She's Come Undone "review"

    The term Tragedy has been used in several ways throughout human history.  Often associated with Shakespeare , many people forget the roots of the term “tragedy.”  The famous philosopher Aristotle coined the term in relation to “Tragic Pity” wherein the audience was to feel a mixture of fear and pity.  In order to have a tragic story the audience must feel a gradual revelation ending in catharsis.  Often people misconstrue the meaning of tragedy to be nothing more than the reaffirmation of their lives.  However, this is only part of the whole according to Aristotle.  Tragedy is a ritual reenactment of a complicated event which gives rise to the beforehand mentioned emotions.  Understanding does not lessen the horribleness of whatever may have occurred.
    Upon reflection, does She’s Come Undone truly have a cathartic epoch?  Having just finished the book not twenty minutes ago; I have not properly digested the full meaning of this novel.  However, much like Oprah herself, I’m going to judge it anyway.  Biases aside, I know this is a response paper, but in order to get a real response I’m going to have to start out in a book report fashion.
    In She’s Come Undone we follow the life of Dolores Price, an emotional girl filled with self-doubt.  Immediately we are lead to believe that this entire recollection (if that is what it suppose to be) Delores herself, presumably, narrates he earliest memories.  She opens with a blunt dumping of blame on the free television he family receives due to her father’s “work relation.”  Yet, we do not know if this is truly the case.  She claims, the television was delivered by President Nixon and President Regan.  This is an interesting choice for he vision memory to choose.  When Nixon was elected: Delores was too young to vote, and when Reagan was elected she had neglected to vote.  In both cases she had no choice in the fact of the matter.  Well, admittedly choosing not to vote is still a choice, but I don’t think that was the factor the author was hinting at.  So, strangers were in control of her life, if you extend the metaphor from the American people to Delores herself.
    I feel this book was about control.  Control of your emotions, control of your decisions, control over your life.  After the initial run-of-the-mill problems, like family fights and childhood abandonment (i.e. her mother’s hospitalization and he parents eventual separation) the real issue happens.  Delores is raped by the upstairs tenet and twists the blame onto herself.  From research I have learned that this is not an uncommon reaction.  Many women view their rape as “inevitable” or “deserved.”  From this point on you can see the path Delores is making for herself.  She takes on all the blame for any situation and then explodes from the pressure of it all.
    So she sets out on a course of self destruction.  She rejects all forms of friendships.  Early on in the book she meets a young girl who is remarkably similar to Roberta in her attitude towards life, yet Delores does not accept the girls indifferent outstretched hand.  Her only friend is the school counselor, Mr. Pucci whom she reconstructs into an entirely different person in her mind.  Angered when overhearing idle gossip about his sexual orientation she refuses to accept it.  Eventually she scorns him as well, slapping away his helping hand and forgetting about him for years.
    Her isolation eventually causes her to gain a massive amount of weight, further alienating herself from her schoolmates.  Her weight becomes he center of attention.  If someone was looking at her it was because she was fat.  If someone was talking about her, it was concerning her fat.  If someone was trying to help her, it was from pity concerning her fatness.  Delores begins to self-identify with her weight.  This helps her inch ever closer to her eventual breakdown.
    Delores’ mother, who never quite recovered from her divorce, saw what was happening and with a zeal that probably surprised even her: forced Delores to attend college.  Delores, too self absorbed to understand what was truly happening began to lash out even more violently; threatening suicide over the smallest inconvenience.  She would throw biting words in her mothers face just so she could see the sadness form on her mothers face.
    Then her mother passed away, by way of a meaningless accident.  Of course, Delores blamed herself.  She then decided to fulfill her mother’s only dream by continuing on to college.  A decision she will never stop regretting, even after everything (which is my main criticism of this book).
    Starting out on unsteady feet, she enters her dorm a full week early with permission from the local lesbian named Dottie.  Still wrapped in self-deceit she lies to everyone about everything, including herself.  Skipping almost all her classes she focuses on gaining the trust and admiration of her hated roommate Kippy.  Bending backwards to help Kippy in every way she actively refuses to see she is being used.  She begins to steal Kippy’s letters that are from her previous boyfriend Danto.  She rationalizes this by some crazy string of logic that I never understood.
