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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1024

Johnnie Kowalski awakens one morning from a nightmare in which he reverted to adolescence: The adult in him was mocking the youth and vice versa, and all the ill-fitting parts of his adolescent body were jeering at one another in rude and raucous fashion. The dream brings back uncomfortable memories of his literary debut and his sense of being doubly trapped, by his own childhood and by the childishness in others’ perception of him, “the caricature of myself which existed in their minds.” At the moment he sat down to make a new start, to write a new book that would, this time, be truly identical with himself, the distinguished professor T. Pimko appeared on his doorstep. As the diminutive but terrible Pimko quizzed him on King Ladislas and Latin grammar, Kowalski felt himself shrinking to schoolboy size. His adult mind knew that the situation was absurd, but his body seemed paralyzed, and when Pimko dragged him off to enroll in school, Kowalski did not resist.

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Neither the boys nor the schoolmasters seemed to notice anything odd or unusual, and Kowalski found himself conforming to schoolboy behavior in spite of himself. Like the others, he languished in stultifying classroom sessions where the masters taught that Juliusz Sowacki’s poetry was great because Sowacki was a great poet; like the others, he smeared ink on his hands and picked his nose. Only one boy, Kopeida, seemed unaffected by any of this. Kowalski was drawn into a “duel of grimaces” between Siphon, the honorable, innocent Adolescent, and Mientus, the champion of crass, foulmouthed Boyhood. Mientus, on the verge of losing, simply called on his cronies to attack Siphon, and they held him down while Mientus poured all the obscenities he knew into Siphon’s ear.

At the very climax of this “violation by the ear,” Pimko reappeared and dragged Kowalski away again, this time to the home of the Youthful family, where he was to rent a room. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Youthful (both educated and both earnestly progressive) and their daughter Zutka, who was the embodiment of the modern girl—athletic, unaffected, and absolutely invulnerable. At this point Kowalski became not only unable but also unwilling to reveal his true, thirty-year-old self: All he cared about was what Zutka thought of him. He tried to gain the psychological advantage by annoying her, but drunken Mientus, boasting of his exploits with the housemaid and rambling on about running away to the country to fraternize with honest stable lads, burst in and ruined the moment.

All Johnnie could do was continue his assault on Zutka’s perfect, unreflective indifference by playing the fool and knave. He disgusted the Youthfuls with his table manners and invaded their orderly bathroom, where he danced a disorderly dance; he paid a beggar to stand in front of Zutka’s window with a green twig in his mouth; and he spied on Zutka through the keyhole and rifled through her desk. There he found love letters from schoolboys, lawyers, doctors, landlords, and even Professor Pimko himself. Johnnie decided to lay low both Pimko and the Youthfuls with one stroke: Imitating Zutka’s hand, he wrote notes inviting both Pimko and Kopeida to a rendezvous.

At first all went as planned. After Kopeida climbed through the girl’s window, to Zutka’s delight, followed by Pimko, to Zutka’s consternation, he raised the alarm. The Youthfuls, however, were charmed by their daughter’s lack of prudishness—yet another proof that she was thoroughly modern. Pimko, on the other hand, responded less calmly to the situation, and soon the entire group was nothing more than a rolling, punching, kicking, and biting heap on the floor.

As Kowalski made his escape from the house, Mientus popped up again and announced that he raped the maid, and he suggested that he and...

(The entire section contains 1024 words.)

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