Reading Journal

What I'm reading

Friday, March 03, 2006

I am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe

The thing that struck me about this book was all the characters were consumed by what others thought about them. They were unable to make decisions without reference to other people.

Charlotte -- From her valedictorian address to the end of the book, "Momma's good girl" was obsessed by others' opinion of her. Once at Dupont, she soon did what was once unthinkable after it became clear what it would take to be included. In fact, all of her choices regarding Hoyt, Adam, and Jojo were not driven by her own internal feelings but instead by how other girls would react to her choices. Therefore, she was driven to lie and put on an act. The last scene of the book had her watching Jojo play basketball, which completely bored her. The crowd started cheering for him, and she quickly put on the face of an excited sports fan and girlfriend -- "It obviously behooved Jojo Johanssen's girlfriend to join in." is the last line of the book.

Hoyt -- Hoyt was popular because he pretended not to care about being popular. The one exception was his willingness to be unpopular with the liberal intelligensia on campus. But when it came to his fraternity brothers, he made sure he remained the king of cool by watching SportCenter with them every night. He did that even though he knew his bad grades would keep him out of a good job after college. Finally, he only showed physical courage when drunk.

Adam -- For most of the story, Adam was the classic wuss, someone who lived in an almost physical fear of other people. He let himself get pushed around by the basketball team, but then he took out a secret, petty revenge. When it came to sex, he had secret fantasies about Charlotte. When it came to reality though, his love for Charlotte was insipid and tentative because he was also afraid of her.

Jojo -- Jojo was the one person who made inner directed choices, deciding to better himself academically for himself. Even in the face of Coach's wrath and mocking Socrates comments, he stood firm. An interesting thing I noticed was that as the story progressed, he cared less and less about showing off his pecs and attracting groupies.

A few of my favorite quotes occurred when Charlotte talked to her perceptive Momma. She tried to explain away her bad grades and moping, which were really caused by depression over getting rejected by Hoyt.
"I'm not upset, Momma. The only thing is..." She couldn't think up what the only thing was. She couldn't dream up a serviceable lie. It occurred to her that never before had she had to dream up lies in this house, other than little white lies. On the other hand, deep down she realized that lying was not foreign to her nature. Anyone -- or certainly she -- who has been praised so highly so regularly and for so long keeps within her the means of patching up punctures on the road. "I guess I was surprised, that's all."

Lies! Momma had always held up the Cross to lies, and they always cringed and died in that merciless, unforgiving light.
"Sorry don't change a thing, darling. Never did, never will."
Long pause. "I love you, Momma." The last and lowest resort of the sinner.