Andrew said, “I peeled off the skin of the person I’ve pretended to be” (52), meaning in jail, he wasn’t that man he pretended to be for so long. In jail, it would seem his moral compass went awry with the things he got involved in, but he learned that things are never black and white, there’s always another side to the story. Like his roommate, Concise, a member of the Crips, who got involved with drug dealing to save money for his son, whose mother OD’d. Or when it seems that Andrew stole his daughter away from a loving mother, when in reality that same mother was an alcoholic with a boyfriend who touched her daughter inappropriately. Things aren’t always what they seem, and you
can never judge a book by its cover.

“In jail, a black inmate will call a white inmate a peckerwood, cracker, honky, redneck. He’ll call a Mexican a spic. A white inmate will call a black inmate a nigger, a monkey, a spook, a toad. He’ll call a Mexican a beaner. A Mexican will call a black inmate miyate, which means big black bean; or yanta, tire; or terron, shark. He’ll call a white inmate a gringo. In jail, everyone comes with a label. It’s up to you to peel it off” (190)
“Now that we’re dressed alike, we are all reduced to the same bottom line. There is nothing to differentiate the guy who shoplifted an electric razor from the one who slashed a gang members’ throat with a straight edge. We cannot tell one another apart, and this is both a blessing and a curse” (100)
The names mentioned above are just that; names. A name does not define a person. In jail, the different races have names for each other, but the thing is, they are all the same, they are all criminals who have stories behind what they did, and who they are is not defined by the color of their skin. A name does not determine who a person is, it’s the choices they make, who they choose to befriend, what they choose to do, those are what define a person. Cordelia and Bethany are one in the same, because no matter which name she is called, it is still her, she made the choices that defined her.

People are not always who they seem. You can see those who are sent to jail as real criminals, but they have stories too, and we all have a little criminal in us. It is not up to others to define us, they may call us names, but it is up to us to decide who we want to be. Just because your called something doesn’t make it true. Picoult used racial stereotypes and Andrew’s stint in prison to show that people can define themselves, they don’t have to let other people define who they are. Picoult used Cordelia’s search for the truth to show that names don’t define a person, it is the choices they make that define who they are.
(T.S. 2010)

Change of HeartJodi Picoult: Confined in misery

[(Essay dated June 10, 2010) In this criticism, T.S. discusses the confinement of the main character, whether its within his prison cell or his own body, and how it relates to the work as a whole]

“If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.” (Picoult 219)

These words, quoted from the Gnostic Gospels, are some of the very few words that Shay Bourne, the main character, says. Shay Bourne is a convicted murderer of a little girl and her step father, he was sentenced to death because of these crimes. Eleven years after his sentencing, Shay Bourne is still alive, yet to fulfill his sentence of the death penalty. Shay wants to give his heart to the sister of the girl he “killed”. Claire Nealon is the sister of the girl Shay killed. She has a heart defect, where her heart stops, and sometimes it doesn’t restart itself. Shay’s spiritual advisor, Father Michael said, “Shay has taken a very literal interpretation of this (resolution) – he took a child’s life; therefore he owes that mother the life of a child” (163). June is Claire’s mother, the one Shay took everything from, and she still resents him, enough that at first, she doesn’t want to take the heart because Shay wants to give it so badly.

“I have to get out of here” - Shay “At first I thought that he was talking about the prison, but then I saw he was clutching his own arms, as if the penitentiary he was referring to was his own body” (165)

Shay felt that he had to die, he wanted to die, to give his heart to Claire. He feels trapped inside his own body, his prison is not the cell he lives in, but the body he is in, he needs to escape; he needs to die to get rid of what is within him that is killing him. Ironically, the thing that is killing him is his own heart. “I have to save her…I’m the one who took the most away from her, I have the most to give back to her… It’s about clearing the slate” (338). He can’t take no for an answer, he doesn’t want to save himself, even though he could, he only wants to save Claire, and in the process save June as well.
Father Michael said, “Shay wanted to die. He wasn’t just giving Claire Nealon a future; he was giving one to her mother, too. He wasn’t trying to save the World, like me. Just one life at a time – which is why he had a fighting chance of succeeding“ (380).
“I didn’t do anything with my life, except hurt the people I loved. But dying – dying will be different…They’ll see their lives are worth living” (381). Shay feels the only way he will be happy is knowing that a little girl and her mother will be saved because of him, the one who accidentally took away the two of the three things June loved most in the world. Shay says he hurt the people he loved, and what he means by that is he was never able to save them, he was always too late. With his sister Grace, Shay found out their foster father was raping her too late, and he couldn’t stop her from setting the fire that killed their foster fire, and claimed part of Grace’s face. With June’s first daughter Elizabeth, Shay couldn’t stop her stepfather from molesting her, he was too late. “It was still my fault. I tried to rescue her, and I couldn’t. I wasn’t there in time…After Elizabeth…afterward…it was bad enough that June wouldn’t have them anymore. I didn’t want her to lose the past, too. Family’s not a thing, it’s a place, it’s where all the memories get kept”(380). When he did try to stop it, he ended up hurting Elizabeth as well as her stepfather, and although he tried to bring her back with his special Green Mile- like abilities, he could not, he was too late. Shane’s special abilities to “heal” was another reason why he was trapped. He could feel the people’s pain he wanted to heal, and he took away their pain. He was confined to a body in which the pain he felt and the bad things in the world were killing him.

“He’s not the first to mistrust the body – to literally want to give it away, as a means to finding divinity inside oneself.” (316)
“My end is her beginning” (340)

Shay feels it is God who wants him to give his heart to Claire. It is his way of settling the score. His death will mean a long, healthy life for Claire, and Shay can escape the pain that has haunted him his whole life. Shay was trapped, not only in his prison cell, but inside his very own body. He needed to give his heart to the little girl who he had taken so much from. “I can fix it” (174). Shay said these words so many times, because he felt that he could fix what he had done. Shay’s confinement relates to the meaning as a whole because it is his need to give Claire his heart that drives the whole story, it is his pain that drives him to redemption through the salvaging of a young girl’s life.
(T.S. 2010)

Handle With Care
Jodi Picoult
[(essay dated June 9, 2010) In this literary criticism of Jodi Picoult’s Handle With Care, H.K. analyzes the use of subliminal messaging and how it amplifies the emotion of the situations in the story. She also focuses on the author’s style of writing, specifically the changing perspectives and how they contribute to the story.)

“Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of life amount not to wisdom, but to scar tissue and callus.” ~Wallace Stegner

Throughout the novel, Handle with Care, things are continuously broken-promises, marriages, friendships, spirits, and Willow. Willow is a seemingly normal-the key word here being seemingly-6 year old girl. Willow has a mother Charlotte, a father Sean, a sister Amelia, and a disease, Osteogenesis Imperfecta. Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) causes Willow’s bones to be extremely brittle, which means that they are easily broken, jumping off a porch can break a foot, even a sneeze can break a bone. What the doctors don’t tell you is that OI can cause more then just bones to be broken; it can break families as well.

Charlotte O’Keefe, Willow’s mother, has chosen to pursue a wrongful birth lawsuit against her OB-GYN, Piper. The trouble? A wrongful birth suit means that Charlotte basically has to tell the court that if her daughter had been diagnosed earlier in her pregnancy, Charlotte would have terminated her daughter. Also, Charlotte stands alone in this lawsuit, her husband (Sean) doesn’t like it, so he chose to testify for Piper. In addition to all this, Willow feels unwanted, and she is afraid her mother will get rid of her if she breaks again, and Charlotte’s other daughter Amelia feels invisible. So, who can Charlotte turn to? Perhaps a best friend? The only problem here is that Piper, whom Charlotte is suing for malpractice, also happens to be Charlotte’s best friend.

“Sometimes, when you’re dealing with a fragile dough, it will collapse in spite of your best intentions.” (195)

Charlotte used to be a pastry chef before she gave birth to Willow and had to stay home to take care of her. Picoult incorporates this fact by adding in descriptions of baking techniques that Charlotte uses as well as recipes using the technique that was just described. By doing so, Picoult uses a kind of subliminal messaging to reflect and amplify deep emotions that are present at that time in the novel. This is shown on page 411, when the definition and proper use of “interfering agents” is described. The last paragraph of the description always connects the technique directly to life, although the actual situation that the characters are dealing with is never directly addressed.

“If it’s not candy you’re trying to prevent from becoming crystal clear,-but, instead, your life-well, the best interfering agent is always a lie well told.” (411)

This specific description is a great summary as to what is going on in the novel, as well as the confusion that comes as a result of it all. Think about it-Charlotte says she’s suing because she loves her daughter too much, but that means that she has to lie in order to win, by saying that she would have terminated her daughter. This lie that she has to tell turns her life upside, ruining relationships and making her doubt everything she is doing. The lie she has to tell destroys the clarity of her life, and she finds herself blindly crawling through her life she has demolished.

So, how do you not hate a character that destroyed her family, and is going to court saying that she would have aborted her daughter?

Easy.

Picoult’s writing style includes a voice for everyone, and the style of this novel is slightly similar to that of a group journal, where everyone is writing to Willow (the use of “you” in the characters individual parts is them addressing Willow). This style allows the reader to understand the character’s thoughts and how they are feeling at different times in the novel. It also allows the reader to see the differences in the characters’ thoughts and opinions as they pertain to the same situation.

In Charlotte’s mind, she is doing this so she can get the money to provide Willow with a brighter future. No one else sees what Charlotte sees, and they can’t understand why she would want to do that. So, Sean testifies for Piper, Piper and Charlotte don’t speak (who would when you’re being sued by that person) and Amelia delves deeper into her own loneliness.

But what about Willow?

Even though Willow is not directly heard from (throughout most of the novel) the author can still understand how she feels about the situation through her dialogue, and descriptions of her by other characters.

“‘I don’t want to listen to music,’ you [Willow] murmured. ‘You don’t have to be nice to me just because I won’t be around here much longer.’
That sent a chill down my [Amelia] spine. Had someone not told me something about your surgery? Were you, like, dying? ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Mom wants to get rid of me because things like this [broken bones] keep happening.’ You swiped the tears from your eyes with your hands. ‘I’m not the kind of kid anyone wants.’” (499)

Through the other character’s interactions with Willow, the reader is able to get an idea of the kind of person Willow is, and how she perceives things. Towards the end of the novel, the reader finally gets to see from Willow’s viewpoint, the last thoughts that she will ever think. This look into Willow’s mind makes the reader realize the maturity this little girl has, as well as the strength that has gotten her this far.

A true trademark of Picoult’s work, surprise endings really make her novels seem to be more realistic, and are a refreshing change from the usual “happy ending.” By adding in one last tragedy, Picoult makes the events of the book extremely ironic, and by doing so, makes us consider the decisions made, and what could have been. It all adds up to scar tissue, now doesn’t it?

(H.K. 2010)

NINETEEN MINUTES
Jodi Picoult

[(essay dated June 9, 2010) In the following criticism H.K. discusses the writing techniques of the author Jodi Picoult, in her novel, Nineteen Minutes.
She focuses on such things as the different point of views presented in the novel, as well as terms that are repeated throughout and how these perspectives contribute to the development of the story.]
“Welcome to the club no one wants to join. You’re a member for life.” (254)

The creation of this club began in just nineteen minutes. “In nineteen minutes, you can order a pizza and get it delivered. You can read a story to a child or have your oil changed. You can walk a mile. You can sew a hem.
In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off it.
In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge.” (6)

Nineteen minutes. Picoult integrates the title of her book as she tells the story of the residents of Sterling, New Hampshire and how their lives were shattered in one nineteen minute long act of violence. However, Picoult soon makes us realize that the seemingly peaceful town of Sterling has been the site of several years worth of violence, mostly directed at Peter Houghton. Peter Houghton also happens to be the shooter that ravaged Sterling High, which changed the entire community forever.

How, in the peaceful town of Sterling, could this happen?

“Ask a random kid today is she wants to be popular and she’ll tell you no, even if the truth is that if she was in a desert dying of thirst and had the choice between a glass of water and instant popularity, she’s probably choose the latter.” (299)

“You never put together a plan, like Peter, to go through the school, systematically killing the people who had hurt you the most, did you Derek? (Friend of Peter, nerdy, perfect bullying victim)
Derek turned to Peter, so that he could look him square in the eye when he answered. No he said. But sometimes I wish I had.” (384)

How, in the town of Sterling, could this not have happened?

