1. JOE JOHNSON, VERY YOUNG AMERICAN
CHILDREN are included in the census of America. From the viewpoint of the dispassioned census, they are quantitatively as important as persons six, seven, eight, and even forty times their age. The census of the United States has gone ahead on the quite accurate presumption that children are persons, no more so and no less so, than human beings older than they. The procedure of the census is here quite justified.
As soon as a child is born he has all the appurtenances and qualities of personality that a professor has, or a broker has, or a grandmother has, or a general has. That personality may be dim, unmanifest, encompassed by the clouds attending inactive perception; yet it is there. A person is a reality which, being an entity or world, sees and must see, is related to inexorably, that other tremendously multifarious entity, the world. It is to be expected that when a new entity, a baby, arrives in that larger entity, the world,—the baby do all it can to establish its own existence by being able to make, all the time, happier and freer and more accurate relationships with the universe into which it has entered.
A baby has been born. That baby may be called Joseph. Joseph will not know just where he is; but he will want to find out. He has needs. Those needs, if met at all, will be met by an arrangement of the larger world and himself. When Joseph's needs are met, a feeling, however unexpressed, will occur amounting to: "We make a team." Joe will want to eat; there is food in the world. Joe will want to see; there are things to be seen, and there is light in the world. Joe will want to crawl, and walk, and run; and there is space in the world to be crawled in, to be walked in, to be run in. Joe will want to touch; there are things to be touched. Joe will want to love, and there are things to be loved, whether he successfully does so or not.
Joe doesn't know what interferences he will meet in the process he has tackled of completing himself. He doesn't know this now—while in the room in which he at this moment is. The room Joe Johnson is in is neighbored by other rooms, and surrounded by all kinds of things, which, if he lives, he will have to find out about. He doesn't want any unjust interferences in the job of establishing and completing the particular world that he is. If there are interferences, or what he takes to be interferences, he will do something about them. What things will help new-born Joe to become himself, he will like. He will go for them if he can. If he can't, though he may not know anything about it, he won't like it.
Somewhere in Joe now are drives, inclinations, attitudes, which may be shown when he is twenty, thirty, forty, or sixty. In the same way as the possibility of a huge, various oak is in the acorn, so the possibility of a various, complicated structure is now in the perhaps gurgling or whimpering boy, Joseph. What is the full meaning of that which Joe murkily, unwittingly, but inevitably is after?
There, of course, are parents and others around Joe. He will distinguish them fairly soon; he hasn't—as yet. These parents feel that Joe belongs to them. He came from their flesh. Legally he is theirs, and they are responsible for him. They know that Joe is theirs. If asked, they would most likely admit that they do not know what Joe means. In some ways, they are just as ignorant about Joe as Joe himself. Joe's parents, Helen and Robert, don't fully know what they are about. In fact, they weren't sure a year ago just whether they wanted the child called Joseph Johnson.
Joe's parents have their own worries. They are quite proud that they have a boy. They are kindly disposed towards that boy. However, they have their own lives to live; they hope that Joe will be a help to, an adornment of, their own lives. Joe's parents don't see Joe as the census-taker would: an indefeasible, sovereign person in his own right. How can they? The little human has to be in bed, can't see, he goes with exceeding blindness towards a breast and towards space. He whimpers; and there are strange curves on his face. His hands go up and down, this way and that, in the air; and his toes and feet make motions. He doesn't know what it's all about. How can this new, completely ignorant being, be a person in the sense that a diplomat is, or a president of a baseball club, or a grandmother, or his own mother? But Joseph Johnson is. If he were killed it would be murder; if he died the United States census would be one less. When he looks into the dark, it is he that is doing it: that he represents man, is a man, and is a person.
Joe will come to his senses. He will find out that black is different from white; that purple is different from pink; that milk is different from furniture; and that his father is different from his uncle. He will find that when snow falls, it sounds different from when a dish falls. He will know his own voice is different from the voice of his mother. He will distinguish the rain from the water coming out of the faucet in the kitchen-sink. He will smell leaves, milk, and garbage; he will distinguish the taste of oatmeal from orange juice. He will touch walls, flowers, chairs, noses, toes, and himself; and he will come to know that these things "touch" differently. He will take part in this world-exploration and self-exploration with great eagerness.
Joe doesn't want to die. He may have cried for whatever reason when he got his first touch of the world; but he does other things than cry now. He isn't against the world. The world and he are pals; though Joe may have a puzzling pal and, at times, a painful one. But there is a tremendous contract between him and that world, a contract dating back to a long time ago; and this contract Joe doesn't want to break.
Sometimes Joe's mother, Helen, has been irritated with him. Joe couldn't understand why his mother, Helen, should be irritated with him (just as Helen's husband hasn't understood why she has been irritated with him; and Helen hasn't understood, either). Sometimes Helen's irritations would occur without notice, just when she seemed to be pleased with the growing and exploring Joe. It just didn't make sense. Here was some being, an important being, smiling at him; and then, some moments later, maybe just because a doorbell rang, or because something in the kitchen went wrong, acting as if she didn't care for Joe at all. This sudden change from smiling to unconcern bewildered Joe and hurt him, just as it might somebody much older.
Once Helen, on a hot day, slapped Joe's face; and in the evening took him on her lap and showed him off to her uncle. But Joe remembered he had been slapped. He had been in the hot weather, too, and he didn't like slapping any more in hot weather than in cool weather. Helen had her troubles; but what Joe saw was that she made many changes in her attitude towards him; she could change just like that, from a flower into a big pin that stuck him. Sometimes it seemed as if Joe meant the whole world to her; at other times it seemed as if a friend of Helen's, Ada Jones, was more important than Joe. Anyway, Helen could talk to Ada Jones for hours, while Joe was in the room; and Helen did not seem to know that he was in the room trying to find out what Helen and Miss Jones were up to. It all was baffling; it all was painful; it all didn't make sense; and Joe had to do something about it.
