After completing two thirds of Lullabies for Little Criminals, the story has taken a tragic, yet predictable direction. Baby has become completely distanced from her father, resorting to constant smoking and drugs. Furthermore, she has begun to develop a very questionable relationship with a well-known pimp, Alphonse. At this point in the novel, it seems like the major players in this story have all been revealed. Thus, I think we have enough information to examine characters in a slightly more in-depth way by using archetypal literary theory.
Of the major characters involved in this story, the only one that I think bears a great deal of resemblance to a well-known archetype is Alphonse. The Trickster is an archetypal character that appears in many fictional stories. This character often encourages impulsive behaviour and is manipulative in nature, pretending to be something they’re not. They’re not necessarily always an antagonist – they can sometimes be used for comic relief (see Feste in Twelfth Night!). Alphonse, however, seems rather suspicious due to the fact that he used to terrorize children for fun. This all changed very drastically when he saw Baby wear sexually suggestive clothing. At that point, he took a great interest in her, stating very clearly to his friend that he “wants her badly” (O’Neill 169) He suddenly became extremely kind to her, becoming her source of emotional support in the absence of her father. It seems like Alphonse capitalizes on the fact that Baby is in a very vulnerable state with low self-esteem. She refers to herself as a “messed-up, ragged, dirty, nasty thing” (182) and Alphonse’s constant compliments help draw her towards him . Furthermore, the fact that he’s a pimp that’s taking an interest in a 13-year old girl is so off-putting to me that I feel confident in thinking he’d fall towards the villainous end of the Trickster spectrum.
This idea of an adult who deceives a younger, confused child reminds me of Scar and Simba from the Lion King. While Simba is in a deep state of reflection after his father had reprimanded him, Scar (Simba’s uncle) is the one who reaches out to him and shows him kindness and comfort. I find this disturbingly similar to how Alphonse capitalizes on the fact that Baby’s self-esteem is low after having it torn to shreds by (often by her father) on a regular basis. It is later seen that Scar uses this connection to eventually lure Simba into a trap that ends up killing Simba’s father. Thus, Simba was a wolf in sheep’s clothing who had an ulterior motive for reaching out to a young child. This leads me to believe that the same may be true of Alphonse, and that his relationship with Baby is not just out of love.
Scar’s deceit of Simba bears a great deal of similarity to Alphone’s deceit of Baby. Retrieved from: http://www.lionking.org/scripts/Script.html
Next, it’s time to examine Baby, the protagonist of the story. It might seem strange to say this of a girl who’s experimenting with drugs and starting a completely inappropriate relationship, but I think Baby’s character shares some similarities with the archetypal hero. I see some parallels between her journey and the archetypal Hero’s Journey. In the Hero’s Journey, the Hero’s usual life is somehow disrupted or threatened, causing a change in the norm. The Hero then usually meets some kind of mentor, helping them transition into a “New World”, a place or lifestyle that they are completely unfamiliar with (Myth and More). Baby’s ordinary life was far from glamorous, but she clearly took comfort in her close relationship with Jules. However, Jules’ frequent hospital visits due to his drug addiction ultimately change this dynamic, forcing Baby to be on her own much more often.
I consider Baby’s “New World” to be the life she’s currently living: a lifestyle of smoking, drugs, crime and toxic relationships. But I don’t think her transition from the “Ordinary World” was just a result of Jules’ absence. In the Hero’s Journey, the Hero will often meet a mentor that helps or convinces them to make this transition. While one would hardly think of him as a mentor, Theo plays a large role in pushing Baby towards a life of crime. After a girl insulted Baby, Theo convinces her that they had to break into her house and trash everything: “Nobody talks to you like that ever. You hear me? You have to respect yourself” (132). At this point, Baby unquestionably became a criminal, completing her transition into her “New World”.
Of course, it remains to be seen how much of Baby’s story will continue to align with the Hero’s Journey. Typically, the goal is to restore the status quo of the “Ordinary World”. This makes me think that Baby will fix her relationship with her father, as it his absence that initially caused the conflict.
Now that we know all of the players, the stage has been set for what should be a very interesting final third of the novel.
O’Neill, Heather. Lullabies for Little Criminals: A Novel. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Print.
The Hero’s Journey – Initiation” Myth and More. N.p,n.d. Web. 08 Aug 2017. < http://www.mythandmore.com/the-heros-journey-initiation/>.