It's Not the End of the World

by Judy Blume

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 641

It’s Not the End of the World might be characterized as Blume’s most personal, almost autobiographical, early novel, given the events of her first marriage. Though she was yet to divorce her husband John Blume, the author found herself consumed with anxiety as she researched families going through divorce. In later years, she admitted that she had not been honest with herself concerning her own failing marriage. She came to find that this novel is as much, if not more, about the feelings a child must experience as her parents go through divorce as the topic of divorce itself.

The plot, though much more singular in scope than Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, covers the complex emotions sixth-grader Karen Newman explores while watching her parents’ marriage disintegrate day by day. In an effort to catalog the experience, she keeps a brief journal in which she grades each day by how its events affect her. When a boy she is attracted to in class chooses her as a spelling partner, the day rates an A+; when her brooding brother, Jeff, returns home after running away, C-.

Karen’s confessional narrative in her journal expands upon a running commentary she keeps with the reader, who becomes a passive participant in the conversation. Although Karen has been best friends with Debbie since kindergarten, she forms an apprentice-like relationship with Val, whose mother is a recent divorcée.

Karen’s narrative speaks of her constant feelings of loneliness and exile from anyone who can help her handle the conflicting emotions and responsibilities arising from the divorce. Much of this behavior is self-inflicted, as Karen intentionally tries to withhold this information from her schoolmates. What becomes interesting is that she compensates for this by directly addressing the reader as a confidant to her most sensitive secrets: her resentment of her mother’s shaky attitude and lack of strong parental mores during the divorce, her desire for support from Jeff, and her desperate need for substantive, tangible advice from anyone concerning divorce.

It is in Karen’s journal, revealing her unmitigated feelings and anxieties concerning her role within the marriage, where the divorce manifests itself as both a character and an adversary to be defeated in the novel. Karen tries anything she can think of to undermine the inevitable. As all attempts fail, Karen notices her mother and father’s growing independence of each other (her mother takes on a new job at Global Insurance, and her father seeks a quicker divorce in Nevada). Karen’s desperation increases, and her romantic delusions concerning reunification between more intense.

Tensions escalate to a climax, though, in the novel’s penultimate event: Jeff’s running away. To this point in the story, as the divorce becomes more and more of a reality, Jeff’s relationship with his mother becomes increasingly strained. He begins to ignore her more simple requests, reinterpreting them as assaults against him. He threatens to move out with his father, and he becomes increasingly reclusive from the family, retreating to his private space, Jeff’s Hideaway. When his mother questions his expensive choice of a meal at a dinner out one evening, he strongly resists and orders the shrimp anyway. When it turns out that he does not enjoy the shrimp, a public argument between the two arises, resulting in Jeff leaving the table and running away—without any intervention from his mother, who thinks he is merely sulking.

When Jeff does not return later in the evening, mother and father are forced into each other’s company. As Karen witnesses her parents’ reaction to the situation, where concern for Jeff falls to the wayside in lieu of vitriol and blame for his actions, she finally comes to the realization that her parents sincerely dislike each other and reconciliation will be impossible.

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