Monday, October 27, 2014

No Hope for Ware's America

In Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware emphasizes many problems with the United States and the need for a change. He shows that America has grown away from connections between families, resulting in the society crumbling. Through the parallelism with Jimmy Corrigan and his grandfather James, Ware shows that a strained father son relationship, obviously being problematic, has changed for the worst into a non-existent relationship between Jimmy and his father. Ware feels that when America faces challenges, rather than facing them appropriately, instead the results turn worse. He argues that there is no hope for America and that there is no way to improve upon the state of our society.
It is obvious that Ware is unhappy with the current state of America. He shows through many of his images the landscape as barren, offering no sense of happiness. One such example is towards the beginning of the graphic novel when Jimmy is travelling on the airplane. He looks out the window to see a Midwest farmhouse. Ware paints the images in cool colors such as light green and blues representing the troubles America currently has. This image occurs when Jimmy is travelling to Michigan to meet his father. Ware’s choice of setting also shows the economic problems of the United States. Michigan has not truly been economically successful since the riots of Detroit in the 60’s. As Ware is trying to show, Detroit, like America as a whole has only grown worse as the years have passed.
Ware creates an interesting parallelism that emphasizes his take on America’s demise. He believes that rather than improving on our problems, instead our country is going downhill. He does this by emphasizing the relationship between father and son for two different generations. Ware introduces the story of Jimmy’s grandfather, James, early in Jimmy’s story. James’ father, Jimmy’s great-grandfather, is an abusive man, consistently calling him a “son of a bitch,” and criticizing him for everything he does. At one point while visiting his sick grandmother, James runs away from home. In a series of images, he hides under a bridge as its raining. The words across the frames say, “Maybe/ if this boy / could briefly glimpse, the life which awaited him/ as an adult / he might be able to set aside his fears of his father/ And then rise Confidently / and walk home.” Ware is describing the fact that if people realized the future they could give to America, then perhaps they could make the change now that the future needs. Instead, people cannot move past the struggles of today and instead never change the world for the better.
As the story of James and his abusive father continues, the story of Jimmy meeting his father parallels it. Jimmy’s father left him and his mother when he was a child and he has never known him. Ware suggests that perhaps it is worse to not know one’s father at all, than have an abusive one. Jimmy’s efforts in getting to know his father show Jimmy’s awkward social tendencies and incapability of communicating. Ware shows that without the bond of family, or specifically without the presence of a father, society has become unsuccessful. Ware shows through the generations the initial relationship of a destructive father with a sufficient son to an inexistent relationship between a generic father and an incapable son. The relationship can be used to show the relationship between changes in America. Ware feels that our country will continue to fall and can never rebuild itself after the destruction of the family bond. He feels that because the state of family interaction has fallen so much, so has the society in which we live in.
Ware continues to show the demise of America and the lack of hope for the future by using the motif of Superman. Superman, like other superheroes, represents hope and a sense of protection. However, Ware completely turns this idyllic view around to show Superman as the opposite of a superhero. The motif is first seen in the beginning of the novel. A young Jimmy and his mother go to a car show where “Super-Man” is making an appearance. Jimmy is thrilled to meet the hero and see him in his greatness. Instead, the faux-hero hits on his mother and returns home with her for a one night stand. He is shown as not a hero at all, but someone who manipulates women to sleep with him. The next occurrence of the motif is when an adult Jimmy looks out his window to see a man dressed as Superman jump off a building, committing suicide. Rather than the hero saving the world, he gives up and leaves everyone helpless. Ware shows the need for a hero through the stories of Jimmy and his great grandfather; he then undermines that need with the complete uselessness of Superman, showing that no one, not even a “hero” can save America. There is ultimately no hope for the future.

The future of America has always been a subject heavily debated. Some people even go as far as Ware to say there is no way of improvement; we can only go downhill. Ware’s vision of the future can be most easily represented by one single image. When Jimmy is getting a snack at work, Ware chooses to zoom in on the vending machine. The image shows the word “change” with an arrow pointed downwards. Ware is literally showing that the change happening is for the worse, proving there is no way to improve our current situation. While Ware makes valid points that America has problems, I think he lacks to see a wider view of the future. His abysmal view of our country gives the novel a depressing tone that never improves through the course of the story. By living life this way, it is sure that the future will be worse than the present. I choose to look at life from a more optimistic view. If I know that I will be able to make a difference in the future, then I will be more successful than accepting that there is no hope for the future. While I do not know the course of the future, I choose to hope for the best and do my best to improve society.  


  1. I think you did a great job of explaining the parallelism between the two generations of the Corrigan family. You also did a great job of interweaving it with the hopelessness Ware has towards America. There is no hope to improve, because when we are faced with challenges, we take the easy route and avoid it instead of genuinely trying to fix it or improve. I like that you pointed out America worsening with depression and economic crises and how it’s seeping into family life as well, throughout multiple generations. The family bond is being destructed. Ware is expressing his unhappiness towards America through Jimmy and the role he’s playing.
    You also do a great job of explaining the various symbols Ware uses to represent this fall of society, such as Superman giving up by committing suicide. I also liked that you pointed out the word “change” with downward arrows on the vending machine. That’s something I completely overlooked and would not have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out. I think this relates to what we discussed in class. The McDonalds icon represents convenience and since thousands of McDonalds restaurants are located across America, it can be said that America is becoming a country of lost hope. It is moving towards an age of convenience and sub-par work. I would like to see you go further into the symbols/icons Ware uses to enhance your argument. Reading the rest of the book, there are many more symbols that come up that you could further analyze.

  2. I agree with the premise that in Ware, nihilism inside the family is never just about the family. However, even in the introduction I’d like to understand some of your reasoning, rather than just seeing the summarized argument. I agree, in general, with what you say about how America is drawn (where I’ll go in class next time is to the postcards right about halfway through the book), but you’re a little light on detail re: this subject in particular. The third paragraph is, at its heart, an interesting speculation - the argument could use a lot of detail if it’s an important part of what you’re doing.

    The details you zero in on about “Change” pointed down and the running satire of Superman (obviously an incarnation of America in some sense, as he always is - google “Superman” + “American Flag” + “image” sometime) are good. You probably should have led with some of this material, doing things in approximately the reverse order of what you actually did. You aren’t focused enough at the beginning - reversing the order would have helped a lot with that.

    Ultimately the biggest absence here is a sense of *why* Ware finds America to be so hopeless. Without that, your response rings a little hollow. I’d argue that he finds that technological and economic “progress” has tended to atomize us, destroying connections and meaning while giving us more stuff, and that we are hopeless because we are isolated. That’s my take, and you don’t need to buy it - but having a vision of your own in place of that is vital.