This short story by Anne Tyler is about the trials and tribulations of a mother and son relationship. Donny is a seemingly normal teenage boy who is just going through a rough patch. After being called to a meeting Daisy, his mother, learns that Donny’s grades are slipping and he is unresponsive in class. That’s where Cal comes in. Cal tries to help but ends up doing more damage than good. To help her teach us a lesson through her story she uses a specific point that shapes our opinion, an allusion that tell us that time is ticking, and a theme that shows us how important our parents are to who will be.
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The point of view in Tyler’s story is very important to the format. It is told in third person omniscient and this makes us, as readers, feel a certain way toward the family and Cal. Daisy is the only person in the story that we feel an actual connection with. We know how she is feeling and what she is going through. As the story progresses, our feeling are shaped by how Daisy is feeling. We can see how Daisy changed from powerful to confused to hopeless. We also start feeling a certain way toward the characters by her attitude towards them. We feel compassion and pity for Amanda as her mom brushes her away, anger towards Cal when he starts trying to take over Donny, and frustration towards Donny’s refusal to conform. In contrast to us feeling everything Daisy is going through, we simply see the actions of the other characters instead of actually feeling their emotions. Tyler does this so we don’t simply see just what the setting is. Instead, we see the emotions that are ever present in this story.
The allusion to Peter Pan stood out very distinctly for me. Peter Pan was all about someone avoiding responsibilities, living in a fantasy, being lazy, and believing that having fun is the most important thing. In this story, Cal would be considered Peter Pan. He has no kids, not a care in the world, he’s fully grown but won’t accept it, and he will not let go of his old life. He’s too lax to be a real tutor. His goal is not to help this kids but to enjoy himself and help his students do the same thing. The example of this is in lines 15-19, “The tutor told Donny to call him Cal. All his kids did, he said. Daisy thought for a second that he meant his own children, then realized her mistake. He seemed too young, anyhow, to be a family man. He wore a heavy brown handle bar mustache. His hair was as long and stringy as Donny’s and his jeans just as faded.” Peter Pan is also the confident leader of the Lost Boys, just like Cal is the leader of the “hoodlums” that hang out around his house. While Cal is Peter Pan, refusing to grow up and foolishly naÃ¯ve, Donny would be one of the Lost Boys. He’s growing up and easily influenced, he finds his responsibilities challenging, and dislikes his parents. When his mother is called to his private school to meet with the principal we learn how Donny connects to the Lost Boys, “Clutching her purse, she sat on the principal’s couch and learned that Donny was noisy, lazy, and disruptive; always fooling around with his friends, and he wouldn’t respond in class.” It is also quite evident that Donny was matured on the outside, “But his cheeks, of course, were no longer round, and a sharp new Adam’s apple jogged in his throat when he talked.” But his identity on the inside had not matured quite as much. The last factor is Neverland where you never have to grow up, which would simply be Cal’s presence. He convinces Daisy and Matt to let Donny stay out later, told them not to call and see if parents were supervising parties, and they were not allowed to ask one question about how school was going. Being around Cal even made Donny’s grades drop lower than they already were. When Donny and the other students were with his, they didn’t have to worry about parents, school, or simple responsibilities that were assigned to them. They found hopeless release in Cal’s presence and became almost infatuated with him. Cal’s presence being Neverland is show in lines 56-59, “It was Cal this, Cal that, Cal says this, Cal and I did that. Cal lent Donny an album by the Who. He took Donny and two other pupils to a rock concert. In March, when Donny began to talk endlessly on the phone with a girl named Miriam, Cal even let Miriam come to one of the tutoring sessions.” I believe that by adding this allusion to Peter Pan, his followers, and Neverland to her story, Tyler is trying to teach us a moral. I believe that she is telling us that everyone will grow up. It’s simply a part of life that we cannot control.
The theme of “Teenage Wasteland” is all about parenting. It’s about how the mother and the father play a major part in how the child grows up. The parents are with the child more than anyone else and they are influenced by what they do. Even if it is true that people are born with inherent qualities they are still shaped, in some form or another, by the people who surround them on a day to day basis. We can see Daisy struggling with the fact that she knows she caused Donny to grow up unmotivated and lazy. She knew that she was the one who started the problem and had no one to blame but herself. “At night, Daisy lies awake and goes over Donny’s life. She is trying to figure out what went wrong, where they made their first mistake. Often, she finds herself blaming Cal, although she knows he didn’t begin it.” If you want successful children you have to learn to manage time. You have to know how to spend time with each one and remind them how important they are to the world and how they each have separate amazing qualities that make them stand out. I believe that Daisy was a good mother before and after Amanda was born but eventually had a hard time handling both of them. She had good intentions but bad ways of doing it.
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Tyler’s story uses these literary devices to show how hard it is to grow up in this generation. Children have a hard time fitting in and finding out where they belong. It’s all about trying to find out who you are in this crazy world. Unfortunately, there are more children like Donny, forming and festering into someone who is unhappy and confused. I believe that this shows that you do not have to rely on other people for your happiness.
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