Anne Tyler’s “Teenage Wasteland”, chronicles the anguish of Daisy, the mother of, Donny, an obstinate and misunderstood teenager, as she attempts to ascertain and resolve his intensification of delinquent behavior. Donny’s difficulties both academically, and socially, have resulted in the principle of the school advising Daisy to seek professional support for Donny. As the story progresses, Donny remains alienated from his mother in spite of her apparent misguided efforts to help and too understand him. Adolescence is a most difficult time for the teen and the parents. The teen feels pressure from his peers, parents and teachers that can be overwhelming. He sees nothing but His own pain and cannot begin to envision His parent’s point-of-view. Conversely, parents often times either cannot, or refuse to try to understand what the adolescent is facing. The result, as in the story, is each placing the blame on the other for the turbulence in their lives with no positive outcome.
It seems that Donny is determined not to make peace with his mother. With the advent of a tutor, Calvin Beadle, Donny appears to be making positive improvement both in mood and social outlook, though he remains estranged from his mother. At school, several of the teachers said they had “…noticed how his attitude’s changed:” however, Tyler informs us that, “At home, Donny didn’t act much different.”
One issue with Donny was that he wanted his parents to trust him, yet he did not want to take responsibility for his actions, always laying the blame on someone else. When his mother questioned him about the beer found in his locker, which led to his expulsion, Donny’s response was “It wasn’t my fault. I promise.” Instead of admitting his wrongdoing, he laid the blame on someone else: “It was a put-up job! See, there’s this guy that doesn’t like me.”
Daisy, as do many parents at times, worried more about how she looked in someone else’s eyes than about her son: “…before her children were born, Daisy had been a forth-grade teacher. It shamed her now to sit before this principal as a parent, a parent who struck Mr. Lanham, no doubt, as unseeing or uncaring. Like Donny, she was thinking more about herself than she was about finding a mature and responsible solution to their problems and saving their increasingly deteriorating relationship.
Contributing to the decimation of Daisy and Donny’s relationship is Cal, Donny’s tutor. Instead of being an authoritative figure, as the psychologist leads Daisy to believe, he is really just an adolescent in disguise; an adult who, like Peter Pan, never wanted to grow-up, and never did. As the young girl in the story, Miriam said “…gosh, he’s not like a grown-up at all!” He surrounded himself with children professing to help them when in reality, what he was doing was satisfying his own immature needs at the expense of the children and their family’s.
In any relationship, it is essential that both parties commit equally to the nurturing of that relationship and take responsibility for their own actions. Understanding and communication play an indispensable role in achieving a healthy appreciation of each other’s needs and subsequently, a satisfying and happy family life, unlike the family in this story.
Copyright © 2003, D L Ennis
Note: Giving students something to think about…