Stuck in Neutral

by Terry Trueman

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In Stuck in Neutral, why does Shawn's father want to kill him?

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Shawn thinks that his father wants to kill him based on a television show his father was watching and the reactions of his father to Shawn's illness. Shawn doesn't know for sure, and neither does the reader at the end of the story. This uncertainty represents the lack of communication between Shawn and his father and is the main conflict in the story. Shawn has to guess what his father is thinking, and his father has to do the same thing. Shawn is unable to communicate with his father, and his father doesn't even try to communicate with Shawn because he thinks Shawn can't understand what the father is saying. This all points to the theme that no one has the right to choose life or death for another person. At the end of the story, we are left wondering along with Shawn whether his dad will kill him.

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Because he is unable to control his muscles or his facial expressions, Shawn cannot at all communicate his thoughts and feelings.  All his father sees when he looks at him is a child who does not seem to respond to anything and who goes through severe seizures frequently.  Shawn's father loves him, and, unaware as he is that there is so much more to Shawn's life and consciousness than the hurt that he sees, wants to end his suffering.

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In "Stuck in Neutral", why does Shawn want to live?

Shawn, the protagonist of this story, is an adolescent boy with cerberal palsy.  This means that Shawn has little control over his own  body, which is twisted and hard to manipulate because of the disease.  Shawn also gets seizures as a result of his disease.  People at large tend to view him as hopelessly disabled and retarded (his speech has been affected, too).  Shawn's own father, unable to see the condition of his son's body, abandons the family early in Shawn's life.

Even considering all this, Shawn loves life.  As a teenager, he is trying to find his place in the world - his individuality, complete separate from his disease.  He enjoys TV, music, friends, games.  He likes experience.  He gets angry, has happiness, forms bonds, and even develops a crush on a girl (his sister's friend).  In other words, Shawn is a normal 14 year old.  Why give up on life when there is still pizza in the world?  He simply wants to get the most out of life that he can, despite his disability.  His father, considering a mercy killing, can't understand that even though a person has problems, it doesn't mean that that person isn't happy.

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