Single Parents Can Be Singular Characters

A single parent in literature often draws our sympathy.

That person may be depressed about the death of a spouse, angry after a difficult divorce, worried about money, nervous about dating, and more. Amid all that, they’re raising a child or children — which can be wonderful, yet especially challenging and exhausting without a partner to help. Plenty of dramatic fodder for novels and other literary works!

As readers, we might also relate to single-parent protagonists if we’re current or former single parents ourselves (I was among that group). Also, readers in bad marriages or with ailing spouses know that solo parenthood could come their way — making fictional single parents possible models for real-life behavior to embrace or avoid.

Of course, how much sympathy we feel for fictional parents without partners partly depends on those characters’, well, character. Some of literature’s single moms and dads are quite unlikable.

But that’s not the case with Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, which I recently reread. He’s tremendously admirable — as an attorney fighting racial injustice, and as a widowed father. Atticus’ legal and legislative work keeps him away from home fairly often, but his parenting is patient, affectionate, and at times firm but never harsh. Plus he made sure to have a competent “surrogate mother” (the housekeeper Calpurnia) for his kids Scout and Jem.

Then there are other kinds of injustice — as when Hester Prynne is ostracized in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter after her daughter Pearl is born out of wedlock. But like Atticus (who has an A in his name rather than on his clothes), Hester is a great parent and person.

There’s also the injustice of being unfairly detained in a mental institution — as happens to the loving, impoverished single mother Connie Ramos, whose daughter is taken away in Marge Piercy’s partly sci-fi Woman on the Edge of Time.

In a happier scenario, a vacationing single parent meets a charming younger man in Terry McMillan’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back. That woman is divorced investment analyst Stella Payne.

Moving back to the 19th century, we have Helen Lawrence Huntington — who, with her young son, flees abusive and alcoholic husband Arthur in Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Helen acted very courageously during a time when most women had little choice but to stay in rotten marriages.

Silas Marner, in the George Eliot novel named after him, unexpectedly becomes the adopted father of the girl Eppie. The miserly, melancholy Silas doesn’t initially seem like an ideal candidate to be a stellar single dad, but…

Eliot also created Lisbeth Bede, the mother in Adam Bede who’s eventually widowed. Lisbeth is likable, though perhaps a bit too “clingy” with her adult sons Adam and Seth.

Harder to categorize in terms of likability is the widowed mother who kicks out and disinherits her son in Herman Melville’s controversial Pierre, a critical and sales disaster when published but a rather fascinating novel. The mother had a pretty good reason for doing what she did, but…

James Fenimore Cooper featured more than one widowed father of daughters in his “Leatherstocking” novels, with those dads ranging from sympathetic to mixed in their behavior.

Jane Austen also created a mixed bag of a widower in her Emma novel (the friendly but hypochondriacal Henry Woodhouse) and a less-appealing widower in Persuasion (Anne Elliot’s vain, materialistic father Walter).

The Ida Mancuso character in Elsa Morante’s History doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, but she’s too tired, scared, and bewildered to be a better single mother to her two sons as she grapples with all kinds of hardships in World War II Italy.

Of course, there are some single parents loathed by readers. One is the buffoonish and irresponsible Fyodor Karamazov, who’s a crummy father to the three titular siblings in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Also unsympathetic is the ambitious and violent Esteban Trueba, who becomes a widower in Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. Negative in a more subtle way is the passive-aggressive Gilbert Osmond, father of Pansy in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady.

Hmm…seems like I included more widowed than divorced parents in this post. There was certainly less divorce before our modern era, and thus less divorce in older fiction.

Who do you think are some of the most memorable single parents in literature?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area โ€” unless youโ€™re replying to someone else. Also, please feel free to read through comments and reply to anyone you want; I love not only being in conversations, but also reading conversations in which I’m not involved!)

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m also in the middle of writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

344 thoughts on “Single Parents Can Be Singular Characters

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    • can we included single grandparents ?
      Who asked You ? by terry McMillan is a good one. Main character is a little annoying at first but she really changes for the better over time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You certainly can, Kristy! ๐Ÿ™‚

        I haven’t read the Terry McMillan book you mention, but thought her “Waiting to Exhale” and “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” novels were excellent.

        There are plenty of single grandparents around — in real life and literature — and there may be more per capita in the black community than the white community.

        Thanks for commenting, and I hope you’re doing well!

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  2. Dave…Client by John Grisham…a fast moving thriller. The story begins with eleven-year-old Mark Sway and his younger brother, Ricky they lived with their single mother Diane in the mobile home park.
    Mark witnessed a suicide plot then tried to save the guy and heard some secrets from him ..after some cat and mouse game as he was chased down Mark hires Regina “Reggie” Love, a lawyer and recovering alcoholic, to help.

    I read the book some years ago and then there was a movies based on the story.
    One of the best thriller by Grisham.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave, I was paging through the comments tonight — what wide-ranging subjects from movies to music to baseball to beer — but I found one that I missed before about Anne Lamott’s book that you got at the library. I haven’t read “Blue Shoe,” but I just finished reading two other books by her, both were memoirs, one about the first year of her son and the other about the first year of her grandson. I loved them both, and I think she is a better memoirist than a novelist, at least based on what I’ve read so far. I was excited to learn that she has a new non-fiction book out that I wanted to download, but was disappointed to learn that it’s not yet published and I had to “pre-order” it..

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      • Thanks for your two comments, Kat Lib! I agree — a very wide-ranging and enjoyable bunch of conversations! (One of them inspired by your admirable sojourn to Wisconsin. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

        Interesting that Anne Lamott may be a better memoirist than novelist, though I’m sure she’s great at the latter, too. As we’ve discussed, there are definitely some similarities between those two kinds of books.

        It might be a couple of weeks or so before I get to “Blue Shoe,” but I’ll let you know what I think!

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  4. Countless wonderful musical treatments of this theme ,particularly in folk and blues but it was a country classic that occurred to me first. Mama Tried- Merle Haggard ” Dear old Daddy rest his soul left my mom a heavy load she tried so very hard to fill his shoes, working hours without rest,wanted me to have the best she tried to raise me right but I refused/ And I turned twenty one in prison doing life without parole ,no one could steer me right but mama tried…” Below the Grateful Dead’s version from the legendary 5/8/77 Barton Hall show, appropriately enough it was on Mothers Day.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edIw2SSmUaM

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  5. One of the things I love about this blog is how it sends one back to old favorites often to come away with new views and perspectives to boot. Trying to come up with an example of a single mother and also curious if I could recall any literary role reversals on the topic led me to the same novel Aharon Appelfeld’s To The Land of the Cattails. The work of the Israeli writer and Holocaust survivor is far beyond my powers of analysis and description to do justice to especially since any kind of superlatives ,however well deserved, feel wrong considering the subject matter. His novels always deal with Central/Eastern Europe either on the cusp or immediate aftermath of a War that is never mentioned and the crimes of an evil never named. In the above novel an assimilated Jewish single mother has raised her son more or less haphazardly since she left his brutal Gentile father when the boy was three. It is 1938 in Vienna and a bequest from one of her many lovers presents her with a rare state of options and independence . She conceives of a vague idea to return home to her estranged family somewhere east and introduce her now adolescent son to his Jewish roots and grand parents whom he’s never met. The journey that follows is an indescribable combination of the banal and the surreal growing more and more ominous with every kilometer traveled. As the confused mother withdraws further into herself her mostly wild son is forced to take control and in a sense become the parent or authority figure. The novel ends in a burst of confusing irony and metaphor as they are hopefully awaiting a train to where or what the reader who knows all the implied history never mentioned is left to surmise. I for one was equally convinced they made it to Israel and were victims of the greatest horror ever perpetrated by a state on a people. This of course is logically impossible yet I’m sticking to it.

