The Body of Christopher Creed

by Carol Plum-Ucci
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Setting

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530

Because the story of Creed's disappearance is told in flashback, the action takes place both in the present and in the past. It begins in the present, at a New England boarding school where the protagonist, Torey Adams, is completing his senior year in high school. The reader sees Torey sitting at the computer in his dorm room attempting to piece together the events of the past year and figure out what could have happened to his old classmate. But he is also pictured back at Steepleton, enmeshed in the mystery and obsessed with the disturbing tragedy that restructured his reality forever. The story that occurred at Steepleton is one of unrest and Torey's retelling of it helps color the town. By the time Torey relates the events, Creed's disappearance has become legend. Placing the mystery in the past helps define it as legend, and it helps make Steepleton a legendary town.

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Steepleton, New Jersey typifies small town New England, with its upper-middle class structure in which everyone knows everyone else's business. Torey had to remove himself from Steepleton in order to start anew after the tragedy of his classmate's disappearance upset his life. He had to escape physically in order to escape mentally. The rumors that ran rampant through the town became a part of Steepleton's history and as a subject of those rumors, Torey became part of the legend. His physical move is necessary for him to put all that had happened in the past.

Personal tragedy hits harder in small towns, it seems, where people's lives are so intimately entwined. So the small town setting allows Plum-Ucci to emphasize the impact of Creed's disappearance. It also allows Torey to reveal insights into the lives of the other characters. Torey spent his entire childhood in Steepleton and he knew the townspeople. He had formed his opinions of them based on how they were perceived in the town, almost like permanent fixtures that held their place and remained stationary. In a way Torey serves as the voice of Steepleton, because towns like this can breed biased, elitist views of the world. So moving Torey away from Steepleton proved an effective way for Plum-Ucci to emphasize Torey's transformation. By the time Torey arrives at boarding school, he has internalized Chris's tragedy but is no longer immobilized by preset conventions.

Steepleton has a character all its own. It is a town where violence rarely occurs and where kids consider it safe to leave their bikes unlocked outside the convenience store. The kids from Steepleton get involved in sports and extracurricular activities and are afforded the luxuries of new cars at graduation and enrollment in out-of-state colleges. The kids who live in Steepleton attend school with kids who live in an area they call "the boons," short for boondocks, a lower class neighborhood outside Steepleton where people lead difficult lives that often tend toward violent behavior. The clash of these two neighborhoods helps explain Torey's limited perspective and how deeply Chris's experience affected him. Living in Steepleton shelters Torey and his peers from the harsh realities of the world and leaves them illequipped to accept diversity and understand personal pain and tragedy.

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 629

The credibility of Plum-Ucci's story rests largely on her success at characterization, and the credibility of Torey's character is in large part due to Plum-Ucci's success at writing from a male perspective. The first person narrative proves essential to the plot, because in order to emphasize Torey's transformation Plum-Ucci must allow us to see the world through Torey's eyes. The author says that she questioned her ability to successfully portray a male protagonist but was inspired by S. E. Hinton and her ability to write about Ponyboy in The Outsiders. Plum-Ucci appears to understand what goes on in the mind of a teenage boy, and her conversational tone makes Torey an engaging narrator.

Torey narrates the story of Creed's disappearance after it happened as so much of the text is written in flashback. Not only does this convey how Torey's perception of the world changes, but it also creates a story within a story framework and helps establish the tale as legend. Placing the drama in the past and allowing Torey to tell the story in the present makes it oral history, thereby emphasizing its profound effect on the lives of those who lived in Steepleton at the time the events occurred. Placing the story in the past makes the story of Christopher Creed legend just as the story of Digger Haines is legend; and both of these tales gain historical significance as they continue to be told.

Torey's job as narrator entails both revealing his own insights and how he gains them and giving insight into the other characters in the novel as well. Torey's initial judgment of these characters falls short as he learns to look beyond their appearances, and the characters expand from cookiecutter images to strong and complex people. Torey's realistic dialogue helps build strong characters, but it also reveals the stereotypical attitudes that pervade Steepleton. Kids typically adopt nicknames for people or groups of people that indicate discriminatory views and like Torey, they never stop to think of the negative connotations of the label.

