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The story, The Basketball diaries, tends to focus on the adolescent stages of development, due to the reason that the story is centered on the life of a teenage boy. It becomes obvious that the main character Jimmy Carroll fails many of the stages of childhood and adolescent development, and this leads to a decline in the quality in his life as he becomes addicted to narcotics, primarily heroine. The long debated Nature versus Nurture debate once again has come to a cross roads in the analysis of Jimmy’s upbringing. Because of the heavy toll that the external factors have on biological aspects, this leads to his unfortunate drug and substance abuse. So what is the main pulling force that Jimmy has let take him down such a dark path? And how do the failures of the nurturing aspects affect the way that Jimmy deals with his nature?
To give a brief description of the story for better understanding of the issues within Jimmy’s life, I will start by saying that he is a teenager right about the time of major hormonal changes. He plays on the high school basketball team which is one of the top teams out there. He is not a wealthy kid, as he lives in a lower class apartment in Manhattan. The apartment just happens to be across from a hysterical woman who tends to yell religious gibberish at him. He has four really good friends; Mickey, Pedro, Neutron and Bobby. He has known bobby since he was 3 years old and has been his best friend ever since. Bobby used to be the best player on the team and was diagnosed with leukemia, later being hospitalised for some time. This affected Jimmy greatly as his heart was broken by his condition. The other boys however, are all lower class kids and all attend the same school. They are scantily behaved teenagers and engage in many illegal activities, from sniffing cleaning fluids fumes to harassing pedestrians and these tend to get worse and worse throughout the story.
According to the psychology dictionary, the unconscious mind is defined as “a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict.” Throughout the story, Jimmy lets people and situations get the best of him and expose his Super-ego and I.D. I say this because he lets his inner drives and desires control all his bad decisions. An example of this was when Jimmy was seduced, because the girl told him he would have incredible sex if he snorted cocaine. He let his unconscious mind take over and began to be controlled by his libido. Freud actually subscribed cocaine as an antidepressant, so when Jimmy tried it he was instantly addicted, due the emotional stress that the death of Bobby had caused him.
Before the death of Bobby, Jimmy and the boys (Mickey, Neutron and Pedro) used to wreak all kinds of havoc on the area in which they lived, and at school. They would snort paint fumes together to get high, steal from other basketball teams, fight in their games and they were a handful for their teacher. It was obvious that prior to their heavy drug use each kid wasn’t the best behaved, or the greatest Samaritans’, but they were great athletes and each showed unique skills both on and off the courts. I think the main reason they each were badly behaved was due to two reasons, their aspiration for social acceptance and group specific changes. They fit right into the characterization of group-specific changes in the way that they are all lower class, they all spend a lot of time together, they are all poorly behaved, they are the same age and their family situations at home are all but normal. Pedro’s mom is a part time prostitute and his basement is a hangout for hard drug users. Mickey’s brother sells stolen cars and is a horrible influence, breaking Mickey’s arm at one point over a deal gone wrong between the two. Jimmy doesn’t have a father present in the story and it seems that he looks up to Bobby as a source of guidance, because he has always been there for him, and is the strongest male role in his life. It seems like Neutron has a fairly normal life when it comes to his living situation and seems the most straight minded and logical out of the four. However, he does associate himself with the other boys and takes part in the same activities; he is also categorized in the group specific changes. It is also apparent that the boys in the group are constantly looking for peer acceptance.
Most failures in development are due to factors which are outside of a person’s control. In Jimmy’s case, it started at a young age as although his mother was caring and always there for him when he needed her, it would seem like he had always been influenced mainly by his friends. His mothers parenting style in the story seemed to be one of a permissive nature, whether it was because she was busy with her job so she could make money, or her own personal style of parenting, it seemed like Jimmy’s mother was too neglecting. When the mother was in the story, she was always at home and she would let Jimmy come and go whenever he wanted. As well, when it was obvious that Jimmy was having severe drug problems, she did want him to stop and gave him a lecture. However after this, they got in one heated argument and the mother ended up kicking him out of the house. Jimmy’s drug addiction was hard on his mother and especially having him living with her as she watched him throw his dreams away. She might have thought that by kicking him out he would be unable to live on his own for long, and then come crawling back clean. Having said this I think in a way, his mother’s stubbornness and lack of understanding of how her son was feeling and what he was going through, seemed to show neglect and a little too much reliance on factors outside of the effect she has on her son.