He did. He felt he had two kinds of mother; in fact, that he had two mothers. One was on his side. This mother smiled at him, called him darling, worried if something fell on his finger-nail, saw to it that he ate the right thing, and that nothing bad happened after he ate it; put him to bed and stayed in the room after he was asleep (even when he wasn't asleep, but when Helen thought he was). This mother, it appeared, couldn't live without him. He was more important to this mother than all the Miss Joneses in the world, no matter where they came from, or how often. This mother seemed to exist for the purpose of being nice to Joe. Joe came to feel that this Helen was his, that she belonged to him, and that, without him, she couldn't be at all. He loved this Helen; she was on his side; she seemed to grow out from him. She existed so that he could like things.
The other Helen was pretty mysterious, pretty distant, and Joe came to feel she wasn't on his side at all. This Helen could suddenly take him out-of-doors as if he were some package she had to get to the outside. This Helen could say: "Run along now," just when Joe felt he was showing her the most important thing there was. This Helen seemed not to care whether there was anybody like Joe around or not. This Helen seemed like a tall building at the other end of town which seemed to stand there unconcerned with what happened to Joe. This Helen tried to make Joe do things when he didn't want to do them, and he didn't know why he should do them. This Helen seemed to have a pleasure in making Joe feel bad. This Helen could cry and say to Joe when he came up to her: "Look, don't you see I want to be alone? Why don't you go out and play like a nice little boy, your mother has troubles enough." Joe would go out to play, but he felt that this Helen didn't want his help. He felt deep down he could help Helen, though she was grown up, a big person, and used words he didn't understand. But just at that time Helen chose to think that Joe was something like a pretty important cockroach, or like that tough-looking policeman he saw one Saturday afternoon (sometimes he felt Helen was a policeman).
Then there was Robert. Robert and Helen would put Joe to sleep; and sometimes Joe got out of bed without his parents knowing it, and opened the door a little and saw and listened to what was going on. Once he saw Helen on Robert's lap; and once he saw Helen slap Robert just the way she once slapped Joe. Once he saw Helen and Robert talk, and he heard the word "dollars" come up very often. He knew that dollars had something to do with the pennies Helen gave him; but he felt that when his parents talked of dollars he wasn't in on it at all, and that he was pretty unimportant. Once he saw Helen rush up to her own room after her face had become, the little boy noticed, pretty red, and when she looked as if she were ready to cry. Once when Helen and Robert had a fight, Helen went out for two days; and Robert said to Joe (whom she didn't take along with her): "Well, I've got you, little chap, anyway."
Robert's attitude would change, too. Sometimes Robert would spend a lot of time with him in the park; and Joe's father wouldn't mention Helen at all. Sometimes Robert would give him a nickel and a dime and get him ice-cream cones and nice chocolates and so on. Once Robert got him a drum, and at various times other toys. But quite often it was Robert who said: "Don't you think you'd better go to bed, Joey? Run along now." Once Robert put him across his knee and spanked him; for the life of him Joey didn't know why. The night before Robert had talked about "dollars" with Helen. Sometimes Robert, too, would act as if Joe weren't around in the slightest. Robert didn't make sense, either. One Robert could say: "I have you, Joe, and I'll see to it that you get something out of life." One Robert could beg Joe to sit on his lap. One Robert could get a sailor suit for Joe, put him on his shoulder wearing the sailor suit, and walk down a whole block with everybody in the neighborhood seeing Joe on his father's shoulder. But the other Robert wasn't like that at all. The other Robert seemed more interested in "dollars"; this Robert could talk about a Mrs. Devlin to Helen and forget Joe was in the room. So it seemed that one Robert belonged to Joe, was on Joe's side, liked Joe; and the other was somebody far away who didn't like Joe and could act like a policeman, or a giant, or just like anybody else who didn't care whether Joe felt good or bad. Joe felt he had two Roberts, two fathers on his hands. One father belonged to him, the other was a stranger who was against him.
Joe kept on growing. When his mother pleased him, his mother was somewhere part of him; when his father pleased him, his father was part of him. When they didn't please him, they had to be dealt with; and the best way of dealing with them was found at night when Joe could say that he had got rid of the awful part of his mother and the awful part of his father. When Robert and Helen kept on quarreling, Joe's life within himself, which came to be more and more important after the age of two, seemed more than ever necessary, more than ever justified.
After all, Joe had to live. He didn't want to think that he was living in the world where those two big people in his life quarreled. At night, and sometimes in the bathroom, Joe could forget all the things in the world that were against him and didn't make sense. The world when it was painful, the way his mother and father could be painful, was around him in the daytime; but there was no reason why this puzzling and hurting world had to follow him to sleep. However, Joe couldn't sleep all the time; and he had to come out of the bathroom after a while. He was aware that these thoughts he had in himself weren't very much cared about by Helen and Robert. They were interested in having his face washed, in his not having a bellyache, in his going to the bathroom in the right way, in his not dirtying his clothes, in his not making too much noise, in his being able to walk, in his going to sleep at the right time; but they didn't seem to be worried much about what Joe thought of himself inside. Well, if they weren't worried about what was going on inside Joe, Joe wouldn't tell them. In fact, Joe later felt a little good that he could have things happen inside him which his mother and father didn't know about. That made him important to himself;—and he felt that no matter how unkind the world was and how awful, he had something inside him he could go to. (Joe didn't put this into words but this is what happened, anyway.)
Between the ages of three and four, Joe had decided pretty definitely that his mother and father weren't altogether his friends. They didn't seem to care for him in just the way he cared for himself. They wanted him to be a good, strong boy; but Joe was after bigger game. He didn't like the idea that they wanted him to eat right, but didn't care what he felt at night inside himself. Joe didn't want to tell them by now, but still he felt that they ought to ask some questions.
