Literary Criticism of Childhood's End: Let the Right One In and Other Deaths of Innocence
In the essay developed by John Calhoun, he describes a variety of movies that portray the seemingly devilish side of children. He lists several movies and novels including the novel we are currently reading, Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Calhoun goes on to explain the lost of innocence that children loose in these movie and novels but also in real life, he referenced the Columbine shootings. This essay was very interesting to read and since I have not had the opportunity to see some of these films it gives me a little more insight and also intrigues me to view them because I would like to form my own opinion. In this essay I have picked a few passages that I have done a close reading on and I would like to help the readers gain a better perspective on what the author is trying to convey.
“But in the world of Let the Right One In, and of the little-monster subgenre in general, the character can be seen as much more than this: she is a repository of adult fears about children, who are so like us yet in crucial ways so different...can elicit great anxiety and discomfort, especially when sexual stirrings begin to take form. Insatiability for blood is almost too perfect a metaphor for the amorphous tyrants children can be.”(Calhoun 27) This is a piece from an interesting passage, at first glance it seems to me that the author sees the idea of children being monsters because as an adult this is a huge fear. The fear isn't that we are going to get eaten a live but the fact that children grown up and start to discover themselves and one another, and the fact that we may no longer have the control over them that we once had. Let's go further and delve into the this quote. The first word I came across that I wanted to gain a clear definition of was repository which is a receptacle or place where things are deposited, stored, or offered for sale. In other words adults use the idea of a vampire to contain all the evil that can come from children; adults stash those feelings away and try to steer kids away from that sort of danger. Children are suppose to free of negative thoughts and displays and parents want to keep them that way as long as possible; “...children remained innocent only if given the proper protection and tutoring by Christian adults.”(Calhoun 28) By using the idea of a vampire is the same as the idea of Santa Clause or the tooth fairy, these tactics are used to literally scare the child into obedience. A way for parents to make the child doesn't stray towards the dark side of the world. It's all in the power of the imagination and children have a highly developed imagination and what better way to create an organized environment then by playing up their own fears. This is a cruel sense of humor on the part of the adults because they have their own fears of what to come, basically the parents are projecting their fears onto their children. The character of Claudia, from Anne Rice's novel Interview with the Vampire embodies the fear as well as the expectations of a child. I liked the use of this word because Calhoun could have used a more common word to make the understanding easier but I think if he didn't it wouldn't have flowed as nicely. Repository is such a mysterious word and using it only adds to the unknown potential affects on children.
Claudia was the vampire or child that Calhoun spoke about in his article. She did posses all the attributes that a child should have, she was well dressed and played with her dolls; ideally she would have been a fearful parents dream come true. Yet Claudia was the evil that parents shunned away from, she did display anger and revenge; generally two qualities that are not suppose to be found with in children. She had a lot of pain from losing her family and ultimately being forced into a way of “life” that forced to stay a young girl for eternity. “'I rather think that he ushered Claudia into vampirism for revenge.' 'Revenge, not only on you but on the world,' suggested the boy.”(Rice 95) With this quote it further peers into the fear that an adult has in regard to a child. What is scarier than having a child throw a temper tantrum in the grocery store than a vampire child.
The next sentence he states that the children are so much like us in crucial yet different ways; this line is hard to grasp because children are just smaller versions of adults and they don't necessarily have the experience or wisdom that adults have, is this the difference he speaks of? What is the crucial similarity? Lastly, Calhoun writes amorphous tyrants, well amorphous is defined as of no particular kind or character; indeterminate; having no pattern or structure; unorganized. Tyrant is a sovereign or other ruler who uses power oppressively or unjustly. In other words a child is a person, they have complete and utter control over adults without having an organized purpose for this power; no true idea or meaning as to why. This word usage is amazing because again Calhoun could have easily written something like children trying to gain control over adults without real reason, yet his language is so powerful further adding to the mystery of childhood as well as how a child may interact with adults.
“...lives with false accusations of sexual licentiousness in The Children's Hour, for example, or amoral murderous Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed...the sharp contrast between the children's nefarious behavior and the normal presumption of childhood innocence...”(Calhoun 27). Licentiousness means unrestrained by law or general morality; lawless; immoral. In fact children aren't quite bound by the exact moral laws that adults, for the most part parents keep children shielded from these types of conversations. With this being the case children may partake in acts with one another that isn't appropriate and yet adults brush this off as kids being kids; doesn't this go back to the idea of amorphous tyrants? The next line that I want to give a better understanding of is the idea of a child's nefarious behavior versus the normal presumption of a child's behavior. Lets start with definition of nefarious which is an extremely wicked or villainous. Calhoun seems to be expressing the sheer wickedness that children actually possess rather then the sweet adoring children we perceive them to be.
The last passage I am going critique is “Freud introduced the notion of polymorphous perversity, or unfocused sexual drives, in children and argued that, rather than a vessel of pure innocence, the childhood psyche held the key to the emotional and sexual neuroses of the adult.”(Calhoun 28) This quote signifies that children are tiny adults, that they have the same desire and possibly urges that adults have and yet unable to comprehend these feelings as well as contain them. This idea makes since because we do not develop these feelings once we turn a certain age these are always present and how we handle them is an entirely different idea. I think the way in which the children are able to control these feelings is all dependent on their upbringing; if a child's parent is present and active within their life then the child isn't a monster or damaged. Is it possible that even if a child's parent isn't as present due to other obligations; couldn't a child still have those deep seeded values and moral to protect their virtue? I don't know if this actually is possible because children do need guidance and structure and if their parents are involved in just about every aspect of their lives then how is it truly possible for a child to obtain these values.
