Sunday, November 22, 2009
Inside Modern Minds and Madness: On The Work of Walter Dean Myers
A Double Review by Caleb T. Maupin
Monster by Walter Dean Myers (1999)
Shooter by Walter Dean Myers (2005)
Walter Dean Myers is the author many socially conscious, radical, psychological, and intensely political teen novels. As far as modern, mainstream teen fiction is concern, the two works of Meyers’ Monster and Shooter remain by far the most politically advanced I found in the genre.
The novels deal with the issues of racism, poverty, violence, alienation, fascism, the prison industrial complex, and various other issues.
The novel Monster deals with a youth accused of murder and facing the death penalty if convicted. The youth is mistakenly accused of being co-conspirator of two other Black youth who carried out the murder. It is assumed that he is an accomplice for no other reason than that he is Black as well, and that he walked into the store where the clerk was murdered shortly before the murder took place.
The novel takes inside the prisons of the U.S., and shows the horrendous conditions and abuse. The novel also takes inside the mind of a Black youth growing up in inner-city poverty in the late 90s. The novel shows us the discrimination and abuse he suffers from authority, and his struggle to define himself apart from the role society has already assigned him.
The style of the novel is extremely artistic, as it alternates from the personal diary of the protagonist and a screenplay he has written about his near death experience of being tried for a capital crime. The title of book Monster is what the prosecutor refers to main character as, despite the fact that he had nothing to do with the crime. We soon learn that the name “Monster” is not a label given specifically to our protagonist, but by the repressive society to all young Black males who live as an occupied nation within its borders.
The style is highly psychological and highly political. It makes the reader panic, and fill with rage at the injustices revealed within the text. It takes the reader to places they haven’t been before, and to conclusions that the bourgeoisie would prefer we do not make.
Shooter, another Myers novel, is a very complex work. It presents itself as being a post-Columbine laments about bullying, but soon you discover it is much more than that. The novel tells of a group of three friends. The first is a teen member of the rising Black middle class, suffering from alienation, and becoming frustrated with his parents money-hungry lifestyle and obsession with “getting ahead” despite his state of clear depression and loneliness.
The second member of the described clique is a young woman of 18 years old who is surviving amid the trauma of sexual abuse and growing up in poverty.
The third member of the clique is a socio-pathic teen, who has been raised in a fascist household, and turns to racism, extreme cruelty, and self-hatred for answers to the misery of teen life.
The novel takes inside the minds of all three of these characters, the first two through interviews, and the final through his diaries. We learn about how this strange combination of people come to be friends, and how one of them is manipulating the two of them for his own, brutal, and heartless ends.
The novel is a portrait of the insanity of youth in 90s, and shows how it led to countless insane acts of violence. The novel shows how even while capitalism was booming, material goods flowed freely into many pockets, and “stuff” and success were in abundance for some, an emptiness existed. Insanity and cruelty was still a feature of life under a ruthless economic system.
Myer’s work is full of power. He shows real people, with real emotions, and real feelings, reacting to the real problems of everyday life under a racist, sexist, and heartless capitalist order.
Myer’s work reminds me both of the films of Jean-Luc Godard, the novels of Richard Wright, and the paintings of Social Realism. The two works highlighted above are Native Son, Tout Va Bien, and the radical murals of Rivera forged into one.
They are full of emotion, and will lead anyone to an understanding of the problems with our economic system, and how they mold the minds of people.
Walter Dean Myers is a must read for all ages, despite the fact that his novels are directed at teen readers. Myers novels show reality, highlighting parts of it so often, unforgivably ignored. Go read Monster and Shooter, then feel the power within them, and go out and change the world.