The Outcast By Sadie Jones, A Critical Analysis

The Outcast By Sadie Jones, A Critical Analysis

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Sadie Jones

He put his hand onto the cold glass pane. He felt far away from himself. He imagined putting his fist through it and the jagged hole in the pane and the points of the glass still attached to the wood. He imagined dragging his wrist and his arm against them so they would cut into him. He didn’t think he would feel it. He pictured putting his face through the glass and wondered if he would feel all the pieces cut him.
He closed his eyes to stop imagining it, but it was the same, picturing the glass going into him, needing to do it. His heart started going quickly, pushing the cold blood around. He turned from the window. He realised he’d been scraping his arm with his other hand and stopped doing it.
There was a sudden stillness like the gap between ticks on a clock, but the next tick never coming.
He couldn’t here talking downstairs; they must have been sitting silently. He thought of them sitting opposite one another, staring, not moving.
He went into the bathroom and shut the door and locked it. He stood at the mirror, and looked, and the need to damage himself took over. All he could think of was hurting himself and how to do it. He picked up his father’s razor. It was an old-fashioned one, the kind you open. He opened the razor and looked at the blade. He knew he wouldn’t feel it if her were to stick it right into himself – but the sight of the blade stopped him for a second. It had a power about it, the strength of the forbidden, and it was fascinating. It was beautiful.
His hand rested on the basin, holding the razor and he waited. He felt cool and curious, like he could do anything and it didn’t matter. He held up his left arm and pushed up the sleeve with his hand holding the razor. He pressed the blade against his skin and immediately, just as the feel of the sharp blade on his skin, his heart went quicker and blood came back into him. He was breathless with wanting to do it. He could taste the need to hurt himself in his mouth, and when he did, he cried with the relief of it. He made a long cut down his forearm and the red line filled with bright blood very quickly and started to run.

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He was frightened of the blood and trying not to cut too deep, hurting himself just enough – and it did hurt, and he held himself over the basin and rested his forehead on the edge of the basin, and the sadness and hurting were comforting to him because he could feel them.
He waited, with his head bowed, till the arm wasn’t running blood anymore, and rinsed it off in cold water and went back to his room to try and find something to put on it.
He felt pathetic and small and stupid now. What a stupid crazy sick thing to do, he told himself; if they know about this they will put you in a special school. They’ll put you in a hospital…
He found a school shirt that had ink on the sleeve and tore it into pieces and bound himself with it. It was tricky to do it up and he had to use his teeth to help with the knot, but once he was bandaged it was better, the cotton felt tight and steady on his arm, and he put his sleeve down and did it up. He lay on his bed and let his thoughts rest.

Almost every sentence of the passage makes reference to the main character through use of a personal pronoun such as “him”, “his” or “he”. The third person narrative makes sure that the reader is aware that the focus of the passage is on Lewis (the protagonist) and that this is a direct account of the feelings he is undergoing at the time. This allows the reader to build up a relationship with the character and feel more involved in the actions of that character. The authors’ continuous use of these personal pronouns shows that she herself thinks that, by now, the reader must have established enough of an understanding and connection with the protagonist for her to refer to him without actually using a name. The focus on emotions in the passage shows a vulnerability to the character and the detail of feelings and insecurities as well as a detailed style of writing (the pushing up of the sleeve, the razor being that of an old-fashioned type) gives the sensation of a feminine perspective of a male’s state of mind.

The frequent uses of the connective “and” almost makes the readers feel as though there are too many thoughts in Lewis’ head. More has to be added to the sentence in a rush to get the words and the thoughts out. This format also builds a subtle tension. As the writing continues and the sentence extends, the reader starts to expect some sort of a final crescendo to the unbroken and apparently endless sequence of events.

The passage gives the reader a careful insight into the protagonists’ fragile state of mind through the more or less mundane. There is constant reference to glass, a fragile, common element easily shattered or broken, which can be drawn as a parallel to Lewis’ delicate emotions, also easily broken. Use of words such as “jagged”, “cold” and “scraping” give a sense of pain – both emotional and physical. This pain is expressed through the physical action of Lewis cutting himself with his father’s razor and then the need to cover up what he has done as if ashamed. His crying afterwards shows the emotional and mental pain that he needs to express.

