Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
A Solitary Blue explores the psychological damage inflicted upon an only child by deficient parents. Spanning approximately ten years, the novel begins when seven-year-old Jeff Greene comes home from school one day to find a note from his mother, Melody, explaining that she has left him to continue her serious social work. Abandoned by the mother that he adores and fearful of losing his remaining parent, Jeff withdraws. Over a period of four years, Jeff and his father, the Professor, assume an orderly and mirthless routine, broken only by the occasional visits of the Professor’s colleague, Brother Thomas. An invitation to spend the summer in Charleston with his mother promises to change everything.
The summer is a magical one for Jeff. He is captivated by his mother’s warm, spontaneous charm and by the music that she plays on the guitar. After a few days, however, Melody is again busy with her “causes.” Jeff is largely left to fend for himself until the end of the summer, when Melody exchanges his airline ticket for a bus ticket and sends him back to Baltimore without any traveling money. Nevertheless, Jeff adores his mother so much that he overlooks her self-centered behavior.
In Baltimore for another school year, Jeff writes Melody numerous letters, to which he receives no reply. Her rejection is softened somewhat by the friendship of Brother Thomas, who provides guidance and good humor to both Jeff and the Professor. In his...
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The setting of A Solitary Blue is integral to the story and its themes. The story begins in Baltimore, then moves between Charleston, South Carolina, and Baltimore, and finally ends in Crisfield, Maryland.
Baltimore and Charleston come to represent two extremes of Jeff Greene's confused and insecure life. In Charleston with his mother, where it is warm and sunny, Jeff feels loved. In Baltimore with his father, where the weather is colder, he feels self-sufficient and reticent. The house in Charleston is spacious and bright; in Baltimore, the house has small rooms and narrow halls. In Charleston, he is Jeffie (his mother's name for him) or Jefferson (his great-grandmother's name for him); in Baltimore he is Jeff Greene. On his first visit to Charleston, when he sees his mother for the first time in almost five years, Jeff feels "like a man must who has been kept in a dungeon for years and years, and he steps out into the sunlight for the first time." Just as he physically is shuttled back and forth between Baltimore and Charleston, Jeff is emotionally torn between his father and his mother; because Jeff has no identity of his own, he becomes what he thinks his mother wants him to be when he is in Charleston and what he thinks his father wants him to be when he is in Baltimore.
His mother seems the warmer, more loving character. She has told Jeff that his father is a poor parent, a cold, unloving, boring man; little in his shy,...
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Voigt has been described in the New York Book Review as "a wonderful writer with powerfully moving things to say." The wide variety of images and symbols she uses can turn a realistic, everyday happening into something new and wonderful. Voigt knows that young people believe the possible to be real and writes according to her readers' expectations. Without being unrealistic, she presents the possibility of happiness, healing, and love.
The most obvious symbol in A Solitary Blue is the blue heron. Jeff appreciates the heron's beauty and its love of solitude. The blue heron does not want to be bothered and is frightened by sudden movement. The heron parallels Jeff, who, after being devastated by his mother's abandonment, becomes wary, untrusting, and withdrawn. The only time that people do not frighten the heron into flying away is when Jeff and Dicey are together in the sailboat.
Voigt uses simple but evocative diction, and her descriptions of the blue heron and Jeff's tranquil island are almost poetic. Her dialogue is strikingly appropriate to the characters. The Professor speaks almost in monosyllables until he and Jeff come to understand and trust one another; then he shows himself to be very articulate but never chatty. Melody, on the other hand, fairly gushes with words: light and funny dialogue when she is happy, appealing emotional language when she wants something, and bitter, harsh remarks when she is angry. This skillful...
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Melody's early abandonment of her child and her later betrayal of his trust create perhaps the most sensitive issue in A Solitary Blue. This negative picture of a mother reveals a harsh emotional truth: that some people, even parents, are never able to love maturely. The selfishness and narcissism of Melody's love is disturbing. But it is crucial to Jeff's development that he see Melody for what she is. The relationship between Jeff and his mother never improves, but he finally reaches a stage where he expresses anger toward her. Jeff travels far to trust himself enough to afford the luxury of deciding his own fate.
