Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth

by E. L. Konigsburg
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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 661

A number of issues of concern to adolescents are presented in Konigsburg’s work: finding peer acceptance, making friends, growing in maturity, finding oneself, coping with family relationships, and living in a diverse world. Primarily, the book addresses peer relationships and acceptance. The story portrays two children who are forming a friendship and who are in some ways alike but in other ways quite different. The meaning of real friendship is demonstrated, and the author’s underlying message is that friends should support and help one another rather than be hurtful.

Self-conflict provides the primary plot for the story. Elizabeth is presented as a shy girl needing a friend. She is a new student who walks to school alone each day and who is afraid that she will cry when walking into class late with everyone looking at her. Adolescence is often a time of uncertainty, one filled with self-doubts and fears about other people’s perceptions. Therefore, these are believable scenarios with which many adolescents will be able to associate. Elizabeth’s shyness is reemphasized through her actions and responses when she meets Jennifer, an imaginative and apparently self-assured individual. Elizabeth agrees to all of Jennifer’s recommendations and suggestions related to becoming an apprentice witch. Because Jennifer is confident and is supportive of Elizabeth in subtle ways at school, Elizabeth complies with Jennifer’s demands even when she does not want to do so. She gradually becomes aware of how Jennifer manipulates situations in order to force her to make decisions so that Jennifer will not have to take responsibility. Once Elizabeth discovers this, she takes control of a situation important to her, tells Jennifer exactly how she feels, and risks ending their friendship. Eventually, Elizabeth’s growing confidence in herself allows her to become more assertive, and she no longer needs the game of becoming a witch. At this point, the two girls are able to become good friends and to begin acting as equals.

Konigsburg’s story does not address conflicts that may be caused by racial bias. The fact that one of the girls is African American and the other is white is only referred to directly in one situation. The reader is mainly aware of the cultural diversity of the two girls because of the illustrations in which both appear. Because children in this age group are likely to begin developing personal perspectives about people of other cultures, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me offers a positive example by focusing on sharing and similarities rather than on tensions and differences.

Family relationships are also an integral part of this story. While readers, and Elizabeth, do not learn much about Jennifer’s family, they do become involved in Elizabeth’s family. She is an only child from a two-parent family; this lack of siblings contributes to Elizabeth’s sense of shyness and isolation. Her parents interact with her on a regular basis as authority figures, not as friends. Other family members who comes to visit treat her as they might a small child, not taking into account her growing maturity. Although Elizabeth does not complain about these circumstances, ultimately she does begin to compare them with other families with whom she comes in contact. Nevertheless, her family accepts her as she is. As she gains more confidence with Jennifer, she also begins acting in a more mature manner at home.

The reader cannot be entirely certain whether Elizabeth will reach a point where she is accepted by her peers in the school setting. She has become more self-sufficient and self-confident, however, and is able to fit into more situations without the initial anxiety that she felt as a new person in the community. She becomes more involved in her world, attending Cynthia’s birthday party and taking part in the class play, but the reader is left with the feeling that Elizabeth does not really need her classmates as she did when the story began.

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Critical Context