Setting

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 250

The primary setting for Peck's story is the Illinois town of Bluff City based on the author's hometown of Decatur as it might have been in 1914. Bluff City is a largely agricultural community with two leading families, two social worlds on two sides of the tracks, and a strong emphasis placed on conformity. It has all the expected charms of drugstore ice cream parlors, streetcars, reputedly haunted houses, and the leisurely pace of an earlier era. But Bluff City also possesses the marks of class prejudice and general close-mindedness. Mrs. Shambaugh, the town's leading socialite, heads the influential Daughters of the American Revolution while her teen-age daughter heads the equally exclusive Sunny Thoughts and Busy Fingers Sisterhood. On the other hand Blossom Culp and her mother, an impoverished Gypsy fortune teller, live in a shack that local political candidates promise to have torn down each election year.

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When Blossom Culp's powers of second sight transport her to the Bluff City of the 1980s, the setting becomes an alienating maze of sub-developments, shopping malls, and traffic when seen from the perspective of the past. Blossom's narrative guides the reader through a world of depersonalized architecture, domestic gadgetry, and trendy educational methods where we nevertheless discover that humans themselves have not changed much since 1914. Peck thus employs setting as more than a colorful backdrop for Blossom's adventures. The shifting historical perspective serves the satirical purpose of revealing the familiar as suddenly strange and new so that it can be viewed more objectively.

Literary Qualities

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Much of the novel's humor comes from Blossom's resourceful plotting, through which she arranges embarrassing moments of exposure for those pompous and deceitful characters who deserve such lessons. The appearance of Mr. Lacy's abandoned wife and child (acted by Daisy-Rae and her young brother) at the freshman class haunted house, and the humiliating fortune told for the stuck-up Letty Shambaugh are comic moments that depend on the humor of a pratfall. Much of the comedy is boisterously physical, such as Blossom's fall from a tree while spying on Alex Armsworth and his friends swimming in the nude. The most meaningful comic form used by Peck, however, is satire, a device that defines the whole shape of this novel. Satire is accomplished not only through exaggerating the traits of the characters but more importantly by showing human behavior from a distanced perspective that draws attention to things we would not otherwise notice. Peck's satirical technique involves defamiliarization, that is making familiar things unfamiliar so that we question ideas and behavior that we might otherwise accept without thought. Satirical Defamiliarization in Peck's novel is accomplished first of all by using a narrator, Blossom Culp, who is an outsider. A social outcast who has little to gain or lose from the opinions of others, she is able to comment on the behavior of her peers and superiors in a frank and often disinterested manner. In terms of the Bluff City world of respectable people she is unsophisticated and naive. But her comments on Bluff City life reveal a point of view that is attentive, intelligent, and unbiased.

Blossom's distanced perspective reveals the absurdity of what is often accepted as normal. This is especially apparent when she is transported to the Bluff City of 1984. Here the reader's own world is seen not only from the point of view of someone who would probably be an outsider at any time in history but also from the perspective of an earlier time. The suburban landscape that the modern reader accepts as normal is seen as cold, alien, and absurd when viewed from a disorienting historical perspective. Likewise, the portions of the novel set in 1914 create a distanced satirical point of view by placing typical human behavior in the less familiar context of the past. Peck's satirical techniques can be compared to those of Jonathan Swift in Gulliver's Travels (1726), where the familiar is made alien by changing its size. Peck's use of an eccentric, alienated narrator can also be compared to Mark Twain's use of Huck Finn who, like Blossom Culp, narrates his adventures from the honest perspective of a social outcast. By disorienting the reader through shifting historical viewpoints and employing a distanced outsider as narrator, Peck uses traditional satirical devices to criticize human behavior and reveal some of its absurdity. Peck's novel manages to entertain with fast-paced humor while at the same time challenging the reader to see human strengths and weaknesses from new perspectives.

Social Sensitivity

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Since The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp contains much satire, it should come as no surprise if some readers are bothered by some aspects of the novel. It is, after all, the purpose of satire to create disturbance, but Peck softens that disturbance with humor. Even so, satire aims at more than disturbance; it hopes to force those readers who are disturbed to reevaluate their beliefs and behavior. Moreover, the satirist is traditionally a sensitive reformer deeply concerned, at heart, about the human condition.

Peck's narrator, Blossom Culp, is unsparing in her exposure of Bluff City's mean-spirited citizens who disguise their bigotry in the clothing of respectable conformity. Readers who expect respectable role models in young adult literature might be dissatisfied with Blossom. But this is part of the point of the novel. Blossom might not possess the manners, the money, the clothes, or the home life to be respectable in terms of her society, but a true satirist herself, she possesses commitment to truth, fairness, friendship, and general human sympathy.

In the characters of Blossom, Jeremy, Daisy-Rae, and even Blossom's frightening and disreputable mother, Peck provides something in addition to a barbed attack on pretentious and hypocritical social values. In these characters the reader can appreciate the condition of those who are pushed outside the borders of society. Beneath the self-assured, resourceful and candid surface of Blossom's character, readers can detect the loneliness of someone who has been shut out of the community. Her own loneliness, however, evokes her sympathy for others who share her condition—Jeremy the egghead computer nerd, and Daisy-Rae who hides all day in the women's rest room. As in his other novels for young adults, Peck displays a warm sensitivity about the condition of those who are different.

Blossom is different not only because of her lower-class background and commitment to expressing her individuality, but also because of her gift of second sight. Some people might object to Peck's inclusion of the occult in his novel. Objections to anything suggesting witchcraft or satanism in literature have become increasingly more common. It should be noted, however, that here, as in Peck's other novels featuring Blossom Culp, the powers she possesses are more psychic than magical, and are only used in the interest of good. The only involvement of Blossom's psychic gift in this novel concerns a harmless journey to the future where her appearance helps to relieve Jeremy's loneliness. Finally the psychic element in the novel is hardly treated with complete seriousness, being more a comic device to add range to the plot and allow for further dimensions of satire.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 260

Crew, Hillary. "Blossom Culp and Her Ilk: The Independent Female in Richard Peck's Young Adult Fiction." Top of the News 43,3 (Spring 1987): 297- 301. Crew notes especially the theme of isolation and loneliness contained beneath Blossom's bravado. Crew discusses this theme as a prominent one in much of Peck's fiction.

Gauch, Patricia. Review. The New York Times Book Review (December 18, 1983): 21. The reviewer finds the novel to be inferior to its predecessors in the series and finds Blossom's journey to the future to be too laden with dull social commentary.

Peck, Richard. Anonymously Yours. New York: J. Messner, 1991. In this autobiographical volume, Peck especially emphasizes how he became a writer for young adults and how material from his life is utilized in his fiction.

——. "In the Country of Teenage Fiction." American Libraries 4 (April 1973): 204-207. Peck here writes about young adult needs in relation to young adult literature.

——. "Some Thoughts on Adolescent Literature." News from ALAN 3 (September- October 1975): 4-7. In this article Peck outlines what he sees as the identifiable characteristics of young adult fiction.

——. "Richard Peck." In Speaking for Ourselves: Autobiographical Sketches by Notable Authors of Books for Young Adults. Edited by Donald R. Gallo. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1990:165-167. In this sketch Peck provides thought on his own education, on what made him a writer, and gives some advice for aspiring young writers.

Yoke, Carl B. "Third in Series Maintains High Standard." Fantasy Review 7,7 (August 1984): 50. Yoke finds that Peck's characters echo those of Mark Twain and Booth Tarkington. He stresses that Peck's novel is concerned primarily with values.

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