A solitary blue heron stood... half-hidden in the pale marsh grass...Jeff felt as deep in his aloneness as the single blue heron.
Voigt presents this situation with great sensitivity. Jeff rejects his mother because she repeatedly betrays his trust, and he does so only after a good deal of introspection. Neither Melody's final betrayal nor Jeff's rejection is malicious. After the final betrayal, Jeff finds an isolated island, and there, "he felt at ease with himself and as if he had come home to a place where he could be himself, without hiding anything, without pretending even to himself." But Voigt makes it clear that while such an escape may be part of the healing process for Jeff, it is not a solution to his problems. Jeff is still alone; he has found part of himself, but he has not integrated that part into a whole person who...
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Topics for Discussion
1. Are Jeff's personality characteristics more like his father's or his mother's? Who do you think he wants to be more like at the beginning of the book? And at the end?
2. Why does Jeff call his father "the Professor"?
3. Why does Jeff continue to write Melody letters, even though she does not answer any of them? If Melody had written back, what do you think she might have written about—her own life or Jeffs?
4. Why does Gambo decide to make Jeff the heir to her estate?
5. What are the differences between the summer when Jeff is twelve and the summer when he is thirteen?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Why do the Professor and Jeff decide to move to the small house on the Chesapeake Bay? How does this quiet setting affect Jeff?
2. Brother Thomas and the Professor are good friends even though they appear to be very different. What is the basis for their friendship? How are they alike?
3. What is the relationship between the book's title and its themes?
4. Analyze the attraction that the Tillerman family holds for Jeff.
5. Read another of Voigt's books that includes Jeff as a character. How does the way other characters see Jeff change your understanding of his personality?
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A Solitary Blue is the third of six books that deal with the Tillerman family. Each book depicts many of the same characters but through different eyes. Jeff Greene figures in four of the six books. He first appears as a minor character in Dicey's Song, as an insecure, frightened, but likable teenager who is drawn to the Tillermans. A Solitary Blue is Jeff's story. Jeff surfaces next in Come a Stranger, where he is seen through Mina Smith's eyes. Mina describes Jeff as one of those rare people who have the capacity to love deeply, and she says that he has never fallen in love with anyone but Dicey Tillerman. In Sons from Afar, Mrs. Tillerman reflects briefly on Jeff's personality, and readers learn that he has gone away to college. The other two books in the Tillerman series are Homecoming, the first book about Dicey and her brothers and sister, and The Runner, the story of Bullet Tillerman, Dicey's uncle.
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For Further Reference
Donahue, Rosanne. "New Realism in Children's Fiction." In Masterworks of Children's Literature, edited by William T. Moynihan and Mary E. Shaner. Vol. 8. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. A critical survey of new realistic books and their impact on the field of children's literature. A Solitary Blue is discussed in the context of novels that depict children surviving on their own.
Irving, Elsie K. "Cynthia Voigt." Horn Book (August 1983): 410-412. Voigt's mother gives an insider's view of the author.
Jameson, Gloria. "The Triumph of the Spirit in Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming, Dicey's Song, and A Solitary Blue." In Triumphs of the Spirit in Children's Literature, edited by Francelia Butler and Richard Rotert. Hamden, CT: Shoe String Press, 1986. Focuses on how Dicey's and Jeff's spirits triumph as they struggle to survive and develop.
Lukens, Rebecca J., ed. A Critical Handbook of Children's Literature. 3d. ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1986. Discusses the theme of love in A Solitary Blue and the way Jeff's internal conflict contributes to the book's plot.
Reed, Arthea J. S. "Transition from Childhood into Adulthood." In Reaching Adolescents: The Young Adult Book and the School. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985. This chapter discusses Jeff's two trips to visit his mother as symbolic of his emergence into adulthood.
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