The View from Saturday

by E. L. Konigsburg

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The narrative of The View from Saturday moves rapidly among several different settings, each in its own way providing clues to the inner lives of the characters. Nadia's stay with her father in Florida, for example, involves a project to save endangered sea turtles that are most vulnerable to human interference and predators on the beaches where they originally hatched and where they return to lay their eggs. Nadia, a reluctant participant in the turtle project, nonetheless sees parallels between her experiences and the life cycle of the turtles, including absent parents, a long journey to adulthood, and the possibility of losing one's way without help. Her experiences in Florida are then tied to The Souls and Mrs. Olinski, with Mrs. Olinski eventually realizing that she and her students have all been on journeys, each to find meaning in his or her life.

The handling of physical settings as analogues to the lives of the characters is very sophisticated, done so seamlessly that even with characters such as Nadia pointing out the analogies, the reader must give some thought to each important location in order to fully grasp its meaning in the lives of the characters. Sillington House, for instance, is at the heart of the formation of The Souls group, yet its significance must be divined from how the characters of The View from Saturday use it. It is first being converted to a bed and breakfast inn, a place where travelers may stay and feel at home. The owners of the property have spent their lives traveling on cruise ships, and it is their son Julian's first stable home. Julian, new to America but here to stay, needs to find a place for himself in his new society. He does this in part by inviting a few classmates home for tea, each of whom has a journey to complete. Julian's father, near the end of the novel, points out how each journey has taken place. Sillington House thus becomes a home away from home, just as the Sargasso Sea is the home away from their beaches for the sea turtles. That Mrs. Olinski is the last of the five main characters to come to Sillington House shows that she is the last to complete her spiritual journey, having come to the end of her quest only when her students win the state academic championship.

Another important place is Epiphany Middle School; its name suggests its importance, an epiphany being a spiritual event in which the true essence about something is revealed. Epiphany Middle School seems an unlikely place at first for spiritual revelations, as its principal cares nothing for academic achievement, instead urging his teachers to be politically correct. The sixth graders themselves are outsiders because the sixth grade level has only recently been moved from an elementary school to a school that previously had only seventh and eighth graders. This is a symbolic as well as a physical dispossession; the sixth graders are homeless outsiders even in their homeroom. For Mrs. Olinski, returning to teaching after an accident that killed her husband and paralyzed her legs, the environment at Epiphany Middle School is downright hostile, with a few of her students harassing her with petty cruelties, and her boss denigrating her choice of students in the academic competition because they are not of politically correct ethnic groups.

It is through the work of The Souls that Mrs. Olinski begins to find her home, and it is through their journey to the state championship that she finds her epiphany. The Souls help Mrs Olinski maintain her balance in...

(This entire section contains 755 words.)

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the classroom, defusing attempts to destabilize and demoralize her to the point of losing control of class. Mrs. Olinsky begins her journey to epiphany when she chooses the outcast Souls to represent her class in the academic competition. She gets caught up with her four students in the planning and excitement as they advance from one level to the next in their quest to be state champions. When they win and complete their journey to deliverance, she feels that something is missing. Julian's father suggests that she enjoy the moment of victory: "Now you must put down anchor, look around, enjoy this port of call. Your stay will be brief. You must do it, Mrs. Olinski." Her epiphany comes when she finally does set down anchor at Sillington House, her port of call; she realizes that she and her students have been on a spiritual journey which has brought them to a home at last.

Literary Qualities

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Anyone reading The View from Saturday is likely to notice the novel's unusual structure. It has six separate voices telling the story. One voice is third-person omniscient, a voice that has the God-like power to read people's minds and tell anything about the events transpiring. Another voice is third-person limited, a voice that focuses on Mrs. Olinski and limits itself to her perceptions and thoughts. The other four voices are first person, each the voice of one of The Souls. Such experimentation with narrative voices can be fun, a roller coaster ride through the thoughts and feelings of characters. It also requires thought on the part of readers, especially when the voices overlap and give more than one version of an event such as the "cripple" incident. It invites readers to seek out the truth for themselves in the various narratives, while promoting awareness of the importance of diverse views on complex issues.