The text book, life span development, defines personal fable as “the part of adolescence egocentrism that involves a sense of uniqueness and invincibility.” So in other words, teenagers feel that they are unable to be understood by anyone that is not his or herself. This definitely applies to Jimmy because (other than the fact that he said it a few times) he was unable to accept the feelings that his friends had about the death of his best friend Bobby. Jimmy’s friends were talking about the past times they had with Bobby and the one friend Mickey said that it was probably better that he was not alive, and it was meant to be, because he believed that everything happens for a reason. This caused Jimmy to lash out at Mickey, saying that he could not voice an opinion because neither Mickey nor the other two guys had ever gone to visit Bobby in the hospital. This showed that Jimmy found the boys unable to comprehend the feelings he had about Bobby’s death because they were not in the same situation. Bobby’s death was the beginning of the poor decisions Jimmy started to make. He was struggling from excessive negative feelings from his personal fable because the person he used to talk to about everything and express his feelings to, was dead.
In my opinion, the main idea within the story was the turning point in Jimmy’s behaviour, going from bad to worse. Jimmy was so hit by the fact that his best friend was now dead, that he started becoming more angry and depressed. Although Jimmy was hurting on the inside and was showing that externally through his change in actions, it was one situation in particular that sent him down hill. Jimmy had always had the weakness of giving into peer pressure, which shows a very high desire for (the previously discussed) social acceptance. Whether it was the neglect from the more wealthy children or the ones with a normal family structure, it seems like Jimmy had lowered himself his whole life because he thought that his classmates would only give him attention if he acted out, so that is what he did. The situation that really sent him on a decline was brought on by his giving in to peer pressure which was the reason he did drugs for the first time. Jimmy gets taken to a girl’s apartment by his friend, where a girl is waiting for him and seduces him into snorting cocaine, saying the sex will be amazing and energetic if he does. I think the reason he has so much trouble throughout this period in his life is not because he has trouble adapting to new situations or instabilities, it is just because there are so many thrown at him at once, that it becomes over whelming for him and he resorts to drugs to try and get past it all.
One of the main failures in the development of Jimmy’s psychological aspects is one that Deanna Kuhn thinks is the “most important cognitive change in adolescence”. This would be information processing, without proper development of this facet; there are a few things affected. Starting off would be the slowing in brain function, and this was definitely affected in Jimmy’s life due to his heavy addiction to narcotics. Because he had the need for drugs to aid his emotional pain, his ability to learn and concentrate on the task at hand faded to such a low level, that all he could focus on were the basics of survival and getting his fix. This is an example of how nurture affects nature because due to the lack of emotional strength Jimmy’s nature has provided him with, his environment A.K.A nurture affects his nature, by making him rely on drugs to mask the pain because it was the only way he saw fit.
Another aspect of psychological development that is clearly affected by the way Jimmy has lived his life thus far, is secondary aging. It has been noted that secondary aging is defined as, “age related changes that are due to social and environmental influences, and poor health habits.” Both of these factors are clearly evident in the story as things that Jimmy struggles with severely. Not only did these two components create the scenario of secondary aging, but in Jimmy’s case, they are also interrelated, one being a catalyst for the other. His poor home life, the death of Bobby and his strong desire to be accepted by his peers are all social and environmental factors that led him to the decision to start taking drugs. Little did he know at the time, that this ill advised decision would take him down a path of serious addiction. His addiction led him to make several more poor decisions regarding his health, through the lack of eating, exercise and proper nutrition. Jimmy quickly found himself on a slippery slope that completely compromised his well being.
I think Levinson can sum up Jimmy’s adolescence development best, by saying “Development is a move between periods of stability & instability.” And that “Adults must adjust to new structures.” Although Jimmy is faced with a lot more instability than stability, it is clear that he eventually got through the worst of it and was able to establish a somewhat unwavering level of normal adolescent development. By the end of the story, after being jailed for six months, he came out clean and seemed to have it together. I think that his mother played a big role in this when she chose to call the police on him. This single act of parenting permissiveness worked in the way that Jimmy realized how bad his problem was, forcing his own mother to have him arrested. Because Jimmy’s mom was unable to talk to him about Bobby’s death with him, and the fact that she had him arrested, shows two things. The first is that the parenting style of being neglecting and frequently absent from your daughter’s or son’s life can work both ways, both letting someone work things out for them self, and making them lost and confused, which has devastating effects. The second is that in the story, The Basketball Diaries, it showed that nurture has a much bigger impact on the outcome of someone’s psychological developments than nature. So all in all, through looking at Jimmy’s adolescent development and the way his surroundings and external factors affected the internal attributes, it became obvious that in his case, the nurture aspect of his life trump the nature side.
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