1976 - Jeffty is Five

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Thu Feb 17, 2005 4:29 pm

OK, by now I sure hope I'm right. :-) The thing is, I still can't see any substantial arguments from the two or three of you. The ending is a bit ambiguous, you can read it both ways. Mom does have a motive.

Steve wrote:I really don't think he commited suicide: I don't think a five year old would take the reasons given into consideration.

A five-year-old has feelings. I didn't talk about reasons being taken into consideration, I was trying to explain why he felt so bad.

If you say that Jeffty was already dead when mom came down, are you saying she killed him, and then later by accident the radio fell in as well?

What you say about the television sets is more or less what I meant, except I think the content was more important. He was assaulted by content he couldn't deal with, and he was unable to stop the assault due to the technology.

Barney:

Not self-realization, or existantial angst, but fear, lack of hope, pain... (If two people misunderstand me it must be my fault.)

I think a five-year-old knows what electricity can do, especially one who listens to science fiction and mystery programs. Every kid learns early on not to take or drop electrical devices into the bathtub.

Fell in, slipped in... doesn't quite sound like a decisive ending Ellison would write. Precarious position... I can't quite picture it, because we're to assume Jeffty turned it on before he died and listened for a moment. What then, an earthquake?
Please quote the passage where mum is identified as a Jedi. Otherwise, "dropped in by mom" is out of the question. :)
Last edited by Jan on Fri May 30, 2008 2:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Mary Midnight
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Postby Mary Midnight » Thu Feb 17, 2005 6:30 pm

Recovering from a very bad cold, it is refreshing not only to my intellectual self but to my physical well being to read all of these interpretations. I can see the ending of "Jeffty" a lot more clearly now. I doubt Jeffty committed suicide, but I think in the end Jeffty did have to die, as much as I didn't want him to. I want to read over these again, but since we are discussing nostalgia and the past, I wanted to share something with all of you that infuriated me no end...

I won't mention the music website from which this came from, but when I was looking for jazz, I was disturbed when I read this short paragraph:

"Why listen to old, wrinkled jazz artists? These artists are young and cute--but don't take our word for it!"

I wrote a very stiff reply to that website; I mentioned that without those "old and wrinkled" jazz artists, the "young and cute" ones wouldn't even be here! I also let them know that to me, young and cute means prefabricated and without talent. A lot of the younger jazz artists I'm sure aren't that way, but to write something like that was incredibly disrespectful. Why not listen to the older musicians? What makes the younger crowd more hip? Sheesh! Don't diss those great artists just because they don't have six-pack abs! Show some respect!

"Old and wrinkled." Hmph!

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yamsham
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Postby yamsham » Thu Feb 17, 2005 6:34 pm

Jan wrote:
Steve wrote:I really don't think he commited suicide: I don't think a five year old would take the reasons given into consideration.

A five-year-old has feelings. I didn't talk about reasons being taken into consideration, I was trying to explain why he felt so bad.


I still adhere to the murder theory, but I'll give you some ammunition. :lol: At one point, Donny does speculate that Jeffty must have sensed "in the way of a five year old" just how different he was.

But I wonder, after being beaten so badly outside the theater, if Jeffty would have been in a right state of mind to even ponder such things. Maybe he was so in shock, he didn't even stop to think about how dangerous it was to reach for the radio.

Does anyone know if simply touching a plugged-in radio while you are standing in a tub of water is enough to electrocute you, or would the radio have to fall into the tub?

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yamsham
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Postby yamsham » Thu Feb 17, 2005 6:47 pm

Mary Midnight wrote:I won't mention the music website from which this came from, but when I was looking for jazz, I was disturbed when I read this short paragraph:

"Why listen to old, wrinkled jazz artists? These artists are young and cute--but don't take our word for it!"

