Harlan Ellison writes in his introduction to this short story that ‘‘Jeffty Is Five’’ is one of his ‘‘half dozen favorite stories.’’ It is also an award-winning short story, having picked up both a Nebula Award in 1977, the year it was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and the Hugo Award in 1978. Ellison goes on to say that ‘‘Jeffty Is Five’’ ‘‘has become an image of reverence for the parts of my childhood that were joyous and free of pain.’’
Reading ‘‘Jeffty Is Five’’ makes one believe that childhood, especially that brief time after a child develops a grasp of language and imagination but before that imagination is cornered by the demands of a disciplined schooling, is a time of magic. This magic is so strong, Ellison believes, that it is sad that a person ever has to outgrow it. That is the premise of the story, as Jeffty, the main focus of the story, never grows past the age of five.
In some ways, Ellison admits that a large part of him, even as an adult, is Jeffty. Through his story, Ellison demonstrates and encourages adults to remember that five-year-old child within them, to remember the magic despite the fact that they have adult responsibilities and other distractions. His story encourages everyone to maintain, as much as possible, that sense of innocence and awe that a child naturally exhibits. The story also encourages the reader to keep the treasures of the past alive. ‘‘There are treasures of the Past,’’ Ellison writes, ‘‘that we seem too quickly brutally [sic] ready to dump down the incinerator of Progress.’’ In an exaggerated tone, ‘‘Jeffty Is Five’’ reminds everyone not to throw out their child-within in the name of progress.
In the first few paragraphs of ‘‘Jeffty Is Five,’’ the reader finds out that the narrator has a passion for the past. The narrator not only is lost in nostalgia, he also does not like his contemporary times. There are a few things about the modern world, the narrator confesses somewhat begrudgingly, that are good, but he concludes, ‘‘I still think we’ve lost a lot of good stuff.’’
The reason for this nostalgia could rest in the fact that the narrator feels that his childhood was stolen from him. He was sent away from his home twice: once when he was five years old and once when he was ten. He does not mention many details of this time of his life, except that he was sent away because his father was not doing well and because he (the narrator) could not stay out of trouble.
In the midst of this introduction of the narrator’s brief past, the reader is introduced to Jeffty. Jeffty is the narrator’s friend. They have known each other since they were both five. But the narrator is older now, and Jeffty is stuck at five.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal for Jeffty to remain five all these years, even though the narrator, whose is eventually identified as Donald, is now twenty-two. Donald makes it sound like fun to remain five years old, to be stuck in a place where it seems possible that dreams still come true, a place where there is still magic. Donald, in contrast, is a businessman with responsibilities and when he looks back at his childhood, he senses a loss.
Donald is grown up, but he still likes going out with Jeffty. Part of Donald is envious of Jeffty’s ability to remain in a child’s world. But another part of Donald feels sorry for Jeffty, mostly because of Jeffty’s parents. They are, he says, ‘‘awfully depressing.’’ They resent not being able to watch Jeffty grow up into adulthood; they feel like they are living in a nightmare.
Jeffty’s father, John Kinzer, is a small-built man who can’t seem to carry on a conversation or look anyone in the eye. Donald thinks that John is somehow haunted. Jeffty’s mother, Leona,...
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