Sunday, June 15, 2008

Readings: What Boyhood Was Then

In George Orwell's novel, Coming Up For Air, the protagonist, George Bowling, recalls the first, transformative, summer day during which he was finally allowed to accompany his older brother and a gang of local boys on their adventures in suburban England:

I'd walked ten miles and I wasn't tired. All day I'd trailed after the gang and tried to do everything they did, and they'd called me "the kid" and snubbed me as much as they could, but I'd more or less kept my end up. I had a wonderful feeling inside me, a feeling you can't know about unless you've had it -- but if you're a man you'll have had it some time. I knew that I wasn't a kid any longer, I was a boy at last. And it's a wonderful thing to be a boy, to go roaming where grown-ups can't catch you, and to chase rats and kill birds and shy stones and cheek carters and shout dirty words. It's a kind of strong, rank feeling, a feeling of knowing everything and fearing nothing, and it's all bound up with breaking rules and killing things. ...Thank God I'm a man, because no woman ever has that feeling.

I was a boy long enough ago that days like that were still a part of growing up in the American Midwest. I fear that most boys today -- every highly-structured minute of whose lives is carefully planned and micromanaged by adults -- never feel the exhilaration of that kind of primitive freedom.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm glad you're giving Orwell's ouevre a chance. Read them all in high school AFTER the obligatory readings of his last two major works. It was like finding out that Prokofiev wrote something other than "Peter And The Wolf."

Let me know when you get around to "A Clergyman's Daughter" or "Burmese Days." If I ever get inclined to read fiction again, I'll have to read them all again, as I was 15 when I last read them, and most of it cognitively probably went over my head.

I still have the 4-volume collection of essays that I bought in high school. 25 years old and going strong!

---MS

Rodak said...

I'll keep you posted. I always try to pry at least one "Quote du Jour" or "Readings" excerpt out of every book I read--just to keep track of them.

William R. Barker said...

Amen, Rob!

Do you (or you, Mad) see a connection between this and what some consider the feminization of the culture?

What I mean by that is not that moms are suddenly "in charge" whereas they weren't back in the "old days." No. Mom was always Mom. She was the top Sargeant - your direct, up close and personal authority figure. Dad was... the General. (*SMILE*) His was the "ultimate" power of "wait till your father gets home."

No. What I mean is that back when I was a kid it would never even occur to our dads to "micromanage" our play and while mom was "around" and available to serve meals and snacks to gangs of kids at a moment's notice, her main commandment was "be home for dinner."

We rode our bikes. EVERYWHERE! I mean, as far as we could go and still get back for dinner! We walked. EVERYWHERE! As deeply into the woods as we could and still make it back for dinner. (*WINK*)

Our parents didn't set up "play dates" for us. Us kids went to each others houses without invitation and if one of us wasn't home or couldn't play... we went to the next house. Or... we went to the park for pick-up games. (*SHRUG*)

We had a degree of freedom between the ages of 7-11 that would horrify most moms of today. They (current moms) will tell you it's about fear - how "it's a different world today." Bull. It's about control. Moms today micromanage because they can and because their peer moms do - it's partly a domino effect.

Thoughts?

BILL

Rodak said...

I don't know if I'd call it the "feminization" of the culture. I think that parents today areL a) afraid to let their kids out of their sight because there are so many crazies loose out there (or at least that's the perception); and b) want their kids to be doing something that will help get them into Harvard ultimately, because our society has become so materialistic.

William R. Barker said...

As to your second point... DEFINITELY.

As to your first... my observational experience is that the husbands/fathers just don't want to expend the energy or engender the hassle of fighting with their wives for a "freedom" that today's kids don't even know they're missing.

(*SHRUG*)

BILL

Rodak said...

You may be right. But I think that in many instances the fathers are just as freaked about their sons wandering around without adult supervision these days as are the mothers. Boys are eventually given freedom to roam today, but not at age 8 or 9, as in the Orwell excerpt.

Rodak said...

All fathers today know about the John Wayne Gaceys abd Jeffrey Daumers of this world. You can thank TV for that.

Anonymous said...

Maybe parents are just pussies?

I had two morning paper routes when I was 12 in the late 70s. Every morning I got up at 4:30 am and delivered newspapers for an hour by foot in the dark. I don't recall being scared or even remotely thinking that someone was going to snatch me. And considering my mother grew in Klansville Mississippi in the 1940s, I think her black "Spidey-sense" wouldn't have let me go out like that if there was an increased chance of danger.

Worst incident was when I noticed one Fall day that the Sun was not coming up at 5:30 am when I finished my routes. This went on for a couple of days. For a brief time I was scared shitless, as I figured something horrible was happening to the solar system and scientists were keeping it a secret. Then one of my friends told me what an idiot I was for forgetting about daylight savings time.

---MS

Rodak said...

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Reason enough to keep the kid on a short leash, I guess...

Anonymous said...

Actually, as weird as it seems, the only thing that used to really scare the shit out of me as a little boy, especially when I about five years old, was to be left alone in a dark room when this TV show came on:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=EHqebO8aAc4&feature=related

Yes, I was a strange child. Well, maybe not too strange. I never could figure out why other kids were scared of clowns.

---MS

Rodak said...

Interesting. I remember being taken to see the Laurence Olivier "Hamlet" and being terrified by the ghost.

William R. Barker said...

re: Madscribe 6/16/08 10:03 PM

MADSCRIBE...!!! MY LONG LOST SLIGHTLY MORE TANNED LITTLE BROTHER...!!! ME TOO!!!

MEEEEEE!!! TOOOOOO!!!

Yep. That Perry Mason opening theme music SCARED THE HELL OUT OF ME...!!! I mean... talk about goose bumps... it was so damned creepy...!

BILL

Rodak said...

You two's fears were so...plebeian.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Rodak, as a five year old, I guess I was scared Della Street was going to come out of my closet with an ice pick.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to put on my PJs and lock the door, before the Boogie-Mason gets me!

---MS

Anonymous said...

The name Della Street reminds me of the name of a former mayor of Columbus, Dana Rinehart (a man). I was sent to the principal's office in 8th Grade, when I told a teacher that our mayor had a name like a hooker out of a Mickey Spillane novel.

---MS

Rodak said...

I was more of a Della Reese fan, myself.