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    • Thanks, Donny, for the kind words about the blog and about all the great comments that go with the blog! Those comments do really make a person think and re-think things — including novels we’ve read in the past.

      I was not familiar with Aharon Appelfeld or his novel “To The Land of the Cattails.” Sounds like an amazing book, and kudos for your superb summary of it. Now on my hopelessly huge list. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Novels set during or just before World War II — whether written by Erich Maria Remarque, Elsa Morante, William Styron, or others — can really pack a emotional wallop.

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      • For some undoubtedly perverse reason, after I saw the Disney movie at around four, I tried with a bit of white wrapping paper and a red ribbon, to fashion a redcoat wig for myself, which worked well enough for a minute or so, during which time I marched out in the yard with a length of plumbing pipe for a musket. Must have been out of fear of the effects of molten metal…

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          • Yep. I have always suspected, though it shames me a bit, that I would have been a loyalist in the American Revolution. Thankfully, my ancestors in Va. were made of sterner stuff.

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                • And here I was thinking you were the great-grandson of Lady Astor–

                  Lady Astor: Mr. Churchill, you are drunk!
                  Churchill: And you, madame, are ugly. Tomorrow I shall be sober.

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                  • Ha ha! Winston Churchill certainly knew his way around a quip.

                    My immigrating paternal grandfather changed his last name, or some official changed it for him, at Ellis Island. Don’t know what the original name was before it was shortened and ultra-Anglicized.

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                    • Can’t reply to the comment re JJ Astor below, so:

                      In New York City, at the Astor Place subway station, there are tiles of beavers, in honor of JJ Astor’s original activity– fur trading– that was the foundation to a fortune he made much larger by investing in NYC real estate. I wonder how many who go in and out of that hole in the ground are aware of the significance of the tile beavers there. My bet: few.

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                    • I do like your line below re iceberg…

                      Wonder if you could find that name via research? I’d be interested to know, if I were you.

                      On the other extreme, my father was a downright crank in the field of genealogy, and could be counted on to say too much on the subject too often. Now that he has reached great age (88), he is more generally subdued, and I draw him out by referring to ancestry…

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Thanks, jhNY!

                      I worked for eight years at a big office building across from that subway station, and never thought much about those beaver tiles. Guess my “namesake” built a fortune on animal suffering!

                      I imagine I could find my real ancestral name if I did some dogged research. I’m curious, but not curious enough to devote the time and energy.

                      Your father is the same age as my mother! But she’s not much into genealogy, as far as I know.

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  6. Shel Silverstein, author of my all-time favorite children’s book Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book, or at least it was when I happened on it aged ten, is also the fellow who penned the deathless Johnny Cash classic, A Boy Named Sue, which I think is a rhyming paen to a single father’s clever provision for his boy, given that he was going to be a most absent father, turning up only in the last verse in the middle of a bar fight with Sue.

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    • jhNY, I didn’t realize Shel Silverstein wrote “A Boy Named Sue”! That was quite a song, of the gimmick variety. Toughening up one’s son by naming him Sue? Don’t think so. The father should be glad that Sue didn’t…sue. ๐Ÿ™‚

      As far as Silverstein’s books go, I was a big fan of “The Giving Tree” back when my older daughter was reading it.

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    • He was for a time, a fixture at a music club where I often played in Nashville, the Exit/In– entirely bald, with beard as black as pitch, and swarthy. He stood out effortlessly among the many paler shades of white therein. He was successful enough as a songwriter that it could be called his second career, after Playboy and his several finely-drawn books. I believe he also wrote Captain Hook’s hit, “The Cover of the Rolling Stone.”

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      • I remember “The Cover of the Rolling Stone,” too! Shel Silverstein was certainly clever, and multitalented. And, as you say, he did have “a look.”

        Great that you played in Nashville during your musical career!

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        • It’s where I started from– and my greatest claim to fame there to date: I once played dobro on a Hank Snow Lp. (Henry Gibson played a very Snow-like character in Altman’s Nashville– for cultural ref.)

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            • He was Canadian, which I should have brought into our discussion of authors Canadian, which included a sub-section of thoughts on Canadian musicians. In his early years, he was known as ‘The Singing Ranger’, and like another old time favorite, my very favorite old-timer, Ernest Tubb, he was a devotee of “the late great Jimmie Rodgers”, himself known as the ‘Singing Brakeman.’

              Biggest hit: I’m Movin’ On, which has been covered by Ray Charles and the Rolling Stones.

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                • I don’t think so– but I’m sure there may be some I don’t know– my interest, such as it is, ends somewhere in the 70’s at the latest, and I’m sure Canadians have been busy in country since.

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                    • The baseball thread is maxed, so:

                      I agree re Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose, player, not Pete Rose manager and gambling guy. Both should be in the Hall.

                      But I also think that baseball which has historically been the most stat-driven of our major sports has done itself no service with the steroid scandals, driven largely, I contend by self-appointed purists who are also stat-obsessed. But the stats are a poor foundation on which to build.

                      Consider: wool worsted uniforms, no air conditioning anyplace, traveling over many long listless hours by bus or train, no weight rooms, nothing beyond liniment in the trainer’s bag, stadium dimensions without parallels in modern times, having to work conventional jobs over the winter. Plus fat-fingered gloves, a higher mound, a deader ball.

                      Do such conditions remind you of the modern game? Yet the men who played before 1950 endured all these things and more– should their achievements be measured, without some sort of offset, against the ballplayers of today? I say, nope, but we do it. We should stop.

                      Then there’s the ugly shadow over all the old time stats– no black players, so all stats are skewed by virtue of measuring from a purposefully reduced sample, the result being a more mediocre game.

                      Also: no drug testing of any kind. Think nobody in the game snorted cocaine in the 20’s? Hollywood stars did it; I think some baseball players might have.

                      Then there’s the drinking: how many showed up half in the bag after a big night? How many sneaked a nip during a game?

                      What about greenies? Amphetamines, by the 50’s, were left around the clubhouses in big bowls. Till a few years ago. Think they might have done things, good and bad, to player performance, enough to skew stats? I do.

                      The Year of the Homer, when everybody hit ’em out of the park, was also the year after the last strike. Management and personnel were both very much afraid their tiff had spoiled the game for the fanbase. (In Canada, it seems to have done so). No one clapped more enthusiastically than Bud Selig et al as all the fat-heads circled the bases.

                      Mark McGuire, a man known to be too brittle to endure seasons without injury, suddenly became huge and healthy. He broke the Babe’s record under influence. His competition saw his success, and wanted it for themselves, or, as in Bonds’ case, wanted to eclipse it with his own. And that’s what he should have wanted, given his unique talent for the game.

                      Then there’s the tragedy of A-Rod, a young man who felt he had to use those PEDs to guarantee a stellar career, despite his prowess without. He was playing to win against a field of more PED users than we’ll ever have the names of.

                      And what about recovery time from injury? Steroids were especially useful then, but mostly unmonitored during the healing process. We’ll never know how many sore and dead arms returned to the field thanks to them.

                      Baseball and sports in general have always been like that: players at every stage of their careers looking for an edge, any edge, at any nearly any long-term cost. And owners looking to put fannies in seats, the most reliable way being the home run ball, by all means necessary.

                      I think PEDs will always haunt the game, soon in forms that may never be detectable. And I think differences in playing conditions, etc., as listed above, make stats over the history of the game, meaningless mostly.

                      We should let baseball as a site for moral lessons wither, and get on with the game.

                      But the last guy to get into the Hall of them all? Bud Selig, so long as players in his era are denied.

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                    • jhNY, I wholeheartedly agree on Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe, and how you phrased that.

