Shame in Richard Ford’s “Children”

“Though just from her voice then I could tell this didn’t matter to her.  Shame didn’t mean any more to her than some other way you could feel on a day–like feeling tired or cold or crying.  It went away, finally.  And I thought that I would like to feel that way about shame if I could.” (“Children,” p. 86)

This passage struck me and was my favorite from the story.  I think it has a lot to do with the title, “Children,” in which we see the different ways in which each character is a child, in which way each character is an adult.  This statement about Lucy got me curious and I started thinking.  I got the idea that George thought of Lucy as an adult despite her age, and that he was attributing her quality to not care to being more mature.  But is it?  Shame is something we often feel as children, and I know I still experience it frequently as a 2o-year-old.  But how do adults experience shame?  I couldn’t tell you because I’m not one, but I wonder if they handle it differently than children.  Does she feel shame but try and give off the impression that she doesn’t and George just can’t read it, or is she really the kind of person who doesn’t get bothered by things in the world anymore because she has seen and done so much worse that she is desensitized to it so it didn’t stick around like it does for the rest of us?  Because that’s the worst part about shame, and what just makes it shame instead of humiliation and regret all balled up into one, it sticks around a good long while.  This made me think about the relationships between all of them although I’m not sure I have them quite figured out yet, I get the feeling that while George may act the least like a child, to me anyway, he is missing something his friends understand.

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3 Responses to Shame in Richard Ford’s “Children”

  1. allisonstansberry says:

    I think that it was the opposite for me in saying “that while George may act the least like a child, to me anyway, he is missing something his friends understand.” To me, George is thinking, and so is Lucy. Claude may seem like he is at the end but he really isn’t. The foreshadowing of the whitefish show some insight into that because they are fishing (especially Claude) for worthless fish for nothing. They don’t need to the fish but they are slowly killing them with their actions- not unlike how Sherman treats everyone else. What makes this most apparent though is the detail that Ford gives us into the characters and also into the circumstance. The story gives us insight into these things though. We begin to understand these characters and who they are because of their actions and what they do. Who are these people? Why have they chosen to do these things?

    The reader doesn’t really know anything about Lucy except that she is young and has been out in the world for two days by herself. I think that this is a great fete to make the reader so interested in a character that you don’t even really know. I think that shame is a varied and strong point for their lives, but I think the reason George doesn’t feel any shame is because he is the good spirit in this story. Lucy and Claude have done some things that don’t seem to be right and which they have to live with. There is something about shame that stays for such a long time, not only on the judgement by the outside world as Ford talks about but also the regret that comes with the world. I really enjoyed this story because of the little anticodes about the characters as well as the insight that is given to us.

  2. brittanyfox says:

    As I think about “Children”, I find myself revisiting Ford’s character, Lucy. She seems to be a person who is stuck between adolescence and womanhood. At age 16, she is technically still a child, despite her exposure to an adult world. The story’s narrator, George, seems to view her as being more of an adult, attributing self acceptance and shamelessness to maturity. She has openly stated that she has acted shamefully, but I do not think George is reliable when judging whether or not she feels shame. He does not have the ability to get inside Lucy’s head to fully understand.

    I find that Lucy’s character haunts me a little bit. Perhaps it is due to the degree of mystery that surrounds her mere existence. Because the story is told from George’s point of view, the information we are given on her character is limited. I think she is similar to an onion, and I want to peel back her layers to better understand why she seems so comfortable with running away from home and sleeping with an older, married man, etc. I do not like this character, but I do feel sympathy for her.

    • libbyhannon says:

      Brittany, I agree with you about the fact that the characters stuck between adolescence and adulthood, especially in terms of Claude and George “Children” is a coming of age story, but isn’t truly about childhood at all; it consists of the state of ‘inbetween-ness’ that the narrator George and his friend Claude are experiencing.
      Here are these two boys, who experience law breaking, violence, cruelty, and the need to prove oneself as a man (shocking topics for Ford, I know). Watching these two, we wonder where they will end up in life. Will they turn to the ways of their fathers, a violent, cruel man in one case or a deceitful adulterer in the other, or will they find some other avenue? Claude seems to be following his father; the fact that he sleeps with Lucy seems less like the move of an awkward young man and more like a son trying to assert dominance over his father by ‘taking’ his woman. We also see him try to assert dominance over Lucy and George, when he threatens to kill Lucy several times and mocks George in front of her. George seems on a slightly more even keel, but this is simply because we have a view into his mind. He is the one who converses in more depth with Lucy, about other people’s judgements, shame, and secrets, showing that he is more aptly able to express his feelings than Claude. In the end, the narrator looks back, and his final lines are that, “We were simply young,” which they were. They just weren’t “Children” anymore.

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