Paul Zindel American Literature Analysis
To understand the themes that preoccupy Zindel, one must have a working knowledge of his personal life, because it infused most of what he wrote. His plays, for example, reflect his “virtually desperate” search for meaning in life. His young adult novels, on the other hand, reflect an attempt to resolve, through the creative process, problems left unresolved by an adolescence interrupted by a number of events.
The relationship between Zindel’s personal life and his writing may also be seen in the way he worked when writing. He usually began by creating what he calls an “inspirational homunculus.” This is a basic idea for a character, which was always based on a “life model” or “living image” (a real person Zindel had known). As his characters developed, Zindel identified closely with them as he placed them in situations in which they must resolve one or more of his own unresolved conflicts. Every situation is based on Zindel’s own experience. His young adult novels are usually constructed around what he considered four fundamental themes of adolescence: the search for identity and meaning, the youthful questioning of traditional values, the loneliness of an individual in a crowd, and the difficulty of communication.
With minor variations, Zindel’s stories follow an established formula. There is a principal protagonist, usually a dominant, wise-cracking male teenager, who is joined by a second teenager, always of the opposite sex. The second character may also bear part of the responsibility for telling the story, as he or she does in The Pigman and A Begonia for Miss Applebaum. The couple are usually drawn together as a result of the isolation of each.
They are basically two people who are lonely because they are unable to communicate with their parents, their teachers, and, sometimes, with their peers. In some instances, their isolation is a result of their instinctive, superior, youthful wisdom which makes them oddities at home, at school, and in the community. Thus thrown together, the two proceed to wrestle with the problems associated with growing up. In the process, they learn valuable lessons and gain new insights.
Zindel’s novels are written in a style which has been praised by some as “the authentic voice of the modern teenager.” To others, Zindel’s teenagers sound like Holden Caulfield, in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951). They acknowledge that the style is entertaining and suitable to the situations Zindel created but question whether anyone actually talks like a Zindel character.
Unlike the novels, Zindel’s plays are written for adult audiences and feature few nonadult characters (The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds is an exception). They are mostly about troubled women who do not seem to have Zindel’s teenagers’ knack for resolving their problems. The plays tend to exaggerate and embellish the themes of the novels. Many of the plays’ female characters resemble the parental authority figures in the novels, but in the plays the women are more likely to be perversely crazy or mindlessly destructive to those around them. They often repeat the strange behavior of the adults in the novels; in the plays there is something bizarre about the way they act.
For example, both Lorraine Jensen (The Pigman) and Tillie Frank (The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds) are kept out of school to do housework, but when the demand is made by Tillie’s mother it is tinged with an element of lunacy. Mrs. Jensen’s excuse is simply that she needs Lorraine’s help. She “can’t go out and earn a living” and keep house, too. Betty Frank, however, manages to encapsulate into her demands frustrations and hatreds dating back to her own high school days.
Like the novels, Zindel’s plays are related to his personal life. Each play is, in a sense, a result of his search for “some sign, for any bit of hope, or reason, to make being a human sensible.”
(The entire section is 3,702 words.)