Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 518
This multilayered novel deals with a number of issues. I Know What You Did Last Summer can be read purely as an exciting and suspenseful mystery story, but the issues of peer pressure, going along with others instead of acting on one’s own, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and the...
(The entire section contains 518 words.)
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- Critical Essays
This multilayered novel deals with a number of issues. I Know What You Did Last Summer can be read purely as an exciting and suspenseful mystery story, but the issues of peer pressure, going along with others instead of acting on one’s own, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and the long-range effects of the Vietnam War on those who were involved are central to the work as a whole. Loyalty and inaction also play a part. Which is more important, loyalty to friends or to oneself? What are the consequences of inaction?
All four teenagers involved find that a price must be paid for keeping silent about the crime, as do others whose lives are also altered by the accident. The four acted irresponsibly by leaving the scene of the accident, and each has dealt with it in his or her own way. Ray, consumed with guilt, leaves town for a year. Julie, also consumed with guilt, has chosen to erase the incident from her mind. Barry has tried to rationalize his behavior, and Helen agrees to anything in order to keep her dream of marrying Barry alive. None of them is willing to break the self-imposed code of silence. Although the accident was unintentional, the selfishness of Barry and Helen has led all four into lives of guilt and deceit. In addition, the sense of responsibility felt by the boy’s mother for the accident affects her sanity and alters the structure of her family.
The novel is set against the backdrop of American family and social life of the early 1970’s. Self-centered Helen has the seemingly American dream job of a television “weather girl.” Rich, spoiled Barry is a football hero who dates Helen for only two reasons: She is a television personality, and his parents don’t like her. Ray is able simply to take off for California. Julie lives with her widowed mother and dreams of going to college at her mother’s alma mater. The victim’s blended family is no longer a functioning unit. Into this mix steps Bud/Collie, the psychologically disturbed war veteran. His presence forces the four teenagers to look again at the boy’s death and the effects that the event has had on their own interpersonal relations. When she meets the boy’s family, Julie says that she is sorry she came to the house. It was easier for her when the family was only a name in a newspaper article; now they are real, and she is directly involved with them. Julie and Ray realize the ramifications of the cover-up and confront the logic that enabled them to justify their code of silence.
Duncan propels readers to the conclusion that one’s actions are important and one is responsible for them. People must also learn to recognize others for what they are instead of listening to or following undesirable companions. Peer pressure is inevitable, but it is important to stand up for one’s own beliefs. The world may not always be kind or fair, but there are many positives to offset the negatives.