The View from Saturday is divided into sections that hop from one voice to another. This does not become confusing because the voices are distinctive enough not to be mistaken for each other. The sixth graders have a tendency to sound alike—perhaps because of Konigsburg's effort to give their narratives clear diction that is easy to understand—but this is well compensated for by the distinctiveness of each Souls' personality and view of the world. This personal distinction of character also has the effect of making each of the character's ideas important, and it implies the strongly appealing notion that young minds can be worthy of respect.

Social Sensitivity

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Konigsburg does not seem to shy away from controversy, but her novels tend to be much more concerned with the inner lives of young people than with social issues. Even so, The View from Saturday may make some readers uncomfortable with its disdainful treatment of the idea of diversity, the academic buzzword of the moment. Although the educational concept of diversity is a secondary issue in the novel, it is a recurring motif. Konigsburg points out that the theory of diversity in practice excludes Jews (perhaps even discriminates against them), other unfashionable ethnic groups such as East Indians, and would appear to exclude handicapped people such as Mrs. Olinski. The main characters of The View from Saturday even seem to be drawn together partly because they are each unfashionable in some way that cannot be helped, even though their roles as people on journeys is the most important factor. Furthermore, the purveyors of diversity seem to advocate it more for their own personal advancement than for the benefit of anyone else.

This needling of a sacred cow serves as part of the background of the lives of the main characters and is mild. None of Konigsburg's criticisms are false, and they inspire thought on the subject of social diversity. If there is a weakness in the presentation of the academic concept of diversity, it is that this idea is so shallow that like other fads it may pass from fashion and leave future young readers unsure of what Konigsburg is talking about.

The novel's depiction of social outsiders and of changes in the behavior of sixth graders is perhaps of broader interest. Mrs. Olinski is crudely alerted to the change her first day teaching, with sixth graders no longer asking what is to be learned next but instead asking why bother. Her effort to tell her students about her physical handicap by writing "paraplegic" on the blackboard is rewarded with the replacing of "paraplegic" with "cripple" during a class break. She also finds herself in a school with few academic standards and a principal who cares little for academic excellence.

On the other hand, some students find within themselves the capacity to help Mrs. Olinski, an outsider who could be emotionally brutalized by the cruelty with which she must contend. This is a hopeful aspect of the novel—a reminder that twelve-year-olds have minds of their own and the capacity to choose to help others. The Souls become the arms and legs of the perpetually balanced toy monkey, always trying to help her maintain her balance in the face of indifference or outright hostility. In the process, they discover that helping others binds them together as friends and enables them to take active roles in their own education. When presented with cruelty, the young people take action rather than remain passive, and their lives are enriched because of their efforts.

For Further Reference

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Cooper, Ilene. Booklist 93, 4 (October 15, 1996): 424. In a review of The View from Saturday, Cooper says, "Konigsburg's latest shows flashes of her great talent and her grasp of childhood, but the book is weighted down by a Byzantine structure that houses too many characters and alternating narratives that will confuse readers."

Cummins, Julie. School Library Journal 42, 9 (September 1996): 204. Praises the artfulness of The View from Saturday.

Gutchen, Beth. New York Times Book Review (November 10,1996). Praises The View from Saturday for its intelligence.

Konigsburg, E. L. "Newbery Medal Acceptance." Horn Book Magazine 73, 4 (July-August 1997): 404-414. Konigsburg tells of how her first Newbery Medal in 1968 changed her life and career by opening up a "Third Place" where she could be, a place where she could discuss in an adult way literature for children.

TalkTalk: A Children's Book Author Speaks to Grown-ups. New York: Atheneum Books for Children (Simon & Schuster), 1995. This is a selection of Konigsburg's speeches to adult audiences since 1968, covering twenty-five years.

"A Prized Storyteller." Time for Kids 2, 20 (March 7, 1997): 7. Notes that The View from Saturday has won the Newbery Medal for 1997.

Publishers Weekly 243, 30 (July 22, 1996): 242. Finds The View from Saturday very attractive for young readers.

Sutton, Roger. Horn Book Magazine 73, 1 (January-February 1997): 60-61. In this review of The View from Saturday, Sutton asserts that in the novel "nothing seems and no one sounds quite real."

Todd, Laurie Konigsburg. "E. L. Konigsburg." Horn Book Magazine 73, 4 (July-August 1997):415-417. "Readers frequently ask where E. L. Konigsburg, my mother, gets her ideas. I'll tell," says Todd. She explains that the structure of The View from Saturday was inspired by "Mozart's Symphony #40 in G Minor."




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