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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485

A Solitary Blue explores the psychological damage inflicted upon an only child by deficient parents. Spanning approximately ten years, the novel begins when seven-year-old Jeff Greene comes home from school one day to find a note from his mother, Melody, explaining that she has left him to continue her serious social work. Abandoned by the mother that he adores and fearful of losing his remaining parent, Jeff withdraws. Over a period of four years, Jeff and his father, the Professor, assume an orderly and mirthless routine, broken only by the occasional visits of the Professor’s colleague, Brother Thomas. An invitation to spend the summer in Charleston with his mother promises to change everything.

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The summer is a magical one for Jeff. He is captivated by his mother’s warm, spontaneous charm and by the music that she plays on the guitar. After a few days, however, Melody is again busy with her “causes.” Jeff is largely left to fend for himself until the end of the summer, when Melody exchanges his airline ticket for a bus ticket and sends him back to Baltimore without any traveling money. Nevertheless, Jeff adores his mother so much that he overlooks her self-centered behavior.

In Baltimore for another school year, Jeff writes Melody numerous letters, to which he receives no reply. Her rejection is softened somewhat by the friendship of Brother Thomas, who provides guidance and good humor to both Jeff and the Professor. In his own awkward way, the Professor attempts to reach out to Jeff by taking an interest in his music and by contacting Jeff’s great-grandmother to arrange a second summer in Charleston.

Jeff finds a different Charleston when he returns. Melody is preoccupied with Max, a journalist whom she accompanies as a photographer. Great-grandmother Gambo, who has suffered a stroke, seems annoyed by Jeff’s presence; only Opal, the aging African American housekeeper, seems not to notice Jeff at all. Jeff survives the summer by exploring a remote island, where he identifies with the aloneness of a great blue heron. As a result of Melody’s second betrayal, Jeff withdraws to the point of near madness upon his return to Baltimore.

The second half of the book details Jeff’s recovery over the next five years. The Professor uses the extra money that he receives from the publication of his book to buy them a proper home on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. Under his father’s caring concern, Jeff responds to the beauty and solitude of his surroundings. As he gains confidence at home, he begins to thrive in school, realizing that he is intelligent and strong. Ultimately, it is his friendship with a young girl named Dicey Tillerman and her family that awakens his spirit. When his mother tries to reenter his life, Jeff sees her shallowness and selfishness, and he realizes that he is no longer dependent on her approval.

Setting

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500

The setting of A Solitary Blue is integral to the story and its themes. The story begins in Baltimore, then moves between Charleston, South Carolina, and Baltimore, and finally ends in Crisfield, Maryland.

Baltimore and Charleston come to represent two extremes of Jeff Greene's confused and insecure life. In Charleston with his mother, where it is warm and sunny, Jeff feels loved. In Baltimore with his father, where the weather is colder, he feels self-sufficient and reticent. The house in Charleston is spacious and bright; in Baltimore, the house has small rooms and narrow halls. In Charleston, he is Jeffie (his mother's name for him) or Jefferson (his great-grandmother's name for him); in Baltimore he is Jeff Greene. On his first visit to Charleston, when he sees his mother for the first time in almost five years, Jeff feels "like a man must who has been kept in a dungeon for years and years, and he steps out into the sunlight for the first time." Just as he physically is shuttled back and forth between Baltimore and Charleston, Jeff is emotionally torn between his father and his mother; because Jeff has no identity of his own, he becomes what he thinks his mother wants him to be when he is in Charleston and what he thinks his father wants him to be when he is in Baltimore.

His mother seems the warmer, more loving character. She has told Jeff that his father is a poor parent, a cold, unloving, boring man; little in his shy, introspective father's behavior indicates otherwise to Jeff. But when, in the warm and happy atmosphere of Charleston, Melody betrays Jeff's love and trust yet again, he must find a retreat from the beautiful setting that is now tainted for him with the stains of sorrow and disillusionment. He finds an uninhabited island to which he can sail each day and be safe from hurtful human contact. The island represents Jeff's withdrawal from life, but what it symbolizes is not altogether bad. In solitude Jeff begins to recover from the shock of learning what his mother is really like; on the island, he can begin to muster his internal resources to fortify himself for a return to what he thinks is the unloving atmosphere of Baltimore. But in Baltimore he discovers that his father really does love him. The Professor does not say much about love, but he is reliable and trustworthy; he is always there.

Recognizing Jeffs unhappiness and his bad memories associated with the Baltimore house, the Professor discusses with Jeff the possibility of moving. They sell their house and move to a smaller one in Crisfield, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The Professor, who is a man of few words but astute observation, knows that this house and the surrounding area remind Jeff of "his" island. This is the place where Jeff will be happy. Crisfield is home to Jeff. Charleston and Baltimore were places where he lived or stayed; they were never home.

