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About a Boy
The feeling of loneliness is one that many people know. We know that everyone is special but sometimes you can feel too “special” – and suddenly you’re not special, but “weird”. Not only will most people feel different because they’re weird but they will also feel lonely because it isn’t very socially accepted to be different. Why are some people different – weird even in the eyes of the rest of society? And how important is it to be a part of a group? In the short story “About a Boy” we get some insight into the life of Marcus, a lonely, weird boy.
The story starts in medias res with Marcus being worried, afraid even, of the next day. One of the themes comes into play here as Marcus is stressed because he is being bullied at school. Normally he would involve his mother and she would save him but this time she is actually a part of the problem. She is a single mother and raised Marcus by herself – because of her, Marcus turned out the way he did – and this is the problem.
“Marcus knew he was weird, and he knew that part of the reason he was weird was because his mum was weird” (“About a Boy”, p. 1, ll. 40-41) pretty much sums up Marcus’ problem. Marcus feels left out and different – his mother has raised him in her own way and this sets him apart from the other children. In some ways he is actually more like an adult than a child; “he didn’t approve of Snoop Doggy Dog because Snoop Doggy Dog had a bad attitude to women” (p. 2, ll. 52-53). Not only is his attitude towards music different – he is also much more mature in his attitude towards life and in spite of the fact that he’s being bullied he still seems to hold some hope that “hard things became softer after a very little while” (p. 1, l. 22) and therefore even though “his instinct was to stay in the form room and read, he toughed it out” (p. 2, l. 83).
Marcus knows that he has to try to get through school on his own – “there wasn’t anything she [his mother] could do this time” (p. 1, ll. 9-10). Normally Marcus goes to his mother as she is the only one he has. This might also be one of the reasons why he is different as the first quotation also indicates. In this context it will be appropriate to name one of the other themes “family” and look at the text “No Family is an Island” by Hillary Clinton. Clinton emphasizes the importance of a whole family – both her parents had a strong influence on her life; on one hand, her father who made sure she knew that she should always work hard to achieve what she wants, and on the other hand her mother who gave her “unlimited affection and encouragement” (“No Family is an Island”, ll. 27-28). Both these traditional characters were necessary for her to grow into the best person she could be. Marcus is missing a father and therefore hasn’t had the “hardships”-part. This might also be implied in the title “About a Boy” – Marcus isn’t sure how to be a boy or a child in general – he is missing a male role model and has had to grow up too fast as his only male role model abandoned him and his mother.
The father-figure isn’t the only thing missing in Marcus’ life – in fact, his whole social net seems to be missing. We don’t hear about grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. In the picture “Three Generations” we see a family of exactly that – three generations. It’s an older picture showing a family of two children, a mother and father, and a grandparent. We see the difference between this picture from 1906 and the story that was written about a century later. The family pattern has changed which is also discussed in the text “Family” by Anthony Giddens – the socialization that used to come from the whole family can now come from a single parent – or maybe not even a parent at all but instead institutions for child care.
Marcus has only been influenced by his mother who seems to have a traditional “soft” personality who shields him from the world – therefore Marcus is different and doesn’t fit in with the other children who are much more immature and judgmental than he. At the same time a third theme is made clear as it is evident how important it is to fit in for children – “They [the other children] patrolled up and down school corridors like sharks” (p. 1, ll. 34-35) on the lookout for “wrong trousers, or the wrong haircut, or the wrong shoes” (p. 1, ll. 36). These superficial details that Marcus has been taught to ignore is what defines the groups – popular children and outcasts – in school and also later as Marcus learns at the end of the text. Here the teacher, the young and nervous Ms Maguire, who should be raised above the social groups in the school, sees an opportunity to be accepted by the children – at the price of humiliating Marcus. The text ends with another demonstration of Marcus’ maturity and insight on the situation as “he knew what she was doing and why, and he hated her” (p. 3, l. 108).
A person’s upbringing has a lot to do with how they turn out as we see in the text – however that being said it is still important to most people to be part of a group no matter their age and occupation – as the teacher also demonstrates in the end and as it is also seen in everyday life with the bullying that goes on not only at schools but also at workplaces. Humans feel best when they are a part of a group and most will therefore go very far to fit in – even hurt other people.