Thank you, Jenny, whoever
you are, for posting a comment yesterday that crystallized the source of my discomfort with the
American Girls, and even with those virtuous paragons of yore, Laura
Ingalls and Caddie Woodlawn and the kids of All of a Kind Family.
Because Jenny has captured, exactly, what nags at me about the American
Girls—they never pick their noses. Or go to the bathroom. Their flaws
and suffering are all part of a sort of yester-year school of flaws,
where characters feel bad about things like bragging too much or getting frustrated easily—flaws that don't seem all that shameful. And then they turn around and overcome this flaw at the
end of the book. And while this can be thrilling to read about, it's
also a bit dispiriting, because we are, all of us, a mess of flaws and
weaknesses, some of which we can sometimes overcome but others that
will dog us our whole lives.
People—and yes, I'm perhaps blurring the line between people and fictional characters, but that's how I play it, I think—are sloppy and difficult and often unpleasant. They do things that are shameful and terrible; they live with cowardice and fear and these things coexist with all those wonderful things like bravery and strength and conscience and integrity. That is what it
is, I think, to be human. As a professor of mine once said when someone protested at the
abstrusenesss of a particular poem (and I will paraphrase here;
he spoke much more eloquently): "Poems aren't meant to be simple. They are like people. Prickly and
difficult. They aren't there to be consumed but rather to be grappled
with, studied, appreciated, and, ultimately, loved."
OK, I'm not sure I said what I meant. And I will continue to appreciate the American Girls and the way they bring many interesting things into the conversation: bullying, slavery, poverty. Tomorrow I will try to get back to our regularly scheduled programming.