Illumination Night Essay Essay, Research Paper
In the book titled Illumination Night, Alice Hoffman has clearly defined each character, attributing to them the most unique and distinctive traits, but giving enough ‘elbow room’ for parallelism between them. As the characters struggle with family relationships, social acceptance, restriction and betrayal, they are forced to cooperate with one another; they “can’t afford to be nasty to each other when the live on an island. No matter where they go, they’re bound to run into each other” (Illumination 35). The novel goes on to detail six, interlocking and often colliding lives, some of which include: Vonny, an agoraphobic mother who “didn’t [use to] think twice about mixing Valium and gin”(I.14); Simon, Vonny’s four year-old boy who has never heard the word “death” and “refuses to be any older until he is taller”(I.36); Jody, a teenage girl who has always been “well practiced at manipulation”(I.31); and The Giant, a “beautiful” freak, who’s height “put an end to [his parents'] marriage”(I.117). Even though the characters seldom speak to one another about what matters the most to them, they echo one another in their thoughts and actions. Between the Giant and Simon, there is a wordless empathy that is shared, one that is able to help both accept their identity, and their height; Vonny turns to the pets in her house as a source of empathy; Vonny also shares common characteristics and traits with Jody, which help both of them deal with the everyday burdens of life. The characters in Illumination Night were written so uniquely, yet they often mirror each other, as they are representative of the same theme of empathetic reliance. The importance of these connections gives Hoffman’s novel a point of centralization, a common ground where her characters were allowed to flourish and develop into the remarkable figures that she had set out to accomplish.
Simon and The Giant share an identity problem, although they are willing to accept who they are and their physical appearance, the people that they are surrounded by do not make it easy for them. “People often judge Simon to be younger than he is [because of his height]; they’re surprised when he talks in full sentences, when he fearlessly jumps into the surf” (I.14). It even evolved to the point where the mother of Simon’s friend, Samantha, did not want her daughter associating with him anymore; she felt that because of his height, “he was not right for Samantha”(I.196), that he was “just a little too short” (I.197). Older boys at Simon’s school have nicknamed him “Thumby”, and even though Simon “doesn’t realize that this is shorthand for Tom Thumb, the name makes him uncomfortable”. The Giant, named Eddie, shares a similar problem to Simon, he is too tall. Eddie is aware that his height makes him different from those around him, he secludes himself at home, leaving himself open to rumours and fairy tales from his imagination. Eddie once saw himself as the “creature beneath the bridge who devoured goats” (I.117). When Jody and Eddie are together, Jody doesn’t realize that “as long as she’s with the Giant no one will give her a second look Jody doesn’t notice that people are staring, but the Giant knows” (I.221). The Giant is obviously aware of how people see him, they think of him as the ‘freak’. Neighbours start telling jokes: “How many giants does it take to roof a house? One, if you slice him real thin” (I.210). As Jody tells Simon stories about the Giant, Simon takes comfort in them, being able to relate. When Simon wakes up from his sleep to see the Giant for the first time, “he rubs his eyes, but the Giant is still there in the morning, he will not be able to remember what he has dreamed and what he has actually seen” (I.144). Simon’s life is changed from that moment; he then goes on to accept who he is, and coincidentally, he begins to grow. The giant, too, soon accepts who he is; “He lies down in the grass and, stretching himself out to his full height, looks upward, through the green leaves” (I.247). Simon and The Giant relied on eachother emotionally, although they never spoke a word; it helped them to get on with their lives and welcome their differences unconditionally.
Many people underestimate the abilities of the animal mind, its potential to love and care for its owners, feeling both their joy and their pain. Vonny’s dog Nelson is seen as “the canine equivalent of herself, overly sensitive what Vonny’s mother, Suzanne, calls an empath, what others might call easily overwhelmed. Both Vonny and her dog are prone to take on another creature’s pain” (I.47). Vonny’s mother sees empathy as a gift, but Vonny sees her empathy as a flaw, “like a scratch on her soul that lets in vibrations” (I.47), she becomes grateful that this flaw does not take on a physical form, as she thinks that she pities herself enough already. Vonny notes that Simon’s pet rabbit is much like herself, her panic attacks brought on by the force field that restricts her to her home seemed to affect Dora, the rabbit, as well. “One day Simon leaves the door ajar and Vonny finds the rabbit on the doorstep, terrified by the cold open space stretching out in front of her” (I.145). Vonny utilizes her observations of their behaviour and makes a connection with herself; knowing that another being is able to empathize and feel what she is going through pushes her down the road to recovery, something that is not only valuable to Vonny, but necessary.
The relationship between Vonny and Jody is one that has nothing to do with trust, Jody “feels closer to Vonny than anyone else and yet she would betray her in a minute”, but the feeling appears to be mutual. When Vonny is with Jody, it is as though Vonny is “reaching back for the sixteen year old girl she once was” (I.62), almost using Jody as the source of her redemptive power. When Jody is around Vonny becomes assertive and intimidating, she marks her territory, unnecessarily defensive when it comes to her husband (I.51-53). On the other hand, Jody had “always been well practiced at manipulation” as well (I.31), and this shows later in the novel whenever she attempts to get her way seducing Vonny’s husband, Andre. Jody and Vonny share common grounds when it comes to dealing with their present situations; Vonny identifies with Jody and understands why Jody acts the way she does. “Vonny remembers that when she was sixteen and seemed that cool, she was burning up inside” (I.17). Other than the obvious similarities, that they are both in love with the same man, and that both of their parents are divorced, Jody and Vonny also share common incidents’ throughout the novel. For example, both give way to impulse to leap into a car and speed down the road without thought of destination. Jody is the only character that thinks in depth about Vonny, she also “wonders sometimes if Vonny is the only person who understands her”, and this is how Vonny feels in return. Vonny “imagines that she does not exist without another person there to perceive her”, and when Jody is not around, Vonny has panic attacks and becomes insecure. Both Jody and Vonny rely on the empathetic relationship between them, without it, they become a part of the background, no longer unique or with an identity.
The parallelism in Illumination Night, by Alice Hoffman has been beautifully crafted to illuminate the harmony and the terrors that exist between the characters. Each character has learned to deal with their insecurities and differences by connecting to one another in a way that makes Hoffman’s novel a pullulating tale filled with emotion and irony. Even though the characters rarely express their thoughts to those around them, they are still able to empathize with one another’s situations. The Giant and Simon discover the secret to living in harmony, it is to love thy self unconditionally. Vonny fights her agoraphobia by relating to Nelson and Dora, she recognizes their pains to help her with her own; she also strikes common ground with Jody to give herself a sense of identity and belonging. The characters in Illumination Night were written in a way that defines each personality yet still mimicking each other in their thought processes and actions; they are a combined symbol of the empathetic reliance that is observed in the novel. The characters in Illumination Night are nothing less than a gathering of stunning victories, they truly are the remarkable figures that Alice Hoffman had set out to accomplish.