What happens in chapter 7 of Eleanor and Park?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chapter 7, "park" / "eleanor," is set in the library where students are gathered to select poems. Eleanor is seated across the room Park and Cal, who share a table where Cal tries to practice some newly acquired slang while Park tries to admonish him not to use racist and offensive language (Cal doesn't catch his points very well and prefers the "real things" of slang).

At a table near Park and Cal, Kim is seated. Cal describes Kim as a "Betty," an expression Park suggests Cal got from Thrasher. Supposedly being a "Betty" is a "hot" thing. They discuss the likelihood of success in Cal's aspiration to get a girlfriend that year, and in particular Kim, with her "bobbed blond hair," as a girlfriend, with Park advising Cal to look elsewhere for a girlfriend instead of at Kim.

   "This is my year," Cal said. "I'm getting a girlfriend."
   "But probably not Kim."
   "Why not Kim? You think I need to aim lower?"
   Park looked up at him. Cal wasn't a bad-looking guy. He had a kind of a tall Barney Rubble thing going on. . . .He already had pieces of Slim Jim caught in his front teeth.
   "Aim elsewhere," Park said.

Right about then, after some discussion of Park's dad's Impala (which he can't drive until he learns to drive a manual stick-shift transmission car), Cal notices Eleanor staring straight ahead of her--looking, or so it seems, right at Park. Cal applies his vision of double dating to her while noting that the Impala is a big car, so it's all right to date a big girl: "She's kind of big," Cal said, "but the Impala is a spacious automobile."

Park denies that Eleanor is staring at him, with or without Cal's "racist" tag describing her as having "jungle fever." Park explains that she is "just staring" and to prove it he waves at her with no response: "but she didn't blink." [Some brain seizures can produce a fixed stare during which the person may or not be aware of and respond to surroundings.]

When asked if Park knew her, he quickly responded "No," then explained they share the same school bus. Parker adds the information that "She's weird."

After again trying to redirect Cal's mind from offensive, uncomplimentary language, "[It's] not a compliment, I don't think," he gives up his whole effort when Cal uses "Your people come from the jungle" directed at him. In mild disgust, Park concedes, "You should ask Kim out .... That's a really good idea."

When the focalization of the novel (the focal point and focal character) switches to Eleanor across the library, she alludes to a battle for possession of an e. e. cummings poem, which she willing forfeits for a poem in the less popular African American poetry section: "She found an empty table in the African American section."

Her musings continue, as voiced by the narrator, by criticizing the racial mix and balance of her new school: "Most of the kids here were black, but  most in her honors classes were white." Wishing she had more honors classes--and thus more white classmates--she also wishes for an "honors gym" class, which she supposes she probably wouldn't be admitted to because it wouldn't allow "fat girls who couldn't do sit-ups."

She observes that in honors classes, the students of any ethnic background "tend to be nicer." Trying to find an explanation for the greater niceness, she postulates two suppositions about them being "just as mean on the inside" but more obedient or better trained [it doesn't occur to her that perhaps they are not as mean on the inside, that better cared for, better guided, better educated youths are not as mean on the inside].

She leaves her thoughts about the "Blackboard Jungle" that her non-honors classes represent for her and turns her attention to her poem, "Caged Bird" (written by Maya Angelou), ... "It rhymed."

The conversation and musings in Chapter 7, though seemingly inconsequential or even frivolous (i.e., Cal), develop the characters of Park, Cal and Eleanor more thoroughly and introduce discussion of some important thematic topics:

  • ethnicity
  • ethnic social divides, otherness ("You people")
  • ethnicity and education
  • education, intelligence and moral character
  • language and offensive slang
  • popularity cliques and admiration
shmindle | Student

Here's a brief overview of Chapter 7 of Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park.

Park's friend Cal wants to ask out a girl named Kim, but Park insists Kim is out of his league.  Park rejects Cal when he offers to find a girl for him.  Park becomes annoyed when Cal jokes about Eleanor, so Park tells Cal that it would be a good idea to ask Kim out.  Eleanor is looking at poems when she finds the African American section of the library, empty.  She finds a poem called "Caged Bird". 

I've read this book before and it's really good!