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Analyzing 'A Complicated Kindness'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1747 words Published: 11th May 2017

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Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness launches the idea teenage disorientaion, mutiny, and sexuality according to the character Nomi Nickel, the novel’s central figure of narrative. Throughout her story, Nomi attempts to find the truth of both her mother and sister’s disappearance as she directs herself into a clash with the small Mennonite town that she has lived in all her life. She feels imprisoned in this town and radically gives off a sense of sarcastically dry humour, which helps to mask the hardship of her loss, a loss with no answers. Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone main character, Dolores Price, also deals with bereavement; the loss of her parents, her baby, and most significantly, herself. Dolores’ story revolves around a relentless parade of disasters that shape her life, where feelings of alienation and self-loathing surround her. Yet, bleak comedy not only keeps her struggling for a change, but has the reader rooting for her innovation. Self-discovery is a common principle theme between the two novels. Both young women learn of their true natures and motives as their memoirs take them step by step through the distress and affliction they face. The lack of parental guidance, sexual exploitation, and the absence of friendship are all aspects that aided the protagonists Nomi Nickel and Dolores Price on their journey to self-discovery. Although not positive influences, each of these elements partake in their victory of emotional liberation and the coming of age.

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Nomi has a boyfriend named Travis, and she is absolutely blinded by his “love”. She believes he is the most incredible thing she has, and does anything he asks including going on the Pill when he tells her to. Travis does little to mirror her affection, such as when Nomi claims, “‘I love being with you…you are almost perfect’ I told Travis. ‘I’ve got pimples on my ass’ he said.” [5] When something goes wrong, Nomi only thinks of ways in which she could have made the situation better, whether it was her fault or not. The scene where Nomi loses her virginity proves this most evidently:

” In a way I think it might have gone better if I hadn’t been bald, drunk, depressed and jealous. And if, when Travis whispered in my ear move with me, I hadn’t said: To Montreal? When he meant no, now, here, my body. And if afterwards he hadn’t given me an old mini-golf scorecard to wipe the blood off my legs and I hadn’t started crying in the truck on the way home and slammed it into reverse for no good reason going 50 miles per hour.” [6] 

Nomi, ultimately, was only used by Travis for his entertainment; for sex and for drugs. After constantly talking of plans to relocate to Montreal that Nomi laughed off, he eventually leaves her, presumably to start a life there. He left no indication of his departure, and his parents’ talk of other opportunities to come do little to ameliorate her. Of course, she will forever be hurt by the actions of Travis, but by the end of the novel she learns to let go and is able to leave her old town and old judgements behind in search of something new and different. The sexual exploitation of Dolores is most discernable in the affiliation between her and her neighbour, Jack Speight. Jack was Dolores’ only friend by the time she reached eighth grade, and he even made attempts to become closer to Dolores, such as inviting her to his apartment and asking for her advice. His deceptiveness had Dolores trusting in a charming, caring individual, as she falls for misleading lines such as, “‘I was thinking about this place today while I was on the air. Thinking about you, too. You’d be surprised how many times a day I think about you.” [7] When he picks her up from school the afternoon of her rape, she made the observation that “his moods changed from ride to ride. One day he’s buy us ice cream cones and tease me, calling me beautiful, reaching over to stroke my hair. The next time, he’d be sulky, mumbling complaints about Rita or his job.” [8] Dolores at this point in her life was probably too young to realize he may have been mentally instable, so she shrugged off his odd antics. Like Nomi, Dolores was also convinced that when anything ever went wrong between the two of them, she was the one always to blame. When Jack’s wife Rita miscarried, Dolores rationalized, “we had killed that baby, Jack and me-destroyed it with the filthy thing we did…Baby-killer Dolores, guilty as sin.” [9] Dolores shields herself from the world at this point, consoling herself with soap operas and eating. This incident severely, almost permanently, throws her life off course, and morphs Dolores into a demanding being who will forever be scarred by the actions of someone she thought she could rely on. This point in her life is known as the precursor to her obesity, sexual uncertainty, and madness, yet she emerges strong and triumphant in the end, yearning to be loved. By the time Dolores accepted what had been done to her and finally knew it was not her fault was when she fully started her rehabilitation. Nomi also has similarity, where they both were able to sort through their emotions and decipher that they were too immature to apprehend they were being taken advantage of. Correspondingly, they had no peer support to vent these disturbing events.

Nomi is only seen alone, with her family in flashbacks, with Travis, or in a meeting with a minor acquaintance. The reader is unaware of anyone who Nomi seeks to talk to other than Travis and Lydia, a childhood playmate. Of her only girl friend, Nomi declares, “Lydia was straight-edge but completely, disarmingly, non-judgemental. We had nothing in common. I just liked her weird evanescence and the way he did the most unbelievably nerdy things without knowing it or if she did know it she didn’t care at all.” [10] Nomi tries to visit Lydia as much as possible. Trapped by the walls of her sickness, it is impossible for Lydia to experience high school life of rebellion that Nomi lives, nor give the advisement that she craves. Nomi makes her visits to Lydia as bright and carefree as she can, as she is in a sensitive state. The Mouth, her town’s leader and her father aim to offer some enforcement, but Nomi is obnoxious toward them. She needs someone her own age, living the life she is living, to reflect on her thoughts. She at first thinks Travis is this friend, but he proves he is undependable. Especially in a small, very plain town, it would be difficult for a personality like Nomi’s to find someone with her eagerness to experience life beyond the Mennonite ways. As a teenager, your most important influences are your peers. Nomi is in high school but there are little if not any conversations with anyone existent in school other than her teacher Mr. Quiring and her guidance counsellor. This forced her to have a charisma based on few bonds and so, without having anyone to help base her decisions, she does so herself. This created Nomi to grow up quickly and begin making adult choices before she should be. Like Nomi, Dolores does not have any close friendships with anyone she meets until she meets Dante, her first husband. Even when with him, she sadly acknowledges, “I had no other woman to discuss Dante with, no one to tell me if keeping all my secrets from him was wise or dangerous. I ached for a woman friend.” [11] Through her teenage years obesity was the boundary between her and meeting new people, something she was already uncomfortable with but what others’ gawking faces made even worse. Dolores’ stabs at forming tight relationships rarely turn out in her favour, such as with her college roommate Kippy who actually made the effort to remain as far away from Dolores as humanly capable. She is let down by people over and over again in her life, through unacceptance, remaining hidden, and death. Being so absorbed by aloneness made Dolores long for companionship, but when none is given to her, she is made to fend for herself without extra help or counselling. Her learning experiences come primarily from her own analogies, thoughts, and perhaps memories of her mother when she has nobody else to lean on. Both Dolores and Nomi are distinguished as the outsiders, and it is within their battles that they prove that they are adept of living through circumstances on their own. The deprivation of friendship and moral strength led both girls to the different outlets of drugs and food. The isolation left them to analyze most of their judgements by themselves, which therefore urged them into having a mindset of a woman in their adolescent years.

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In the midst of their hardships, protagonists Nomi Nickel and Dolores Price had their search for hope and dignity successfully underway without noticing it. Ardent freedom was achieved by both girls by the end of their stories, leaving them auspicious and ready to welcome new beginnings. Parental guidance, sexual exploitation, and the omission of friendship pushed them to figure things out for themselves, but were features of a world that held them back from reaching their full potential. In saying this, these elements them into stronger characters, both who were willing to change themselves and figure out who they truly are. They will forever carry a piece of their old selves with them, but only as a reminder of how far they have come on their quest of self-discovery.


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