Write about how one character from Morris Lurie’s ‘Pride and Joy’ is presented and how this character develops key concerns in the story.
Billy in Morris Lurie’s ‘Pride and Joy’ is initially presented as a 16 year old boy who literally lives his life in the footsteps of his abusive, irresponsible, bohemian father, Ned Mathews. By the end of the story Billy’s character has undergone a transformation to become his own person; he has broken away from his father. This short story is told in first person narrative by an anonymous narrator. This narrator is a tourist on an island in the “Great Barrier Reef” who tells his account of his encounter with millionaire Ned Mathews and his son, Billy. Through his characterization of Billy, Morris Lurie conveys themes of self realization, responsibility, judgment, and parenting. This essay will show how Billy’s characterization develops Morris Lurie’s themes.
Wealth, ownership, control and his desire for his father’s approval shows how Lurie, through his characterization of Billy conveys his theme of lifestyle choices. Ever since Billy and his father come to the island they act like they own everything and everyone on it. When they go to eat breakfast in the morning, Billy deals with the “very pretty” waitress like she is a prostitute, “‘What’s ya name, honey? he said ‘Why?’ said the girl. ‘I always like to know the names of the girls I sleep with.”
Lurie’s use of a colloquial language and inappropriate language such as ‘honey’ and ‘sleep with’ during Billy’s dialogue with a waitress show his desire to control a situation and to please his father; “‘Easy, son’ said Mathews, but his face was beaming with pride. Billy’s self-confident and commanding swagger, “He [Billy] walked with an exaggerated swagger” is an example of a movement which Lurie associates with Billy to show yet another aspect of his desire to dominate over everyone else in the restaurant. By exploring Billy’s inappropriate choice of lifestyle in great detail, Lurie expresses his theme, which is to take care when choosing your lifestyle.
Billy’s desire to please his father and to control is reiterated by the motif of alcohol. Billy is too young to be drinking as much alcohol as he does, yet he does and he does it to please his father and to control by demonstrating that he is able to drink as much as his father. This is shown in the quotation, “His son [Billy] matched him drink for drink.” Lurie’s use of the narrator’s voice is very significant here because the narrator is presented to readers as very moral and sensible, so when the narrator talks about a boy drinking as much as a man we worry. This concern is further addressed by the narrative voice in the line, “I watched the boy. How long could he last? I thought. How long could he keep it up?” and also when he thinks, “Don’t tell me Billy is outdrinking him. I thought. His own son. His own pride and joy.” The pace is significantly sped up during these two quotations by the shorter more choppy sentences.
This serves two purposes, first it makes the passage stand out from the rest of the paragraph and second it permits the narrator to clearly state his point. The repetition of “I though” in both quotations creates an effective link of the two quotations. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the meaning of the two quotes are linked and that the narrator is wondering if Ned Mathew’s own ‘ride and joy’, his son Billy is already better at living the life of a spoiled, rude man than Ned Mathews. This is ironic because Billy is just a boy, so of course the narrator wonders “How long can he keep it up?” Another example is, “‘When are we going to have some real drinking, Dad?’… ‘I thought you told me we was gonna have some real fun.'”
Billy’s arrogance and the awkwardness of having an adolescent talking about drinking with his father really shines through here. He is almost criticizing his father because he has not had any “real drinking”. Lurie employs dialogue and colloquial diction such as “we was” to make the conversation sound even more out of place. Lurie’s selection of alcohol as a motif in the story is important because alcohol has negative connotations and is illegal for adolescents to buy. By associating Billy with alcohol Lurie is implying that the life he is living where alcohol is a daily part of his routine is not suiting.
Through Billy, Lurie evokes a theme of self realization which results in Billy’s character development. The first time there is evidence of this change in character is when Billy meets “the Princess” and eventually when he “started to cry” after him and his father got into a fight over his father’s abuse of “the Princess”. The most blatant example of this change however comes from Billy’s request for “tea” as opposed to the routine “coffee and beer”, “‘Not for me,’ said Billy, in a voice I had never heard him use before. A young boy’s voice. ‘Can I have’…. ‘a cup of tea?'” In this quotation Lurie utilizes related diction such as “Can” which has connotations of manners and kindness.
Even the narrator recognizes Billy’s character development because he states that Billy spoke in a “young boy’s voice” which is a voice he had not spoken in before. The narrator is referring to Billy’s transgression from a boy who acts like an indecorous adult to a boy who acts like a “young boy”. There is also more subtle evidence of Billy’s character development in the text. The adjectives and adverbs change to correspond with the two different aspects of Billy’s character. In the first part of the text adjective and adverbs such as “bleary” and “cocky then in the second part of the short story Lurie uses a new selection of adjectives and adverbs such as, “neat”, “polite” and “young”.
Lurie’s ability to reveal Billy through three different viewpoints: his father’s, the narrators and Billy’s own view of himself gives different perspectives to his character which helps position the readers to the themes of the short story. The overwhelming amount of dialogue in this text between Billy and his father Ned Mathews shows Billy and his father’s view that everything revolves around them. They are the only voice, which is heard in the story through dialogue despite the fact that there are roughly 80 other people on the island.
The movements and actions of Billy convey part of his character. Billy’s actions are often direct or closely linked to the actions of his father. This shows the way that Billy looks up to the actions of his father, and how his father will abuse that respect throughout the story. Directly after his father tells the bartender to get “off his fat behind” and give a bit of service Billy says, “Yeah, shake it up there.” This quotation creates a nice image of the typical clichï¿½ where a father says something and then his son repeats it. Except Billy is mimicking a very offensive and inappropriate thing that his father just said.
This shows the reader how Ned Mathews is a inconsiderate role model and a poor parent. Through Billy’s actions Lurie also shows that Billy is not prepared to live the lifestyle of his father. “The boy I noticed had to take a breath half way down.” This quotations refers to the fact that Billy cannot drink all of the beer in one “gulp” when his father can as proof that his father’s life is not necessarily appropriate for him. This concern of Billy not being suited for his father’s life is restated by the narrator when he wonders, “How long can he last?”
Through Billy, Lurie is able to express his themes and concerns in an interesting and realistic manner. The themes and concerns developed in ‘Pride and Joy’ may appear to be very simple and obvious but that by no means makes them less important. Themes such as self realization, responsibility, judgment, and parenting are very significant in everyone’s lives.