In time, Joe didn't like the idea of eating the food two people like Helen and Robert gave him; two people who didn't care for Joe inside and out one hundred per cent. Joe was hungry, but he felt he had to show Helen and Robert he didn't want their food so very much. He took his time about eating, and played around with his oatmeal before he put the spoon into his mouth. Helen became angry and said: "Joe, do you have to play with that oatmeal? Isn't it good? Take it like a good boy, now quick!" Joe took it quickly this time, but he felt that it was right to annoy Helen. He would show her, he would make her see that there were things about him she hadn't thought about. If she didn't think about what went on inside him, at least she would have to think about why he didn't eat the oatmeal quickly.
Once, after a very bad quarrel of Helen and Robert, Joe ate his oatmeal and twenty minutes later vomited. The quarrel had occurred the night before and Joe had dreamed about gangsters shooting across the street with him right in the middle of the street. He didn't know why he vomited, but he still remembered his dream. This vomiting of Joe distressed his father and mother and the boy didn't like it entirely either, though there was some pleasure for him in doing it. Joe continued to give trouble to his parents, and his parents continued to give trouble to him. Nevertheless, as things go, they loved each other and Joe saw home as the place where he had to be, and couldn't see himself anywhere else.
Joe's thoughts went on. Other things pained him. He had quarrels with little boys and girls and sometimes he would rather be with those boys and girls than with his mother and father. There were other adults whom he came to know; and these, like Helen and Robert, could please and displease. Things more than ever seemed to be for him and against him. The solution he had come to continued and was enlarged. There was the other world and there was Joe's world. Joe's world he could manage with apparently complete administrative powers. When things got tough elsewhere, Joe's snug and intimate universe was used more than ever. But something in Joe, though the solution seemed to be the only one around, didn't like the idea of the separation of worlds. At times, without knowing it, he felt he was cowardly and wrong in dealing with the tough world by making a more manageable and kinder world within himself, for himself.
Joe didn't want to give up that second interior world, but when the shame grew intense he didn't know what to do. Joe didn't know it, and Helen didn't know it, and Robert didn't know it, but when he got tantrums Joe was really protesting against the fact that he had to keep his worlds apart. He was dissatisfied with himself; and he fought his mother and father and what they represented for making him do something which made him dissatisfied with himself.
Joe's tantrums were seen as unhappy, worrisome incidents in the life of a not completely well-behaved child. When Joe once took a dish, threw it on the floor, got off his chair, stamped his foot, and said: "I wish I was dead. You don't like me, I wish I was dead,"—and ran outside, the happening was regarded as a culmination of undesirable maladjustment. Joe was really protesting, though, at the fact that his universe was not coordinated and that he couldn't make it so, and that Helen and Robert weren't helping him.
Joe went to school. He left his home for a while, and that home he saw as good and bad, for him and against him. He was interested in the other boys and the teacher but after all, he carried with him the deep memory that things which pleased him could also pain him. Joe wanted to learn, but when he learned he knew in his fashion that what he was learning came from a world which could be against him. This world was everywhere around him. It could give him pleasure, but he didn't trust it. Well, if he had to meet it, he at least could fight it and show that he was around fighting. He began to show off. He even used his parents as a means of showing off. He got into a fight with a boy, Billy, and said to Billy that just as he could punch Billy's nose, so his father could punch Billy's father's nose. One day he had a scrap with Billy and made Billy run away. He felt triumphant, important. That night when his father came home, Joe noticed he was pretty worried. Somebody, where his father worked, was worrying Robert and Robert was complaining to Helen. Joe felt that in a way he could protect Robert, too. He felt that he could do some things his father couldn't because he made Billy run away. His father, though, was having a hard time where he worked, with this Mr. Richards, who seemed against him.
Joe asserted himself more and more. He wanted to show his parents the things that he knew. He began to think of himself as a general and as a pirate. He began to think he was smarter than the other boys. He would show people he was somebody. But beneath it all, the world that was entirely his own went on. He took it for granted now. It was right to have things in the night-time different from things in the day-time.—Joe was now seven years old.
Joe Johnson is fairly representative of the boys and girls born and growing up in America and elsewhere. Joe's father, Robert, once had pretty much the same situation to meet, as did Joe's mother, Helen. Joe didn't start out with the idea of dividing the reality in which he participated; he was compelled to do so. In accepting this division of reality he was making trouble for himself later, but to divide the world seemed the one thing to do.
If mother and father will not accept the whole being of a child, the child will retaliate and not accept them and what they stand for, entirely. He will change his disappointment into a kind of triumph, because disappointment can't be let go at that; and the alteration of tragedy into victory, if possible, will be achieved.
A child, fundamentally, doesn't want to escape from reality. The notion that an infant, just so, wishes to evade the actual conditions of existence is not true; because these conditions of existence are not seen as against him. If Joe Johnson meets inward trouble in his later years it won't be because of "infantile regression": the infant isn't so bad that the word "regression" has to be put next to him. Infants want to be reasonable, realistic in the best sense. A neurotic, therefore, does not go back to an infantile procedure, as such; he rather persists in doing something his ego, or in Aesthetic Realism terminology, his 2-A, saw as necessary or gratifying, in his earliest years.
Every person will at some time or other, when he is in a tough spot, use a solution which has been found efficient a long time ago. The child is indecisive when it eats food and at the same time dawdles with it. Here the child has found a solution for the problem of how to accept something, and yet show that he is against those from whom he accepts that something. The solution here is similar to that taken by a person who, wanting to visit someone and yet feeling that he shouldn't, comes late. The coming late is the acceptance of a situation and the showing that one doesn't entirely approve of it. This doesn't mean that there is an "infantile regression." It is a persistence, as I have said, and not a regression; but it isn't an inevitable persistence, either. An answer to a big, unavoidable problem was once found, and the answer can still work. If a person, for example, uses the fact that three and four make seven (which he learns while a child), it doesn't mean that he is going back to childhood in a regressive way when he uses the fact that three and four make seven at the age of forty-three. Let us not calumniate infancy.