                      I also agree that statistics, while they do say something, have to be taken with a grain of salt. Especially when they are compared between eras — for all the reasons you mentioned. As you note, no black players being allowed in the majors before Jackie Robinson in 1947 skewed the heck out of stats before that year. Josh Gibson probably would have broken Babe Ruth’s home-run record, and Satchel Paige could have won as many games as Cy Young or Walter Johnson.

                      Also very true — looking to baseball (and other big-business professional sports) for morality and role models is a fool’s game.

                      And I totally concur: If no steroid guys get in the Hall of Fame, then Bud Selig shouldn’t, either. He did indeed look the other way while the Popeye-like McGwire and others were cheating.

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                    • I recorded at the same studio he did– Quadrophonic in Nashville– while he was making “Harvest”, a country-tinged affair, complete, most if not all songs, with pedal steel. But he was more like Dylan, in that he drew from the genre but a bit and made something of his own out of it.

                      He was one angst-exuding guy back then. One day as I was leaving the studio, he was coming in, carrying two bags of groceries up the walk as if Sisyphus had nothing on him.

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                    • jhNY, my apologies for not replying sooner. I was over a friend’s house for a couple of hours watching the “To Kill a Mockingbird” movie for the first time! Several commenters here (including bebe, Mary Harris, and HopeWFaith) had wisely urged me to finally see the film. Absolutely fantastic — totally did justice to Harper Lee’s novel. Have you seen the movie?

                      Wow — you met Neil Young (among the many other famous people you met)? So exciting! He’s one of my very favorite musicians, solo and with the ultimate garage band Crazy Horse.

                      Yes, country music by him was “Neil Young country music,” not “country country music.” ๐Ÿ™‚

                      And he did/does seem to have plenty of angst — some of which is reflected in his stellar songs. Saw him in concert many years ago in Madison Square Garden. A great night.

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                    • No, I never literally met the man; he was too forbidding and famous and aloof just then.I merely passed him as I was walking out and he was walking in.

                      Closest I got was meeting the bass player on his Quadrophonic sessions, Tim Drummond. In the ’90’s, I was acquainted with the person who managed his tape library recording complex in California. And I talked to Graham Nash on the phone regarding a CSN master I’d uncovered.

                      Did meet Joan Baez though- she came into the control room at Quadrophonic while I was singing.

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                    • Sorry, jhNY. I misunderstood. You never said you met Neil Young, though you were in his vicinity. ๐Ÿ™‚ I was rushing too much to catch up on reading comments and replying to them!

                      Nice Graham Nash and Joan Baez encounters, phone and in person! I’ve heard Baez is very nice. Did you get that impression? Hard to believe she dated Steve Jobs — an absolute genius, but also a jerk.

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                    • While Celine Dion hasn’t recorded any or many country songs (as far as I know), she’s definitely a Canadian singer who I somehow forgot to mention in my post about Canadian literature a couple of weeks ago. Titanic voice… ๐Ÿ™‚

                      Thanks, Eric, for correcting my omission of her!

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                    • Killing two birds in one stone in Vegas: Watching a Celine Diion show, and getting Pete Rose’s autograph and talking to him for 20 minutes about baseball. I told him his arms are as big as my thighs.

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                    • That’s a BIG twofer, Eric! Wow! And Pete Rose was indeed a very strong guy, even though he was a “singles hitter.” Funny remark you made to him!

                      I met Rose as well. It was at an event — in New York City around 1980 — sponsored by the Mizuno sporting goods company. (Of Japan, of course. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

                      Do you think Rose should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame? I personally think yes. Unlike steroids, his gambling transgressions didn’t affect his on-the-field performance/statistics. And there are certainly some less-than-savory characters in the Hall, such as the virulently racist Ty Cobb — whose hit record Rose broke.

                      I’ve been to Las Vegas only once; what a strange place!

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                    • I told him I wish he didn’t bet on baseball. But, after betting on thousands of games and changing line-ups to suit his wagers, I don’t see how he can get in. And I still told him he was in great shape to be involved in any kind of sport.

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                    • What Pete Rose did was definitely wrong, Eric. And, as you rightly note, he was a repeat offender. But — unlike a Barry Bonds or a Roger Clemens on performance-enhancing drugs — the gambling didn’t help Rose amass his glowing career statistics. (And I think much of that gambling was when he was a manager, not a player.)

                      I feel the same about Shoeless Joe Jackson. As the player with the third-highest lifetime batting average in baseball history, he should be in the Hall of Fame despite his (reportedly halfhearted) involvement with the “Black Sox Scandal.”

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                    • Shoeless Joe jackson probably provides people a sense of nostalgic longing for the good old days, but what he did seemed to be kind of murky. I think Bonds and Clemens bordered on illegal activity; using steroids might be considered fraud for monetary gain.

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                    • You’re right about nostalgia and Shoeless Joe Jackson — enhanced by W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe” novel and the “Field of Dreams” movie.

                      I also agree about steroid use being “fraud for monetary gain.” Not to mention fraud for ego purposes! I’ve read that one reason Barry Bonds — already a Hall of Fame-caliber player when “clean” — started using performance-enhancing drugs was because he was annoyed at how well Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were doing, home run-wise, with chemical assistance.

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                    • I agree, Eric! Bonds looked cartoonish! But, like other teams did with their players, the S.F. Giants looked the other way because there were wins to be had and money to be made. That’s one reason why I don’t feel so warm and fuzzy about the post-Bonds Giants winning three World Series in the past five years.

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  7. Though the book I am currently reading, Henry Jamesโ€™ The Wings of the Dove, qualifies for mentionโ€”Lionel Kroy is a widower who had already ruined his marriage before the death of his wifeโ€”the topic of single parents puts me in mind of atoms. Since itโ€™s been several decades since Iโ€™ve seen the inside of a physics classroom or textbook, my comprehension of their structure, as regards their potential for combining with other atoms, is likely to be antique, or worse, antique and incomplete, or worse still, antique and misremembered and plain wrong, at least a bit.

    But from what I recall, certain elements, having at their atomsโ€™ outermost valence an odd number of electrons, are rife with potential for combination, the way sodium and chloride so easily commingle to make table salt. Other elements, whose atomic structure leaves them with an even number of electrons at the outermost valence, combine with other elements weakly or not at all.

    The single parent in novels is, here, the equivalent of an element open to combination with others. His outermost ring of electrons is unstable and short-handed, making the likelihood of combination with other elements compelling if not inevitable.

    As a plot dynamic, single would conventionally move to marriage with another. If there is no such combination, the novelโ€™s plot may center itself on the difficulties arising out of the unstable stateโ€”the travails of a single mother, for example, who cannot attend to her children so well as she might like because she is working so long away from her home.

    The orphan is another such element open to combination with othersโ€”alone, without the protection and support of family, the orphan likewise, as a plot dynamic, conventionally moves from solitary vulnerability to the stability of family life. If there is no such combination, the novelโ€™s plot may become an expose of societyโ€™s institutional provision for the parentless destitute, the orphan home, or if the combination is a hypocritical oneโ€”the orphan, say, is taken in by a family who only wants the additional income the state provides, but otherwise has no interest in the childโ€”then the plot may unfold into an indictment of loveless greed.

    Further, this openness to combination is more general, as a plot dynamic. The single parent may move toward family members that they might not wish to be close to, were it not for their predicament. Or new places, for a fresh start. Or into work they previously had not performed. Itโ€™s the instability of the character, as a social element, that makes any such element up for combination with others– single parent, orphan, immigrant– such an attractive sort for novelists to write rings around.

    At heart of my notion is a central tenet of fiction and shared assumptions of readers and writers— the strong extended family, or more often, its absence. Without the protection of family, one is vulnerable to predation and adventure in equal likelihood. Wealth is a workable substitute, but available to so few.

