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Black Swan Green and the Construction of Alter-Egos

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Throughout the book, Jason has ongoing internal dialogues with “Maggot” and “Unborn Twin” who represent two of his alter egos. Both Maggot and Unborn Twin allow the reader to experience the disparate personalities of Jason. Maggot represented his “loser/misfit” side and the Unborn Twin being his “devil” side. Jason’s unique personalities often appear when he needs to undertake an important decision or action. For example, when Jason is alone on the lake and spots a mysterious figure racing around the ice, his internal egos penetrate his thoughts: “Go home, urged the nervy Maggot in me. What if he’s a ghost? My unborn twin can’t stand Maggot. What if he’s a ghost?” (18). Thus, Jason constantly has inner quarrels between his different personalities. Mitchell allows the reader to glimpse inside Jason’s thoughts by employing this method. He also displays Jason’s constant sense of insecurity.

Jason’s stammer is another prominent theme in the novel. He names his stammer “Hangman” due to an incident in class when he was younger. The class was playing a game of hangman and even though Jason knew the answer, his mouth would not let the word escape. Ever since then, Jason refers to his stammer as Hangman since he is always on the verge of spitting out the word. He learns to adapt to his stammer by replacing words he would normally stammer on with those he can easily enunciate. He also learns to construct a sentence in his head before he actually vocalizes it. Although the stammer is a considered a limitation to most (more subject to bullying etc.), it can also be considered an advantage. For example, Jason acquires a greater vocabulary because he has to be able to substitute “stammer words” for other words and thus is able to expand his vocabulary. In addition, he is able to encounter to meet many interesting people including his speech therapist Mrs. De Roos becasue of his stammer. The novel would be very different if Jason did not have a stammer as the reader would not be able to peer into his inner thoughts and peculiarities. Jason would also not be the subject of bullying and have the fear of public speaking.

Mitchell often ends a scene in the middle of action to seize the reader and stimulate more thought over the scene. Once the reader finishes the action scene, he gives him/her a little time to ponder but later eases out the truth in another scene. Two scenes this occurred in include the House in the Woods scene and the Town Hall fire scene. By employing this literary device, Mitchell also makes it seem like the plot line mimics Jason’s stammer. Just like how Jason has to end a thought mid-sentence, the author ends an action scene mid-way.

Throughout the novel, phrases are often repeated to stress their continual influence on Jason’s life. For example, Hangman is continually brought up to reveal Jason’s recurrent problem with stammering. Comments involving Unborn Twin and Maggot are also frequently repeated to show the way in which Jason thinks.

The moon-gray cat often appears when Jason is in a stressful situation. For example the cat appears when he is crossing the lawns (and running out of time) in order to become a Spooks member, when he is about to meet his stepmother, and when Squelch throws a dead cat at him. Mitchell chose to link these instances to the moon-gray cat in order to create a symbol of Jason’s misfortune and anxiety.

The town of Black Swan Green is both similar and different from those of classic British novels. In Jane Eyre, the cities are overpopulated, dirty, and filled with both admirable wealth and poverty. In contrast, the towns in Jane Eyre are small and a governess is often needed within a household to educate the children since schools are so far away. In Black Swan Green, the town is modest, clean, and far from other towns. Unlike the education in Jane Eyre, the children attend public school and none are overwhelmingly wealthy. The town is also more structured in Black Swan Green than in Jane Eyre, with a town hall and many town wide meetings.

In many ways, the course of Jason’s life over a year mimics the course of the war. At the beginning of the novel, Jason is naive and does not know much about the war. As the book progresses, Jason deepens his understanding of the Falklands War. He becomes more aware of the skirmish through conversations with his family and events occurring in the town that directly relate to the war, such as Tom Yew’s death. His life imitates the war. The original conflict between his parents and his struggle with bullying begin with a mild undercurrent. However, as his parents begin delving into more caustic arguments and behave as separate units, the Falkland’s War also intensifies with the sinking of ships and Tom Yew’s death. Jason’s degree of bullying due to his stutter also escalates and his peers begin to call him “Maggot”. In this way, the intensity of war coincides with the increasing strife in Jason’s life.

When Jason successfully completes the test to be admitted into the Spooks society, he makes a decision to go back and help his friend Dean Moran. Even though Jason risks his popularity, his place in the Spooks society, and getting in trouble, he returns to Mr. Blake’s greenhouse to help his friend because his inner conscience knows that if the roles were switched, Dean would return to aid him: “A fact sunk a hook into me. If I’d fallen through Mr. Blake’s greenhouse and not Moran, Moran wouldn’t be abandoning me to that psycho . He just wouldn’t” (140). Jason also might have wanted to disobey his controlling alter egos in order to prove to himself his own strength. For example, Maggot tells him, “Keep your fat trap shut” (140). Instead, he returns to save Dean.

By giving the male characters in the book reprehensible traits, Mitchell is not trying to comment on the pitfalls of masculinity, but rather point out human flaws in general. Many of the female characters in the book are given equally as dishonorable traits, such as Jason’s mother who is always pleading for the newest fashion even though she knows they are expensive and put stress on her husband (e.g. stone sculptures in yard). Another female with a shameful trait is Dawn Madden, who treats Jason poorly and is lacking respect for others. Thus, Mitchell acknowledges both male and female faults.

Violence plays an ompnipresent role in Black Swan Green. Whether the violence is between two different countries or between two students, it all plays a pervasive part in Jason’s life. It allows Jason to experience the harsh reality of life, even in sleepy Worcestershire. Through instances of violence such as the war, fist fights between his classmates, the fighting between his mother and father, and the severing of Ross Wilcox’s leg, Jason learns more about the natural human inclination towards competition.

At the end of the book, when Jason says, “The world’s a headmaster who works on your faults,” he alludes to the idea that society is constantly pointing out your imperfections, but in a manner that will slowly improve them. In order for these faults to fade, they have to come to the attention of others. For example, although Jason’s stammer is embarrassing, he must seek help and practice speaking in front of others to improve it. I agree with this statement as I can think of many instances in my own life to which this rule applies. One common instance where this rule applies is in athletics. When one plays poorly, that person is given less playing time giving him/her the incentive to improve There should be a continuous process of critique and improvement in everything we do.

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