In this world children are up against things. They come to various methods of dealing with unwelcome or unfair situations. If these methods work at all they will continue to be used. At any moment in the life of a man, an impression occurring at the age of four may join with an impression occurring at the age of thirty-four. Children are after wisdom, and a bit of wisdom, once found serviceable, will be clung to, retained, in one form or another while life goes on. There is, furthermore, a wisdom in children which is not seen as had; that is, it is not known to be possessed. Children are really desperate to see the world as pleasing; and their desperateness is part of a wise hope. The meaning of learning is intensely strong in childhood. The desire for order is intensely strong. The desire to see the world as good and beautiful, is intensely strong. But of course children, like all beings, are changeable by what they meet. They have possibilities which find mighty pervasive opposition. The character of this pervasive opposition it is our job to know.
2. LUELLA, RAMPAGEOUS AND PROFOUND
Luella Hargreaves, age five, is a difficult child living in Philadelphia. She has nearly the whole repertoire of procedures that a troublesome child can have. At times, though, she has the most delightful smile, a smile so sunny and pleasant that persons who do not know the annoyingly imperialistic Luella would think she was hardly other than angelic. And this smile is not insincere: sometimes the troubled personality of Luella does come forth serenely and looks with childlike, bland satisfaction at things surrounding. Luella is quite apparently an intelligent child, too. The kindergarten she goes to has issued reports to her mother of her keenness, even though the kindergarten has also reported that Luella will suddenly do such things as pinch the calf of a child next to her; put chewing gum on another child's dress; and suddenly yell she has to go to the toilet. The question is whether the angelic smile manifested by Luella at intervals is representative of her, or whether it is an indication of a hypocrisy of which the young and wily Luella is a master. The question also, therefore, is whether the tantrums, the pinchings, the yellings, the contrariness, the general adroit devilishness of Luella are really she.
Luella's mother is Lucia and her father is Hibbard Hargreaves. Luella is their only child. Hibbard Hargreaves is a lawyer, a graduate of Harvard Law School; and Lucia, before she married, had thought of writing. In fact, she has written various things in print here and there. Both Hibbard and Lucia are sticking to their individualities. In order to stick to his individuality, Hibbard has found it necessary at times to outmaneuver Lucia and attack hers; Lucia has found it necessary to employ the same procedure. The perceptive Luella has seen the maneuvers of her mother and father, has seen victories, defeats, skirmishes, drawn battles; has felt secret operations in the air; and has been pervaded with the aroma of spiritual battle, retreat, and siege. Luella has been used—as Joe Johnson was used—by both mother and father. Her parents have thought of divorce, and have even discussed it; but though there have been clawing and scratching and hate, victory is seen as possible by both of them and divorce is not imminent.
When Luella was born, her mother already knew that in a fashion she hated her husband. Even before she gave birth to Luella, there was a desire within her mind to use her coming child against her husband. Lucia did not take her pregnancy gracefully. When she became aware of it, she felt:"God damn it, I guess writing will be harder than ever." She went through her pregnancy, saw meaning in it as it approached culmination, but never was entirely for it. She decided that her child was to be a "prime article,"—as she put it to one of her friends. During pregnancy, she read books on child care. Somewhat she wanted to be a good mother; but Lucia was disappointed with Hibbard, disappointed with her "luck," disappointed with the earth she was on. The wise volumes she consulted on child care did not do away with that large disappointment.
When Luella was born, Hibbard felt proud; but he also felt that he was more tied than before to the woman he had once described to himself as a "glamorous bitch." The fact that Lucia was a mother made him think of her in more endearing terms than ever; but the new closeness heavily overlaid the uncertainty and antipathy, did not banish them. Luella became a kind of weather between the sky of Hibbard and the ocean of Lucia. The child was a province contested by two sovereign powers, bound by a treaty neither wanted fully to maintain.
From the very beginning, Luella participated in sudden, subtle sunshine, showers, storms, droughts, and unsettledness. Luella was an apprehensive child. She grew up amid kissing and hating; she grew up amid clawing caresses and caressing clawings. She felt there were spikes in gloves; and that a rose without a thorn had something the matter with it.
At the age of ten months, while in the nursery, she heard her mother throw a book to the floor and shout to her husband: "Well, for God's sake, Hibbard, let's call it off once and for all, and you can have Luella if you want her; I'm through." Luella did not know, to be sure, what the words meant; but they did sound pretty strange. Before Luella could talk she had heard some of the meanest things possible said in the most discriminating and elegant manner.
Once Hibbard and Lucia were by her crib.
Lucia said: "Well, Hib, I guess she's getting to look a little more like me these days."
Hibbard said: "Maybe you should have asked the little darling's permission."
"How do you know, Judge, I haven't?"
"If you have, then Lu is certainly a distinguished person, because you don't ask permission about anything from anybody else."
"Well, if you think that maybe 1 believe my daughter is a privileged person, maybe you're right. She hasn't had the time to be selfish; she hasn't had the time to learn how to draw up briefs which puzzle people; she hasn't had the time to go into politics just because a wife isn't desirable some of the time."
Hibbard forgot himself and raised his voice. "God, Lucia, do you think this is the place, and this is the time to say things like that? Jesus Christ, Lucia, can't we have our quarrels without getting the kid in?"
But Luella heard some of the conversation; and heard the raised voices. Despite the care of the parents not to have disagreements too close to the child, they did.
They both had discussed the welfare of their daughter: even Hibbard had read books on child care. They knew that a child was to be an individual; they were prepared to give it its freedom; they wanted it to learn about sex as efficiently and as early as possible. They were not prepared to scold it; they did not wish to tyrannize over it; and, in their ways, they wanted it to be happy. Its food, its sleep, its dress, its education, and its psychology were attended to in the modern fashion. But Luella was subtle: Lucia Hargreaves felt that her husband, Hibbard Hargreaves, was her enemy; and Luella, in her fashion, found out this was so.