    I take it as no coincidence that the modern novel, as a popular art form, begins at the close of a long agrarian social structure and the beginning of another: that of the industrial age. And the first lamented victim of this momentous time of change? The extended family, once that balanced and impervious atom, which cannot keep itself together under the onslaught of earliest financial capitalism, without which so many were bereft of what little power and standing and future they might have claimed as their birthright in a less creatively destructive environment.

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    • Superb comment, jhNY! Highly original and thought-provoking.

      There is indeed an “instability” about single parents in fiction that makes for VERY interesting interactions, reactions, combustibility, and the like in the context of a literary work’s other characters and situations. Compelling things can happen, for better or for worse.

      I don’t feel I can add anything more, except to say I wish I had come up with some of your brilliant insights and observations when writing the column. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • jhNY, I’ve recently read “The Wings of the Dove,” as well as having seen the movie based on this book, yet I know that any response I make is nowhere near as learned as yours. However, I was left with a feeling of loss that a woman who had everything going for her just died away, even when she had a man who loved her (OK, I’m also a romantic).

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      • My thoughts on the book, are just now, being formed, because I am only partway through. I am enjoying James, his voice, his turns of phrase, his circumnavigations and sudden landings on insight, as much here as I ever have. I would like to discuss it with you once I’m past the last page– and thanks in advance for imagining my ‘learned response’, despite the Pavlovian undertones…

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  8. John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” Father had blatant favoritism to one son,he being entitled,the other lost,despondent,would do anything to get his father’s attention,needed the affection as this son found his mother,who disappeared in his youth,working in a brothel. She refused to acknowledge his existence,preferred her life of debauchery over being a mother,did not seemingly have the ability to nurture her sons.

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  9. Hey Dave. do you mind if I say to all folks who comment on this site to please vote tomorrow. I’m not trying to tell anyone how to vote, but I’m ashamed to say that for most of my adult life I didn’t vote for far too many years. I worked on the Eugene McCarthy campaign, voted for McGovern, then basically gave up. It wasn’t until Obama that I finally woke up and now vote every election, including local elections. This puts me in a very poor light, but if it gets to even one more person, it will be worth it to me. Please feel free to delete this comment if it’s too political.

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    • You’re perfectly welcome to comment about that, Kat Lib! ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t mind political discussions at all. As you might have seen last week, Donny Backes, jhNY, and myself had quite a conversation about JFK, Nixon, the rightward drift of both major political parties, etc.!

      I’m disgusted with some of the choices (including not-liberal Democrats) on my local/county/state ballot tomorrow, but I’ll still vote for a couple of the candidates, abstain from a couple of other races, and vote for or against a couple of public questions.

      Great that you worked on the McCarthy campaign! McGovern was the first president I voted for. It was interesting having a college roommate that year who favored Nixon. Dueling posters on the dorm-room wall! I still have that McGovern poster (found it when I moved this June), but it’s practically in shreds.

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      • OK, my long-winded comment just disappeared. What I said was that there was a group that went on a school bus from Des Moines to Beloit, WI, to canvass for McCarthy, which I’m not sure why. We spent two days canvassing in both the rural/farming areas around Beloit, then the city of Beloit. and it was more enjoyable to talk to rural/farmers than those in the city. On our way home, we stopped at a rest stop, and they had a TV showing that LBJ dropped out of the race. We all cheered as though we were directly responsible. I think that there were those of us that realized McCarthy would never win a general election, but we were making a statement and I must admit it felt good.

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        • Sorry about your comment disappearing, Kat Lib. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I’m happy you took the time to re-create it.

          Great story about the great political work you did back then! Especially when we’re young, we perhaps feel we have a little more impact on things than we actually do. Of course, several decades ago, people COULD have a bit more impact because elections — while never truly democratic — were less corporatized with shadowy right-wing money. The mainstream media was a little less corporatized, too, although today’s social media can make things somewhat more democratic.

          On a literary note, as you might know, Eugene McCarthy and author Mary McCarthy were cousins!

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          • I didn’t know that about the McCarthy cousins (or if I did I forgot). I suppose we have become more apathetic about getting involved in politics these days, or is it just that I and most of the people I now know are older and don’t have the physical stamina we once had? On the other hand, I don’t have any nieces and nephews getting involved in any causes that we did when I was younger — it just seems to be getting ahead and buying more things. But there I go again and being more cynical! Perhaps someone can refute that for me.

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            • Well, I think it’s realism rather than cynicism you’re eloquently expressing, Kat Lib.

              There are probably a decent number of young people who would like to be more politically active, but the economy is so rotten and many are so in debt from student loans that they have to concentrate on staying afloat financially. And when young people do take a progressive stand, as with the Occupy movement, the crackdown is harsh from police and politicians. Interesting that Tea Party activism, with some of those right-wingers brandishing guns, has never been cracked down on like that.

              Of course, there are also tons of distractions today for young people (digital devices, etc.) — and for older people as well.

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              • You’re right that it is so much tougher for any young person to get a decent college degree these days, without piling up massive student loans. I was fortunate that my parents were willing to take on that debt themselves. I tried to make it easier for them by transferring from a private college after my sophomore year to the University of Texas at Austin. My tuition as even an out-of-state student was $200 per semester. This was many years ago, but still…..

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                • That was kind of you, Kat Lib, to help your parents by transferring from a private college to a less expensive university. I realize it might have been very hard to give up the private college.

                  I remember how low public university tuition (also the only option for me given my mother’s income) could be in those days. I think I paid $200 a semester, too, and “room and board” wasn’t outrageous. With the help of summer jobs, I was debt-free when I graduated.

                  It irks me that some of the reasons college costs are so high these days involve too many overpaid administrators, too many fancy buildings, and too much money spent on men’s football and basketball. On top of that, government funding of higher education today is nowhere near what it should be. I think I read recently that Germany made college free for everyone; now THAT’S an enlightened policy. ๐Ÿ™‚

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                  • Dave, I just wanted to report that I had a good experience with voting today. I know that somehow a politician in my area got the clubhouse of my condo community designated as a polling place. I have an exacerbation of pain in my leg (and a spider bite) that has me going back to using a walker rather than just a cane. I was able to park right in front of the clubhouse, had a woman who carried around my ballot, and even leant me her reading glasses to make sure I filled in the right box. There was no line, which leads me to think about how there are ways to make this process for everyone as easy as it was for me.

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                    • Wonderful and heartening to hear that you were helped so much to vote today, Kat Lib! But sorry about your current physical issues.

                      As your comment’s last line might be implying, if only African-Americans and other Democratic-leaning voters were given that kind of consideration by Republican polling officials, who love to suppress/depress the vote to help the narrow-based GOP win. (Sorry to inject something about partisan politics into this!)

                      After my June move within my town, I voted today in a different school for the first time in 21 years. A strange feeling. ๐Ÿ™‚

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                    • Dave, Yes, I was implying that there are others trying to suppress votes from those people, especially of color. I went ballistic when I heard about my governor’s plan to institute a in Pennsy photo ID law, as it would have put an undue burden on those who didn’t already have one. Fortunately, this law was struck down in Pennsy, and I was able to vote today without having to show ID. Hopefully, Corbett will be gone tomorrow.

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                    • I also hope your governor is gone, Kat Lib. Those photo-ID efforts are of course blatantly done in the service of voter repression, because, as you know, voter fraud is practically nonexistent. Glad the photo-ID requirement was struck down in Pennsylvania at least!

                      As weak and wimpy as many Democrats are, Republicans would win a lot less without voter suppression, gerrymandering of districts, lie-filled attack ads paid by super-wealthy people such as the Koch brothers, etc.

