Monday, July 5, 2010

Junie B. Jones, Structuralist

Took last week off. Visited StraightMan's parents and grandmother. Almost six-hour flight there (and a little less than that on the return). Plied Bubbie with screen time, including in-flight DirecTV but Beanie quickly tired of this and buried herself in a book. Good traveler and good reader, that Beanie.

While at her grandparents, she found her cousin's copy of Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy.

For those, like myself, not especially well read in "starter" chapter books, Junie B. Jones is the title character in a series that chronicles her adventures and misadventures, first in kindergarten, then in first grade.

A quirk of the book to which Beanie objected is the use of "mistakes" to lend authenticity to Junie B's voice, like saying "runned" instead" of "ran." Beanie felt, I believe, condescended to: "That's not how you say it. Even I know that."

Beanie is the kind of kid who, following the lead of her teachers, on whom she fixes her laser-like attentions, describes words as "rule breakers."

In Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy, the kindergarteners have a Pet Day. When Junie discovers that her goldfish has died, she decides to take a frozen fishstick to school as her pet.

Again, Beanie objected: "Why would she not know that a fishstick is not a pet?"

Because I am amused and because I am half-distracted with trying to form a pancake man in the griddle for her breakfast, I ask her: "What makes a fishstick not a pet?"

"Because it is a food."

Because I am an anthropologist as well as a parent, I cannot help it: A teaching moment in structuralism ensues:

Some animals can be pets and some animals can be food. On the point that pets cannot be food, Beanie wholeheartedly agreed with Junie B.

Not to mention the observations of Claude Levi-Strauss and Edmund Leach. Levi-Strauss, described often as the "father" of structuralist anthropology, famously said that "animals are good to think with," meaning that they force us to unpack our assumptions about people and what we take for granted as distinguishing "us" and "them." (This is a reason why StraightMan and I correct ourselves, a bit tongue in cheek, when we talk about animals and humans with Beanie - "I mean, non-human animals and humans." A family of hopeless geeks.) Leach, who acted as chief interpreter of French structuralism in British social anthropology, wrote about which names of animals were used as insults in English - for example, "dogs" and "rats," but not "lions" and "zebras" - and the kinds of relationships those particular (non-human) animals have with humans. It seems that familiarity, if not domestication, breeds contempt?

When I suggested to Beanie that people a long time ago or in other places around the world even right now could have different ideas about what animals can be "pets" and what animals can be "foods," she declared that this made sense.

She pointed out also that one of her best friends is vegetarian, which means that she does not think that any animal can (or ought to) be food.

1 comment:

  1. I rather admire Beanie's structuralist interpretation of vegetarianism.