Individuality Versus Normality in ‘Eleanor and Park’, Dylan’s Song and Magrelli’s Poem
Society is designed to be one-size-fits-all, and people accept it because it is what they have been taught. In most people’s perspective, everyone under one race, religion or sexual orientation group follow one stereotype. Unfortunately, this strict mentality makes it difficult for people who choose to break out of the norms. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is a novel that follows two young teenagers who experience their first love while dealing with their own struggles with race, appearance and more. Dating back to the 1960s where society divided itself into two during huge cultural changes, “Ballad of a Thin Man” by Bob Dylan is a song about a man trying to find where he fits into society. Lastly, “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” by Valerio Magrelli is a poem that focuses on embracing our flaws and accepting them as a part of our identity. By comparing these three texts, it is clear that those who do not follow the normal expectations and standards of society are viewed as a mistake for sticking out.
On the surface, it appears that Eleanor and Park and “Ballad of a Thin Man” are similar because the “other” is isolated, but the causes for the treatment are different. Eleanor feels as if “she [doesn’t] belong anywhere” and even when she’s at home, she is “pretending to be somewhere else” (Rowell 127). Likewise, Mr. Jones feels lost and alone during the 1960s, which was a period of advocating for gender equality, diversity, and civil rights. Society divided itself into two categories: the traditional and conservative older generation, and the more accepting younger generation who protested for freedom and love. Mr. Jones doesn’t know if he fits into either category, and he constantly wonders if “[he] is here all alone” because he feels isolated for not fitting in (Dylan, line 10). However, the causes for their isolation are different. Eleanor is isolated for superficial reasons such as her appearance. On the first day of school, her peers immediately judge her for how “big and awkward” she is and how odd she looks wearing “a man’s shirt with half a dozen weird necklaces” (Rowell 127). Eleanor is bullied for the way she looks because her wardrobe is much brighter and masculine than the average female student’s closet. On the other hand, Mr. Jones is isolated because of culture, beliefs and values- topics that are much more serious. He is constantly reminded throughout the song that “something is happening” but “[he] [doesn’t] know what it is”, referencing how he is now considered an outsider for not knowing which category to identify with, forcing him to be kept out of the loop (Dylan, line 5). While the “others” in Eleanor and Park and “Ballad of a Thin Man” are both isolated, the cause of Eleanor’s treatment is for cosmetic reasons, unlike Mr. Jones, who is treated poorly for not knowing where to go during the 1960s counterculture, a much more serious and controversial subject at that time.
“Ballad of a Thin Man” and “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” are told in polar opposite perspectives in terms of the “other’s” treatment. In “Ballad of a Thin Man”, Mr. Jones is humiliated for being different when he is asked, “how it feels to be such a freak” by a geek, a performer who would chase live chickens, bite their heads off and swallow them for freakshows, which is quite ironic (Dylan, line 15). He is also told that “[he] should be made to wear earphones” which would prevent him from hearing others, shutting him out from the rest of society (Dylan, line 45). On the contrary, “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” is told from the perspective of the narrator who wants the “other” to embrace their differences because it provides individuality. In order to be accepted, people change the way they dress, their culture, their language and more. Throughout this process, people start to lose parts of their personality and their identity, and society starts to resemble an assembly line where everything is perfectly in-sync and identical. Uncertain gestures such as “stumbl[ing]” and “bang[ing] [a] glass” create the “familiar rattle of the broken mechanism” which symbolizes a glitch in society’s “assembly line” (Magrelli, line 2-11). However, the narrator “love[s] uncertain gestures” because these mistakes are what makes humans human, and make people unique from others. Unlike “Ballad of a Thin Man”, the “other” chooses to accept that they are considered a flaw in society and embrace the fact that they are different than other people by “declar[ing] itself” and “danc[ing]” (Magrelli, line 17-18). In the end, “Ballad of a Thin Man” portrays being the “other” as a humiliating and lonely experience, unlike “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]”, which encourages the “other” to accept their imperfections and freely express themselves.
While “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” and Eleanor and Park differ in the treatment of the “other”, they both have someone who appreciates differences and flaws. In “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]”, the “other” is finally able to embrace their true self by “break[ing] off” from the societal norms (Magrelli, line 16). On the other hand, Eleanor feels trapped by her appearance and says that “[she’s] stuck in [her] own skin” (Rowell 105). The people in Eleanor’s life aren’t very accepting as seen at school where her classmates “[call] Eleanor Bozo”, and at home where her stepfather, Richie, makes disgusting comments about Eleanor such as calling her “a bitch in heat”, making it practically impossible for her to try and accept her appearance (Rowell 24, 67). However, Eleanor’s appearance is actually one of the things that Park loves about her. Park “[doesn’t] care” that Eleanor has no girl clothes, and “he kind of like[s] that she [doesn’t]” because the lack of feminine clothing differentiates her from others and it proves that Eleanor doesn’t need girly clothing to look beautiful (Rowell 159). Similarly, the narrator in “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” “love[s] uncertain gestures”. Today’s society can be described as robotic, and these uncertain gestures give the narrator relief because it makes people seem so much more genuine and real. Although the “other” is treated much more poorly in Eleanor and Park in comparison to “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]”, both texts mention how uniqueness is a good thing as it gives people character.
The “other” in the three texts are viewed as flaws in society but it is how they are treated for being a mistake that differs them. In Eleanor and Park, Eleanor’s looks are described like a freaky image that has been distorted through a glass: “Eleanor look[s] like her mother through a fish tank” (Rowell 18). In addition, Mr. Jones is also called a “freak” because he is an outcast for not knowing which side to support (Dylan, line 15). In “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]”, the uncertain gestures resemble a malfunction in today’s mechanical society. However, the texts differ when it comes to how they are treated for being a flaw. Mr. Jones’ treatment is very harsh, negative and unaccepting while on the other hand, the narrator in “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]” tries to encourage a more loving and embracing treatment. Eleanor’s treatment falls right in between as she experiences bullying by her peers and her stepfather, but also love and appreciation from her boyfriend, Park. Even though the texts are different in terms of treatment, the “others” all share the same struggles of feeling isolated for being a mistake in society.
Those who choose to break out of society’s strict norms are considered a flaw because they stand out from the billions of other people who choose to follow the expectations and stereotypes. By comparing Eleanor and Park, “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “[I LOVE UNCERTAIN GESTURES]”, one can conclude that by not following the crowd, it can have a negative impact on one’s relationships because society feels uncomfortable with this unfamiliar behaviour. However, there are people that love and appreciate the uniqueness and individuality, and by breaking norms, it can help others express and embrace their true selves. It is important to remember that one is the main person in control and capable of changing their body and mind, not others. In order to become the very best version of one’s self, they must come to terms with the fact that they may have to break out of society’s one-size-fits-all box.
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Society is designed to be one-size-fits-all, and people accept it because it is what they have been taught. In most people’s perspective, everyone under one race, religion or sexual orientation […]