The revenge that Peter was looking for was against all those who made his life hell as soon as he started school, in a novel that is more about equallity, cliques, and the effects of bullying then a school shooting. Picoult uses the shooting to draw attention to the everyday battle that some students have to fight each day as they step foot into school.

In a situation in which you know you are supposed to dislike the person that has done the obviously awful deed, in this case Peter Houghton, the boy that shot and killed many of his classmates, Picoult uses different methods to make you think differently. By moving from the past to the present, Picoult paints a full picture of the lives of these people before and after the shooting. Suddenly, by understanding the history of these characters, you begin to dislike the true cause of the shooting. The bullies. As for the sympathy-that becomes directed at Peter, the boy who on the first day of school had his lunchbox thrown out the bus window, the boy who lived in his brother’s shadow. But sympathy also becomes directed Josie Cormier, a girl who was Peter’s only friend for many years, a girl who became popular, yet still was unhappy.

“It had taken Josie nearly six months to inconspicuously gather only fifteen pills, but she figured if she washed them down with a fifth of vodka, it would do the trick. It wasn’t like she had a strategy, really, to kill herself next Tuesday, or when the snow melted, or anything concrete like that. It was more like a backup plan: When the truth came out, and no one wanted to be around her anymore, it stood to reason Josie wouldn’t want to be around herself either.” (10)

Josie soon turned into my favorite character of the book. She was a victim of the shooting, she was popular, yet she still felt sympathy for those that were unpopular, and she couldn’t bring herself to pick on them. Yet Josie was still unhappy, and she was in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend Matthew Royston. Matt was a victim of the shooting, yet the details surrounding his death were suspicious. The only ones present at the time were Peter, Matt, and Josie. A theme in some of Picoult’s novels is the lack of a happy ending, something I particularly enjoy because, well, that’s life, now isn’t it?

Picoult’s surprise endings seem to result in a well liked character’s demise, yet in Josie’s case, when the truth comes out, you can’t help but still feel bad for her, and she, as well as Peter, are seen as victims of the reality of school.

(H.K. 2010)


My Sister’s Keeper
- Jodi Picoult: Control of life and death
[(essay dated June 2, 2008) In the following criticism, B.W. discusses the theme of control in Jodi Picoult's novel, My Sister's Keeper, particularly the control over the life or death of a terminally ill teenager. She addresses the societal issues surrounding a cancer patient's right to die, the influence of the patient's family on their future, and the balance of control among all the affected individuals.]


My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult is written in the perspectives of six different characters, with a new character narrating in every chapter. The baseline of the story involves a sixteen year old girl named Kate Fitzgerald who is diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia at the age of two, and her parents have only one option to save her life. In order for Kate to receive healthy cells that her body will not reject, her donor must be a perfectly matched relative. Since her older brother, Jesse Fitzgerald is not eligible, her parents, Sara and Brian Fitzgerald, decide to go through genetic counseling and give birth to a second daughter, Anna Fitzgerald, who is a perfect match for Kate. However, the main conflict of the story arises when Anna hires a lawyer, Campbell Alexander, to sue her parents for medical emancipation and the right to refuse to donate parts of her own body to her sister. She is assigned a guardian ad litem, Julia Romano, by the court to assess Anna to determine whether or not she is capable of handling her medical decisions on her own. The concept of the novel itself presents great controversy as there is no concrete “right” or “wrong” decision for any of the characters involved to make. There is never a decision that can be made that will fully benefit all parties involved, and at least one person always finds themselves in the position to make a sacrifice. One of the central themes of the novel, and perhaps the most crucial, is control over life and death, and how all of the characters involved struggle to gain it, even against forces that are nearly impossible for a human to control, and even if it is at the expense of another.

Whether or not to allow someone to die is a moral question that can never have a definitive answer as to what decision is the right one. Just as the topic of abortion is a never-ending moral debate, human euthanasia, life support, and organ donation will always be topics of ethical argument. Should nature be the sole determinant in sustaining a person’s life, or is it acceptable to use any means, including artificial ones, available to prolong it? Most pet owners who are faced with the sad reality that their animal is suffering often have no second thoughts of whether or not it is best to let their pet die or to end its suffering by having it put to sleep. However, human euthanasia for terminally ill patients is something that is relatively unheard of in western nations (until a law was passed very recently in the Netherlands after a man suffering from AIDS requested to have the choice to end his life through lethal injection with the extensive assistance and counseling of a doctor.) Many people choose to have living wills written when they are in good health, stating that if they were in a vegetative state, that they would elect not to be kept alive through life support. However, in the case that a person does not have a living will and suddenly becomes unable to make their own medical decisions, legal debates often arise between members of the patient’s family with conflicting wishes concerning the fate of their loved one. The families of patients with organ failure and accident victims are often faced with the decision of whether or not to accept a donated organ from a person who has already died (such as those who state on their driver’s licenses that they are willing to donate their organs upon their death). All of these difficult issues to address often come down to religious faith: “Is there a God, and if so, should God be the only one who decides when it is a person’s time to go?” The ultimate question at hand concerning these issues in My Sister’s Keeper is “Who, if anyone, should have control over the life or death of a terminally ill patient (especially in the case of Kate Fitzgerald, a child): the patient, the family of the patient, the doctors, a judge, God?” Jodi Picoult has an excellent approach to this complex topic by allowing each one of the Fitzgerald family members and Anna’s legal counsel to tell the story from their own points of view as a parent, a sibling, a professional, and by the end of the book, as a terminally ill teenage patient.

Each one of the six characters who share their experiences in a first-person point of view: Anna, Sara, Brian, Jesse, Campbell, and Julia, and Kate, who is the only character that never gets a chapter of her own until the very end of the novel, all have compromised control of their own lives as well as the lives of the people to whom they are deeply connected. Thus, each of them struggles throughout the course of the story to gain some of this missing control that is lost with being the family of a child with aggressive cancer.

“I hadn’t been expecting this from Campbell. ‘Is this why you took my case?’ ‘So that I
could have a seizure in public? Believe me, no.’ ‘Not that.’ I look away from him. ‘Because you know what it’s like to not have any control over your body” (Picoult 386-387). In the very first chapter in the book, Anna's lawyer, Campbell Alexander, describes the events that took place on the day he decided to represent Anna in a pro bono case. When she enters his office, the only thing she tells him is that she seeks to sue her parents for the rights to her own body, but unlike most teenage girls, she is not asking for the right to birth control or an abortion like Campbell initially assumes, but rather the right to make a decision that will determine whether her sister lives or dies. In the early chapters of the book, Campbell leads the audience to believe that he is taking the case because it will skyrocket his reputation as a lawyer, and he is almost guaranteed to win since no judge would ever force an unwilling child to give up an organ. However, there is a much deeper and more personal reasoning behind his decision to take the case, and the events leading up to the revealing of this reason are foreshadowed throughout the course of the novel. Campbell has a German shepherd named Judge who never leaves his side due to Campbell's claim that he is a service dog, even though Campbell’s senses are obviously functional. Every time someone points out this lack of handicap, Campbell invents a different, often absurd, reason for why he needs a service dog. The truth is not revealed until Campbell collapses due to a grand mal seizure while examining Anna as a witness in court. The dog, although Campbell is ashamed to admit it, is trained to warn him ahead of time when he is about to have a seizure. The reason behind this shame is that Campbell's profession is based on having control, of the court and the final ruling of the judge, of his case, and of the fate of his clients. With a medical condition that causes him to lose control of his own body, this can be viewed as compromising to his ability to make decisions on behalf of others. However, Anna believes that this is in fact the reason why he did take on her case, because he is better qualified to represent someone who is experiencing a similar inner conflict to his own.

“I will make sure that my son’s pyromania ends here and now, but I won’t tell the cops or the fire chief about this. Maybe that’s nepotism, maybe it’s stupidity. Maybe it’s because Jesse isn’t all that different from me, choosing fire as his medium, needing to know that he could command at least one uncontrollable thing” (Picoult 331). In this chapter written by Brian, he discovers that his oldest son is the arsonist who has been setting fire to various buildings around the town. As a firefighter, Brian has a means to escape from his family life where he has no control and no way to save his daughter. As he goes to fight fires, he has the opportunity to save lives and to extinguish even the most uncontrollable flames, sometimes just by making the decision to allow them to burn out on their own. In this passage where he discovers that Jesse has all the evidence in his own room that he has been the one setting the fires, he does not turn his son in to the police or the fire chief, but rather he is very understanding of the situation, as he learns that his son is using fire as a means of escape as well. Fire is a central aspect of the Fitzgerald family, and the main symbolic element of their struggle for control. When Kate became ill, even as a child Jesse was willing to donate any cells that he could to his younger sister in order to save her life, but since he was not found to be a perfect genetic match, his willingness to donate was of no use. He then, just like his parents who were also not perfect matches for Kate, had to face the reality that he could not control nor prevent what was happening to his sister as her body slowly started to wear down and she began falling into renal failure, approaching death with every passing day. By setting fires to buildings and engaging in other destructive behavior, destroying things because he cannot save the one thing that matters most, Jesse finds a way to cope with his sister’s uncontrollable illness.

“‘Anna, did you decide to file this lawsuit all by yourself?’ I know why he’s asking […] But what I mean to say isn’t quite what slips out. ‘I was kind of convinced by someone.’ This is, of course, news to my parents […] And it’s news to Campbell, who runs a hand down his face in defeat. ‘Anna,’ says Campbell, ‘who convinced you?’ […] ‘Kate’” (Picoult 377-378). While Kate is the only character in the novel whose life is in constant danger, ironically, she is the one who has the least control over whether she lives healthily, barely lives, or dies. The only way for her to sustain her life from day to day is by the help of her sister; without lymphocytes and bone marrow from Anna, the decisions from her parents, and the care of her doctors, Kate would certainly die. When Anna is in court suing her parents for her right not to donate her own kidney to Kate, it is revealed for the first time in the novel that she is not going through with this lawsuit for her own benefit at all, but quite oppositely for Kate because she is the only one who can give her sister what she wants, which is an end to her life of suffering and an end to her family’s life of worry. The audience suddenly learns that Anna's lawsuit is in no way about Anna being "selfish" and wanting to keep her kidney for own sake, although this is how it is viewed, especially by Sara, throughout most of the novel up until this point in the courtroom. The real argument in this matter is that Kate should ultimately be the one who has the final say and the most opportunity for control over what decisions are made by her family concerning her future. Ironically, because of her extremely fragile physical state, she is in fact the most powerless against her fate, and the only person who can give her what she truly wants (which is to end her life of suffering, end her family's obligation to keep her alive, and give Anna the chance to grow up without having to make her decisions based on when Kate will need her) is Anna. The obstacle that the lawsuit is intended to overcome is Brian and Sara's determination and necessity to make any decision that will keep their daughter alive, and convince them that it is now time for them to step aside and let Anna give Kate what Kate feels is best for herself and her family. “The truth bursts out of me; a raging river […] ‘She asked me to kill her.’ […] My mother gets up slowly. ‘It’s not true,’ she says […] ‘Anna, I don’t know why you’d say that.’ My eyes fill up. ‘Why would I make it up?’ […] ‘I don’t want her to die, but I know she doesn’t want to live like this, and I’m the only one who can give her what she wants’” (Picoult 388-389).

“‘Anna’s head hit the window with great force, Mrs. Fitzgerald. It caused a fatal head injury. […] …she’s brain dead, I’m sorry,’ the doctor says. […] He hesitates, looks from me to Sara. ‘I know it’s not something you even want to think about right now, but there’s a very small window… is organ donation something you’d like to consider?’” (Picoult 415). Jodi Picoult uses irony in nearly every situation in My Sister’s Keeper, in fact, the story itself is heavily based on irony. The most climactic point, however, is by far the most ironic event in the entire novel, and it is one that is completely unexpected. From the very beginning when Kate is diagnosed with APL at age two up until the end of the trial where Anna is granted medical emancipation and Campbell is appointed to be her medical power of attorney, Kate’s life is unquestionably the one that is in the greatest danger of being lost. At the end, however, it is not Anna who survives to adulthood while her sister passes away, but rather the other way around. This extreme case of irony is presented on Anna’s way home from the trial, when Campbell and Julia are driving her home. Brian and Sara remain at the courthouse after Anna leaves so that they can fill out final legal paperwork, but Brian is forced to leave early when he gets a fire call to an automobile accident. It is not until he crawls his way through the remains of the fatal accident and reaches the backseat of the car when he discovers that it is Campbell, Anna, Julia, and Judge who are trapped beneath the rubble. While administering CPR and defibrillation to an unconscious Anna in the back of an ambulance, headed for the same hospital where Kate is in renal failure and on the verge of death herself, Brian realizes deep down that she cannot be saved. As the person who has power of attorney over Anna, Campbell, along with Brian and Sara’s agreement, make the decision to shut off Anna’s respirator and donate her kidney to Kate. It is only upon Anna’s death that Kate gets one last opportunity to live.

