The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp

by Richard Peck

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Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 588

Although The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp is a comic fantasy centered in Blossom Culp's gift of second sight, magic and the supernatural are not so much themes as they are a means of developing themes. The central topics of Peck's novel involve alienation, bigotry, hypocrisy, friendship, conformity, and individuality. These are essentially embodied in the wide range of colorful characters observed by Blossom both in the Bluff City of her own time and the Bluff City of the future.

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Blossom's acute powers of observation, her position as a social outcast, and her unsparingly frank narrative voice allow for the often comic exposure of the failings of her peers and superiors. Snobbery is embodied in the mean-spirited Letty Shambaugh whose exclusive club of back-biting, stuck-up, and cowardly girls is hypocritically called The Sunny Thoughts and Busy Fingers Sisterhood. Hypocrisy is also embodied in the charming and handsome history teacher, Mr. Lacy, a two-timing seducer who has cruelly abandoned a wife and child to pursue a womanizing career. The pressures of social conformity are expressed in the desperate attempts of Alex Armsworth to gain popularity and acceptance among his peers at the expense of true friendship with Blossom. Having, like Blossom, the gift of second sight, Alex is afraid to be himself and succumbs to the pressure to be part of the crowd.

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Blossom's narrative perspective, being that of the excluded outsider with a will of her own, makes the novel more than just a comic attack on close-minded conformity. The novel's many eccentric characters offer a celebration of individuality and the ability to establish honest and caring friendships in a world seemingly controlled by self-serving bigotry. Blossom meets and befriends Daisy-Rae, an illiterate and essentially homeless country girl who has come to the city so her younger brother can attend school while, conscious of her alien status, she hides in the girl's lavatory during the day. We also meet the independent and reclusive retired farmer, Old Man Leverette, who is the constant victim of local schoolboy pranks. And there is Blossom's mother, a stern gypsy woman who maintains herself by telling fortunes, disregarding the town's opinion of her, and occasionally stealing a chicken or two. Finally there is Blossom herself who goes her own way regardless of what her peers or superiors think and is sympathetic and loyal to those people she likes. Like all the outsiders in the novel, she lives by her wits, surviving despite the treatment she receives from the so-called respectable citizens of Bluff City.

Sympathy for the outcast and derision for the narrow-minded is also expressed in Blossom's narrative of her experience in the Bluff City of the 1980s. Here Blossom feels sympathy with the lonely Jeremy who escapes the pressures and taunts of his peers and his trendy older sister by withdrawing into his world of computers and science fiction. Jeremy's divorced mother, however, appears as mechanical and as programmed as her kitchen gadgets. The dull uniform architecture of Jeremy's "magnet" school reflects the conformity that is taught there. And like Blossom's school in 1914, Jeremy's has its own queen of conformity, the granddaughter of Letty Shambaugh.

It is primarily through Blossom's honest, comic, and often terse but sensitive narration that the book's commitment to individuality and honesty is stressed. Blossom follows her own rules throughout her escapades and those rules emphasize not only the often comic exposure of hypocrites and bigots but also the display of human sympathy for those who are excluded, neglected, or scorned by the conforming mainstream of society.

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