At the age of fourteen months, Luella began to talk. One day, early in her third year, Luella cried and said: "I don't want to be here."
The nurse asked her: "Why, Lu? Why don't you want to be here?"
"Daddy isn't here."
"But your mother is here."
"Daddy's got to be here, too," and Luella cried more strongly than before.
Ten minutes later there were no tears on her face and she was smiling. A few days after, Luella was crying again. The nurse came in and asked: "What's it about?"
Luella didn't answer.
"Now what are you crying for?" "Mamma's got to go, too."
"Got to go where?"
"Where daddy goes."
"Ah, that's silly."
The crying went on: "I want mamma go where daddy go."
Luella had by now the sense that the chief persons in her life were against each other. About this time a feeling of her own individuality had come to her. She knew that she was Luella Hargreaves, a human being. She felt that there was an I and that there was something else than I. About the time that this sense of her I came to her, there wasn't much reason to believe in the symmetry and justice and comeliness of that which wasn't herself or her I. She had a dim awareness of the falsity between her mother and father. She had perceived a little that she was a territory swept across and desired by both the clasping, warring powers. The apprehension of the battling duality of things was keen, if not conscious, in the little girl's mind. Simultaneously, then, with the recognition of the fact that there was a difference between her body and the world about her, there was a perception of the fact that this world, where it began for her, was divided, too.
Luella could not have much respect or love for such a silly, quarreling world. Earlier she did have. She knew, as all infants know, that through meeting this world, the coming to be of herself, her individuality, depended. Despite the suave bellicosities, and sometimes the flaring antagonisms of her mother and father, Luella saw her way, clambered her way, heard her way, touched her way to self-apprehension. This she had to do. She was a keen child and the impressions of the world went towards her; and she met them eagerly. Through taking to herself the externalities of reality, she came to know what she was; came to see herself as an entity in a universe of entities and combinations. But her conscious introduction into the world was not auspicious. Her curiosity was great, her disappointment was also great.
Both Lucia and Hibbard would flatter her. When she said: "I wish I was in the sky, I would tear your button off," this was taken as a very bright, poetic statement; and it was. What wasn't seen so well was Luella's desire to take away something, vengefully and correctingly, from her father. When Luella asked, at the age of two: "What's underneath your hair, mommy?"—this question was looked on as "cute"; and it was. What wasn't seen was the desire on Luella's part to get more inside her mother than the child was.
Anyway, the little girl couldn't see the world as entirely pleasant. Like Joe Johnson she interfered with the process of welcoming the world trustfully and eagerly. She, too, made a world for herself in opposition to her father and mother and everyone else. She began to be suspicious of the offerings of reality, she saw reality as an unfriendly interference. But she didn't like the seeing of existence as unfriendly. Beneath her recoiling from things, she wanted the love and belief in them she had in her first months of life. For, as I have said, no one can love the world more than a new-born child can. The very existence of the very self of the child depends on the successful love of objects by the child. There is no greater stake in the world than the existence of our selves as such; and this is the stake present in the life of the infant in its earliest days.
Lucia and Hibbard made much of the growing Luella. The child was "damnably clever," as a friend of Hibbard's once put it. Luella said that the hat of an aunt of Hibbard's looked like a towel. She asked once if people could wear shoes on their heads. She asked whether, if she kept it up, she could pull every hair from her head. She once told a little girl who had come to the house, that her father couldn't go to as many places as Hibbard could, because her mother didn't let him the way Luella's mother let her father. This was taken as quite funny and Luella was looked on as clever, much too clever.
Between the ages of two and three, Luella cultivated, quite noticeably, some hardly endurable qualities. Once, at the supper table, after having been silent in a sweet way, she began energetically pulling at the table-cloth. "Stop that, Luella," her mother said.— "I want to see what's underneath," Luella yelled; "I want to see how the candles look when they fall."
Luella was prevented from pulling the table-cloth from the table and from bringing the candles to the floor. There was nicely restrained consternation among the guests. There was silence for a while. Lucia, after taking her daughter's hands away from the table-cloth, stood over the child. Luella then uttered a yell distinctive of her, having in it both Indian warlikeness and a strange pain; said good-bye with a peculiar formality, and ran upstairs.
Luella stayed in her room and when her mother came to see her later she was fingering tranquilly a picture-book. Her mother said: "Well, Lu—." Luella interrupted her, saying: "I had to do it, Mom, and you know I had to do it." There was a look in her face as if she meant it. Lucia saw that look and couldn't say more than: "All right, go to bed. We'll see later."
The next morning the child did not want to talk about it; and neither did her parents. Lucia knew that Luella meant it when she said: "I had to do it"; and Hibbard got the idea by this time likewise. The sudden demolishing activities of Luella, they felt, did come from a deep source and in their fashion her parents respected that deep source. They didn't know what to do about it.
Luella's father and mother knew that she was nervous, knew that she was maladjusted, knew that she wanted to bring attention to herself, knew that she was tyrannical, knew that she was destructive; but didn't know why. They had spanked her, they had disregarded her when she didn't eat, they had let her go to her room, and they had taken no notice when she was conspicuously misbehaved. They had taken her to doctors, including two who were esteemed for their knowledge of children's maladies. They had tried to deal with their froward and unpredictable child sensibly. They are thinking now of placing Luella with another family related to them, or even in a nursery away from family. These two last measures are not considered too happily by the troubled parents. To use them would mean acknowledgment of defeat in a way that is hardly attractive to either. Meanwhile, the five year old goes her sporadic, staccato, and disconcerting way.
Father and mother are willing to make concessions to their rampageous child: they are willing even to grant that they have made mistakes; they are aware that their own lives, singly and together, are partly the cause of Luella's displeasing manifestations. They wish to understand the belligerent child; but they cannot go beyond a certain point; and the self of Luella insists that they do.