    From these letters she constructs a fantasy wherein she is loved by Danto and they have a perfect life together.  Obviously looking for an escape, these letters are one of the few remnants of her past that she keeps with her throughout her life.  Along with a swatch from the painting her mother sent her while she was in the hospital.  These material things help to ground her in some emotional times later on.
    Delores leaves college after an incident at a dance where Kippy’s douche bag boyfriend drunkenly forces himself on her, in a nonsexual way.  Hurt and vulnerable she takes comfort in the arms of the lesbian Dottie. 
    Regretting what has transpired she tries to cut her writs but can’t muster the strength.  She lashes out by killing the only thing Dottie loves and that is her collection of fish.  Delores later shows some regret about this action, but hardly gives it any more thought the rest of the story.
    Since cutting her wrists didn’t work, Delores decides to accompany the whales that were beaching themselves in Cape Cod.  She takes a fourteen hour ride in a taxi cab driven by a friend of Dotties.  Even in her fatigued state she has enough strength to ridicule the man’s concept of faith and treats him as badly as anyone else who has tried to help her.  Only after he had left did she show signs of remorse over her words, seemly only regretting what she can no longer correct.      Her main problem, it seemed to me, was that she regretted everything that she couldn’t undo.  Yet when she had a chance to undo something she said or did, she would simply say more hateful things or engage in more hateful actions.  Only when the person was gone, either dead or out of her life, would she show signs of remorse.  She would regret her actions only when she couldn’t do anything about them, a form of passive self-flagellation.
    Delores then tries to commit suicide next to a dead whale by swimming under the water and breathing it in.  This fails and she is left cold and alone on the beach until a ranger comes along and “rescues” her.
    She spends the next seven years in a hospital learning how to trust herself and others.  , for one, feel great knowing that if she was a real person, and I had been a tax payer in the 70’s, I would have been supporting her rebirth.  In this hospital stay she meets Dr. Shaw who teaches her how to live again.
    Dr. Shaw slowly recreates Delores’s childhood by way of rebirthing in a swimming pool.  Delores eventually loses all the weight she had gained and exits from the hospital a new women, scant twenty five years old with the whole world ahead of her.
    Normally, this would be the ending of most stories, but not for Delores.  Sometimes thinking you are fixed isn’t good enough.  She quickly gets back into her old habit of constantly lying.  She twists Dr. Shaw’s advice into a sort of lens which she uses to justify literally stalking Danto.  She moves next door to Danto and studies his life in order to be assimilated into it.
    This succeeds, but at a very high price: her happiness.  She becomes pregnant but Danto makes her get an abortion.  They get married but Danto is unhappy.  Delores tries her best to build a real life on top of the eggshell foundation she laid.  All of which comes tumbling down after four years of marriage.  Danto cheats on her and is accused of molesting the very same girl.
    Once Delores understands this she finally breaks down.  She confesses everything, including the stalking and all the lies.  Yet, instead of a catharsis we get a recurrence of the self destruction cycle.  Danto understandably runs away and Delores takes refuge in her grandmother’s (now dead) house.  In front of the giant television she relapses into her “old self.”  It takes Roberta, a women from her childhood, to snap her out of it.
    The last section of the book seems to me as a very slow catharsis.  After the last bout with depression and isolation; Delores finally reaches out for help.  She stays with Roberta and helps her, she meets with Mr. Pucci again and helps him.  She seemed to finally be ready to accept the love of other people, and more importantly, from herself.
    The book ends on a quasi-spiritual note implying that the psychic helped her connect to what would make her happy years before in the form of a wire-rimmed glasses wearing whale.  We learn this whale’s name was Thayer.  I’m very glad the author did not “cop out” and allow Delores to get pregnant by natural means in the end.  The novel really needed to run home the message that not every mistake can be fixed.  That, in fact, mistakes can define us without underscoring self hatred and denial.
    As I mentioned before, my main criticism is that she still regretted going to college, yet it was the first stepping stone that brought her from the crucible of childhood into the fully formed notions of adulthood.  Had she never sought to uphold her mother’s dream, she could still be the old fat Delores she tried so very desperately to escape.
    In conclusion, I believe this story is a tragic story of a young girl who has come undone and slowly mends herself together with the eventual help of loving friends.  Aristotle would agree that understanding of her actions does not give rise to condolences, only to the sense that she has lived a full life and her regrets are hers and no one elses.

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