However Lewis does seem to be aware of what he is doing, thinking and the implications of his actions. It is just his apparent inability to control himself and what he does. For example he recognises that if anyone discovered that he had self-harmed then he would be sent to “a special school”. This makes him cover up the scars and therefore shows the reader that he can make rational choices and sensible decisions also. He is not entirely unstable in his character. This perhaps makes Lewis rather more intriguing or chilling infact. The way that his mental state can rapidly switch is unsettling to outsiders. We see him lose control after viewing himself in the mirror. It is his reflection which causes him to want to hurt himself and cause him pain. It is as if he cannot bear to see the man that he has become and wants to destroy what he has shaped.

After cutting himself we see Lewis regress in a way, proving his instability and inability to control his emotions. He now views himself as “pathetic and small and stupid now”. He sees himself as the small boy he once was and uses an old school shirt to bandage his arm. This makes him feel better as the cotton feels “tight and steady” on his arm. This is the only time we are shown some sort of permanent solidity throughout the passage. This perhaps shows that Lewis wants to return to the times of his childhood where he felt safe in the arms of someone else. This idea is echoed when he viewed himself in the mirror at the beginning of the passage. He disliked the reflection that he saw and would maybe prefer to have seen the image of a more innocent child that he remembers being.

Lewis appears to miss the idea of security and someone looking after him. He describes himself as being “frightened of the blood”, something that a small child would feel afraid of. This perhaps shows that although he has grown physically he had not managed to mature and develop emotionally and still holds the same, irrational childhood fears.

His lack of control is also evident when he closes his eyes to try and shut out the horrific image of himself putting his face through the glass and fails. Despite not wanting to imagine the action he still cannot help his mind forming the image almost automatically. He wants to be able to control the image but cannot. The subconscious scraping of his arm emphasises this. Without his knowledge he commits an action which he immediately, once aware of it, stops doing. The fact that he does things without realising shows just how separate his mental state is from his physical. To be a functional being in control of oneself, both the mental and the physical must be in coordination yet here we see a separation of the two and therefore an imbalance in the character. This separation of the physical and mental is also shown through the writing. The author at first appears to draw us into the thoughts of the character before abruptly bringing us back the cold reality with the use of physical objects. For example the mentioning of the basin in the bathroom brings us back to the real world after having been let into the thoughts of Lewis and how he is feeling as he is in the actual act of cutting himself. This clever writing allows to experience something of what the protagonist might be feeling but does not allow us to get to drawn into the emotions and feeling of the book for fear of losing out perspective on events. The bringing back to reality, as it were, keeps us aware of the implications of certain actions and seems to keep our sympathy somewhat limited throughout.

The only time we are made aware of other characters in the text, the author refers to them only as “they”. “They” are “sitting silently”, inferring a calm state of mind and sense of tranquillity. This contrasts to the feelings and behaviour of Lewis at the time and exaggerates his volatility and delicate frame of mind. “They” appear to be in control of themselves and can, unlike Lewis, refrain from acting on impulse and emotion.

Another interpretation of the text could portray Lewis as having blocked out his emotions and the cutting of his arm is a way of letting out genuine feeling. He describes the feelings of sadness and hurt as “comforting”. The author gives the feeling that Lewis craves attention and wants someone to understand him and reassure him of his insecurities. It gives the sense that Lewis had had little opportunity, or has been forbidden from showing his pain or emotion. He cries at the “relief” of being allowed to experience pain. It almost gives a sense of a long-awaited desire and it gives the feeling of joy in a way. Something that he has been forbidden to do brings him more feeling and happiness than he has been able to experience for a long time. This would explain his fascination with the “strength of the forbidden” when describing his father’s blade.

Another intriguing part of the text is Lewis’ admiration and awe of power and the “forbidden”. He pauses in the act of cutting himself out of awe of the physical object of the razor. He finds its strength “beautiful”. Maybe this physical strength, the hardness of the steel, the security with which it can do its job is what Lewis finds so attractive. It is something that he lacks and something that he desires. He wants power over himself and his emotions.
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