In Stuck in Neutral, how does Paul cope with the burden of Shawn's condition?

In Stuck in Neutral, Shawn McDaniels, accurately states that his brother Paul always finds a reason to stay angry. Paul bears the burden of a family that fell apart because of Shawn's cerebral palsy. Paul reacts violently against bullies who try to get to Shawn, and he is always upset at his Dad for making Shawn's condition so visible. Paul suffers in silence, but explodes in violent acts when provoked.

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Paul suffers his anger in pent-up frustration, which is why he lashes out in violence when provoked.

Paul McDaniel is the sixteen-year-old brother of Shawn, a fourteen-year-old brilliant child whose disability encompasses his entire existence: he has cerebral palsy.

It is important to understand the situation with Shawn in order...

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Paul suffers his anger in pent-up frustration, which is why he lashes out in violence when provoked.

Paul McDaniel is the sixteen-year-old brother of Shawn, a fourteen-year-old brilliant child whose disability encompasses his entire existence: he has cerebral palsy.

It is important to understand the situation with Shawn in order to infer Paul's state of mind, since the story consists of Shawn's first-person narrative surrounding his condition and his life.

Shawn's condition paralyzes all his physical activity, but his senses appear intact enough to elicit gustatory feelings, such as the taste of smoked oysters, the smell of the detergent Comet, and the emotion of feeling his mother's hugs. He also has "total recall" of his thoughts, as well as of "every sound" he has ever heard, to include movie lines, conversations, TV show themes, and people's voices.

Ironically, Shawn's condition renders him unable to move, speak, or express anything at all. This makes the narrative all the more interesting, as it is basically his very active consciousness who is analyzing his living conditions in a humorous way.

These facts are important to note because it is clear that Paul and Shawn cannot and have not been able to communicate at all since the moment Shawn was born.

Another important fact is that Paul and Shawn's father left the family when Shawn turned four. He has visited the family "six times" in about 10 years, and he made a lot of money and won a Pulitzer Prize after writing about Shawn's condition.

All this said, let's now see what Paul's actions indicate about his coping mechanisms. Remember, that it is not until the second novel in the series, Cruise Control, where we really get a good grasp about Paul's opinion of the whole thing.

Paul is the antithesis of Shawn. He is a bonafide jock, athletic, tall, handsome, smart, and popular. He was around eight years old when his dad divorces "the family" or, in Shawn's own words, when "Dad divorced me."

Arguably, Paul takes on the burden of seeing his family decompose piece by piece after the birth of Shawn. He lives through the disappointment of waiting for a little brother that he cannot talk to, or communicate with in any way. He is further burdened by the fact that Shawn's seizures are loud and weird. Shawn makes strange laughing expressions when he is in full episode. He also makes strong noises that everyone notices. Shawn narrates in the first two chapters that Paul cannot stand the seizures any more than their father does, because they feel that Shawn is in pain.

One most notable incident occurs when Paul stands up to some bullies who were harassing and trying to attack Shawn. Paul, who was physically smaller than the group of bullies, not only stood up to his brother, but beat them all up to a pulp. Then, he used gasoline to set them on fire the same way they were trying to do to Shawn. Only the entrance of the sister prevented the situation from turning into a tragedy.

This shows that Paul holds in a lot of pressure and frustration, while still continuing to be a good son and brother. He has to live with the burden of having a brother with a condition that nobody can understand. He suffers thinking that his brother is suffering and wasting his life. He feels the anxiety of the father's talks about "putting people out of their misery."

He is angry at his father for going in talk shows talking about his brother's condition and trying to make him into a "show" for everybody to see. He is angry that his family has fallen apart; after all, he lived with a good family up until he was eight years old and Shawn was born. His pent-up anger is evident in the rage that he exhibits during the attack against the bullies. Paul is dealing with a lot for a young man his age.

Like Shawn says, "Paul always finds something to be mad about."

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