My Darling, My Hamburger Analysis
by Paul Zindel

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Setting

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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My Darling, My Hamburger takes place in the 1960s in a waterfront community much like Zindel's own Staten Island, but the setting is never pinpointed. For Liz, Sean, Dennis, and Maggie, all high school seniors, life is measured by the school year. Though the four are friends, Maggie's and Dennis's lower-middleclass backgrounds seem to separate them from Liz and Sean, who come from more socially established middle-class families. The pressures of teachers' and parents' expectations weigh heavily on all four characters.

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

For a short novel, My Darling, My Hamburger has a complex narrative perspective. Notes, letters, a short story by Sean, and other bits and pieces in the first-person voice supplement the novel's third-person omniscient narration. Despite this shifting perspective, Zindel maintains a remarkable continuity. The varied points of view efficiently reveal the family and personal problems of each character.

The shifting narrative perspective also helps to set emotional tone for different parts of the novel—generally melodramatic for Liz and Sean's story, and quietly comic for Maggie and Dennis's. What humor exists in My Darling, My Hamburger arises from Maggie's and Dennis's blundering attempts to meet social expectations without sacrificing self-respect. Sean's pain is best revealed by what he says in veiled ways; he voices his grief at the abortion in his short story "The Circus of Blackness," in which a boy places a baby's neck in the path of a guillotine. The silence that follows Liz after her abortion almost feels like the death of her personality.

Zindel juxtaposes pieces of narrative in interesting ways, and a symbolic system evolves naturally from repetition in the action. The author's most artful use of juxtaposition is the contrast established by alternating the text-of the documentary Primitive Love, which shows the natural sexuality of the Wambesi, with the tortured self-consciousness of Maggie's and Dennis's monologues. Symbols take shape in the consciousness of Sean and Liz. The mail-order astrological prediction that advises Liz to "pray to the Madonna" and her mother's gift of a Madonna serve as an apparent prophetic curse. Even the structure of toothpicks that Sean mocks oddly describes his own house and his family's ambitions.

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

While My Darling, My Hamburger features positive adult characters in Mrs. Tobin and the Holowitzes, the general picture of adults is a brutal one. Mr. Zamborsky, a teacher, is always shouting and blowing a whistle; he seems thoroughly insensitive. The same is true for most other adults in the novel, which features a self-satisfied, callous Mr. Collins, a mother who sacrifices her daughter to her husband, and a stepfather who regards his stepdaughter with brutal and prurient interest. Adolescents may enjoy the adult caricatures in Zindel's writing, while adults may question Zindel's fairness.

The major issues in the novel are abortion and teen-age premarital sex. These issues are controversial, but Zindel avoids profanity and graphic sexuality. The many voices in the narrative broaden its perspective, and the novel does not judge or advocate; it merely describes the moral dilemmas adolescents face while learning about love. Zindel does, however, present Maggie's ethical love of others in a favorable way. Her choices cost her, but one can only admire her for them.

Zindel emphasizes the importance of personal responsibility. While Liz's and Sean's troubles are triggered in part by their parents' attitudes and actions, their difficulties also arise from their desire to abandon responsibility for themselves and others at critical times. Zindel calls for tough decision-making in My Darling, My Hamburger.

Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

DiGaetani, John L. “Paul Zindel.” In A Search for a Postmodern Theater: Interviews with Contemporary Playwrights, edited by DiGaetani. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

Forman, Jack Jacob. Presenting Paul Zindel. Boston: Twayne, 1988.

Megyeri, Kathy A. “Paul Zindel.” English Journal 93 (November,...

(The entire section is 931 words.)