Lucia can't see that what Luella has wanted, is, basically, what Hibbard has wanted, and what she herself has wanted; that is, to be loved and still to be seen as a perceptive entity, as a being in herself; as Lucia without any family reservations whatsoever. Despite all the strivings of her mother and father, the child is still deeply seen as a biological incident, as an appurtenance of their own lives, as a field for the playing of their own personal histories.
The reason Lucia can't love Luella is the reason she can't love Hibbard. She cannot give herself to Luella except as her daughter; she cannot give herself to Hibbard except as her lover or husband. In other words, she can't give herself to either husband or daughter but as an enlargement of herself. Hibbard has his way of fighting this situation; and Luella has hers. As I have intimated before, we cannot love anyone truly while we don't see that person not only as ours, but as a stranger. For, as soon as we love a person because that person is ours, we are esteeming ourselves in a new way, and do not see the other being as wholly free. Luella, being insistently and keenly human, wants to be loved as a free person, not as a caressed province; her father and her mother want to be loved that way, too.
Luella, like Joe Johnson, knows that there is something inside her, something she is which her mother and father should see, welcome, bring forth, honor, and develop. It is this mystery in herself which troubles the child and which she wishes to come out in the open, happily and effectively. Luella, like older people, is up against the question of the fate of her whole personality. That personality is the thing in her, however intangible and inaccessible it may be.
Luella knows that she has a self, that this self is frantically beating at doors, fumbling with locks, restlessly trying to meet the sun; and to emerge. Her parents think of her from themselves out, are interested in having selected aspects of her self to function and be manifest. To be sure, the father and mother have thought considerably of personality; and they have said quite often to their friends that they do not wish to interfere with the personality of their daughter.
But they have already interfered, because of the way they look at themselves. Lucia wants to love Luella—but her notion of love is to have the person loved, subtly and preponderantly, subservient to herself. She felt this way before she married; before she became a mother; and there has been no reason in her life to change this attitude. Despite her modernity, to love a person means to her having that person gratifyingly subsidiary to her own life. She thinks she is greatly honoring a person when she permits that person to participate deeply in her own existence. But when that person participates, it is still as one human she has conquered, and taken to herself.
Lucia has tried to make a conquest of her daughter in the way that she has, up to a point, made a conquest of Hibbard. Hibbard has objected in ways that he doesn't fully know; and so has Luella. All this has troubled the mother, and she has had periods of profound misgiving. There have been times when Lucia has looked on herself and not liked what she saw. Hibbard also has disliked what he is. And these two beings, elevating and isolating themselves, conquering and pervading, have tried to take a new human being unto themselves—meanwhile distrusting the strange world she represents.
Well, when Luella pulls at table-cloths with company present, and wants to see candles fall, she is announcing to her parents and to others that this procedure of two adults won't do. She is staging an unconscious revolt against the spiritual acquisitiveness and also spiritual aloofness of the two most important beings in her life. If she annoys others, it is because she has been deeply disappointed and aggrieved by the two central representatives of that existence which takes in teachers, schoolmates, guests, relatives. She is saying to her parents, that the world which has been presented to her, through them, is a world she doesn't like and won't accept. She can't write letters to congressmen, nor does she know how to reach God successfully; and she can't leave home; so she yells, stamps her feet, asks strange questions, makes disconcerting statements, and annoys generally.
The great number of books on children points to the fact that there is a great question about the young inhabitants of earth which must be answered. Plato and Wordsworth thought that there was a wisdom which a new-born child was near—a wisdom implicit in the meaning of existence, and life, and death. We now talk of babies in terms of responses, blood counts, behavior patterns, nutrition, weight, sense-development, and the like. Beneath these terms there is the problem of self as such. The problem of self is another way of saying: the problem of reality.
And reality can be dealt with in terms of blood counts, nutrition, brain structure, light responses, and so on; but it also must be dealt with in itself. What self and reality are cannot be described simply in nutritional terms, or physiological terms, or even psychological terms in the narrow sense. You cannot describe a child just in terms of behavior, or day-to-day adjustment. There must be a notion of what the behavior as such comes from, and what it is all going towards.
One must answer the question: What is a human self after?—and that involves the question of: What is the existence of a self, and what is it for? Beneath all the eating, sleeping, crying, gurgling of a baby, is the meaning and general aim of the baby—which exists from the day of birth, no matter how unexpressed that meaning and aim is.
As I have said: The first purpose of a self is to be. It therefore has to be asked: What does it mean for a self to be? Again I must say, this question cannot be answered in nutritional terms, in simply sexual terms, in terms of blood count, brain structure; or with a narrow idea of "adjustment." The question can only be answered—whether doctors, nurses, mothers, psychologists, health-officials like it or no—aesthetically or philosophically.
A self wants to be, has to be, as free as it can; and a self wants to feel, has to feel, all it can. A baby at birth is pushing towards freedom and inclusiveness of perception. By this I mean that a baby wants to feel that it is; and at the same time, wants to feel all that is besides its own life. In logical terms, a baby wants to feel the utmost particularity and the utmost generality; it aims for uniqueness and it aims for indefinite diversity of response.
When Luella Hargreaves was born, she wanted to feel that she was—definitely, unquestionably, really; was one person, untrammeled, unhindered, unsmothered, unannexed by anything or anyone else. At the same time, Luella wanted knowledge; she wanted to affirm her relation with as many things as possible. A human being is simultaneously a free entity and an indefinite assemblage of relations. Luella wanted her mother to see to it that she had a clear notion of what she was—as different from any other thing; for after all, a thing or a person is one thing and one person, because it is different from anything else.
