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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 259

In "Blight," four young men spend a long summer in Chicago. The area they live in has been deemed an official blight area, which means that it isn't a good place for people to live. However, they try to make the most out of their time by starting a band called The Blighters and spending the summer driving around, making music, and figuring out what they want.

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David is the narrator and he observes his friends try to find their place in the world with little success. For example:

  • Pepper is an angry young man who's in love with a girl who won't love him back. He finds freedom in driving. He eventually joins the Marines.
  • Ziggy was hit in the head and never fully recovered. He's spacey and claims to have prophetic dreams. He declares that he's going to take a vow of silence and leaves to hitchhike to a place in Kentucky where he can live as a monk.
  • Deejo wants to write books and create music. He does record an album and gets played on local jukeboxes. David later hears that he's been drafted in the Vietnam war.

None of the relationships that the boys—Pepper and David specifically—pursue work out. There's no indication at the end as to whether their dreams came to fruition. They never hear from Ziggy once he's left; Pepper sends postcards. David says he and Deejo lost touch. One he starts college and goes back to his old neighborhood, he can't even find Deejo's songs on the local jukeboxes anymore.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456

This is a story of four teenage friends who come of age on the streets of southside Chicago. In a neighborhood whose streets have no names, they search for something with which to ally themselves, a place to claim as their own.

Blight is everywhere; they appropriate the word into their vocabulary so that it—the word “blight” itself—becomes the definitive influence on their world. When their neighborhood is proclaimed an Official Blight Area, they change the name of their band from the No Names to the Blighters. Baptized in the good name of blight, the Blighters know firsthand the beauty buried underneath the buildings boarded up and blackened by arson, with bulldozers waiting in the wake. Blight is a state of mind, a level of consciousness and perception, and the Blighters—Ziggy, Pepper, Deejo, and Dave—have heard “the music of viaducts”; they have been to “churches where saints winked.”

A series of anecdotal digressions weaves an interrelated mosaic of visual impressions that all rise out of a shared sense of place: a Chicago that owes more to invention and the imagination than it does to the restrictions of a realistically detailed map. The narrative focus shifts from character to character, offering glimpses that range from the magically fantastic to gritty urban realism. Between two mid-century wars—Korea and Vietnam—the Blighters begin to see the world in a new light: a movement from innocence to experience. Early in the narrative, the Blighters consider the men returning from fighting in Korea as “our heroes.” Eventually, the Blighters go their separate ways. Ziggy decides to become a Trappist monk and hitchhikes to the monastery down in Gethsemane, Kentucky. Pepper joins the Marines after his pregnant girlfriend, Linda Molina, moves to Texas to live with relatives. Deejo grows his beard and hair long and enjoys some local musical notoriety by recording a record that he persuades several southside bartenders to put in their jukeboxes. Dave, the narrator, eludes the military draft by hiding out in college, where he is thrust back into the past when a professor reads Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ode to a Skylark” (1820)—a poem that begins “Hail to thee, blithe spirit”—in a way that makes “blithe spirit” sound like “blight spirit.” During the spring, Dave takes the El train back to the old neighborhood, “back to blight.” He finds that the neighborhood is “mostly Mexican,” but the bars still have their old names. In a world in which everything is at once familiar and strange, Dave has a moment of ecstasy, “as if I’d wandered into an Official Blithe Area,” as if the blight of his childhood has been mythically transformed, by memory and forgetting, into a city of bliss.

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