What is the theme and evidence of the theme in Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now?
The central theme in Gary Schmidt's Okay for Now concerns the extraordinary human ability to remain optimistic and rise above adversity. Schmidt paints this extraordinary ability through Doug's coming-of-age story. Doug faces a lot of abuse, both at home and at school. Doug starts out behaving the way many people would behave in his situation—like a withdrawn, insolent jerk. The more he decides he doesn't want to behave that way and embraces the world around him, though, the more he develops into a caring and courageous person, ready to embrace the wonderful adventures the future holds in store for him.
The theme of the book is first and best reflected in the title, Okay for Now. Despite his tribulations, Doug frequently, optimistically sees himself as being okay—for now. The meaning of the title and corresponding theme is reflected throughout the book each time Doug the narrator uses the word okay. For example, at one point he informs his reader he feels humiliated to be seen without his shirt on because, the night of his 12th birthday, his father came home drunk and took him out to get his birthday present—a tattoo with scrolls and flowers that reads "Mama's Baby" (Chapter 4). Not only does he have the tattoo to humiliate him, he is frequently bruised. At one point, Doug's gym teacher, Mr. Reed, learns about the tattoo and tries to incite an aggressive wrestling match by whispering to Doug's opponent to call Doug "Mama's Baby." The opponent refuses, however, and the entire wrestling class rebels against Mr. Reed. By the end of the day, Doug no longer fears being harassed because of the tattoo. He compares himself to Audubon's drawing titled Snowy Heron and notes that the heron still stands "proud and beautiful" (Chapter 6). Doug further describes the heron in the following narration:
His head is high, and he's got this sharp beak that's facing out to the world (Chapter 6).
Most importantly, just like Doug, the heron is "okay for now" (Chapter 6). It's moments like these in the story that tell us Schmidt's theme concerns the amazing human ability to face and overcome tribulations with a sense of optimism.
The theme of “Okay for Now” has to do with optimism in the face of adversity, and the sense that, however bad things might be at any given moment, the future will be better. This optimism is not based on dumb luck, but on trust and hard work. There are many examples in the book, but one that stands out is the episode of the Broadway adaptation of Jane Eyre that Doug and his friend Lil are rehearsing. When Lil gets sick and cannot perform, Doug plays both his role and her role as Helen Burns; he is a hit in both roles, but his success is bittersweet when he learns that Lil is seriously ill in the hospital. Just like Jane climbs into bed with the dying Helen in the Bronte novel, Doug climbs into bed with Lil to comfort her fear of death.
Unlike in ”Jane Eyre,” however, Lil does not die, and Doug’s belief in himself becomes a powerful means for healing his dysfunctional family. The central symbol of this healing is the Audubon folio, which Doug tirelessly works to restore to completeness. When only one plate is missing from the folio, the Librarian Mr Powell replaces it with Doug’s talented copy of the original. In this way Doug’s determination and talent makes both the book, and his family, whole.