I wrote a very stiff reply to that website; I mentioned that without those "old and wrinkled" jazz artists, the "young and cute" ones wouldn't even be here! I also let them know that to me, young and cute means prefabricated and without talent. A lot of the younger jazz artists I'm sure aren't that way, but to write something like that was incredibly disrespectful. Why not listen to the older musicians? What makes the younger crowd more hip? Sheesh! Don't diss those great artists just because they don't have six-pack abs! Show some respect!


In a way, that's what "Jeffty" is all about. Respecting the past. Not rose-tinted, sentimentality, but simple respect. HE has a few stories that deal with that theme, notably "The Resurgence of Miss Ankle Strap Wedgie." Valerie Lone, a receptacle of the discarded Past, was consumed by the ravenous shadows of the Present as much as Jeffty was.

Mary Midnight
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Postby Mary Midnight » Thu Feb 17, 2005 7:10 pm

Beautifully put, yamsham. Beautifully put. It is indeed about respecting the past, not relegating it to the trashcan just because it doesn't look like the newest pop sensation. It's why I love this story so much.

:D

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Jim Davis
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Postby Jim Davis » Thu Feb 17, 2005 7:49 pm

To say this is my favorite story of Harlan's is an understatement. For many years, I would reread "Jeffty" on my birthday as a special treat, and I can easily claim that I've read this work aloud (to lovers, friends, the odd crowd, myself) more times than any other piece of writing. Harlan may have written more innovative or virtuosic stories, but never one as utterly heartwrenching as this one.

That said, for the longest time the mechanics of the ending eluded me. Oh, I understood what was happening on an emotional level--it was obvious that Jeffty's mother performed a mercy killing--but the exact method wasn't so clear. For the longest time, I thought the description of Leona "wiping her hands on her apron" meant she had drowned the kid in the bathtub, and the flickering of the lights was a sign of some reordering of the space-time continnuum, which had been disturbed by Jeffty's presence.

It wasn't until several years after first reading it that I saw an alternative explanation, the "Leona-positioned-the-radio-so-Jeffty-would-knock-it-into-the-tub" one. To be honest, I thought it was the most Rube Goldbergesque way of killing someone I'd ever heard. It seemed to depend on so many variables, like the placement of the radio and Jeffty's reaction to it, that it raised even more questions than it answered. How did Leona know Jeffty would knock it into the tub? Was she giving herself an out, a way of claiming that she had no intention of hurting Jeffty? Did she think Donny would go to the police if she used a more direct method? Was the radio a Philco-style older model, or did Harlan not realize that the newer models are designed to short out in water without shocking anyone? Was there a significance to Jeffty being killed by the thing he loved most, or did Harlan think it was impossible for Leona to kill her son with her bare hands?

(If this sounds like I'm nit-picking, I'm not. If anything, it gives the story an extra dimension that the "Leona drowned Jeffty" scenario lacks. What do you guys think?)
--
"His plan therefore was not to refuse admission to the idea, but to keep it at bay until his mind was ready to receive it. Then let it in and pulverise it. Obliterate the bastard."--Samuel Beckett

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Jim Davis
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Postby Jim Davis » Thu Feb 17, 2005 8:08 pm

For some reason, I missed seeing the last page of comments, which address the same questions I raised (more or less). Personally, I think the idea of Jeffty committing suicide completely goes against the spirit of the story. The past doesn't voluntarily go away; it has to, in a sense, be put to sleep.

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yamsham
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Postby yamsham » Thu Feb 17, 2005 11:47 pm

Jim Davis wrote:It wasn't until several years after first reading it that I saw an alternative explanation, the "Leona-positioned-the-radio-so-Jeffty-would-knock-it-into-the-tub" one. To be honest, I thought it was the most Rube Goldbergesque way of killing someone I'd ever heard. It seemed to depend on so many variables, like the placement of the radio and Jeffty's reaction to it, that it raised even more questions than it answered. How did Leona know Jeffty would knock it into the tub? Was she giving herself an out, a way of claiming that she had no intention of hurting Jeffty? Did she think Donny would go to the police if she used a more direct method? Was the radio a Philco-style older model, or did Harlan not realize that the newer models are designed to short out in water without shocking anyone? Was there a significance to Jeffty being killed by the thing he loved most, or did Harlan think it was impossible for Leona to kill her son with her bare hands?


