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.