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        • My alma mater is located in that WI town, though I began my time there a year later. It was once claimed that per capita Beloit had more bars than anywhere else in the US. But I can’t say for sure, I only drank in most of them.

          Our beer of choice, when not in bars– Hi-Brau, still my favorite name for a beer cheap enough to be purchased in quantity by students.

          Funny you would have been bused in when there was a campus animated by, if not full of,leftyish students smack dab in the middle of town.

          It was also my experience that talking to local farmers was more enjoyable than talking to shift workers from the big industrial plants in town. Also, there was a cheese puff factory there, which wafted its way olfactorily into the air overmuch, making everybody a bit moody.

          But there was a bridge out of town and out of state. By moving one’s feet a little, one could cross into and out of Illinois, in the form of an even grittier town– South Beloit.

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        • Good morning, bebe! That overdubbed video is VERY funny! Ted Cruz is a politician so awful he deserves to be mocked.

          Yes, Election Day today. I will be voting around lunchtime. (Perhaps I’ll vote FOR lunchtime, too; I’m in favor of it. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) As I also mentioned to Kat Lib, a number of the candidates on my local/county/state ballot are crummy — including several of the Democrats. But I’ll reluctantly vote for some of them. I hope you have a few decent choices where you are!

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          • So many are crummy sadly but I am going to vote ‘D” for sure.
            Do you remember that show ” Green Acres” ? I used to watch the reruns.that continued on for a long time….the dubbing is from Mr. Hainy the town crook.

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            • I’m so sick of voting for “the lesser of two evils” rather than (almost nonexistent) major party candidates I really admire. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Occasionally, I go the third party route, but not always.

              I do remember “Green Acres”! It’s amazing how many “rural” TV shows were on back then — “Andy Griffith,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” etc. All with memorable theme songs… ๐Ÿ™‚

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              • Reminds me of Rizzo versus Goode for mayor of Philly in the ’80’s. Some wag termed the choice ‘the evil of two lessers.’

                As for the number of rural shows: nostalgia is at the heart of the thing. The number of folks moving, post-war, from farms and farm towns to larger places was huge.

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              • I can and sometimes will sing Green Acres, start to finish, as it turns out by some process hidden from its beneficiary, that I am in possession of all the lyrics, and a bad Eva Gabor accent. On a related note, there is a famous AFV clip of a parrot, with only a bit of prompting, whistling the theme of Andy of Mayberry, though to be accurate, he does depart from the melody in the B section.

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                • LOL about the whistling parrot, jhNY!!!

                  An Eva Gabor accent? Nice! I remember the “Green Acres” theme-song lyrics, too, even though I haven’t watched the show in more than four decades. Same with “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Gilligan’s Island,” and a few others. “Earworms” extraordinaire!

                  Amazing all the contraptions Gilligan and crew could build on that island without being able to construct a usable boat… ๐Ÿ™‚

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                  • Also amazing, sorta: how everybody that washed ashore besides the cast got off the island in half an hour, yet the hapless cast was stuck for years.
                    There is was a pilot for that show, and for it, a theme song was written– calypso, sung by a West Indian man– nothing like the song the series employed. Also, not really worth searching out on youtube, unless you happened to be a fanatic, which I somehow think you are not.

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                    • Ha ha — yes, everyone but “The Magnificent Seven” found a way out. I guess we’re all capable of suspending belief when watching sitcoms. I’m pretty sure I didn’t think Elizabeth Montgomery really had magical powers on “Bewitched”…

                      Didn’t know about that different pilot! Yes, I’m not a “Gilligan’s Island” fanatic. The show was enjoyable in its silly way, with some distinctive character archetypes, but it hardly offered Tolstoy-like drama.

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                    • It’s a good segue from a sitcom to soemthing more literary in class. A sitcom’s characters have to do what they do because that is what the purpose is. Castaways on “Gilligan’s Island” could not get off the island; the entire purpose of the show is about their adventures on the island.

                      Students used to ask me all the time: “Why is King Lear” such an idiot after all these years and want to divide up the kingdom?” “How could he still be King after making decisions like this?” He was actually one of the longest reigning monarchs in Shakespeare’s plays. Also “Why is General Othello so gullible to Iago?” “How could he have become a general if he is really this stupid?”

                      And then hopefully the class realizes that is in the enjoyment of the results, the adventures, and the occurrences AFTER that really explain human conditions, not the events that cause others to happen.

                      So the castaways can’t get off the island, and Macbeth, Lear, Othello, will continue making poor decisions the more we watch and read them

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                    • Eric, that’s true. Brilliant comment! There are indeed certain parameters that anything from a sitcom to a novel should have to keep a story going and keep it believable. Sort of an internal logic.

                      This is not exactly analogous, but in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as much as we would have liked the jury to acquit the innocent Tom Robinson, that wish-fulfillment result would not have happened in virulently racist 1930s Alabama.

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                • Thanks, jhNY, for naming that actor! I see on Wikipedia that Pat Buttram died in 1994 — long after the rural TV show era had faded. You make a great point that those ’60s shows reflected nostalgia for America’s disappearing rural heritage, as the country became more urban and suburban. And most remaining farms, of course, are now controlled by soulless, profit-obsessed agribusinesses that have no qualms about such things as treating animals horrendously.

                  Yes, bebe, definitely a resemblance between Cruz and Buttram — both mentally and physically. Or, rather, a resemblance between Cruz and the character Buttram played. ๐Ÿ™‚

                  jhNY, “the evil of two lessers” indeed describes most politicians. A classic phrase!

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                  • the thread is played out, so:

                    My thoughts on the mid-terms are but this: there are beneficiaries of the status quo, and those few happen to have the most money laying around loose to throw at politics. Those few are making money NOW. Why change anything, except to lower taxes? Since both parties supplicate those few for that money, each party in its own way has made itself into a pleasing sight to those donors. So– the only way to keep things the same, or better, to get taxes lowered but otherwise maintain what’s been going on: the Dems must lose more power, lest there are enough of them to do something besides fail. And so it will come to pass.

                    As Sidney Zion said and often: “Both parties against the people.”

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                    • โ€œBoth parties against the people” — so true, jhNY. The major difference is that Democrats pay some lip service and throw a few bones to people who are not in the one percent. No surprise, for instance, that Obama and other mainstream Democrats have never truly denounced the Wall Streeters who tanked the economy or urged that some of those fat cats be jailed. Among other things, the Dems want their campaign contributions.

                      You totally understand America’s current political system!

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                  • jhNY, there IS an uncanny resemblance between Ted Cruz and Joe McCarthy. They are of course much different generations, but they almost seem “separated at birther.” ๐Ÿ™‚ (Actually, Cruz can’t play the birther card of Obama supposedly being born in Kenya because, as you know, Cruz was ACTUALLY born in Canada.)

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                    • Very true about McCain, jhNY.

                      On a related note, one of the many things I despise about Donald Trump was him participating in that birther nonsense. And NYC is worse for having his “stamp” on some of it.

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                    • So true…how he could get away from all these being born in Canada. Anyways..i will watch the results assuming D`s will lose a lot of seats and if they win some that would be a nice surprise.

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                    • Yes, bebe, things do look depressing for the Democrats (from everything we’ve heard) but maybe there will be a long-shot result that allows them to hold on to the Senate. That would indeed be a nice surprise, even though a lot of Democrats aren’t exactly liberal. But better than most Republicans!

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                    • Good morning, bebe! Yes, a very depressing election. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

                      I saw the Bill Maher link in my email notification, but it didn’t show up in your comment under the blog. So I’m pasting it here: http://youtu.be/3p5kzwd7mZo

                      Maher makes a GREAT point about how wimpy so many Democrats are. People respect politicians who stick to their beliefs and who are loyal, which is why so many Democrats are not respected.