The Rube Goldberg thing is something I've been considering. It does require a great deal of chance. But I think the scene outside the theater foreshadows the conclusion. Why would Jeffty reach for it? Well, because Hop Harrigan was on, or Terry and the Pirates, or Lights Out. Having lived side by side for so long, Leona must have known Jeffty's modus operandi.

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Postby cookie » Fri Feb 18, 2005 1:02 am

Enjoying the comments here. "Jeffty..." is my very favorite of favorite HE stories.

I heard this story spoken when I was 18 and fell in love with it. It hit me in a visceral way. Perhaps it was my age. I tend to think that had something to do with it. It just resonated with me. It's not natural to not grow up let alone to not change.

I don't have much to add, but my attention was drawn to SteveEvil's post regarding the story's end because that is the way *I* perceived the rock music playing....as a sign that Jeffty was already gone, not as something that precipitated his death.

Very interesting discussion. Glad I clicked in. Thanks.

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Chuck Messer
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Postby Chuck Messer » Fri Feb 18, 2005 2:26 am

Like Jim Davis, I at first thought the crackling and dimming of lights was a signal of Jeffty's passing, like an accidentally open circuit closing at last. I felt she just lay his semi-conscious body in the water and let nature take its course. The reason for this is the fact that the radio was playing rock music, not Terry and the Pirates or something similar. I thought that meant that Jeffty was dying, that something was amiss. Now after reading the previous comments, I see where I am probably wrong.

I do think Leona was the cause of Jeffty's death, and that she may have rationalized it as a euthanasia. I can see her bathing away Jeffty's pain, a stoic expression frozen on her face as she softly speaks comforting nothings to him and then says, "Would you like to listen to the radio, Jeffty dear? I can plug it in right over there and you could listen to it while you forget all about the bad things that happened today...."

Here's the main reason why I think Leona did it:

So I gave him to her. God help me, I gave him over to her.


I think Donny knew what had happened to Jeffty and in retrospect felt he should have known what Leona was going to do when he handed Jeffty over to her. After all those years, she'd reached the breaking point. Using twenty-twenty hindsight, Donny could see that, and blamed himself for it.

Another quote:

"Honey, would you like on orange? A nice orange? I have tangerines. I could peel a tangerine for you." But there was clearly such fear in her, fear of her own child, that the offers of sustenance always had a faintly ominous tone.


More than a hint that Leona wanted him either normal at last or gone.

I can only chime in with the comments on nostalgia and how it relates to the story. I agree that what Harlan is suggesting here is that the past is the past, but it should get respect, not be discarded like yesterday's paper. To paraphrase a line from Miller's Death of a Salesman, the past is not to be allowed to fall into its grave like an old dog. Attention must be paid.

Chuck
Some people are wedded to their ideology the way nuns are wed to God.

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Jan
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Postby Jan » Fri Feb 18, 2005 5:23 am

I'm still not convinced of the "murder theory", although Leona opened the door for Jeffty to kill himself. What you quote, Chuck, is a general indication that Donny distrusts the mother. If he had thought that she would murder him, he would *not* have handed him over. But she wasn't about to. She just didn't particularly care for him to be alive, and that informed the extent of what she did. Jeffty was in pain and despair, the two main causes of suicide. I grant you that it's not common for 5-year-olds to do such a thing, but we're talking pain here, not reason.

Jim wrote:Personally, I think the idea of Jeffty committing suicide completely goes against the spirit of the story. The past doesn't voluntarily go away; it has to, in a sense, be put to sleep.


Direct action is not the only way. With the passage of time, the *circumstances* changed, Jeffty was more and more out of place. It is obvious that this caused him pain, and he had no future.

As for the other quote, there was never any doubt that mom had a motive.

