Gareth B. Matthews
Review of Now Everybody Really Hates Me by Jane Read Martin and Patricia Marx (New York: Harper Collins, 1994). Originally published in Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children 11(2): 1.
Patty Jane has been confined to her room for hitting her brother, Theodore, on the head and calling him a dumbbell in front of everyone at his birthday party. Patty Jane insists she only “touched Theodore hard” and called him a “dumbhead;” not a “dumbbell;” which, she adds, she didn’t really mean (even though, she says, it is true!).
Clearly, Patty Jane has been disruptive at her brother’s birthday party; yet, as she insists, the charges against her are not strictly correct. She sits in her room and resolves to stay there for the rest of her life During the rest of her life, she adds, spitefully, she will never sleep in her bed again, but only on the floor. She promises herself that she will never clean up her room either, not even if poisonous mushrooms grow on her bed. (Here the illustrator thoughtfully provides us with a picture of poisonous mushrooms growing all over Patty Jane’s bed.)
Patty Jane conceives an extravagant scheme for walking her dog without ever leaving her room. She also develops an even more extravagant plan to dig an escape tunnel that will allow her to pull the plug when Theodore is having a bath so that he will be left freezing without any water in the bathtub.
Through all Patty Jane’s wildly implausible scheming her mind is clearly on Theodore’s birthday party downstairs, where she would like to be playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” When her parents and Theodore finally come up the stairs to her room and invite her to rejoin the party for ice cream and cake, she allows herself, reluctantly, to be carried down to the party, even as she is laying down stringent conditions for agreeing to join the celebration again.
Patty Jane is never conciliatory; and she is never matter of fact. Every thought, every threat, every promise is cast in the form of some outrageously imaginative idea. A group of children I read this story to immediately concluded that Patty Jane is a “spoiled brat’.’ No doubt she is. But she is also a very funny brat; her humor even makes her, in a certain way, an attractive brat.
It isn’t really the case, though, that Pat ty Jane gets whatever she wants. Being under the control of others-her parents she belongs to the great army of the oppressed. The point is that she is not defenseless. Her chief weapon of retaliation is bravado.
In a duel between unequal antagonists, the weaker party can often use bravado to good effect. Certainly, Patty Jane does. Through bravado she can pretend to even out the uneven power relationships that plague her life And the humor of extravagant threats allows her to capitulate, in the end, without loss of face (“Of course I didn’t really mean it; I was just kidding;” we can imagine her saying.) No reader can take Patty Jane’s threats seriously; they are too ridiculous. So, she does not deceive her readers. Does she deceive herself? Paradoxically, the humor of her outrageous plans and threats suggests an underlying realism. Patty Jane is striking a pose, perhaps for her own encouragement and self-respect as much as for anything else. Posturing need not be self-deceptive Sometimes it is one’s best survival strategy.
Philosophers from Aristotle to Sartre have had a great deal to say about self-deception. They have been especially intrigued about how it is possible. We can also ask when it is actual, and how we can tell. I’m inclined to think that the very outrageousness of Patty Jane’s plans and threats show her to be a pretty realistic person. But someone else might disagree. Perhaps her rhetoric of hyperbole distorts her own self-knowledge and leaves her even more vulnerable to those around her than she would otherwise be Patty Jane’s ribald repartee certainly makes fun reading. It also invites reflection on self-knowledge, self-deception, and the rhetoric of bravado. I come away from this story not being at all sure I would want Patty Jane for my daughter. But I think I would like her for a friend especially if the grown-ups were against us, as, no doubt, they would be.