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                    • It was quite a funny show, bebe. I did wonder why that couple couldn’t live part of the time in the big city, given that the wife preferred that lifestyle. But hubby got his way!

                      I only watched the show here and there. Did they ever at least visit the city?

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                    • Yes, bebe, it was “totally absurd”! But, as you note, that can be fun and relaxing. You also read lots of great books, which is wonderful. Some people watch shows like “Green Acres” and never read books. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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                    • Bad…but Grimes and so many others stayed away from Obama, she would not even admit that she voted for him. So many Dems did that same and their strategy backfired fot them. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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                    • Great point, bebe! That disassociate-from-Obama strategy may indeed have backfired. The President does have a mixed record (I personally feel he’s too conservative when it comes to things such as coddling Wall Street and spying on citizens), but Democratic candidates are not going to suddenly get Republican votes by acting so disloyal to Obama, “Obamacare,” and so on.

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      • I should resist, as I am beginning to be a bore on the topic of brushes with the famous by myself, BUT I once lived in a sort of artists’ townhouse in DC– Hardart– which had as its first floor a gallery space for exhibitions. One of the exhibitions was attended by George McGovern– and I walked him around the show. I like to say he came to my house to meet me, but….

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        • Nice encounter with George McGovern, jhNY! Your having worked and lived in DC certainly increased the chances of things like that. McGovern was one of the few national politicians I admired — and his antiwar stance partly stemmed from having been in military action himself, unlike so many pro-war “chicken hawk” politicians.

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        • Yes I do, Dave. I had to request an absentee ballot from city hall in Warwick, RI. Then, fax in the completed request to get the ballot. I had to verify quite a few things before I could actually send in the ballot. Looking back, it may not have been all that complex; just doing it on my schedule made it seem more arduous than not.

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          • Thanks for that explanation, Eric! It does sound rather arduous.

            In this digital age, at least it’s easier for someone abroad to keep track of issues “back home” for when voting time comes along.

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            • After I moved this June, Eric, I ended up being closer to the school I used to vote in. But because I’m now in a different election district, I’ll be voting at a different school tomorrow. A middle school rather than an elementary school. Guess I’ve been promoted! ๐Ÿ™‚

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                • Great advice, Eric, but I guess I’ll have to hope for the best. I changed my registration the week I moved, and received a sample ballot at my new address last week, so that’s a good sign!

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                  • Definitely good signs! Now that i amt thinking of Shakespeare again, Miranda and prosper in “The Tempest” and Volumnia and Coriolanus in ‘Coriolanus”. I am not sure who ends up still alive at the end of those plays. I am trying to remember if there any in Julius Caesar, hmmm….

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                    • Thanks, Eric!

                      As I mentioned to Jean, I haven’t read anywhere near as much Shakespeare as I would like, but I imagine — with all his characters and all the deaths depicted — a good number of them are single parents.

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                    • I always considered Mark to be the “Jeanne Moos” of the Journal Bulletin. He wrote very humorously, sometimes seriously, and always a tragedy with humanity, writing about everyone imaginable in Rhode Island, except me. (ha-ha) But we did have a few interesting chats by phone, and mail over the many years, nothing within the last 10-15 years though.

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                    • You described Mark well, Eric. His writing was indeed engaging, and, as you note, he was skillful at being humorous or serious. But not skillful when it came to forgetting to write about you! ๐Ÿ™‚

                      He actually wrote about me once when I was dealing with a malpractice situation involving my oldest daughter. I forget exactly how it came about; I think I was interviewing him on the phone about something (I was on a magazine back then writing about newspaper columnists and cartoonists), and the malpractice thing somehow came up. So, the roles were reversed and he interviewed me! This was in the late 1980s.

                      I wonder if Mark is even there now; so many columnists and other journalists have lost their full-time staff jobs. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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                    • I don’t know too much about feature writers, but to me, if you are given a wide latitude to write about anything you feel needs to be said with a deadline of 600-700 words(?) Monday, Wednesday and Friday, that would be most people’s perfect job–if they did and could write reasonably well, of course.

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                    • Yes, an almost perfect job to have! I enjoy a smidgen of that as a weekly newspaper columnist (I can write about almost anything I want), but in my case, as a freelancer rather than staffer, there’s low pay and no benefits. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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                    • Yes, now that I have lower housing expenses, I can better appreciate those non-financial benefits you mention. I really do enjoy writing the column (as I enjoy doing this blog), and I’m lucky that my wife has a full-time income that allows me to continue being a freelance writer.

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    • If you would choose no particular candidate on offer, be careful of what you write in– when I wanted to make a protest vote, I wrote, ‘Nun of the above’, and inadvertently cast my ballot for Sally Field!

      But seriously, I will vote today, for the Greens, as I live in NYC and can afford to vote my conscience. I thought about going with the Working Families Party slate, who have exhorted me to do so on the theory that many votes for Cuomo under their banner will give progressives leverage, but Cuomo being Cuomo, I am certain he can resist their pressure whenever some neoliberal opportunity arises and the donor class is watching.

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      • Your Sally Field line — bwahaha! ๐Ÿ™‚

        I hear you, jhNY. When one lives in a solidly “blue” area, one can vote for a third party candidate without worrying about the “2000 Nader Effect on Gore.” I’ve certainly voted third party a few times in my continuing belief that many Democrats are “Republicans Lite.”

        Which brings us to Andrew Cuomo, who you mentioned. I’m also disgusted with his favoring of the rich “donor class,” his support of charter schools that rob money from public education, his putting the kibosh on that ethics commission, etc. An opportunistic, center-right Democrat. He might be talking a “little left” now, but that’s of course just insincere election stuff that he’ll drop as soon as he’s reelected.

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  10. Well, I donโ€™t know if W. Bruce Cameron was single when writing โ€œ8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,โ€ but at some point he became single which, by a stretch of the imagination, would make him a single father. And he is my most memorable single parent in literature! An hilarious book!

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    • Thanks for commenting, Cathy! W. Bruce Cameron is indeed a funny and excellent writer!

      Your comment made me realize that most of the books I mentioned in my post are mostly serious, but single parenthood can also be mined for laughs. I can’t think of a novel offhand that does that, but I certainly remember some funny moments during my single-father days — mostly involving dating… ๐Ÿ™‚

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  11. One of my all-time fave books, John Kennedy Toole’s epic comedy, “A Confederacy of Dunces” certainly qualifies. Fictional character (perhaps autobiographical?), Ignatius J. Reilly, was raised by a widowed mother who should never be given a Mother’s Day card. She’s a real pip. “Quirky” is an underword to describe her. Mrs. Reilly thinks Ignatius should go to work and stop writing in tablets he hides under the bed, a bed in which his gargantuan figure reposes, writes, and pleasures himself, as often as possible; i.e., all the time, except when he can finagle money for the movies. Her constant whining and nagging succeeds in driving him into a series of jobs. “Each job rapidly escalates ito a lunatic adventure, a full-blown disaster; yet each has, like Don Quixote’s, its own eerie logic,” wrote Walker Percy. The pair are so eccentric, dependent on one another, and hilariously manipulative, it’s small wonder that at least three books have been written about this “fictional” pair. “Managing Ignatius” by Jerry E. Strahan, “Ken & Thelma” by Joel L. Fletcher, and “Ignatius Rising” by Renรฉ Pol Nevils and Deborah George Hardy. I have love/hate feelings for Mrs Reilly : hate because of what she did to Ignatius and love because, were it not for the real Mrs. Toole, this Pulitizer Prize-winning comedy novel would never have seen the light of day.
    I’d better stop now before I start to quote passages and take up all your space.