Several scenes in the novel build tension but none so much as the scene in the Native American grave yard which offers a chilling climax to Torey's journey. It also leads to an ironic turn of events that helps piece the entire puzzle together. Finding the body of Bob Haines in a Native American tomb and watching it disintegrate has a chilling effect on Torey who must then undergo months of psychological treatment before he emerges renewed. The climax of the story then offers a death and a resurrection, fitting occurrences to take place in a Native American burial ground.

Symbolism pervades the novel and one of the most powerful symbols is that of the grave. The grave, a symbol of both death and resurrection, is where the old Torey dies and the new Torey emerges. At the time he sees the burning body, Torey believes he is in hell, yet he survives and in fact goes on to a new life after that. It is no accident that the image of Christ on the cross comes up several times in the novel and again while Torey is in the hospital. The crucifixion represents death, resurrection, and persecution of the innocent, themes which structure the novel.

It is ironic that through the course of the novel, Torey becomes the subject of ridicule and Christopher the center of attention. It is also ironic that in his attempt to discover how and why Chris disappeared from Steepleton, Torey ends up "disappearing" from Steepleton as well. Irony pervades the novel as Torey learns loyalty and compassion from those he previously believed to be disloyal and insensitive, and as he learns bias and backstabbing from those he previously believed to be fair and just.

Social Sensitivity

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Plum-Ucci deals with common problems faced by teens today and she addresses numerous issues that effect a teenager's self-image and sense of self. Her message rings loud and clear that it is not only unfair but devastating to pass judgment on people you simply fail to understand. This happens day to day in high schools everywhere, and teenagers rarely stop to think about the consequences of labeling others as nerds or boons or "turbo sluts." When speaking of the kids at Steepleton, Torey refers to them as techies, jocks, science nerds, and boons. The book shows such stereotyping affects a person's sense of self and how it unfairly slates them toward predictable behaviors. Though most teenagers witness the practice of labeling few stop to think of how it effects how people's actions. Bo continued to repeat destructive behaviors because he was expected to repeat them. In the same way, Chris may have acted obnoxious because he had been told he was obnoxious for so long that he started to believe it.

Plum-Ucci's treatment of Bo and her inclusion of Mrs. Creed's confession about her own miserable childhood show sensitivity to the problems and issues faced by teenagers who grow up in disadvantaged homes. Mrs. Creed's confession really gets to Torey. Mrs. Creed explains that she was from the boons herself, and she tells how her father was an alcoholic and used to tie her upside down from a tree and beat her. Mrs. Creed uses this argument to assert that Bo could certainly be capable of murder because he likely also had a horrible childhood and had to withstand abuse. Whether or not he is capable of murder is unclear, but it is clear that he acts tough because he has to act tough. He survives because he has to survive, and so does Chris Creed.

All teenagers know a Chris Creed, an Ali, a Bo, and a Torey. All schools have outcasts with reputations for sleeping around, who get into trouble with the law, and rich kids. This novel encourages readers to look at people in their own lives who struggle with assigned labels and to try to understand them as complex people. Unlikely friendships often appear to exemplify an attraction of opposites, when in fact commonalities exist between seemingly opposite people that bind them together. As Torey recognizes that things aren't always what they seem, readers come to understand the importance of giving people a chance to express themselves without being judged and of learning to look for things that bring people together rather than set them apart. Readers also learn the importance of looking for that gray area that exists between black and white and to discover the human capacity to be both heartless and kind.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 57

Clarke, Kate. Review of The Body of Christopher Creed. Book Report, vol. 19, no. 3: 61. Clarke discusses the plot of the novel and its merit as a young adult title.

Harris, Kim. Review of The Body of Christopher Creed. School Library Journal, vol. 46, no. 7: 109. Harris discusses the plot of the novel and its merit as a young adult title.

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