By the way, it should be meontioned that there is a German epic novel by Gunther Grass called THE TIN DRUM about a boy who decides on his birthday not to grow up. We see the Third Reich unfolding from his perspective. He escapes being perceived as an adult and can get away with a lot of things.

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Barney Dannelke
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Postby Barney Dannelke » Fri Feb 18, 2005 9:26 am

***Jan*** Got many 5 year olds commiting suicide over there? I submit it's too many impossibilities before breakfast.

- Barney

ps. Any Dannelke's in the phone book where you are? There are only 5 in the USA and 4 of them live in this house. Just curious.

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BillGauthier
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Postby BillGauthier » Fri Feb 18, 2005 10:04 am

The thing with Jeffty's death is that I don't think he was five when he died. Although it happens off screen, I imagine Jeffty in that tub, listening to rock music, and growing up instantly. Everything you ever wanted and believed shattered in a moment. It would be too much for Jeffty -- who'd be too old to be "Jeffty" anymore by anyone except, possibly, his parents had he grown up -- and he'd escape. Of course, this is my reading of the ending.

Bill

Micheal
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Postby Micheal » Fri Feb 18, 2005 10:23 am

No suicide, guys. No murder either.

An end.

I see less in this tale about nostalgia than about progression. For me, I see a man at a crossroads of his life, having to make a choice and knowing that either road he chooses something of immeasurable value must be sacrificed. The only thing worse would be to hold onto to that point in time in order to lose both.

We'd all love to hold to youth, to the near eternity found of days spent in the luxury of play especially when we contrast that against the harried nature of adult life. The worst part are all those things we've kept with us, that call us back to that part of our existence when we never imagined pains better than skinned knees, especially when the agony of a divorce seems more likely in our experience. To have the endless summer where ones new running shoes just seemed to give us more speed, rather than the panic of knowing that report must be in today at five, dammit, or it's to be the sack.

We can't have those days. We traded them in to be adult, to taste the flavours and sensations of maturity. Our bodies commanded it; the platonic incidences of childlike innocent sexual curiosity turned into lust, or if we're really lucky, love. Our minds grew from Batman and Superman to Joyce, Disch or Ellison. Our forts and treehouses became junkets to China or far-flung lands, the journey no longer made by our imaginations, but by jet.

How many here aspired to these things, saying "When I grow up..." having that brief moment of anticpation in the heart of the child when we see that thing called future, that thing of promise fuel by the purity of a child's belief?

I look at Jeffty is Five as the long look back once one has arrived at that land called Adult. To me, the tale is a reverse Peter Pan, where one sees both the necessitites and consequence of maturity. This is Ellison's loving farewell to Neverland, a gentle end to a love that dies hardest, the love and longing for the child.

I noted the chronology of when this tale was written, about the time the author passed the age of forty. I wonder how great that pull was upon Ellison as this tale sprung from the empty page.

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David Loftus
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Postby David Loftus » Fri Feb 18, 2005 10:56 am

While there are incidences in which 5-year-olds commit suicide -- at least in this country; I had a high school classmate in forensics way back in the mid-1970s who did a competitive oratory speech on just that subject -- I don't think Jeffty is one.

I haven't reread the story this year, but I don't think it's quite right to say Jeffty's mom murders him, either. Everyone in this story strikes me as strangely will-less, or slack of decisiveness: they know what's going to happen, even sort of what HAS to happen, and they participate in making it happen . . . but that's not exactly the same thing as clearly wanting it to happen. If that makes any sense. I think Jeffty's mom knows she's setting him up to die -- or short out, or whatever -- and Donny knows she knows and will do it, but it seems as if they all feel rather helpless in the progression of events. They can't fight, they can't change things; mostly, they're just tired.

Glad to see you're back, Michael.

> The only thing worse would be to hold onto to that point in time in order to lose both.

Oh, boy. And don't we all do this, all too often, either because we keep wanting both ends, or can't seem to choose one over the other. So we keep choosing both, or refusing to choose, hoping events will offer a clear choice on our behalf, and end up destroying or at least degrading both options.


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