Even after she passes away, Anna still remains the one person who can control her family’s future. Campbell, as her power of attorney, has the final say in what medical procedures can be performed, but without Anna herself and her perfect genetic match of a kidney, no one, not Kate, not Brian and Sara, and not the doctors, would have that control. Anna was never a selfish person throughout the entire novel, and her willingness to save her sister continued even after she could no longer live herself. After Kate receives Anna’s kidney and a final blood transfusion, she is put into a state of remission that she has not been in since her diagnosis. At the age of twenty-two, Kate tells the final chapter of My Sister’s Keeper, in which she is in control of her own fate for the first time in her life. Without Anna to donate the things that kept her alive during her relapses and without her parents being the ones faced with the decision of what to do for their daughter, Kate is the healthiest she has ever been. “I think about her kidney working inside me and her blood running through my veins. I take her with me wherever I go” (Picoult 423). The two sisters’ roles become symbolically reversed after Anna’s death, as what is left of Anna is being kept by Kate. She is keeping Anna’s spirit alive by taking her vital blood and kidney with her everywhere she goes in life, and Anna is keeping Kate alive by giving her these things so that she could become healthy and have the chance to live a normal life. This sense of connectedness is not only found in the relationship between Kate and Anna, but among all the characters in the novel in some way. Jodi Picoult symbolizes this relationship by the use of repetition of words. On the day of the trial, each character gets a short chapter, and each one of these chapters begins with the phrase “It’s raining.” Picoult likely chose rain as the element of repetition because rain metaphorically represents the Fitzgerald family’s situation. While everyone is affected by rain a rain storm, it affects everyone in different ways. The same thing is true for the Fitzgerald family. Kate’s illness affects not only her but everyone else around her, each in a different way. This intricate relationship proves that there are no right or wrong decisions concerning the life or death of a terminally patient, as circumstances are unique to each person that is affected. As the patient, Kate could only have so much control over her own body, as their illness will inevitably overpower them without the assistance of medical procedures. As the only viable organ donor to her sister, Anna could only have as much control over her own life as well as Kate’s if she wanted to have both a quality life for herself and a possible future for her sister. Ultimately in the case of a family that is affected by cancer or another illness, there must always be sacrifices and compromises made as someone will inevitably need to benefit at the expense of another. As Kate explains at the end after Anna’s death, “It is that someone had to go, and Anna took my place” (422).
(B.W. 2008)


The Robin Motif in Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

[In this criticism N.B. explores the motif represented by the use of the robin bird in the jail Shay is residing in. In this criticism, it is shown how the bird enhances the novel overall and gives life to certain personality traits from characters that would not be present otherwise]

Birds, themselves, are a symbol of freedom and flight any where you find them. Yet, when introduced to one hatched in a prison and cared for by a prisoner, the symbolic value behind the bird is brought to a whole new level.

Even identifying the bird chosen in the novel as a robin adds certain characteristics to the book that other birds would not represent. This small songbird is a bird that depends on its mother, or some type of greater force, in the early stages of its life for survival. In the prison there is no mother bird present and to stay alive, a prisoner, Calloway, assumes responsibility of the bird in an effort to keep it living. Identifying the bird for the type that it is also illustrates different concepts Picoult might have been trying to symbolize through its use. The robin is a song bird which means it is territorial. By using this kind of bird, Picoult attempts to parallel characteristics of the bird to those of the prisoners. For example, an adult robin is preyed upon by larger animals like hawks, cats, and snakes but when feeding in flocks, the robins become vigilant and look out for each other by observing each other. In the prison, it could be observed that the prisoners are almost ‘preyed upon’ by society. Society disrespects them because their criminals and no one attempts to understand their motives and reasons. Yet, when the prisoners are together, they almost become better people because they often relate to one another and give companionship that no one else provides; like the robins look out for each other because they are alike one another.

Another characteristic of the bird that Picoult may have been trying to parallel to the prisoner’s behavior is the fact that these birds have a ‘running and stopping’ sort of distinguishing characteristic. The robin is a bird that hunts visually and not by hearing. Then after finding its’ prey, it can be seen running and then just stopping and being satisfied with what it gets. Like the prisoners, they always seem to have their eyes open on a lookout for things and/or people they can ‘prey’ upon to make themselves feel better. They, too, are on a ‘run and stop’ schedule because they often have trials and tribulations that require them to run around in attempts at gaining sympathy but then are still forced to ‘stop’ and live in their regret anyway since they are prisoners.

“Batman the Robin” is a bird that appears as a re-occurring motif in Jodi Picoults’ novel Change of Heart. The symbolism of the bird adds a greater sense of depth to the characteristics of the people in the jail that interact with it. Without the bird, certain personality traits would not be recognizable in the characters. For example, the main character Shay, who is about to die on death row, becomes known for his Jesus-like qualities. The bird acts to add one more messiah-like quality to Shay when he brings it back to life,
"When the robin reached me, I drew it under the three-inch gap beneath the door of my cell. It still looked half cooked, its closed eye translucent blue. One wing was bent at a severe backward angle; its neck lolled sideways… In the long run… it hardly matters how Shay did it. What matters is the result: that we all heard the piccolo trill of that robin; that Shay pushed the risen bird beneath his cell door onto the catwalk, where it hopped, like broken punctuation, toward Calloway’s outstretched hand." (57)
In this excerpt, Shay is displaying characteristics to the reader as if he were a Christ figure. Raising things from the dead is a trait we would only associate with Jesus so when the robin is brought back to life after it was thrown to its’ death, extra dimensions are built onto Shay’s character. In a greater sense of the novel, this one small act gives greater depth into the theme that people need to look at things from different perspectives because something that could be seemingly evil on the surface may actually be great when you search deeper.

Another contributing factor that the robin motif seems to add to the novel is the fact that it helps Picoult establish a sense of pity for the prisoners. Picoult, in most of her novels, has a way of making the reader feel bad for the character that is hated by the majority of the other characters. The reader begins to feel sorry and sympathize with the “bad guy” in the story and in Change of Heart, those “bad guys” are the prisoners. The robin brings out humane characteristics of the prisoners by establishing a sense of innocence,
"…we all listened to Calloway’s play-by-play: The robin was wrapped in a shirt. The robin was tucked inside his left tennis shoe. The robin was pinking up. The robin had opened its left eye for a half second.
We all had forgotten what it was like to care about something so much that you might not be able to stand losing it. The first year I was in here, I used to pretend that the full moon was my pet, that it came once a month just to me." (34)
In this excerpt, it shows that, although Calloway is a prisoner, he is still a human and when you boil everything down, he just wants something to give his life purpose. The robin brings to life the sincere side of him, like the ‘moon pet’ represents a softer side of the narrator of the chapter, Lucius. By manipulating these traits out of the characters, Picoult establishes pathos as the reader begins to feel sympathetic for characters that the rest of the world has disregarded as criminals, psychopaths, or monsters.

Most importantly, though, the symbolism of the robin in this novel is to serve as an image of hope and faith. The prisoners live on an idea of hope; the hope that there is more to life, the hope that they still deserve a meaningful after-life, and the hope that something purposeful will occur if they just live on. The fact that this beautiful songbird even survives in this ugly setting, amongst death and disaster, is a realization that things are not always what they seem. When events start to look rough and prisoners began to lose hope, they realize they need “faith, the only weapon in our arsenal to battle doubt” (107). In this novel the hope for Shay was that he would be able to donate his heart after death in an attempt to atone for the misfortune people think he committed. When the bird is alive, there is still hope that Shay will be able to donate his heart after death and other miracles happen to (like Lucius who is an inmate slowly dying from AIDS all of a sudden is deemed well). When the bird dies for the second time and Shay does not bring it back to life, it is as if everyone loses their sense of hope and everything begins to slowly deteriorate.
"I watched Shay take Batman from the kerchief, hold him in his hand. He stroked the head with his finger; he gingerly covered the body with his other hand, as if he had caught a star between his palms. I held my breath, watching for that flutter or feather or the faintest cheep, but after a few moments Shay just wrapped the bird up again… The air had gone bitter as almonds; I could barely stand to breathe it. I watched him fish back that dead bird, and all of our hopes along with it. "(318)
By having the bird embody a sense of hope early on in the book, Picoult can set and manipulate a certain tone just by allowing that bird to live, die, get sick, etc. Anything that occurs to that bird symbolizes something greater that is occurring in the prisoners’ lives. The second and final death of the bird foreshadows the slope of downward occurrences that take place in the final chapters. When Lucius states, “I watched him fish back that dead bird, and all of our hopes along with it” (318), he sets a melancholy and apprehensive sort of tone. This tone is fulfilled, too, by several different factors: the impossible trial of getting Shay what he wants that is to come, the AIDS illness that comes back to take over Lucius’s body, and the fact that Shay may be atoning for sins he did not even commit in the first place. Through the use of the bird, Picoult manages to slip in an overwhelming sense of tone in the novel.

Motifs are often used to enhance novels, plots, settings, and characters. In this sense, Picoult does a masterly job at incorporating a symbolic animal into the story. Not only does the robin depict a sense and loss of hope and innocence for the prisoners, but the bird’s own characteristics parallels personality traits and behaviors present in the prisoners. The bird is also one more way in which Jodi Picoult can create sympathy in the reader for seemingly despicable characters. The American Robin is one of the first songbirds to begin singing during the day and the last to end at night. This fact shows Picoult masters her own motif when Shay is the first to bring to light controversial issues and is the one to get a final word in over how is heart can still be used after he has gone. (N.B. 2008)




Salem Falls: Jodi Picoult- Escaping From One’s Past

[(essay dated June 9, 2008) In the following essay, B.W. addresses the issue of an individual unable to escape the events of his or her past in Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult. She analyzes and connects the events in the novel concerning haunting crime accusations and incarceration to legal issues found in the American justice system.]

Salem Falls is set in the year 2000, flashing back to the past in several chapters, in Salem Falls, New Hampshire, a small, close-knit town where families move for the purpose of raising their children in a safe and crime-free area. When Jack St. Bride, a thirty-one year old high school history teacher and soccer coach, is released from prison after doing eight months’ time for a guilty plea to a statutory rape charge and chooses Salem Falls as a town to which to escape and bury his past, he suddenly finds himself facing a new, although false, charge of felonious sexual assault against Gillian Duncan, daughter of the most influential businessman in Salem Falls, causing his past to haunt him now even more than ever. Even though this accusation was eventually proven to be invalid, his previous conviction of statutory rape (also a false accusation by a sixteen-year-old student, Catherine Marsh) has caused him to carry a title of “rapist” with him no matter where he goes, even among those whom he has never met. With Salem Falls being such a small, personal town, the residents whose families have resided there for ages as well as newcomers with a past in an entirely different area are bound to their pasts, never being given the chance to reinvent their lives and move on. While Jack is tied to his past by being labeled a rapist, the long-time Salem Falls resident Addie Peabody is haunted every day by the empty space around her after the loss of her ten-year-old daughter, Chloe, whom Addie conceived by gang rape at age sixteen. Even those who make accusations toward others, namely Gillian Duncan and her father Amos Duncan in the novel, that make it impossible for them to forget their pasts find themselves facing the same situation, and they use others’ pasts as a way of drawing attention away from their own baggage.

