I’m still slacking in the reading department. I have been doing the dusk-to-dawn routing between my day job and gardening on the farm, and researching things for my (still unofficial) move into my new house. So, please bare with me until I can get my nose back in a new novel!
To tide you all over, I dug into my old google doc files and found an essay I wrote back in college. (I know, I make it sound like so long ago…) Since I reviewed Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult last week, I thought Nineteen Minutes would be another great example of Picoult’s engrossing literature. I wrote it as an analytical essay so it’s more technical than conversational, but the story outline is there and the explanation behind Picoult’s technique that has more depth to it. Just keep in mind that this is a college paper, and there are moments that show my naiveté. Hopefully between the two, I’ll have convinced you to read something by her! So, without further ado…
Nineteen Minutes: Maslow’s Third Layer
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes to mind when reading the novel Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. The main characters of the story reflect upon themselves and the tragic shooting incident, and the causes that lead up to the event. Josie, who seems to be the typical popular high school girl has come from the bottom of the social ladder at school, and struggles to maintain her status and belonging in the ‘popular’ crowd. Alex, Josie’s mother, struggles to feel needed as a mother since she constantly buries her maternal side under her job position as a state judge. Peter, the person who started the shooting at the school, was constantly being bullied, and all he wanted was to be accepted by Josie. These three main characters struggle with acceptance and belonging. Picoult’s reflective formatting of chapters and third person omniscient point of view allows the audience to see the struggle within the three characters.
Picoult’s reflective format in the novel starts on the day of the incident, but flashes back to the past, then to the future, and then continues to switch the past and present. So when we are first introduced to Josie, she seems to be an average popular high school student. Then, after the shooting, we start to see her past history with Peter. Josie used to not care about what other people thought, until she made friends with a popular girl while working on a project. Then, she ditched Peter because he wasn’t cool like the popular crowd. They picked on him, put him in his place. Josie found out that with them, she didn’t have to worry about being picked on. But then she starts dating her popular boyfriend Matt, who is Peter’s bully. Matt reminds Josie that the social ladder is what keeps her above Peter, saying “If there isn’t a them, there can’t be an us.” Josie realizes that being popular isn’t simply being accepted, but a struggle to maintain acceptance from everyone else. This causes her to feel guilty about the treatment of Peter, because every time he is bullied, she is reminded that at one point she was his friend, and that she could easily fall from the graces of the popular crowd and become just like Peter.
Alex, a state judge, must maintain her calm, unbiased reputation no matter where she is. At home, this becomes the downfall of her relationship with her daughter, Josie. Internally, she struggles with the fact that she isn’t the mother she wants to be. “I’m good at being a judge. And I’m lousy at being a mother.” Shocked for admitting the truth out loud, since she couldn’t admit to herself, the audience realizes that even though Alex is a great judge, she is still a human, and can’t help but judge herself. She also can’t help but want to be accepted as a normal human, rather than ‘Your Honor’.
Finally, throughout the book, Picoult has the audience questioning the motive behind Peter snapping and shooting at everyone at the school. While some of his bullies were shot, there were other people that seemed innocent in the novel. Peter seemed to show no remorse, and even dared to ask “How many did I get?” But for some reason, Picoult convinces the audience with Peter’s bullied history that maybe the boy isn’t a murderer, but someone who was pushed to the brink and finally snapped. And towards the end of the novel, Picoult reveals at least one hint that shows why Peter killed these kids. We find out that Josie was also a culprit- she is the one who puts a bullet in Matt. She doesn’t kill him, but shoots him in the stomach, and instantly regrets what she did. She begs Peter to help, and his response was putting a bullet in Matt’s head. This put Matt out of his misery, but isn’t what Josie wanted. Peter takes the blame for Josie, hoping that after all the years of adoring her, that this will finally make her accept him. It was his final offer of friendship to her, but obviously the most damaging.
Josie, Alex, and Peter all have internal conflicts about acceptance and belonging. As Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states, all humans need this to feel complete. Picoult shows this struggle of the main characters achieving acceptance in the novel Nineteen Minutes through the use of reflective formatting and third person omniscient point of view.