Like in Let the Right One In Oskar's parents weren't as involved as they could have been, it didn't mean he wasn't loved but he just wasn't understood. When he needed them the most he didn't feel comfortable expressing that need. Sometimes parents want to work so hard to give their children everything that the child could possibly imagine, but to what sacrifice? Generally at the expense of time, which is actually the cheapest gift that can ever be given yet causes the most impact. I think that if Oskars parents actually gave him their time they would have found out at least about bullying he had been enduring at school. I think that Oskar had or may even still have the the potential to turn away from the evil that is all encompassing in Eli; that he could come out of his imagination of being a killer if only given those precious moments he so needed. It seems as if Oskar is still very impressionable because of his weakened ranking within his peers at school so I think by being Eli's protector he is getting drug deeper into the proverbial hole of evil. How much longer can Eli hold out before he actually wants Oskar to be his eternal playmate; as well as how long can Oskar withstand the constant abuse before he wants to grow the strength and literally destroy his attackers. The word polymorphous is a word that I had difficulty wrapping my head around. The actual meaning is having, assuming, or passing through many or various forms, stages, or the like. And perversity is turning away from or rejecting what is right, good, or proper; wicked or corrupt. This means that a child goes through several different levels of lewd and lascivious behavior, none the less once a child enters the first level Calhoun seems to believe that they are now monsters. Why do film makers as well as writers portray children in such a dark light? Why are adults so afraid of children? Is it because children don't have feel the need to censor themselves?
“...like David's mother in Village of the Damned, she struggles with conflicting impulses to destroy and nurture her offspring. Yet as a pawn of sinister forces, these women's maternal status is marginal anyway. They don't have much more control than Miss Giddens in The Innocents of Hakan in Let the Right One In, who are not parents but mere proxies.”(Calhoun 29) In this portion Calhoun further stabs at the point that children are virtually evil human beings that they can never be saved. He points out that regardless if a person is the actual parent or just a caretaker, evil trumps all. Looking closer into this paragraph that if the parent was of higher moral regard than the child wouldn't have been evil. Calhoun also states that evil can start even as early as conception and if the parents are upholding the moral and religious fibers than ultimately the child will be nothing more than the devils spawn. I do wonder how this fear became so prevalent in the world of movies, it generally seems that the most popular scary movies are the ones where an adolescent is the one causing all of the turmoil.
Calhoun mentioned the movie the Ring and I remembered being absolutely afraid it. But thinking back what was the true message of the movie, the ghost of the child just wanted to be heard. She would kill the adult that didn't pass along her message, as obscure as it may have been, it was still her message. Like myself with my children all they want is to be heard and when they don't they tend to act in some way just to get the attention they deserve. But this notion comes across in all of the movies mentioned in this article by Calhoun as well as in the novel by Lindqvist. Children are portrayed as monsters which is dramatic version of a temper tantrum. Imagine if the parents actually took the time to understand them or even gave a ounce of concern for their childrens well being. Which only strengthens my stand on giving of your time is the best present that can ever be given to a child. It seems like even in today's society tragedies happen in the hands of children who don't know how to deal with their feelings effectively. This type of caring and concern start from early on and needs to be fostered in order to have children grow up to be responsible adults. Honestly this is an easy fix but it's like the old saying, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.
All the violence witnessed regarding children in books, movies and even in real life are just outcries for attention and love. I know the struggle of having to spread yourself around in order to make sure your children have all the attention and to listen to their day, and even the smallest moment to you is the largest to them. These movies seem all to be based on fear of not giving a child what they truly deserve, it also proves that the parents are falling short on their duties as parents.
“...where Oskar and Eli live conveys the sense of a failed community; few residents seem to venture outside, or have contact with their neighbors, and they certainly aren't watching out for the local children. The only real communal feeling depicted is among a group of barflies who don't even have a proper bar to frequent...these marginal figures are forgotten wards of a welfare state, and in their drunken late-night wandering are easy targets for predation.”(Calhoun 27) . To begin to break down this paragraph is a little tricky, the language in which Calhoun describes the backdrop for the novel makes me envision just a gray, bleak existence. I don't even think I could actually call the surrounding world of Oskar and Eli an actual existence. It almost seems like it needed to be viewed in this way because the harsh red reality of Oskar and Eli has to shine through. The part I actually have trouble understanding is the adults being the wards of a welfare state, because generally this title is given to children who are now orphans; they are now the “children” of the state in which they reside. So it's interesting language if I were to think the opposite; where Oskar, Eli and virtually every child is in fact in control or in the role of the adult. The actual adults are the children because they seem to be oblivious to what is actually happening around them. This is a really fascinating concept because the adult interaction seems to be very minimal which if the thought process goes towards the modern day child they do tend to be oblivious to the world around them. They don't see cars coming or they completely miss the garbage when throwing their food away. In these terms it make perfect sense that Calhoun would use that phrase to represent the adults within this novel.
In conclusion, this piece by Calhoun was very eye opening. The way in which the author critiques these Hollywood productions seems to suggest that children are spawns of the devil, and they can only be saved from his grasp is if the child come from a Christian home where both parents are ever present and living in suburbia. I am actually intrigued yet turned off at the same time because of how closely Calhoun followed and critiqued the movies; his point of view seems very negative. You could almost assume that either something negatively affected his childhood or he has children and he hasn't adjusted to the prolonged haze of being a parent. If I had a better understanding as to why Calhoun is so brash toward the reality of children. I do agree that there are good and bad children so to speak, I also believe that it is up to the parent to praise and reenforce the type of behavioral norms that are needed for a well adjusted child. I think that with these early concepts instilled the child will feel more prone to communicate with their parents because this is all they know. I find his writing intoxicating because the language is so rich and yet the piece I think wouldn't be as effective if it wasn't written in this way.