Even with its many loopholes and procedures that most American citizens would argue to be corrupt and immoral, the American legal system is the most difficult system for those who become involved to ever escape, for both legal and societal reasons. A person charged with a felony will never be legally permitted to put it behind them and forget it ever happened because it remains on one’s record as a criminal for the rest of their life. Not only are these convicted felons under constant watch by law enforcement, but every person who has knowledge of this person’s conviction will find themselves unable not to hold it against them when judging them as people. It is absolutely just to punish those who commit crimes and to take every measure necessary to avoid repeat offenses, but the issue remains that a convicted person, particularly those who are in fact innocent, cannot do a single thing to change the public’s opinion of them. A child molester who is required to comply with Megan’s Law and submit their photo, address, and crime description to everyone in the town to which they are moving are paying the price for their crime by publicizing their actions and letting society know that they are a threat. Of course this is a fair punishment and something that those guilty of this type of crime at the very least deserve to live with, but those few individuals who are innocent yet proven guilty must carry around a much heavier baggage: knowing that they will forever be ostracized by society for a crime they did not commit. While many criminals will go their entire lives being guilty of various offenses, never being charged and sentenced simply because there is not enough evidence or there is a technicality that allows them to falsely win their case by default, there still remains the very small percentage of innocent convicted criminals who are forced to live with their labels forever. Amos Duncan and Jack St. Bride, respectively fill these roles in Salem Falls.

“‘As a defense in a rape allegation, it’s an easy sell.’ He leaned closer. ‘Are you sure you don’t want to go with consent?’ Jack’s hands knotted together between his legs. ‘Jordan, do me a favor?’ The attorney nodded […] ‘Don’t ever ask me that again.’” (Picoult 333). One of the flaws in the criminal court system of the United States is that a conviction is not always based on the truth, but rather it is based on the defendant’s plea of whatever will get them the least sentence, if they are sure they cannot win the case. Jack St. Bride had previously been accused falsely of statutorily raping Catherine Marsh, and following the advice of his attorney, chose to plead guilty anyway in order to avoid risking a harsher sentence of seven years in prison if the jury came to find him guilty. When the suggestion to lie again in the rape case of Gillian Duncan and claim that he had consensual sex with her and she changed her mind and accused him of rape, Jack is once again reminded of his past. He had proclaimed himself guilty to the jury and the judge, and in doing so, he proclaimed himself guilty to the rest of the world, and is now facing the consequences by not having the chance to live down and forget about his reputation as a rapist. Since Jack is already trying to come to terms with the fact that he cannot escape what happened with the accusation of Catherine Marsh, he is now refusing to allow the same thing to happen to him again. When Jack replays the events of the night of the rape accusation in his mind, he remembers Catherine Marsh once again, and he recalls his struggle to not allow himself to be incarcerated again. “‘This was not Gillian Duncan; this was Catherine Marsh. And Jack was being given a chance to defend himself, in a way he never had last year. ‘You get away from me,’ he said, his chest heaving, ‘and you stay away’” (411). When Gillian approached Jack in the woods that night, contrary to what was presented in court, Gillian was the one who was tormenting Jack without his consent, not only by making sexual advances toward him, but by giving him a vivid reminder of what had happened a year ago in Loyal, New Hampshire. He plays the victim in this scenario, and Gillian plays the attacker.

“‘And children don’t die. Addie, you know better than anyone that the world doesn’t always work the way it ought to.’ […] ‘No one ever knew what happened except my father, and now you. People figured I was sleeping around and got in trouble.’ […] ‘Out of that horrible thing, something wonderful happened. I got Chloe. That’s all I want to remember’” (90-100). When Jack comes to Salem Falls after his release from jail, he begins a relationship with a woman who owns the local diner, Addie Peabody. Addie brings a new perspective on the issue of rape crimes and the inability to forget them, but she plays the role of the victim, not of the person who is falsely accused of committing the felony. At sixteen years old she was gang raped (revealed later to have been by the detective who investigated Gillian Duncan’s case and by Gillian’s own father, Amos Duncan) and conceived and gave birth to her daughter, Chloe. At age ten, the blessing that had been the result of a horrific experience passed away after contracting bacterial meningitis, and Addie must remember this every day of her life. Over fifteen years has passed since the death of her daughter, but Addie still cooks breakfast for Chloe every morning and leaves it on the counter at the diner. Not only is she forced to remember the reality that her daughter is no longer with her, but as she remembers Chloe, she is also forced to remember being sexually assaulted as a teenager. When she becomes involved with Jack and he is then accused of raping a teenager, this forces her painful memories upon her more than they ever had been.
“Amos held out his hand, and she placed hers in his. Then he pulled her into an embrace, an old, old dance, Gillian closed her eyes, years past tears. Her mind was already a million miles away by the time her father’s mouth settled over hers, sealing their deal once again’” (434). Irony is of central importance in Salem Falls. The alleged attacker is in fact the victim, and the ones accusing Jack of sexual assault are the ones who end up ruining his reputation and life, not the other way around. The strongest element of irony comes at the end of the novel. Gillian Duncan’s father is a prime and respected figure in the community of Salem Falls. He is raising his teenage daughter on his own after his wife passed away, and he is seen by all to be a loving, protective father. When Gillian comes to him and claims that Jack St. Bride had raped her, Amos Duncan took immediate and brutal legal action, refusing to stop until Jack was convicted and placed behind bars. It is shockingly revealed, however, that Amos has a past very similar to Jack St. Bride’s; the only difference is that he, unlike Jack, is guilty. As a teenager he rapes Addie Peabody, and his daughter’s allegations remind him of the very thing he was guilty of committing. At the end of the novel, the audience discovers that Amos has been sexually abusing Gillian since she was a young girl. At this point, closure is finally brought to Jack. As Amos’ past as a rapist is revealed to still be a reality as he commits the same thing toward his own daughter, Jack is at last free from his own false accusations of sexual assault.

“‘The only crime Jack St. Bride committed was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happened once before with a girl this age—a gross miscarriage of justice. Jack came to Salem Falls, expecting to turn over a new leaf… but was seen as a stain on the community. People waited for him to make a mistake that might lead to his exile… and Gillian’s accusation became just the match to start a conflagration’” (424). False accusations of felonious crimes in literature are not unique to Salem Falls, in fact, even characters in classic books written four decades earlier still deal with the same issues as Jack St. Bride. In Harper Lee’s famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the character Tom Robinson finds himself facing a false rape charge just as Jack St. Bride does. Because Tom is a black man living in a southern world of white superiority, and he is used as a scapegoat for what happened to Mayella Ewell. Just like we find out at the end of Salem Falls that is was not Jack, but rather Gillian Duncan’s own father who was guilty of raping her, Tom Robinson was also innocent- the real rapist being Mayella’s father, Bob Ewell. Over three centuries ago, innocent people were still dealing with the same accusations, and many were even put to death for things they had never done. The Salem Witch Trials of the 1600’s are a perfect historical parallel to draw with Salem Falls, and they are even mentioned at Jack St. Bride’s trial. “‘Old habits die hard, and discrimination is very real […] ‘Why, in Salem Falls, you only have to look as far as the statue of Giles Corey on the green to remember the hysteria of 1692’” (391). Even though Jodi Picoult explains in an interview that she did not write Salem Falls from personal experience concerning the issues of criminal accusations and rape, every individual in the world has shameful and painful things of the past that they would prefer not to remember (but are still forced to remember by their peers, by society, and by themselves) and would allow them to relate to the characters in this novel. (B.W. 2008)

Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes

{In this criticism, N.B. explores the way in which the title attributed to Picoult’s novel adds greater depth and meaning to the overall plot line and themes.}

“The entire spree lasted nineteen minutes in the life of Peter Houghton, but the evidence will show that its effects will last forever.” (368)

Jodi Picoult accurately titles her book Nineteen Minutes and tells a harrowing account of a school shooter who had his nineteen minutes of infamous spotlight. The label she qualified to her novel adds a greater sense of depth and overall development in the story. Nineteen minutes represents a theme presented in the whole novel: at any time, at any ordinary minute, your world can be transformed. It takes a matter of minutes to change ordinary moments into ones that are irreversibly life-changing.

The novel starts off without character introductions, without establishing a setting, but rather with five brief paragraphs detailing several events that could occur within nineteen minutes. The story begins,
In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five.
Nineteen minutes is how long it took the Tennessee Titans to sell out of tickets to the play-offs. It’s the length of a sitcom, minus the commercials. It’s the driving distance from the Vermont border to the town of Sterling, New Hampshire.
In nineteen minutes, you can order a pizza and get it delivered. You can read a story to a child or have your oil changed. You can walk a mile. You can sew a hem.
In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off it.
In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge. (5)
These short paragraphs act as a way to draw the reader in. By establishing a foreboding tone, the reader is left curious for more. The first three paragraphs detail rather uneventful, common events but, in the final two, the concept is a bit more broad and foreshadowing. All five paragraphs are a complete build up for the rest of the novel and relate directly to the title of the book. The reader can infer that the nineteen minutes that will be described later on in the novel come packed with much more emotions and shattering events that most other nineteen minutes. They can also infer that Picoult is attempting to make them grasp the fragility of every moment we spend alive; be it ordinary, extraordinary, horrible, or life-changing. Every action in every moment has an opposite reaction so we have to make the most of our time and be fully aware of our actions and their effects on others.

Much of the plot line of this novel focuses on the concepts of ‘fitting-in’, being true to yourself or fake in order to gain popularity, and whether or not any one really has a right to judge other people. At the end of the novel, Josie Cormier comes forward on trial to recount her interaction with Peter (the shooter) on “That Day”. When we are reliving her interpretation of the events of that day we are told that,
She stared at Peter, and she realized that in that one moment, when she hadn’t been thinking, she knew exactly what he’d felt as he moved through the school with his backpack and his guns. Every kid in this school played a role: jock, brain, beauty, freak. All Peter had done was what they all secretly dreamed of: be someone, even for just nineteen minutes, who nobody else was allowed to judge. (440-441)
Peter was a boy who was harasses and abused and bullied every day on the battleground of school. He did not conform into a person that he was not just to receive acceptance from his classmates. Josie, who was once Peter’s best-friend, eventually did the opposite of him. She started to become so dubbed down and fake in order to gain popularity until the point she could barely remember the ‘true’ Josie. The reason for Josie’s fakeness or Peter’s torment stems from the fact that certain people think they possess the right to judge other people and, with this right, those people think they are entitled to walk all over the people that do not fit into their standards. Yet, for “nineteen minutes” Peter became someone people were too scared to push around or judge. He took all the anger and hatred people had created in him for 17 years and compacted it into a nineteen minute rampage that no one would ever forget. Picoult was demonstrating how if someone gets stepped on their whole lives they may become desperate to hold some source of power over people, and Peter went about gaining power in a violent way as he had been shown all his life by bullies. He became the person in control of other people’s fates instead of allowing other people to control his. He attempted to show the world what the repercussions of their cruel, uninitiated judgments could be.

Another aspect of the novel’s title which helped to create the themes Picoult was attempting to get across to the reader was the idea of who Peter was before those nineteen minutes. Everyone was so quick to judge Peter on those nineteen infamous minutes of his life, but what about the other nine million as Peter’s mother states,
Everyone would remember Peter for nineteen minutes of his life, but what about the other nine million? Lacy would have to be the keeper of those, because it was the only way for that part of Peter to stay alive. For every recollection of him that involved a bullet or a scream, she would have a hundred others: of a little boy splashing in a pond, or riding a bicycle for the first time, or waving from the top of a jungle gym. Of a kiss good night, or a crayoned Mother’s Day card, or a voice off-key in the showed. She would string them together-the moments when her child had been just like other people’s. She would wear them, precious pearls, every day of her life; because if she lost them, then the boy she had loved and raised and known would really be gone. (450-451)
For all the crucial events that were condensed into those nineteen minutes, there were still nine million others which represented the person who Peter truly was before he could not take living on the war front of bullies any more, before he took matters into his own hands finally. Do those nineteen horrific minutes represent who Peter really was or who Peter was pushed to be by society? The families that were affected by Peter’s rampage had a right to consider him a monster but they also need to understand who Peter was before everyone pinned him down with predictions and judgments. If someone is consistently told they are a freak and treated as if they are inhumane, they may start to believe it. In Peter’s case, those nineteen minutes represented the person people had treated him like all his life: a freak who does inhumane things. Yet, those minutes did not accurately portray who Peter really was, the Peter his parents remember him as: a more sympathetic boy that was less competitive and more of a computer genius than other boys his age.

