Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

Ralph Lombreglia’s “Somebody Up There Likes Me” deals primarily with the preservation of authenticity and creativity in an institution-driven and technologically advanced world. Lombreglia’s main characters, Dante and Snookie Lee, are both graduates of institutions of higher learning, where they were creative beings. They first meet at a poetry slam and later meet again at a bookstore poetry reading. After becoming a couple and finishing their degrees, they move to San Jose, where Dante begins his teaching career at the College of the Mind.

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Dante is an innovative professor who uses computers in the classroom and whose students love him, which ironically causes the institution, epitomized by his chairperson, Mary Beth, to believe he is not academically rigorous in his teaching. Lombreglia juxtaposes a creative, authentic, successful teacher and an oppressive, antiquated educational institution whose leaders adhere to tradition so devotedly as to be unable to accept or reward genuinely creative intelligence. Dante comments on his belief that Mary Beth is out to get him.

The problems at the college create a rift between Dante and Snookie Lee. While she endures the boredom of being an academic’s spouse, he suffers the stresses of dealing with abusive supervision. The distance Dante’s frustrating employment situation creates between the couple results in their separation and Snookie Lee’s decision to pursue a doctorate of her own. However, Snookie Lee realizes that her doctorate will require a mastery of regurgitated theories in which she does not believe, and she deliberately fails her oral exams, returning to San Jose and Dante. At the same time, Dante is being fired from the College of the Mind. These two creative, authentic people are freed from the academic institutions that have stifled their creativity and their love and thus are able to rediscover the happiness of love outside an institution-driven world.

Lombreglia conveys this same theme through Boyce, the highly creative and innovative computer developer and leader of a project to simulate human consciousness with a computer. After Boyce has developed computers with consciousness and communicative abilities, his corporate employer trivializes computer creativity by assigning Boyce the task of designing a computer with lips. Ironically, Boyce’s success results in his being fired and his project’s being sold to British buyers for a huge corporate profit. Lombreglia illustrates free-market capitalism’s oppression of the creative and their achievements in Boyce’s being able to realize truly authentic creative freedom only through his alignment with Brubaker, a radical financier outside traditional corporate and educational institutions. With Brubaker’s help, Dante and Boyce plan to design the electronic mind of humanity, to capture and record the good humanity has achieved. Lombreglia’s point in this story is that such authentic achievement and genuine human love can be sustained only outside the powerful, oppressive institutions of the contemporary world.

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