Luella also wanted her mother to be a means of her feeling a happy relation with as many objects as possible. This going towards freedom and relation, simultaneously, is to be seen in every child. A child wants to have a lucid, intense feeling of I, and a lucid, intense feeling of They. When Luella's mother told her, when she was twelve months old, that she was the prettiest baby in the world; and that evening put her aside hurriedly when a visitor came in, the mother was making for a disjunction between Luella's feelings for self and her feelings for other things. Lucia hugged Luella fervently while she was flattering the baby, and Luella got a feeling of tremendous snugness and importance. This feeling assisted the attitude of self-affirmation possible in the child; and Luella wanted to affirm herself. But when Luella's mother ceased to caress her when a visitor came in, she accented the competition between the trend in Luella towards the affirmation of herself and the trend in the child towards the affirmation of the existence of other things. Without knowing it, Lucia was helping to bring about the later fidgety state of her daughter.
When Luella was two years old, Lucia said: "You know, brat, you're about the slickest thing in the whole city." The next day Lucia said to Hibbard in Luella's hearing: "I do wish that our infant could have just a little of the control Dan and Helen's children have." When Luella was born she had no inevitable desire to think of herself in competition with other children, though she did wish, deep down, to come to a sense of her own unique being. Her problem was, like the problem of all, to arrive at her own uniqueness by welcoming the uniqueness of other beings. When her mother, at one time, dealt with her as if she were the only important person in the world, and, at another time, as if she were in some infantile war with other persons, a conflict as to herself was encouraged by the unknowingly fickle parent.
A child wants to esteem its parents; but it also wants to have a love for the full world as it may be met. Therefore, it is necessary for parents to bring out in children a love for themselves as parents, which is not disproportionate to a love for other things. Because children can affect their parents in ways that they cannot affect persons outside the family, a disproportion arises between the attitude towards parents (who represent the children) and the world outside the family. This does not help the attainment of freedom and inclusiveness. Luella sometimes heard her parents quarreling with each other; at other times she heard Lucia and Hibbard disparaging others. The situation then in Luella's mind was something like this: Lucia and Hibbard didn't like each other fully; but, at the same time they together could dislike other people, and in doing so seem to approve of each other. Now Luella was a keen child, and this accommodating hypocrisy didn't make her any too tranquil. What Lucia and Hibbard did not see was that Luella wanted to like herself, to like her parents, and to like, at least in a general way, the world beyond parents and self. Existence was presented to the child as a wavering hodgepodge.
Coming back to the basic ideas of freedom and inclusiveness: There is an aspect of freedom equivalent to selfishness in the usual sense. A child wants to be free, because it wants to feel that it is. Everything should be done to make the child feel that it can be free, while aware of what is coming to others, and of the possible freedom of others. The child, like the adult, meets the question of: How can I be free and give myself all that is coming to me, and yet give all that is coming to others? Once a decision is made in a child's mind that its own autonomy and happiness can be reached by disregard of outside things, selfishness, in the bad sense, is affirmed; and this selfishness is the ethical phase of that mental split and opposition which, from other points of view, may be neurosis or schizophrenia.
The only reason that an infant mind, or an adult mind, isolates itself or splits itself from other minds and things is because that way seems the only way available for freedom, for self-affirmation. And it is possible to see both neurosis and schizophrenia as having their beginning in the insufficient or corrupt answer to the question: How can one be free, and yet welcome and be affected by other things?
The confusion, for example, that Luella has had to meet has resulted at times in her rushing to her room and refusing to come out when called. She couldn't see how she was able to affirm her own freedom and yet meet the demands expressed and unexpressed of her parents and others. Once Lucia and Hibbard were quite surprised after Luella had gone off to her room in a huff, to see her smilingly come down the stairs later and hear her saying: "I forgive you, Mom, and don't forgive me yet." (Once more 1 must make it clear that Luella was an unusually keen child.)
Luella once pinched a little girl's leg very hard. The little girl cried. Luella told her mother: "I did an awful thing today, Mom. Could you buy me some candy 1 could bring Jean tomorrow and maybe some other time?" It should be noticed that the ethical behavior of children, like the ethical behavior of adults, all is concerned with the interaction of self and others. The question beneath the ethical behavior of Luella and everyone else in the world is: How can 1 be fair to myself, please myself, and at the same time be fair to everyone else?
Joe Johnson, then, and Luella Hargreaves, on the days they were born, faced the same problem that they will face no matter how old they become. Any attitude forced upon them or chosen by them, will affect all later attitudes or choices. For this reason it is clear that any inward decision taken in the earliest years has a great effect on later life. Yet there is nothing final or inevitable as to this later life. If Joe Johnson feels, as a child, that his environment doesn't make sense; that he has to evade; that in order to be free he has to be hostile, he will carry this feeling over to future years. Impressions do not leave one unless stronger impressions take their place. If Joe has a mistaken, wavering, inimical approach to what he meets, that approach will continue, if evidence which his unconscious can accept, invalidating the earlier approach, does not arrive. If Luella, in coming years, doesn't meet with new situations and occurrences strong enough to counterweigh the tremendous effect of the world as she has so far known it, she will carry her present attitudes with her just as she would carry a deep scar, an amputated finger, or a severe burn. These physical injuries, however, are surrounded by variables; and so, early decisions giving a trend to the personality are likewise changeable. The general truth, however, that what we are is what we have been, holds.
There will be a striving on Luella's part for order and diversity in her character. To be pleased deeply is to see the world in some kind of order. The desire of a child to be gratified—despite all that has been written to the seeming contrary—is also a desire for order; for gratification implies a harmony of one's organism with an object. We—children, adults, and aged alike—are pleased when there is a fit blending of ourselves, our feelings, with something else. A fit blending is a harmonious blending; a harmonious blending implies order.
It has been said that children are savages, "amoral," impulsively selfish, because all they are after is gratification (the word gratification has taken on a needless quality of psychological and psychoanalytical melodrama). When Luella was born she certainly wanted to be pleased with the world; but she had no unchangeable blueprint towards pleasure. She wasn't insistent on just how the being pleased should occur. She wished to find herself in some interaction with things that would be at once harmonious and alive; orderly, yet not stunting or denying. This desire in itself is definitely a logical one. If this general desire becomes hurtful to people, ugly, distorted, it isn't because there is an unchangeable insistence on gratification that isn't just.