Sometimes we overlook the cover and titles of books. We read them and then dismiss them while we delve into the main course of the novel. Other times titles are just randomly placed on books and have little significance. In the case of Jodi Picoult’s novels though, especially Nineteen Minutes, her titles help to craft together themes and moods and plot lines that will be crucial in the novel. The point of this title is to make the reader realize every minute they live is fragile. At any second of any seemingly ‘normal’ day, something or someone has the potential to alter people’s lives irreversibly, for the better or for the worse. We must always take into consideration our actions and their potential reactions. When it comes down to it, no one wants to be the driving force behind someone’s reason to break down; no matter how innocent or funny their actions were meant to be.






Salem Falls By Jodi Picoult -Controlling of other peoples lives

[(essay dated June 14, 2009) In this criticism, A.M. analyses how the want of control over other people’s lives will lead to downfall. In this criticism, the aspect of control, mainly related to Gillian Duncan and Jack St. Bride is explored.]




Salem Falls, set in the year 2001, tells the story of a former star athlete and teacher at an all girl’s school in New Hampshire who has moved to Salem Falls to get a fresh start. Forced to carry around the title ‘rapist’ wherever he goes due to allegations from a sixteen year old girl from his old school, Jack St. Bride is trying to shed his life prior to being in jail. Once the town finds out he is a convicted sex offender, he must live with the hate and prejudice that comes along with it. He gets a job and is doing well until Gillian Duncan, daughter of the most influential business man in the town, throws more allegations, although false, his way. These will prove to be false, although due to his prior conviction, many will find it hard to believe. In more ways than one, this town, which’s always had open arms for everyone until now, will start down a path of control, and will try and take the foundation from underneath a man who has just regained it.

Jodi Picoult tells the story of Salem Falls in chronological order, but tells the story of Jack St. Bride backwards. As events unfold, the reader learns more about Jack’s past. This shows that he is trying to get rid of his past, and also trying to start fresh, which proves impossible when you are a convicted sex offender. Being a convicted sex offender, his life is, by law, monitored. The law in this case does more than just monitor; it controls every aspect of his life. It starts when St. Bride is accused of a life shattering crime, rape. This crime is significant to this theme because rape is all about empowerment and being able to control a person. Not about love, not about care, or kindness. The alleged victim, Catherine Marsh, was, in fact, in love with Jack St. Bride, and also a minor. Jack, being her teacher, as well as soccer coach, did not return the feelings, knowing that kind of situation was illegal, as well as morally wrong. The law wasn’t what stopped him though; he just didn’t think of her like that. Catherine’s accusations landed Jack in jail, and will forever control his life. He has to be monitored wherever he goes, registered wherever he goes, and subject to prejudice everywhere he goes. Being in jail, one loses every basic right a free man would have. It is determined when he will eat and sleep, when or if he goes outside, by someone who has less education than him. Jail represents the loss of any freedom a man has. This also is foreshadowing Jack St. Bride’s time in the quiet town of Salem Falls. “It had taken Jack a moment to realize it wasn’t weight he’d lost during these eight months but pride.” This shows that along with freedom being controlled, his pride is also controlled and gradually taken away. Jail takes over one’s mind, and eventually will erode any pride or value a person has. Even though this is what its job is to do, the controlling factor will forever damage how someone views himself.

Similar to jail, the law now controls Jack’s life more than a normal man’s life would be controlled. His first action when he moves to Salem Falls, or anywhere for that matter, is to register as a sex offender. This record is a public file, meaning anyone who wishes may see the list. Although laws are supposed to promote freedom, these are slowly suppressing him. He comes to Salem Falls looking for a fresh start, but already his past is following him. He gets a job at the Do-Or-Diner, where the tables turn a bit in regards to control. He is asked to move in with Addie Peabody’s alcoholic father to ‘keep an eye on him’. Unwelcomed by Roy, Jack watches out for him, and reports back to Addie. This little control in his life is enough to make him think he is actually valuable to someone. Oddly enough, Roy is Jack’s alibi when more accusations start to arise.

Jack’s life is also controlled by another character, Gillian Duncan. Being the daughter of the most influential businessman in Salem Falls, Gillian gets away with almost everything. She steals drugs from her father’s pharmaceutical company, and she lies to, and manipulates everyone she comes in contact with. When she accuses Jack of sexually assaulting her, everyone believes her, and immediately takes her side. No one wanted to hear the other side of the story. This action by the town shows the sheer insecurity, and how naïve everyone in this town is. As soon as something goes bad, they all group together, and try and take down whatever the problem is. Also, Gillian’s alleged sexual assault shows the true family this town is. Families stick together, no matter what. Until the trials happen, and everything Gillian has said is proved to be false in more ways than one, this town doesn’t fall apart. Gillian also lands Jack back in jail, until his trial. This repetition of jail shows the harsh cycle that comes along with being a convicted criminal. It puts Jack on the same level as hardened criminals, who actually committed the crime they were accused of, whereas Jack didn’t commit either crime.

Gillian also controls her friends and families lives. She is clearly the leader in her group of friends, but towards the end, the girls start to question why they have been following her all these years. Gillian has her dad wrapped around her finger, simply put. Amos Duncan, consumed by his pharmaceutical business, doesn’t see Gillian for what she’s worth. Whatever she says goes. No parent wants to believe their kid stole a hallucinogen from their own company, and he doesn’t know this happened until high amounts of atropine were found in her system. This father/ daughter relationship shows the corruptness of this town. This relationship sums up the entire town. This town is controlled by Gillian. She gets treated like a princess wherever she goes.

“’He did not touch you,’ Gillian said. “Do you understand?”

Meg nodded quickly.

“He touched me.” Gillian grabbed Meg’s arm and squeezed it. “Say it!”

“He touched you,” Meg sobbed. “He touched you.”

This scene is where Meg claims Jack assaulted her. Since they were all high on drugs, they hallucinated, and thought Jack assaulted them, when really he was drunk, and stumbled upon them in the woods celebrating Beltane. This passage shows how Gillian needs to control everyone lives. She needs the spotlight on her, and as soon as it goes on someone else, she needs to stop it. This need for control will lead Gillian down a dark path of lies and manipulation. It is also stated that Gillian has been a compulsive liar ever since her mother died when she was nine. This shows that she is insecure about herself, and needs to be in the spotlight.

On the other hand, Gillian and her friends are controlled by something as well. The girls, Gillian, Meg, Whitney, and Courtney, are experimenting with Wicca, which is a form of witchcraft. This controls their lives. They have control over everyone in the town, and use it for good sometimes and bad other times. Again, this is showing how the town is controlled by something bigger than itself, and it doesn’t even know it. On the night that Gillian was allegedly attacked, they were celebrating Beltane, a Wiccan holiday. To celebrate this holiday correctly, they must use a drug called Belladonna, or atropine. On this night, the girls were high on this drug, showing the loss of control. This loss on control of the people who control the town is foreshadowing what is going to happen to the town in the days to come. It is going to lose control. The drug is fast acting, and even though it is still in her system when she is evaluated as a rape victim, the effects are gone. This symbolizes how the town will react. The town, shocked by the news that their queen bee Gillian Duncan was a victim of Jack’s, will be subdued after the trial is over, and Jack is acquitted. In the last paragraph of the book, it is revealed that Gillian and her father are having relations. This shows that even though Amos is wrapped around her finger, he still has some control over her life.

“Amos held out his hand, and she placed hers in it. Then he pulled her into an embrace, an old, old dance. Gillian closed her eyes, years past tears. Her mind was already a million miles away by the time her father’s mouth was over hers, sealing their deal once again.” (pg. 434).

This passage raises many questions. One would like to know what the deal is, and who the one who made this deal was. The fact that she closes her eyes is because she doesn’t want to believe the control he was over her.

Another character, Addie Peabody’s life is controlled, too. Addie lost her daughter Chloe when she was a young girl. Chloe was conceived when Addie was gang raped at age sixteen by the people who now run the town she lives in, Amos Duncan, and Charlie, the cop. The very people who committed the crime of control are now in control of the town their victim lives in. Although Charlie apologizes time and time again, Addie will never forgive herself for not knowing which one is the father. Chloe was the pride and joy of ‘Addie’s life, and when she died of bacterial meningitis, Addie’s world is turned upside down. Every day after Chloe’s death, she leaves a plate of food out for her, and converses with her. This may seem a little crazy, but when someone consumes their every waking to their child when they are alive, it’s only an instinct to care for that child when they are gone. “Even when I try my hardest, I can’t remember exactly what her smile looked like. Or if the color of her hair was more gold or more yellow. It gets worse…harder…every year. I lost her once. I can’t stand to lose her all over again.” (pg. 69) This shows that Addie is being controlled, and consumed by the fact that she can’t remember every detail about Chloe, so she thinks if she keeps putting food out, and having conversations with her, that she’ll remember. All this does is portray her as a little but crazy, and the town isn’t partial to that.

Salem Falls is the story of control. Control over people, over events, and over each other. Jack St, Bride is the victim of almost all this control, as he is being controlled by the law, Gillian Duncan, and the town. Every character in this novel are controlled by at least one character, and those characters have some similarities, namely by Gillian Duncan. A man who is looking for a fresh start is now being persecuted, for the second time, for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Due to all this yearning for more control, people, as well as the town, start to fall apart. The lesson of this book is to only control yourself, as it will lead to your downfall if you try to control more than yourself.

(A.M. 2009)



The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult – Taking responsibility for one’s own actions
[(essay dated June 14, 2009) In this criticism, A.M. analyzes how it is important to take responsibility for one’s own actions, and be mature enough to live with the consequences. Also analyzed is how relationships strengthen when these consequences are accepted.]

The Tenth Circle, set in modern times, is a story about how a father/ daughter relationship strengthens after a terrible accident. Trixie Stone is the light of her father’s life. She gets straight A’s, she’s pretty, and popular, and she’s in love. Jason Underhill is the star athlete in town. Everyone knew his face, and treated him like royalty. At a party that Trixie and her best friend Zephyr planned, the unthinkable happens. Trixie gets raped. And when Trixie accuses him of raping her, the town sides with Jason, and makes life a living hell for Trixie. Then, when Trixie is accused of murdering Jason, she flees to Alaska, where her father grew up, and learned his own lessons about ostracism. It is proved that Trixie is innocent, but her mother, who was having an affair the night Trixie was raped, was the one who murdered Jason. Lessons were learned by many characters, but relationships are what strengthened out of this mess. Everyone learns the hard lessons of being responsible for their actions, and accepting the consequences.

This lesson came in full force for Laura Stone, Trixie’s mother. Laura is a professor at Monroe College, where she teaches a course on Dante’s poem, The Divine Comedy, but more specifically, The Inferno. This poem teaches about one’s actions, and being responsible for the consequences. Laura is married to Daniel Stone, and their marriage is breaking apart. Laura is having an affair with one of her graduate students, Seth, and on the night Trixie is raped, Laura was at his house, and could not be reached. Daniel knows his wife is having an affair, but refuses to accept it. That is the normal reaction to such a discovery, that maybe if he doesn’t confront it, it will go away. But when Daniel needs her the most, when Trixie needs her the most, she’s nowhere to be found.

“Daniel had made excuses for his wife on his own behalf, but he couldn’t make them for Trixie’s sake. Because for the first time in his life, he didn’t think he could be everything his daughter needed right now” (pg. 63).

This passage shows the sheer desperateness Daniel Stone is feeling. He’s desperate for his wife to come and help him out, to help everyone get through this, more importantly help Trixie get through this. Also, he is fed up with the fact that his wife isn’t in Trixie’s life as much as she needs to be because she is too occupied with Seth. The fact that Laura is off with another man when her family needs her most shows how she yearns for something more. Trixie keeps asking for her mother, and Daniel has no idea where she is. The significance that she doesn’t answer her phone symbolizes how her family needs her, and she’s not there to answer. Her affair with a student in her class shows that she yearns for more. She states herself that the reason why she married Daniel was he was the forbidden guy, and she fell in love with that. She needs more of an intellectual connection. This also makes Daniel feel like he isn’t giving her what she needs, when, in retrospect, he is the one raising the family, he is the one who is always there when Trixie needs him. He is a comic book writer, and lives in a world that he makes up. Reality is not better than what he draws so he consumes himself in his work, so that maybe, he’ll come out of it, and Laura’s affair will have just disappeared.

Daniel Stone grew up in a Yup’ik tribe in Alaska. Since he was the only white boy, he was teased, and ostracized, so now he knows how hard it is for Trixie. He learned how to fight back, but for the past 15 years, he has been an even tempered man, who has put his career on hold to be a stay at home dad to Trixie, and a husband for Laura. His time in Alaska came to a screeching halt when he is accused of murdering his best friend. His entire tribe turned against him, and he fled. Daniel, on the other hand, didn’t take responsibility for his actions, although he didn’t kill his best friend. His action of fleeing symbolizes just that, that he didn’t take responsibility for his actions, but now he is holding his wife responsible for hers. He knows how damaging not doing so can be, so he is only trying to help his wife.
“’If you weren’t guilty…then why-‘
“Because Cane was still dead’” (pg. 281).
This passage is from when Daniel is confessing to Laura that he fled Alaska after being accused of murdering his best friend, Cane. He is justifying why Trixie ran away after being accused of murdering Jason. She didn’t run away because she did it, she ran because he was still dead. At this point, Daniel knows exactly what Trixie is going through, and he knows that although before he was uncertain that he could help his daughter, he knew now that he could be everything and more for Trixie.

Trixie has gone through the most painful event of her life, something no one should experience. She is just trying to make sense of the fact that her best friend dropped her after it, why everyone in the town yells horrible things at her if they see her walking around, and why kids are tormenting her at school. She feels alone, and even with a rape counselor, she feels like she has no one in the world to talk to. Even when he counselor tells her that she too had been raped, and that taking baby steps is how she got to where she is now, Trixie feels alone. This feeling of alone leads her to start cutting herself. It starts out with little cuts, and then, when she hits rock bottom, she tries to kill herself. She lives, but now her parents know. They don’t know the extent of it, like how often she cuts herself, but they know that their kid is cutting herself, and they are going to try and do everything to help her get through this.

“’It’s not what you think. I wasn’t trying to kill myself again. It’s just… it’s just… Its how I runaway.
When she finally gathered the courage to look up again, the expression on her father’s face nearly broke her. The monster she’d seen in the parking lot the other night was gone, replaced by the parent she trusted her whole life” (pg. 246).

This passage represents how Trixie feels. She feels so alone that her way of escaping is causing physical harm to herself. She believes that if she suffers enough physical pain, that this whole ordeal will go away. She believes that with enough suffering, things will go back to the way they were with her entire life. Trixie also believes, and feels partially responsible for Jason’s death. This guilt shows the remorse she has for ever going to that party where this whole ordeal started.

Through this entire tragic time in Trixie’s life, some good does come out of it. Her family relationships strengthen. Although Daniel Stone will never completely forgive his wife for abandoning her family when they needed her most.
“His mistake had been in not admitting how much had gone wrong between him and Laura. Maybe you had to scrape rock bottom before you could push your way back to the surface” (pg. 185).
This passage shows that Daniel is admitting he had done wrong to, not just his wife. Although less serious of the two mistakes, he has to admit to himself that he wasn’t perfect in this relationship, even though he tried to be. This is the turning point in the novel for Daniel and Laura. They are finally getting back to a good point. Laura and Trixie’s relationship is also improving. After she comes clean to Trixie that she has been having an affair, she and Trixie seem to get along more. When Trixie asked if she still loves her father, Laura replies “I loved you more”. Although this love didn’t really show itself when it was needed, it was always there. It was obviously there because when Trixie went missing, Laura helped Daniel search the entire town for her. When Trixie ran away to Alaska, she accompanied Daniel, even though it was very dangerous for her. When Daniel and Laura arrived in Alaska, Daniel knew the trip was going to be too dangerous for her, so he told her she had to stay behind, and she ended up staying at Cane’s parents’ house. This whole scene shows how much Daniel cares for Laura, and how much Daniel cares for Trixie, that he’d be willing to risk his life to save hers. With such a strong relationship to begin with, Daniel and Trixie only grow closer. She feels now that she can talk to him about anything, and he will listen. His comfort level had been pushed when he found out his daughter had been raped.

“It went beyond comfort; it went beyond parenting. It meant transforming all the rage he felt right now – enough to breathe fire and blow out the windshield – into words that spread like balm, invisible comfort for wounds too broad to see” (pg. 61).

No parent knows how to act in this situation. There is no book or manual, but Daniel is doing the right thing. He is taking care of his daughter when she needs him most, and for that, she will come to love and look up to him as her hero even more. He sacrifices himself in more ways than one to make sure she is the most comfortable, and that she is the safest. He shelters her when she needs it, and she will be forever grateful for his loving actions.

Actions speak louder than words, and sometimes silence is easier than lying. All three of these characters showed they have learned from their actions, and are mature enough to accept the responsibilities, and look out for each other. This family has been through the worst possible events, and managed to come out together. They helped pick up the pieces of each other’s broken hearts, and even though Laura strayed when her family needed her most, she learned the meaning of family. No matter how far you stray, your family will always be there when you get back. Between each chapter in this book, there are comic strips with hidden letters that spell out the entire meaning of this novel in one sentence, which sums up everything this novel and this criticism is about:

“Nothing is easier than self-deceit, for what each man wishes that he also believes to be true – Demosthenes.”

(A.M. 2009)





Nineteen Minutes: Jodi Picoult

Do we ever really know someone?
[In this essay E.F. explores social hierarchy and the implications of being “different”]
Nineteen Minutes is a thought provoking novel that has as its core a haunting question; do we ever really know someone? And who, if anyone, has the right to judge someone else?
A victim is defined as a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or by some impersonal agency. From the halls of our high school, to the streets of our town, bullying, manipulation, and violence is everywhere. How does one become a victim? Is it the way they look? Their personality? Their strengths or weaknesses? Or do they simply become a victim for the fun and entertainment of others?
Nineteen Minutes opens with a detective rushing into a New England High School in the midst of a Columbine-style shooting. As the detective reaches the far end of the high school, he enters the locker room where he finds carnage and a shaking 17 year old boy who is revealed as the assailant. It is at this point in the novel that the door is opened for Picoult to probe how the explosions of violence referred to as “asocial” and “abnormal” can stem from the norm, and in particular affect the male gender.
The effects of bullying are obvious. Not only does it destroy the feelings and emotional stability of a human being, but it instills an immense amount of failure and invalidation. For Peter Houghton, it did just that. We meet Peter early on as the shooter. He is characterized as a sweet person, without a mean bone in his body; a magnet for bullying. Adults and role models in his life including his parents and teachers tell him he must be an advocate for himself, and he must stick up for himself, which only underscores the conflicting lessons he is already learning from those that torment him. Kindness is viewed as a weakness to be punished for, while masculinity breeds violence.
These are the ingredients of a violent social hierarchy. This is the use of unjust authority figures and creates endless torture of the weak, or socially “different”. This hierarchy is an all too familiar detail of many if not all middle school and high school students at any given point in their primary educational careers, and seems to be more predominant among males. To many students and even working adults of all ages, one of the most important social priorities is to “fit in”. This gives people the satisfaction that they feel “normal” and are part of the “socially appropriate group”. To describe this, Picoult forms a literary comparison through Lacy (Peter’s mother) while she is sitting within a group of intimidating people. In reference to page 37 she reflects:
“Alex, she realized, could fit in anywhere. Here with her colleagues, or with Lacy’s family at dinner, or in a courtroom, or probably at tea with the queen. She was a chameleon. It struck Lacy that she didn’t really know what color a chameleon was before it started changing.”
This quote clearly exemplifies popularity and/or social hierarchy. In trying to “fit in” many people change their true personalities in order to satisfy the “socially appropriate group.” This connects to the quote by illustrating that no one really knows a person’s true character before it begins to change. This connects to another main character in this novel, Josie Cormier. Josie exemplifies the direct result of social hierarchy. As a child, Josie was not part of the “popular crowd”. In fact, she was even Peter’s best friend. However, it did not take long for Josie to be influenced by the “popular crowd” and be affected by social hierarchy as well. Picoult successfully describes this on page 305.
“Once, when Josie was in fifth grade, the students had to build a bridge out of popsicle sticks. The idea was to craft a design that could withstand the most pressure. She could remember riding in the car across the Connecticut River, and studying the arches and struts and supports of the real bridges, trying her best to copy them. At the end of the unit, two engineers from the Army Corps came in with a machine specifically designed to put weight and torque on each bridge, to see which child’s was the strongest. During Josie’s bridge test, the sticks splintered and groaned, and then burst apart in catastrophic failure.”
This passage definitely represents the theme of social hierarchy. A bridge can be viewed as a symbol of a brand new beginning. However, for Josie this brand new beginning is not a positive one, but a decision and milestone that will control the majority of her school career. Throughout this passage the popsicle sticks and bridge make up the pyramid of “popularity”. The second sentence of this passage describes that the bridge must be crafted to withstand the most pressure, and that Josie studied arches, struts, and real bridges to try her best to copy them. This also depicts that some people are able to withstand pressure, while others cannot. Overall, this sentence sums up the idea of “popularity” and creates the basis for how one might become “popular”; through peer pressure and by imprinting others.
To be specific, the emotional failure of not “fitting in” and being viewed as “different” caused Peter to commit the tragedy of murdering ten people on an ordinary school day. In creating this setting, Picoult uses denotation. This is shown through Peter’s actions. By constructing a school massacre, he turned a school into a symbol of danger, fear, and death rather than a place of community, strength and learning. Peter’s sense of emotional failure also caused him to feel as if he was suffocating. In the exhaustion of trying to “fit in” and feel “wanted” Peter has only caused himself more pain and humiliation; and he feels as if he is “suffocating” while trying to find the balance in his social lifestyle. To describe this suffocation, Picoult uses literary analogies.
One literary analogy is present on pages 93-94.
“Peter started to imagine what it would be like to have only a bowl to explore. He wondered if the fish hovered over the tendril of plastic plant each time it passed because there was something new and amazing he’d discovered about its shape size, or because it was a way to count another lap. He wondered what his fish had thought expecting the cool blue sea, only to wind up swimming in shit.”
This particular passage reflects on Peter’s life. The bowl represents how both the fish and Peter feel trapped inside an undesirable life. Instead of getting the freedom and openness of the ocean, they both are left with a small stream; crowded and trapped into an unhappy life that may never change.
This is a casual cruelty inflicted more often than not in the social hierarchy of our day. Picoult poses many questions to the reader. Who is responsible for this intolerable act? And who were the adults responsible for intervening appropriately, which could have averted this act of violence?
“Maybe it was our own damn fault that men turned out the way they did”, comments Selena, the wife of a defense attorney. “Maybe empathy, like any unused muscle, simply atrophied.” (Page 343)
If empathy is a type of vaccine or inoculation against violence, then it is abundantly clear that Picoult’s own compassion for the characters goes beyond the writing of this novel and touches a political nerve. There is a deep sympathy in the story that may have averted the tragedy all together. Are adults too frightened to brave their children’s barriers? Who are our children becoming as young adults, and have we failed as a society to build the foundation of well-adjusted young adults as they begin their own lives? This brings us to the conclusion that parenting has a great effect on the overall people we become. Is it possible to pack too much freedom and trust into a child’s life? In doing so, an absent parent who is unaware of their child’s lifestyle outside and even inside the home can contribute to Peter’s behavior.
We are also taken inside the minds of the bully, and it is revealed that they too are constantly nervous about their own place in the social hierarchy. Masculinity becomes a losing game and asserting it means undermining someone else, manipulating others, and bringing everyone in a particular social circle to an unclear and uncertain status. Uncertainty breeds impulsive and reactive behaviors, often destructive and tragic to all. In addition, bullying creates the judgment of others; which is present toward Peter throughout the novel. To display Peter’s feelings, emotional exhaustion and destruction from this constant judgment, Picoult uses allusion through the song Judgment Day by the band Death Wish. Judgment Day in the Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions, is the day at the end of the world when God judges the moral worth of individual humans or the whole human race.
“Black snow falling
Stone corpse walking
Bastards laughing
Gonna blow them all away, on my Judgment Day.

Bastards don’t see
The bloody beast in me
The reaper rides for free
Gonna blow them all away, on my Judgment Day.” (110)

Not only does this song epitomize the school massacre that Peter achieved, but it shows how much anger and resentment that he has built up. “Black” and “stone corpse” are dark words that set a hateful and macabre mood. This song is the story of his life.
Violence in school since the Columbine shooting has become a major focus in our political environment and in every community. Nineteen Minutes shies away from this central concern and primary focus. Instead, it recognizes a painful realization of the significant changes to our society, and the outcomes of our children. It is a poignant and direct reflection of apathy or failure in parenting and creates the understanding that “different” is welcome and should be accepted with respect and appreciation.

(E.F. June 2009)



Handle With Care: Jodi Picoult
Are all lives worth living?

[In this essay, E.F. analyzes the controversy of wrongful birth and the affirmation of human dignity]

Things break all the time. Day breaks, waves break, voices break, and hearts break. Every expectant parent will tell you that they do not want a perfect baby, just a healthy baby. Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe would have asked for a healthy baby too if they had been given the choice. Instead their lives have been made up of sleepless nights, mounting health insurance bills, and the pitying stares of “luckier” parents and maybe worst of all, the “what-ifs”. What if their child had been born healthy?
But it is all worth it because Willow is, as funny as it seems, perfect in her own right. Although she was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, she is smart, as pretty as her mother, kind, brave, and for a five year old, an unexpectedly deep source of wisdom. Willow is Willow, in sickness and in health. However when Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe file a wrongful birth lawsuit, they leave Willow suffering more from emotional breaks than physical breaks.
Handle with Care forces the reader to confront the most serious “what-ifs”. What if Willow’s illness had been confirmed earlier in the pregnancy? What if things could have been different? What if Willow had never been born? To do Willow justice, Charlotte and Sean must ask themselves these questions and more. What constitutes a valuable life? Emotionally riveting and profoundly moving, Picoult brings us into the heart of a family bound by incredible burden, a desperate will to keep their ties from breaking, and, ultimately, a powerful capacity for love. This novel depicts the fragility of life and the lengths we will go to protect it.
The greatest effect wrongful birth carries is its impact on a family. In a household with a handicap child that needs enthusiasm and encouragement, the importance of a strong family is crucial. Throughout the novel, Picoult uses irony to emphasize this importance. The joy of having a baby can quickly turn to anxiety and despair when parents learn that their child has a significant birth defect, a genetic disease, or a disorder that will create a permanent disability and require life-long care. Often, the physical and financial hardships endured by parents in these situations is overshadowed by the emotional pain they experience as they witness their child’s suffering, or imagine the pain and hardship the child will face in the future.
If a birth defect, genetic disease, or disorder is not identified during a pregnancy simply because a medical care provider was negligent, then a wrongful birth claim can be filed. However, a right to life is inalienable in our society. A court cannot decide what defects should prevent an embryo from being given a life; a child need not be perfect to have a worthwhile life. It may have been easier for the mother and less expensive for the father to have terminated the life of the child before birth, but these detriments cannot stand against the preciousness of human life. In essence, many courts have confirmed and made law that every single human life, whatever its circumstances or genetic condition, is worthy of existence, and that existence is to be prized over non-existence as a matter of principle.
Thus, multi-million dollar lawsuits are blamed on poor obstetrics care and deprive a parent of making the decision to abort or not, shedding an uncomfortable light on the expectations about childbearing and on how much control we believe we should have over the babies we give birth to. Technology in prenatal care has shifted and improved rapidly. We are able to know the sex of our unborn children commonly as well as proven or potential birth defects. To have a baby with an abnormality unknown prior to birth is no longer the norm, and so our ethical responses to the information gained by these improvements to healthcare have shifted as well. As with many other life realms, from marriage to end of life issues, ethical standards about human life are being hashed out in courts one law suit after another. These cases are exposing the belief that we should have a right to choose which babies come into the world.
This new belief has put our society in a brand new world; a world in which human life is often reduced to scientific means. This has caused the cold calculus of genetic testing, and the subjectivity of murder to unborn children, allowing the parent to decide which life is worth living. There are two assumptions to argue; the first is the assumption that if we choose to take advantage of the new improved medical technology, major flaws in our fetus’s health will be detected before birth. The second assumption is that we will be able to do something about it, for example end the pregnancy. As reproductive genetics continues to open up new possibilities we will see more of these types of cases and more novel issues surrounding them.
The courts have responded to these questions with even more confusion than the moral question itself. Half the states allow some form of wrongful birth lawsuit, but few allow wrongful life suits. The question is who has the right to make these decisions? Who has the right to decide who should live and who should die?
There are many emotional aspects to a wrongful birth. These emotional aspects have a profound effect on family. The basis of a strong family materializes from a unit of unfaltering and dedicated parents. Without a good relationship between parents, a strong family support network is not possible. However, this is the first place wrongful birth conquers. In a quest to make the right decision, Charlotte cannot gain the support of Sean, and is left to take the journey alone. This in itself, can destroy the family unit. The interests of parents and parental rights become pitted against the interests of children born disabled. The emotional link to the decision of a wrongful birth suit can impact a child’s life forever. It is ironic that Willow constantly needs to be “handled with care”; however Charlotte has only caused more hardship, confusion, and hurt to Willow’s emotional state.
One of the most compelling elements of this novel is Picoult’s writing style. Using symbolism and diction, Picoult begins each chapter with a recipe. In literal terms, a recipe is a set of directions. Although driving directions do not always have to be followed directly, recipes are thorough, specific, and need to be followed accurately. Figuratively, recipes make up all aspects of our life. However sometimes you cannot throw out your mistakes and start over. Many times, their effects are everlasting.

“Blind Baking: the process of baking a pie crust without the filling.

Sometimes, when you’re dealing with fragile dough, it will collapse in spite of your best intentions. For this reason, some pie crusts and tart shells must be baked before the filling is added. The best method is to line the tart pan or pie plate with the rolled-out dough and place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. When you are ready to bake, prick the crust in several spots with a fork, line the pie plate or tart shell with foil or parchment paper, and fill it with rice or dried beans. Bake as directed, then carefully remove the foil and the beans—the shell will have retained its form because of them. I like seeing how a substance that weighs heavily can, in the end, be lifted; I like the feel of the beans, like trouble that slips through your fingers. Most of all, I like the proof in the pastry: it is the things we have to bear that shape us.” (Page 123)

The symbolism of this recipe shows the burden that the O’Keefe family has endured. By using the term “Blind Baking” Picoult depicts how Charlotte was “blind” when she took on this lawsuit. She was blind to the emotional drain that would impact her family, and she was blind to her family collapsing before her eyes. Although this burden was difficult on the O’Keefe family, it has shaped the people they are, and the rest of their lives.
When any life is deemed to be unworthy of living, every single human life is cheapened, discounted, and threatened. We are living in an age increasingly without moral rules. It is an age in which choices about life and death are now commonly made with specific reference to what kind of child we would welcome, and what quality of life we will accept and protect. The Christian affirmation must be that every single life is worthy of living. Every life is worthy of our protection, our care, and our welcome. No one should ever discount the difficulties of dealing with children who are born with severe genetic abnormalities or serious diseases. Most of us, within our extended families or circle of friends, are intimately familiar with just how excruciating many of these situations can be. Nevertheless, these are the very same issues we will face in terms of issues at the end of life, and at many points between birth and death.

(E.F. June 2009)







Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult
What makes someone a good mother?

What is a good mother? Is it someone who protects their child from every hurt? Someone who never lets anything worse than a paper cut occur? Never teased, with no self-doubts or worries? Or is it someone who lets their child experience the good and the bad? Someone who lets their child make their own mistakes and learn from them?

What about mothers of more than one? What if the mother is busy being a good mother to one child? What happens to the second one? If they turn out less than perfect, what does that make the mother? Even though the first child is deemed perfect, are they still considered a good mother if the second isn’t?

But what if neither child is perfect? What happens then?

In Handle With Care, Jodi Picoult uses a very unique situation. One daughter, Willow, has OI- osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease- and her mother, Charlotte O’Keefe, spends so much time taking care of Willow that her other daughter, Amelia, tends to slip through the cracks. Her husband isn’t much help with Amelia- Sean O’Keefe is forced to spend almost all of his time working to make ends meet after Charlotte quit her job to take care of Willow. But does sacrificing the care of one daughter for the sake of another make Charlotte a bad mother? Or simply a misguided one?

The O’Keefes attempt to take a family vacation to Disney World when Willow is five years old. Charlotte reminds Amelia to get the doctor’s letter which states that Willow has OI and was under the care of their doctor in case of an emergency. But, in the excitement of her first real vacation, Amelia forgets. And so, when Willow falls on a napkin and ends up with compound fractures in both femurs, the O’Keefes travel to the hospital- only to realize that the note was forgotten. They try to explain to the hospital, but are quickly arrested on suspicion of child abuse and removed from their children. Amelia feels that the whole ordeal is her fault, because she was the one who forgot to bring the note. She quickly develops bulimia and, eventually, begins cutting- both destructive habits rooted in self-hate. But even with all the signs there for Charlotte- and even Sean- to see, they are simply too busy with Willow, now stuck in a spica cast (essentially covered in plaster from ribs to knees) for four months.

Charlotte and Sean are so completely focused on Willow that, somehow, they lost sight of everything. Charlotte files a wrongful birth lawsuit in order to win money that would enable her to take care of Willow for the rest of her life. But in doing this, Charlotte destroys her family and her friends- including her best friend, Piper, who is also her OB/GYN and the person that Charlotte is suing. This lawsuit, meant to help Willow, only ends up hurting her, because Willow is able to understand every single word that Charlotte says when she gets up on the stand- even the ones where Charlotte says she would have terminated her pregnancy if she had known about Willow’s OI earlier.

Throughout the book, Picoult includes recipes with specific terms. These terms symbolize many things for Charlotte beyond the simple baking process.

“Hardball: one of the stages of sugar syrup in the preparation of candy… Be careful. Sugar burns long after it comes into contact with your skin; it’s easy to forget that something so sweet can leave a scar.” (197)

This paragraph clearly symbolizes Charlotte’s feelings as a mother. Her daughters- both sweet, lovely girls- have permanently left their mark on her. Any good mother might say the same- that they are a different (hopefully, better) person because of their children.

Though Charlotte is doing her best to be a good mother, she ends up hurting her two children. Amelia is bulimic and cutting, and Willow believes her mother doesn’t want her. Does this make her a bad mother? Or does the fact that she was trying somehow cancel out all the hurts she caused? Society tells us that the mother with the perfect children- As in school, hands never dirty, perfectly groomed, most popular, captain of the football team or head cheerleader- is the best mother. But maybe, just maybe, the best mother is the one who simply wants her kids to be happy. Someone who does their best. Someone who doesn’t always notice things right away, but fixes them as best she can, like Charlotte did with Amelia in sending her to an inpatient treatment facility in Boston.

But even the best mothers can’t stop every hurt.

Even the best mothers can’t prevent thin, melting ice from breaking under the weight of their fragile daughter.

Even the best mothers can’t always stop their children from dying.

(R.H. 2009)









Vanishing Acts
Jodi Picoult: Identity and Deception

[(Essay dated June 9, 2011) In this literary criticism, J.B. examines the degree a name plays in the true identity of a person, the lies that escalated and formulated lives and the relationship between a parent and a child. ]


“If you call yourself something different does it change the person you are inside?” (87)

Something that Jodi Picoult thoroughly goes into in ‘Vanishing Acts” is the complex concept of identity. In the beginning Delia Hopkins knows exactly who she is. She has a daughter Sophie and the love of her life by her side. Her father is always there for her and she has had a good upbringing. What more could she need to know about herself. After the discovery of her true identity; Bethany Matthews, everything that has ever been real in Delia’s life is uprooted. The classic saying “what’s in a name” is exemplified perfectly when Delia is suddenly confused on what was real in her life. Identity not only refers to who you are inside but a name is how people identify you from the outside. What was so frightening to Delia was that how could she expect other people to know her when she didn’t even know herself? How was she supposed to raise Sophie and give her a good life foundation when hers was crumbling because she found out who she truly was? Delia is frantic in her own brain and she breaks away from relationships such as the one with Eric and the one with her father. She becomes romantically involved with Fitz which is damaging considering the degree that Eric loved Delia. The name of the individual does not define who the person inside is. Everyone else may know the individual by the name, but the actual individual knows what’s inside. Identity is an abstract idea and it isn’t about anyone else, it is just about the innermost feelings and soul of the person. It may be psychologically confusing to go by a different name but in the long run it does not matter. Delia did struggle with the problem of having a new name. “Delia Hopkins, I write and on second thought I cross it out. Bethany Matthews.” (85) Delia was extremely conflicted as whether to identify with the beginning of her life as Bethany or the life that she had built up for herself as Delia. Because our society puts so much emphasis names it is easy to think that they are more important than they are, and that was the kind of belief that emotionally broke Delia upon discovering her true name.

“It takes two people to make a lie work; the person who tells it and the one who believes it.”

Andrew Hopkins was an intriguing character given the conflict of whether he was right or wrong and whether he should actually be put in jail for the kidnapping of his own daughter. The lies that he told started out small. The first and most grievous lie that he told wasn’t even meant to be taken seriously. After he said that his wife had just died in an attempt to get sympathy and mask the fact that he was taking Delia away from her on his own accord, Delia overheard and cried. Andrew did not stop the lie there. He did not admit to her that he was lying or tell her that he was not serious. He had a chance to bring her back to her mother and apologize, but his pride and self preservation instinct prevented him from bringing her back home and apologizing. To let go of his anger and take responsibility for violating a custody law. It all could have stopped there. It didn’t. Instead he invented a life for himself, inventing new lies along the way. Because he continued to lie until his entire life and Delia’s was built on lies it proved that he was not only a liar, but a coward. His own fear and selfishness led to the alcoholism of Delia’s mother. It banished any resemblance of a mother figure from Delia’s life, denying her the presence of her own biological mother throughout her life. Something can be said for Andrew’s possible morality because of the fact that he had not originally intended to kidnap her, but it doesn’t change the fact that he did. This contradictory idea of good and bad is represented in a description of a man Andrew meets in jail. “Tall and beefy, he has devil horns tattooed on his head and is carrying the Bible.” (101) It raises the question, do you judge the man by the devil horns or the Bible? Perhaps there was a reason that he got those tattoos and he regrets it now. Andrew and this man are a lot similar this way. Should Andrew be judged on account of his kidnapping offense or the wonderful life that he had with Delia as a child? When Andrew is caught he is surprisingly calm and “relieved” that he was caught. This insinuates that he did have guilt about it. His desire to plead guilty to kidnapping was a sign that he wanted punishment which portrays an entirely different person within Andrew than is presented of him during the kidnapping.

“When you’re a parent you find yourself looking at the unknown that is your child, trying to find a piece of yourself inside her because sometimes that is what it takes to stake a claim.” (54)

There was a complex relationship between the parents and children presented in the novel. Andrew and Delia, as well as Delia and Sophie. Andrew loved Delia a lot. He supported her through everything and was always there for her when she was little, even up to when she is an adult, it is evident that she keeps her father as a close companion. Even when Andrew is taken into custody Delia still loves him deep down inside and wants the best for him. Delia knows the feelings that she has for her father and knows that Sophie feels the same dependent feelings. These two relationships parallel each other and Delia is able to understand what her father did because she had a daughter of her own. The alcoholism of Eric and Elise also parallel each other because alcoholic spouses were a part of their life and though they had a different way of dealing with them, it was a similar situation. This is why Delia was able to understand her father so well and eventually forgive him.




My Sister’s Keeper
Jodi Picoult: Humanity

[(Essay dated June 9, 2011) In this literary criticism, J.B. analyzes the right of a human to their own body, the controversy of genetic technology both in the book and in our world today, and the effect of cancer on a family]




“Did you ever wonder how we all got here?”

Anna Fitzgerald’s life has the same purpose as a toolbox or a car mechanic—to fix. Not just anything, mind you, but her sister Kate’s leukemia. What was unfair to Anna was the complete lack of control that she had over her body. Kate went to the hospital, Anna went to the hospital, Kate needed a bone marrow transplant, and there was Anna in the hospital bed next to her, the blood being drawn already. In our society it is understood that everyone has a right to their own body. It’s why sexual assault is illegal and abortion is legal. My Sister’s Keeper portrays the exact opposite of this belief. Anna has to go as far as to file a lawsuit to have her own body to herself. The fact that Kate was the one who encouraged her to file the lawsuit in the first place was a strong message that even Kate, who was being most benefited from having someone compatible to her thought that Anna was being treated unfairly. Kate was able to accept the fact that she was going to die and that Anna was a healthy individual and she was going to live a full life. Kate wanted her medically emancipated. She was able to admit to herself what their mother Sara was never able to. Picoult brings the human element to the story by questioning whether Sara was wrong to do what she did. Is it ever okay to use someone else’s organs for the benefit of someone else? Life is a precious and fragile thing as proved by the car accident that kills Anna in the end. Sara could not avoid losing a child, which is the irony of everything. She tried so hard to keep her daughter living that by trying to she caused the death of another just merely by bringing her into the world. It brings an element of the universe into play. It makes the reader wonder if there is a balance that must be kept in the universe at all times. Should death be prevented at all costs? My Sister’s Keeper communicated that death is a natural part of life and when nature is taking a human’s life extreme measures should never be taken to prevent it because everyone lives for a reason and everyone dies for a reason.


“When I was little, the greatest mystery to me wasn't how babies were made, but why.”

Genetic technology and the controversy that surrounds it is a huge theme in the novel. Genetic manipulation is one of the most powerful advances in technology because it can harness and create life. Stem cell research is currently a worldwide issue of morality and religious beliefs that have some saying that it should never be done. Others say that it can be used to cure many diseases if correctly harnessed and carried out. By bringing in a real character that was the result of a genetic combination that was made in a lab, Picoult challenges both sides of the controversy forcing one to either side with Anna or Sara. Life is not something that should be taken lightly. Sara and Brian were rather selfish when they decided that they were going to do everything that they could to save Kate. Before they even realized it they had brought another daughter into the world. Anna was not treated equally which is the main reason why the entire genetic plan for Anna was appalling. She was not their real daughter, she was merely a person who hung around the house and kept Kate alive according to them. They knew that they could save Kate by creating Anna, but they never second guessed themselves, wondering whether they should. In their unfailing love for Kate, they had blocked out their only other daughter and sacrificed her to the unpredictability of leukemia. Instead of enjoying a normal childhood, Anna laid for hours on a hospital bed not having one ounce of sickness inside of her. This portrays the danger of genetic capabilities and the possibly inhuman and unintentionally horrific lifestyles that can be created from a lab. If a person was to be cloned, would they have the same rights as a human conceived in the womb? A life for someone that is created by the hands of scientists is definitely not the same as the life of someone that is created from the mutual love of two people. Anna did not want to be something that was examined under a microscope or forced to give her kidneys away. She just wanted to be emancipated. Although she did die in the end, maybe she did end up emancipated after all.

“I’m sure I’m worth more dead than alive…” (94)

Ever since the Fitzgerald family discovered that their daughter had gotten leukemia it had turned the entire family upside down. Anna was “born” and Kate spent her life as a child and teenager undergoing treatment. The marriage between Brian and Sara was strained and it seemed as if all of the happiness of the family that had once been a family was now just a house of people just trying to get through the day. Jesse, the brother and the eldest, from whom the latter quote comes from, is rebellious to the point of almost suicidal. He is ignored by his parents because all they pay attention to is Kate. After she was diagnosed he was ignored to the point that he did whatever he wanted and they were too emotionally exhausted to deal with Jesse’s shenanigans and encounters with the hall. Anna was removed from her parents because of her nagging feeling of inferiority and Kate was the center of attention for everything. It shows that when cancer becomes a part of someone’s life it turns into the center of everything in the family. Suddenly the family is not about going on vacation or helping out with homework or spending time together. It is worrying about whether there will be an outbreak that will lead them to the hospital as well as the impending doom that is bestowed on all of those individuals that contract some form of cancer. The emotional turmoil that the Fitzgerald’s experience can perhaps be related to a family of someone with cancer because it is such a destructing disease. It reeks havoc on the foundation that the family is all about. This book made me feel empathy for anyone with a family member going through the disease.

My Sister’s Keeper
Jodi Picoult

[(Essay dated 6/13/14) In this literary criticism, M.D. analyzes one of the main themes of the novel and the symbols that contribute to it.]

In My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult, one of the main themes of the novel is control. Whether it is control over one’s own body, control over someone else, or control over something else, control and the want for it is constantly present in the novel. And there are many symbols that relate to this theme like Brian being a firefighter, Campbell’s explanations for his dog, Kate’s central line, Kate‘s dream to be a ballerina, Jesse arsenic behavior and the law suit, all of which deal with wanting control over something to make up for not having control over something else.

Brian being a firefighter, is a symbol of a desire for control. He can’t cure his sick daughter, he can’t deal with his other two children, and he can’t stand up to his wife. But he can put out fires. Something that is typically seen as uncontrollable, yet he has control of it. More specifically, there was the time he went in the burning house to save a child that did not make it out with their family. But even this was not an easy rescue, “A fire would follow a specific path; a child might not,” (Picoult 144). Although this child, unlike his own, he was able to save even with the difficulty presented. So Brian being a firefighter is a symbol of him wanting a control that he can’t have.

Then there is Campbell’s explanations for his dog, Judge that are seen as another symbol of a demand for control. Because he cannot control the real reason that he needs a Service Dog, he makes up fake reasons that give him the power to control what he tells people is wrong with him. In fact, he goes as far as to lie to every single person in his life about it until an unfortunate incident reveals the truth. “ ‘Is that why you took my case?’ ” “ ‘So that I could have a seizure in public? Believe me, no,’ ” “ ‘Not that, Because you know what it’s like to not have any control over your body,’ ” (Picoult 386-387). And even after that, he continues to tell his twisted stories about why he has Judge. “ I think about coming clean, for once, for the first time. But then again, you have to be able to laugh at yourself, don’t you?” (Picoult 408). Because his need for control over a situation he can’t control is too great to compromise.

Another example of a symbol that relates to the theme of control is Kate’s central line. The fact that she always wants it covered is a symbol of her longing for control over her illness. But because she cannot control the disease, she uses something in close conjunction to it as an outlet. Like when she was shopping for a Prom dress, “ ‘Will it cover this?’ Kate snaps, popping open the buttons of her peasant blouse to reveal her recently replaced Hickman catheter, which sprouts from the center of her chest,” (Picoult 316). This is what Kate worries about because this is something she can worry about. Because the central line and Kate’s wish to always have it covered is a symbol of her longing for control over her medical complications.

Also, there is Kate’s dream to be a ballerina. “ ’I always wanted to be a ballerina. You know what Ballerinas have?…’Absolute control. When it comes to their bodies, they know exactly what’s going to happen, and when,’ ” (Picoult 161). Due to Kate’s illness, she does not really have much control of her body. So her dream to be a ballerina, like she tells Julia, comes from her yearning to have some control over a body that she currently does not have control of.

Also, Jesse’s arsenic behavior. The fact that he likes fire sets quite a few places ablaze throughout, could be a cry for attention. But more than that, it is a desire for control. He fells left out, like the black sheep of the family, like he has no control of anything. So him playing with fire is his way of taking control of something in this world since he has no control of anything else that is going on. “ ’Maybe it’s because Jesse isn’t all that different from me, choosing fire as his medium, needing to know that he could command at least one uncontrollable thing,’ ” (Picoult 331). This is Jesse’s way of controlling his messed up family and his messed up life.

And then there is the lawsuit. This is a symbol of control in a lot of ways. First there is the fact that Anna files it because of her mother’s need to control Kate’s medical issues. Then there is the fact that Anna files it because of her want for the freedom to control her own body. And there is also the fact that Anna files it because of Kate’s desire to control the outcome of her life and medical status. But the main reason is for herself. Anna might not admit it, but the main reason she files the lawsuit is so that she can have some sense of control in her life, in her family, in the world. So when it comes to the lawsuit being a symbol, it represents all three of the character’s want for control over a situation that has gotten out of control.

Therefore, one of the main themes of the novel, control, is represented through many different symbols. There’s Brian being a firefighter, Campbell’s explanations for his dog, Kate’s central line, Kate‘s dream to be a ballerina and the lawsuit. All of which are symbols of multiple character’s want for control over something that they cannot control. A want for control over someone or something to make up for not having the power to control someone or something else.