Man in the Expository Mode, Book 1.
I am going to review stories from Joy Littell’s magnificent compilations found only in the groundbreaking Man Series from 1970-72.
I am bored with most contemporary authors, not all, just most.
So Saroyan finds himself in the new Middle School, with a substitute teacher.
To him, the new school meant new things, new methods, new possibilities.
He describes her as thin with an ability to run very fast, apparently to chase students.
The teacher discusses Stonehenge, saying it was 20,000 years old, and the young author, in this autobiographical Vignette, asks her how she knows it was 20,000 years old.
This question, being perceived as challenging to her authority, caused her to chase him and he rushed out of the room.
He ends up reporting to the principal, who was equally appalled, blaming it on the 11 year old Saroyan’s Armenian background.
Saroyan’s uncle, a Law Student at USC gets involved, marches him back to the principal and teacher who then acquiesce to all of the Uncle’s demands. The principal and teacher back off, but Saroyan feels guilty about this and he tries to assure the teacher and principal that he legitimately wanted to know how people would know to determine the age of such things.
There’s a lot to this little story. What I draw from it are two things:
1. Sometimes we don’t know what appropriate behavior is and we have to learn. Saroyan figured out that a questions in a challenging way wasn’t proper or polite and he was sensitive to the teacher’s feelings, whereas many young people might not be.
2. Sometimes when we ‘win’, such as by getting the uncle to help, it’s overkill and it disrupts the natural order of things.
A lot of similar Americana stories tell the same tale, but don’t hit the inner immorality of ‘kid makes authority figures look bad’ ha-ha joke model, ala Marx Brothers or Three Stooges. We get mad because the high society people are upset that their magnificent affair was ruined by the Stooges. We want to laugh at the high society people.
Some say there is inherent cruelty in humor, that’s what makes it funny.
Initially, Saroyan felt that by challenging the teacher and then running away made it funny. Then, after observing the cowed reactions of the teacher and principal, he views it as a cruel mistake. He then discusses the next principal who tried to play tough, then tried to play nice and then just gave up.
Kids can be cruel and they are usually old enough to know better even at 11. We don’t need derivative, poorly-written, literary bowel movement like ‘Lord of the Flies’ to tell us so. Saroyan tells in us in just a few pages, which concise portrayal is what separates the good writers (Poe) from the bad writers (King).
I’m glad Joy Littell included this story. Maybe the wise-ass, smart-ass kids could read it and gain a little introspection.
Peace be the Botendaddy