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 276

Voigt has been described in the New York Book Review as "a wonderful writer with powerfully moving things to say." The wide variety of images and symbols she uses can turn a realistic, everyday happening into something new and wonderful. Voigt knows that young people believe the possible to be real and writes according to her readers' expectations. Without being unrealistic, she presents the possibility of happiness, healing, and love.

The most obvious symbol in A Solitary Blue is the blue heron. Jeff appreciates the heron's beauty and its love of solitude. The blue heron does not want to be bothered and is frightened by sudden movement. The heron parallels Jeff, who, after being devastated by his mother's abandonment, becomes wary, untrusting, and withdrawn. The only time that people do not frighten the heron into flying away is when Jeff and Dicey are together in the sailboat.

Voigt uses simple but evocative diction, and her descriptions of the blue heron and Jeff's tranquil island are almost poetic. Her dialogue is strikingly appropriate to the characters. The Professor speaks almost in monosyllables until he and Jeff come to understand and trust one another; then he shows himself to be very articulate but never chatty. Melody, on the other hand, fairly gushes with words: light and funny dialogue when she is happy, appealing emotional language when she wants something, and bitter, harsh remarks when she is angry. This skillful use of language helps make the characters, even minor ones such as Miss Opal, fully rounded. This lends depth to the book, for even people with very small roles in Jeff's story are perceived as people, not cardboard cutouts.

Social Sensitivity

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Melody's early abandonment of her child and her later betrayal of his trust create perhaps the most sensitive issue in A Solitary Blue. This negative picture of a mother reveals a harsh emotional truth: that some people, even parents, are never able to love maturely. The selfishness and narcissism of Melody's love is disturbing. But it is crucial to Jeff's development that he see Melody for what she is. The relationship between Jeff and his mother never improves, but he finally reaches a stage where he expresses anger toward her. Jeff travels far to trust himself enough to afford the luxury of deciding his own fate.

A solitary blue heron stood... half-hidden in the pale marsh grass...Jeff felt as deep in his aloneness as the single blue heron.
Voigt presents this situation with great sensitivity. Jeff rejects his mother because she repeatedly betrays his trust, and he does so only after a good deal of introspection. Neither Melody's final betrayal nor Jeff's rejection is malicious. After the final betrayal, Jeff finds an isolated island, and there, "he felt at ease with himself and as if he had come home to a place where he could be himself, without hiding anything, without pretending even to himself." But Voigt makes it clear that while such an escape may be part of the healing process for Jeff, it is not a solution to his problems. Jeff is still alone; he has found part of himself, but he has not integrated that part into a whole person who can function in society. When he returns to Baltimore, he keeps the image of the island with him at all times but finds that he is not capable of concentrating on anything else. The guitar that has been such an important part of his life lies unnoticed in his room, and his schoolwork suffers to the point that he gets suspended.

It is when Jeff finally manages to leave his "island" to share his feelings with the Professor that he realizes his father loves him. Once Jeff lets any feeling inside of his emotional fortress, he is able to feel everything. He still has bad memories, but he now can live a fuller life and treasure some good memories as well.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 241

Donahue, Rosanne. "New Realism in Children's Fiction." In Masterworks of Children's Literature, edited by William T. Moynihan and Mary E. Shaner. Vol. 8. New York: Chelsea House, 1985. A critical survey of new realistic books and their impact on the field of children's literature. A Solitary Blue is discussed in the context of novels that depict children surviving on their own.

Irving, Elsie K. "Cynthia Voigt." Horn Book (August 1983): 410-412. Voigt's mother gives an insider's view of the author.

Jameson, Gloria. "The Triumph of the Spirit in Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming, Dicey's Song, and A Solitary Blue." In Triumphs of the Spirit in Children's Literature, edited by Francelia Butler and Richard Rotert. Hamden, CT: Shoe String Press, 1986. Focuses on how Dicey's and Jeff's spirits triumph as they struggle to survive and develop.

Lukens, Rebecca J., ed. A Critical Handbook of Children's Literature. 3d. ed. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1986. Discusses the theme of love in A Solitary Blue and the way Jeff's internal conflict contributes to the book's plot.

Reed, Arthea J. S. "Transition from Childhood into Adulthood." In Reaching Adolescents: The Young Adult Book and the School. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985. This chapter discusses Jeff's two trips to visit his mother as symbolic of his emergence into adulthood.

Voigt, Cynthia. "Newbery Medal Acceptance. "Horn Book (August 1983): 401- 409. Voigt discusses her philosophy about quality literature for young people.

Voigt, Jessica. "Cynthia Voigt." Horn Book (August 1983): 413. A reflection on Voigt written by her daughter.

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