To wish to be pleased is a desire to be fair to oneself; and that desire is both ethical and logical. It is easy to see a drive towards logic in a young child. There are tremendous impediments to that drive; beneath the impediments is the desire itself, akin to beauty and justice. For one of the inherent things in ethics is the desire to please oneself. If one doesn't please oneself deeply and comprehensively, one is not "unselfish," well-behaved, adjusted; one is unethical. It needs to be repeated: To be ethical is to give oneself what is coming to one by giving what is coming to other things. To give oneself what is coming to one, is to enable oneself to grow, to meet objects accurately, to blend with externals fortunately, to meet the world felicitously; that is, to be happy. To be happy, put otherwise, is an ethical obligation. If one is not happy, one cannot be just to other things. Therefore, for a child to aim after gratification is not in itself an indication of undiscipline, inconsiderateness, "amorality."
A child's body is an organization, the principle of which is order. To be alive is to have some order. The relation of brain, heart, liver, blood, bones, and so on, as we find it in every living being, including the diseased, is basically orderly. Where it isn't orderly, there is still a trend within the organism towards order. Where the trend towards order meets opposition, there is pain. To be alive, then, is to be organized; and there is no reason for assuming the existence of a decisive trend within an essential aspect of life—mind—making for disorder. A child's body depends for its health on its accurate involvement with the world about it; that is, its environment, in the fullest sense. Wherever there is an inaccuracy, deficiency, excess, or confusion in the bodily involvement of an infant with its environment, a condition making for disease has taken place. A diseased body is one which is quantitatively hindered in its full involvement with its environment. A lack of order within a body makes for inaccurate relations with environment. Inaccurate relations with environment make for a lack of order within a body or self. What the child's mind is after is what the other aspect of itself, its body, is after. The mind wishes definition, diversity of response and action; and so does the body. To have diversity and definition or oneness of response, is to possess organization or order. The infant desires this as much as (perhaps more than) a Supreme Court judge or the lady dean of a college.
If a child is frustrated, it is because the fundamental life procedure in it of becoming an integrity, simultaneously with meeting life at more and more points, has met interference: interference which it combats most often murkily or blindly by attack, or withdrawal—or confusion, having in it both attack and withdrawal.
The purpose of education is to bring to the child's desire for order and diversity, fit material through which this desire can operate. A parent or teacher does not bring order to a child as he might bring an apple. It is the duty of a parent or teacher, humbly and respectfully, to see that the desire for full accuracy already existing in a child not be blunted or distorted. For this, an understanding of what mind and self as such are, is necessary. One may say this is hard to know; this is a metaphysical problem. Yet the difficulty of the problem does not destroy the necessity for meeting it.
When Joe Johnson was born, there was something he was after. The force in him that made his heart beat, had purpose to it. His possibilities were his purpose. If we don't know what these possibilities are or what that purpose is, we should honestly say that we are working basically in the dark. We know that Joe wanted to be well. The question is: Well for what? We know that he wanted to have a good metabolism: A good metabolism for what? We know that very likely he wanted to learn the alphabet: The alphabet for what? We know that he wanted to get along with other children and other people: To get along for what? If that deepest purpose, even though he and we do not see it clearly, is deflected or injured, the self of Joe Johnson will not be at ease. If it isn't at ease it will retaliate.
I have said earlier that the principal desire of every human being is to know; that is, to have reality in mind. To know the world is to be at one with it; and this means to be happy. I believe that every activity of the child has something to do with the desire to know. For example, if a child sucks its thumb, there is a desire on its part to know what its self is like. We say that someone enjoyed himself at a theatre or concert; the phrase enjoyed himself has in it some kind of new knowledge. We enjoy ourselves when we find something new about ourselves, and can make it continuous, at one, with what we already know.
A child enjoys itself by sucking its thumb. Let us say that there is sex in this. But wherever there is sex, there is also knowledge. Wherever there is enjoyment, there is also knowledge. And so if Josepha Jordan, age thirty, enjoys herself at the theatre and Joe Johnson, age ten months, enjoys himself by sucking his thumb, there is knowledge present in both personal events.
We find that an infant wants to be aware of its own body. It will touch itself, manipulate itself. Why is it necessary to give this procedure all kinds of sinister autoerotic, or sexual meanings, when an injunction present in all history has been: Know thyself? If there are better ways of knowing oneself available to Joe Johnson than sucking his thumb, well, Joe is wrong because a just purpose of his could have been achieved in a more efficient way. Yet the drive behind putting his thumb in his mouth should still be honored. We all have within us a tremendous urge to know who we are, what we are, how we are.
A baby has that urge with great strength. It will use the means available to satisfy itself. If Joe were to disassociate the knowledge of himself which he received by having his thumb in his mouth, from the knowledge he received by hearing new sounds or touching a new toy, this would be bad because the method of self-knowledge employed by him would be incomplete. It could very well be that, disappointed in finding out gracefully and pleasantly what certain external things were, Joe might make up for this lack of knowledge elsewhere by an over-intense interest in himself. This is unfortunate, but the same thing has occurred with persons much older than he. It is important, then, to have a clear notion of personality where it concerns the infant—and, of course, persons other than infants. Personality is how a self takes what it meets. There is power in personality and there is desire; and there is an interaction of power and desire. The infant, like other people, does not know its own desires; that is, what it is going after. Every desire, in so far as it is unknown, is instinctive or unconscious. Yet the fact that the desire is unknown does not lessen its actuality. Infants, like older persons, face the constant job of knowing what they desire. They cannot know their desires unless they know the world these desires come from, and through which these desires will be met—if they are met. Infants, then, want to know—as adults do—themselves and everything else at once.
Copyright © 1981 by Definition Press
Links to more chapters from Self and World are below: