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