Harlan Ellison writes in his introduction to this short story that ‘‘Jeffty Is Five’’ is one of his ‘‘half dozen favorite stories.’’ It is also an award-winning short story, having picked up both a Nebula Award in 1977, the year it was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and the Hugo Award in 1978. Ellison goes on to say that ‘‘Jeffty Is Five’’ ‘‘has become an image of reverence for the parts of my childhood that were joyous and free of pain.’’
Reading ‘‘Jeffty Is Five’’ makes one believe that childhood, especially that brief time after a child develops a grasp of language and imagination but before that imagination is cornered by the demands of a disciplined schooling, is a time of magic. This magic is so strong, Ellison believes, that it is sad that a person ever has to outgrow it. That is the premise of the story, as Jeffty, the main focus of the story, never grows past the age of five.
In some ways, Ellison admits that a large part of him, even as an adult, is Jeffty. Through his story, Ellison demonstrates and encourages adults to remember that five-year-old child within them, to remember the magic despite the fact that they have adult responsibilities and other distractions. His story encourages everyone to maintain, as much as possible, that sense of innocence and awe that a child naturally exhibits. The story also encourages the reader to keep the treasures of the past alive. ‘‘There are treasures of the Past,’’ Ellison writes, ‘‘that we seem too quickly brutally [sic] ready to dump down the incinerator of Progress.’’ In an exaggerated tone, ‘‘Jeffty Is Five’’ reminds everyone not to throw out their child-within in the name of progress.
In the first few paragraphs of ‘‘Jeffty Is Five,’’ the reader finds out that the narrator has a passion for the past. The narrator not only is lost in nostalgia, he also does not like his contemporary times. There are a few things about the modern world, the narrator confesses somewhat begrudgingly, that are good, but he concludes, ‘‘I still think we’ve lost a lot of good stuff.’’
The reason for this nostalgia could rest in the fact that the narrator feels that his childhood was stolen from him. He was sent away from his home twice: once when he was five years old and once when he was ten. He does not mention many details of this time of his life, except that he was sent away because his father was not doing well and because he (the narrator) could not stay out of trouble.
In the midst of this introduction of the narrator’s brief past, the reader is introduced to Jeffty. Jeffty is the narrator’s friend. They have known each other since they were both five. But the narrator is older now, and Jeffty is stuck at five.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal for Jeffty to remain five all these years, even though the narrator, whose is eventually identified as Donald, is now twenty-two. Donald makes it sound like fun to remain five years old, to be stuck in a place where it seems possible that dreams still come true, a place where there is still magic. Donald, in contrast, is a businessman with responsibilities and when...
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Donald’s visits to Jeffty’s house remain much the same. He goes over and tries to make conversation with Jeffty’s dad. Jeffty’s mom offers him food. Then Donald and Jeffty go out. But one day, when Donald comes by, Leona says, ‘‘I don’t know what to do any more.’’ Then she says that she wishes Jeffty ‘‘had been stillborn.’’
After this, Donald starts noticing changes in Jeffty. One day when Donald comes over to see Jeffty, he is hiding under the porch. It is then that Donald realizes that Jeffty is aware of at least some of his parents’ tension. This is also the first time that Donald realizes that there is something very special about Jeffty. Time has not only stopped in reference to Jeffty, but it has also stopped in things that make up Jeffty’s world. Time hasn’t really stopped, but it definitely has warped in some ways. Donald discovers that Jeffty listens to old radio programs, for example, programs that are no longer on the air. Somehow Jeffty is able to pick up these programs on his radio, even though Donald cannot. Donald also discovers that not only does Jeffty listen to these old radio programs, but the programs include new stories.
Donald becomes even more intrigued with Jeffty. All Donald’s childhood memories, especially the good ones, come rushing back to him. He not only enjoys listening to the radio shows, he is touched when Jeffty invites him into his room.
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Donald realizes how thin the ‘‘membrane’’ between his world and Jeffty’s world is. He cannot carry one thing from his world to Jeffty’s without bringing an end to it all. Donald knows that he has to be very careful coming and going from his adult world to that of Jeffty’s, and yet, he makes one very big mistake.
Jeffty and Donald have a date for a movie and Donald has to go into his office for a couple of minutes. Unfortunately, his store is swarming with customers, and Donald can’t resist. He sits Jeffty down in front of a wall full of television sets. The over stimulation of present-day events is too much for Jeffty. He is thrown into a daze. Donald finally realizes that Jeffty is in trouble, but Donald is still torn between helping Jeffty and making money. He aims Jeffty toward the movie theater outside and tells that he will meet him later. But it is too late.
Jeffty’s time frame has been thrown off kilter. Eventually Donald takes Jeffty home, but only after Jeffty has been beaten up by some teenagers. Jeffty’s parents don’t move until Donald shouts: ‘‘Jesus Christ . . . he’s been beaten! He’s your son! Don’t you even want to touch him? What the hell kind of people are you?!’’ Leona finally takes Jeffty and carries him upstairs. In a little while, she returns and the sound of rock music is heard, coming from upstairs. When Donald hears the rock music playing, he rushes upstairs.
That is the...
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