Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 593
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney follows the misadventures of Greg Heffley, a middle schooler who seeks popularity and approval from his family and classmates through means that regularly get him in trouble. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was originally released online, but due to its popularity (it eventually amassed over 20 million views), a physical copy was produced.
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Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the first of a series of novels that have been incredibly popular. The story is entertaining to a broad age range due to its humor, though its themes tend to be very relatable to middle school age children who may have similar feelings to those that Greg experiences, including a longing for fame and wealth, feeling misunderstood, frustration with siblings and parents, and a deep desire for popularity and validation that they may not get from their peers.
In this particular novel, Jeff Kinney writes in a style that is humorous and dry. Rather than write extensive paragraphs of description, Kinney instead opts to illustrate scenes of the story to provide a humorous visualization for readers. Given that the story is told through the eyes of Greg writing in his diary, the narration provided is somewhat unreliable, as Kinney writes Greg to have both delusions of grandeur and clear low self-esteem.
Greg is sympathetic by being relatable but is otherwise a rather self-serving character. He regularly manipulates his loyal best friend Rowley into being a part of his schemes to achieve popularity, wealth, and fame—though none of these plans result in anything of the sort. Though Rowley is often left injured or outwardly disadvantaged as a consequence of Greg's plots, things typically turn around on him, resulting in Rowley gaining more social acceptance than our protagonist, who wants it so badly.
The symbol that is perhaps most representative of the major themes in the novel is what is known as the "Cheese Touch." Towards the beginning of the novel, Greg tells the story of a piece of cheese that has been left outside of his school to the point of becoming nauseatingly moldy. If someone is thought to have touched the disgusting cheese, they are said to have the Cheese Touch and are treated akin to a social pariah until they manage to touch someone else and pass on the Cheese Touch.
Greg fears the Cheese Touch at the beginning of the novel, which is illustrative of his fears of being unpopular and ostracized at his school. This very fear is Greg's primary motivator throughout the entirety of the novel. His concerns of being a social outcast play a significant part in his occasionally selfish and shallow actions. At the end of the novel, Greg and Rowley are confronted with the cheese by a group of bullies who force them to eat it. Confronted now with his greatest fear of social isolation, Greg abandons Rowley and pretends to be lactose intolerant. Rowley is then forced to eat the cheese by himself, acquiring the Cheese Touch. However, when his fellow middle schoolers begin to speculate about the missing cheese, Greg claims to have thrown it away, dooming himself with the Cheese Touch, but sparing Rowley from the fate that he himself was so afraid of.
This is an uncharacteristically selfless move for Greg. At the end of the novel, he remarks that having the Cheese Touch is not as bad as he thought it would be. His actions here indicate that Greg has begun to learn to prioritize being a good friend over his obsession with popularity.