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    • Thanks, thepatterer! “A Confederacy of Dunces” has been “double-starred” on my list since you first mentioned it. It seems to be very popular at my local library, but I will look for it again this week.

      Terrific, engaging, descriptive comment about that novel! The mother-son relationship does sound like a mix of wonderful and horrible — and deserving of three books about it. As for the story of how John Kennedy Tooleโ€™s novel was published posthumously, that has to be Exhibit A in literature for illustrating a mother’s love and ambition for her child.

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  12. I can think of John Irving: The World According to Garp. Garp is raised by his mother. The story behind the identity of the father is one might say unique. Single-parenting also figures in Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, where the mother and youngest child are killed in a plane crash (Irving is impressive here in that despite the horrible incident, he maintains a tone of bizarre or absurdist humor). In Cider House Rules, the main character is an orphan, protected by a kindly father-figure doctor in the orphanage. Something of a pattern with Irving.

    Another that comes to mind is Forrest Gump (the book, by Winston Groom and the film). Although the characterizations of Gump’s mother in each are very different. In the film she is protective, loving and nurturing, telling Gump his father is “on vacation” when he asks. In the book she is emotionally and literally distant for much of the story. Gump’s father in the book was crushed by a ton of bananas.

    In a slightly different vein, there is Peter Hedges’ What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. There is a single mother of three(?) children (father committed suicide), who has succumbed to depression and morbid obesity, so the children are the caregivers.

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    • Joe, that’s an astute observation about the single-parenthood pattern in John Irving’s work! There’s also single parenthood in Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” in which the narrator (John Wheelwright) has a single mother and then a single stepfather. And you’re right, Irving does skillfully find humor in tragedy.

      Thanks, also, for the mentions and descriptions of “Forrest Gump” and “Whatโ€™s Eating Gilbert Grape”! As you know, two novels probably better known for their movie versions. Death by banana — yikes!

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    • Garp, Gump and Grape– monosyllabic names starting with G, simple, yet, as names, simply beyond belief, except in fiction, though there once was another famous Gump– chinless Andy who once shared a page with Mutt and Jeff et al.

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      • Ah, yes, Sidney Smith’s “The Gumps” comic strip! I just checked Wikipedia, and it ran from 1917 to 1959. Andy Gump had no chin, the cartoon character Cathy had no nose, and so it goes… ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Thanks, Jean, for that great addition to this post! Nice, succinct description of King Lear. ๐Ÿ™‚

      While I know about King Lear and the play named after him, I must confess that I’ve never read or seen that work. I’ve read or seen fewer than 20% of Shakespeare’s plays, which would put me below the “Mendoza Line” for Bard-ian batting average. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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  13. Dave, I first thought of Aunt Polly from “Tom Sawyer.” She’s raising Tom, his brother, and cousin on her own. She doesn’t do to badly either as a single parent. Then there’s Huck’s dad. He’s a single parent but he’s not a very good one.

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  14. Most single parents in literature seem to be of the type in which the father is absent: war, far-away job, or varying circumstances, and occasionally death resulting in the mother raising the family.

    I remember “Little Women” from class but can’;t seem to remember if the father comes back from war. Also, “A Raisin in the Sun” in which the father dies is all about what to do with the inheritance money of $10,000 which drives the entire plot with differing opinions on what to do with the money depending on the relative’s situation.

    “Beloved”, a fantastic ghost story in which Sethe, the protagonist, kills her own daughter to prevent the daughter growing up in a world of slavery, is full of single motherly figures. I don’t recall too many men or father figures in that novel.

    Pap or the Widow Douglas, certainly count as single parents, though so much has been written about Huck being the “quintessential orphan” it might be difficult in some respects to think of them as single parents. Pap, though later dies, and Huck ends up back with the Widow Douglas after his adventures. It is easy to assume that Huck would “light out” for the Indian country westward and leave her behind again.

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    • Thanks, Eric, for the informative and wide-ranging comment!

      I also forget if the father comes back from The Civil War in “Little Women”; things might have been left unresolved in his case. I haven’t read Louisa May Alcott’s classic for a long time.

      I did recently read “March,” about that “Little Women” father, and Geraldine Brooks’ novel does have a resolution concerning him (which I won’t give away here so I don’t spoil things for anyone reading that excellent book ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

      Great mentions of “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Beloved”! There are many single mothers in plays and novels focused on African-American characters, for all the socioeconomic and other reasons associated with U.S. racism, past and present.

      And, yes, there’s single parenthood in Mark Twain’s work, too, although in the case of Huck Finn, as you rightly note, his dad isn’t much of a parent. Twain himself lost his father when he was a boy.

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  15. The book that comes to mind for me is “The Dwelling Place” by Catherine Cookson. The main character is Cissie Brodie, who initially isn’t a single parent at all, but is left to care for her 9 younger siblings when her parents die. She might as well have been a single parent, and then she is raped by the “laird” and bears him a son. The book is compelling, describing her hardships through many years as she tries to keep her family together. I haven’t read it in 40 years, but it stuck with me.

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    • That certainly sounds like a very intense, sad, and compelling novel, Mary. Thanks for mentioning it! For it to have stuck with you for a long time speaks very well of how interesting it must be.

      An older sibling “parenting” younger siblings is a fascinating sub-genre of single parenthood in literature. Two novels I can immediately think of with that situation include Emile Zola’s excellent “The Ladies’ Delight” and Thomas Hardy’s seriocomic “The Hand of Ethelberta.” In the latter novel, some of Ethelberta’s younger siblings pose as servants!

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        • Mary, Emile Zola has the reputation of being a “difficult” author, but I have found many of his novels to be quite powerful and readable. “The Ladies’ Delight” may be the most readable of all. A lot of it is depressing — it’s partly about a 19th-century Paris department store driving neighborhood small shops out of business — but there’s also a love story of sorts, and the way the orphaned Denise takes care of her two younger brothers is very touching.

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  16. Dear Dave, I hope this isn’t a repeat, but I hit “refresh” before meaning to. I think the most sympathetic single parent of Jane Austen is the mother in
    “Sense and Sensibility.” The dialog that started the book between her step-son and daughter-in-law is among the most hateful in any books I’ve ever read. The patience between the wishes of his sisters’ “father” and his “natural born son” is almost understandable, because we didn’t live during those times, but is frustrating at the very least.

    I think that the the love between Silas Marner and his daughter Eppie, is one of the best stories ever about father-daughter love ever written.

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    • No repeat visible, Kat Lib. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks for mentioning “Sense and Sensibility,” which I read long enough ago to forget a lot of the details! (I much more recently read “Emma” and “Persuasion” — and “Mansfield Park,” too, which you suggested to me, if I’m remembering right.) Great paragraph about “S&S”!

      And I agree with you about Silas and Eppie. Such an incredibly moving relationship the two of them had. I don’t understand why “Silas Marner” has the reputation among some people (including high schoolers assigned to read it) as a tedious novel. I found it riveting, and it’s also quite short as George Eliot books go (under 250 pages).

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    • Just to throw in the last of Jane Austen’s novels, “Northanger Abbey” revolves around the misunderstanding of Catherine’s relationship to her neighbors and her Tilney hosts about what she might receive as an heiress (nothing) and her misapprehension about what happened to her hosts’ mother (nothing other than dying naturally). It’s my least favorite Jane Austen novel, yet there are still interesting things happening in them, well-written, and is still worth a good read.

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      • That’s the only Jane Austen book I haven’t read, Kat Lib. I hope to one of these days. I may be wrong, but I’ve heard it’s partly a satire of Gothic novels? Thanks for your excellent summary of “Northanger Abbey”!

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        • Yes, it is a satire of the Gothic novel, and Austen begins the book by making it clear that the heroine, Catherine, is quite unexceptional and only “sometimes pretty.” To clarify, the single parent is General Tilney (the father of Catherine’s love interest, Henry) and is one of the most loathsome of Austen’s characters, if not the worst of all.

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          • Thanks, Kat Lib!

            “Sometimes pretty” is a VERY interesting phrase.

            Jane Austen created a number of memorably unlikable characters, so General Tilney being among the most loathsome makes him loathsome indeed! Perhaps he and Mrs. Norris of “Mansfield Park” could get together… ๐Ÿ™‚

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            • Great minds think alike. I was also thinking about Mrs. Norris as I typed my last comment. That certainly would be a match made in you know where, and I don’t mean heaven!

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              • LOL! Loved your comment!

                Interesting to think about characters from different novels meeting. ๐Ÿ™‚ I guess a somewhat-related thing is when authors — such as Balzac, Zola, and Vonnegut — put the same character in more than one novel (that wasn’t a sequel or part of a specific series starring, say, a particular detective).

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              • Kat Lib, on a different subject, I couldn’t find your highly recommended “Bird by Bird” in the library tonight. But I wanted to try Anne Lamott, so I chose “Blue Shoe” at random! Have you read it?

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  17. Although in life I hear of more single mothers than fathers the opposite seems to be the case in literature. Aside from Silas Marner and Atticus Finch that you mentioned, I’m thinking of the father in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ whose wife took herself out of a harsh nightmare world leaving him to raise his son and teach him how to survive in this bleak world. There are also the ‘surrogate’ fathers such as Jean Valjean with Cosette in ‘Les Miserables’. Like Dostoevsky, Shakespeare focused on horrible fathers more than benevolent ones such as King Lear whose vanity and ego blind him to the daughter that offers him unconditional love until it is almost too late and Polonius, who offers poisonous council to both of his children. Returning back to George Eliot, in ‘Daniel Deronda’ there’s the father of Mirah Lapidoth who pretty much sells his daughter into prostitution. Although I’ve not read the novel ‘Addie Pray’ I saw the movie based on it, ‘Paper Moon’ in which the single father is a con man and is teaching his daughter the tricks of the trade. I honestly can’t think of any single mothers at the moment. If I do I will return.

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    • That’s interesting, Brian, because when I was thinking of examples for the column I kept coming up with more single fathers than single mothers, and I was not happy with that. As you say, that’s the opposite of real life. (I was in a single-mother family myself during my teen years.)

      Not sure why there are so many single fathers in literature, but I’m sure it has something to do with more male than female authors being published, at least until recent years.

      “The Road” is a great example of a solo dad in fiction! Many of Cormac McCarthy’s novels are superb, but there are certainly not a lot of significant woman characters in them. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      And thanks for all the other author mentions in your terrific comment! Mirah Lapidoth’s father is indeed a horror in George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda.” To sort of compensate, it’s nice that another single parent in that fantastic novel — Mrs. Meyrick, who takes in Mirah after Daniel rescues her — is so kind.

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      • And I neglected to add that Mirah’s father removed her from her still living mother and later told Mirah was dead, if I recall correctly. Either way, that abuse preceded the other neglect. Yes, Mrs. Myrick was a very compassionate mother who took in Mirah and treated her as one of her own.

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        • That’s right, Brian! Made the actions of Mirah’s lowlife father even more cruel. And his actions also had a big impact on the ambitions and the health of Mirah’s brother Mordecai.

          The scenes of Mirah as part of the Meyrick family were so touching.

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    • Excellent comment, Telly! Thanks! Loved the way you wrote it. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I’ve never read Homer (I’m “booing” myself for that), but I did read Margaret Atwood’s “The Penelopiad” — which tells “The Odyssey” story from Penelope’s viewpoint! An interesting, offbeat novella.

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  18. Another excellent blog Dave…Dave Astor comes to my mind. Of course Atticus , I am so glad you read read the book. If you ever want to borrow the DVD I would be more than glad to send it to you.
    Bebe..I thought I was logged in ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • Many thanks, Bebe! This summer, I wasn’t logged in a couple of times and ended up being “Anonymous” on my own blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Rereading Harper Lee’s terrific, humane, and heartbreaking novel was a memorable experience, and I appreciate you and others discussing it in a way that made me want to go back to it.

      As for the “To Kill a Mockingbird” movie, one of these days I must see it for the first time!

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        • Thanks, Mary! I’m listening to the clip you linked to as I write this. Yes, VERY “nostalgic, poignant, and evocative” music. Great images from the movie, too. I WILL see that film eventually.

          Do you know if the movie was actually shot in Alabama, or in a Hollywood re-creation of it?

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            • Thank you, Bebe! There’s a chance I might be able to watch the “To Kill a Mockingbird” film at the house of a friend who has an “on-demand” function on his TV. I watch a movie with him every few weeks. At the moment, my cinema-challenged apartment consists of having no DVD player (it broke), no Netflix subscription, and no cable TV and thus no movie channels. I think I’m living in the 19th century. ๐Ÿ™‚

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              • Bebe and Mary, I talked this afternoon with the friend I mentioned above, and we’re going to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” at his house soon! (He loves the movie.) Can’t wait to see it, and I’ll let you both know what I think!

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        • Mary, as I also told bebe and will tell HopeWFaith in a minute, I just got back from seeing the โ€œTo Kill a Mockingbirdโ€ movie at a friendโ€™s house! Thanks so much for being one of the people urging me to see it for the first time. An absolute knockout of a film โ€” powerful, atmospheric, wonderfully acted, sad, and much more. It totally respected and did justice to the novel. I can see why Harper Lee was very pleased with the movie โ€” and thatโ€™s not something authors feel often enough when their books get the cinematic treatment.

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      • Well, indeed you must see it, Dave. I’m sitting here in disbelief that someone of your incredibly wonderful interests in literature has missed that truly special film. I’m in love with film, so this is from a voice of one who watches every nook and crannie of a film to go over all the fine intricacies I can. Do see it. But be ready to be touched. It is very moving, and in all good ways. Just like the book. It makes us better. Cheers!

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        • Hi, HopeWFaith! I read a lot more novels than I watch movies, including movies based on novels. So I’ve unfortunately missed out on some classics. Wonderful that you’re such a film buff!

          As I mentioned to a couple of others, I’ve arranged to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” soon at a friend’s house. Can’t wait! (Though I know the movie will be depressing along with being touching and uplifting.)

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          • HopeWFaith, as I also told bebe and Mary Harris, I just got back from seeing the โ€œTo Kill a Mockingbirdโ€ movie at a friendโ€™s house! Thanks so much for being one of the people urging me to see it for the first time. An absolute knockout of a film โ€” powerful, atmospheric, wonderfully acted, sad, and much more. It totally respected and did justice to the novel. I can see why Harper Lee was very pleased with the movie โ€” and thatโ€™s not something authors feel often enough when their books get the cinematic treatment.

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  19. Atticus was indeed one of the most memorable, but also one of the most influential in literature. I’ve read and heard of so many people who became lawyers because of that character or any one of the others in that story. A powerful, lingering haunting for sure.

    Nice one, Dave! Very nice.

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    • Thanks, HopeWFaith (who is not โ€œAnonymousโ€ ๐Ÿ™‚ )! I appreciate your kind words and great comment.

      Youโ€™re absolutely right โ€” Atticus Finch is not only a superb fictional character, but also influenced a number of people to become lawyers, become better lawyers, and/or become lawyers who think more about social justice. Of course, many lawyers remain un-Atticus-like, but thatโ€™s the way things goโ€ฆ ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      I hope your November is off to a good start, too!

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