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"I would hope that people might view their fellow beings, all beings, with more empathy, more compassion, with a desire to understand. Even if they can't know why people are the way they are, to understand that they're probably that way for a good reason." said Peter Hedges, author of the book What's Eating Gilbert Grape, and the book has helped him realize this wish.
Gilbert Grape, a 24-year-old GenXer, lives in Endora, a dying small town where life is ¡°like dancing to no music.¡± He works at a grocery, whose business is threatened by the newly opened supermarket. Gilbert¡¯s mother, who was once the town sweetheart, has not stopped eating since her husband hanged himself in the basement, and the floor beneath her TV chair is threatening to cave in. His elder sister Amy still mourns the death of Elvis and the fact that her boyfriend dumped her. Ellen, the younger sister who is hooked on makeup and boys, quarrels relentlessly with him. The biggest event on the horizon for all the Grapes is the eighteenth birthday of Gilbert's retarded younger brother, Arnie, who is a living miracle just for having survived so long. When everything in Endora is eating Gilbert Grape and all that he thinks about is leaving, a worldly and beautiful girl Becky rides through town on a bicycle, helping him to have a new vision of his family and himself¡
There is no one specific plot to this novel, though many conflicts do arise. What makes it so good is the interaction between characters and the unique language style.
The family and the characters in What's Eating Gilbert Grape might be strange, but they seem like real characters with real emotions, for the author successfully gives each of them a vivid depiction.
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Arnie is about to turn eighteen, but mentally, he is like a five-year-old. He always has traces of some food on his face, and when he feels like it, he climbs up on the water tower, or catches grasshoppers and chops off their heads. He never listens to his brother or sister, and always makes trouble for them. However, when we are reading, we do not hate him or laugh at him, for he just does not know any better. He not only arouses readers¡¯ compassion, but also is loved and protected by all his family. It is through that that we see the power of love maintains this ¡°dysfunctional¡± family.
Momma is also quite a character. She keeps on eating, smoking, and watching TV without leaving her TV chair, and she never goes to bed to sleep. Nevertheless, when the police catch Arnie because he has climbed up on the water tower again, she leaves the house for the first time in the seven years, ignoring other people¡¯s gossip, to get her son back. When readers consider Momma only to be a big smoking whale, she shows the strength of a great mother, and makes us respect and admire her even more.
Gilbert is the bread earner of the family, but his full-time job is taking care of Arnie. Gilbert cares for Arnie with all his heart, and what he always says is ¡°You don't hurt Arnie, you just don't.¡± He is inconceivably patient with Arnie: When Arnie gets dirty, he bails him to take a bath; When Arnie says he loves the merry-go-round, he lets him ride on it again and again for a whole afternoon. At the same time, we see a GenXer who hates the small and monotonous town he lives in and a brother and son who loves his family wholeheartedly.
The author is very good at using dialogues. The short, but humorous and meaningful dialogues, vividly depicts all the unique characters. We can know clearly what kind of a boy Arnie is from the following example:
Gilbert: "Why do you think that is?"
For Arnie, that is an answer.
The language style is also a reason why the novel is attractive. Although the sentences are not long, they are ironic and powerful. When the author describes Gilbert¡¯s job, he writes: ¡°Lamson grocery is where I work, and miles out of town on the interstate there's Foodland, where everyone else shops.¡±
Almost all the readers regard the Grapes as the most dysfunctional when they first get to know the situation of the family. However, the novel shows that the family turns out to be just the opposite because of the love and care for each other. When American families are slowly deteriorating, this novel makes people believe that there is still something that can bring a family closely together.
When Becky asks Gilbert what he wants, he answers:¡± Okay, I want a new thing... house, I want a new house, for the family. I want Momma to take aerobics classes, I want Ellen to grow up, I want a new brain for Arnie.¡± Although the answer is very simple, we are touched because what Gilbert wants are all for his family rather than himself.
At the end of the novel, after Arnie¡¯s birthday party, which is what she has always been looking forward to, Momma dies as she leaves her TV chair to have a real sleep in bed. All the children of the Grapes reached upon an agreement without too many words: they are going to burn the house where Momma dies. They will not allow people to laugh at their whale-like, yet dear Momma after her death. Everyone works silently and swiftly to take the furniture out. When Gilbert sets the house on fire, the children stand outside the house, surrounded by the old furniture, holding each other tight.
After reading the book, we cannot help wondering why so many families break up nowadays. Perhaps it is because people lack tolerance. Gilbert also dreams about leaving his family when Arnie refuses to take a bath, when Momma leaves a pile of dishes to wash, but he manages to endure all that because they are a family. In the end, he receives love, warmth, and support from his family. They stand together, with the same wish in heart. How can a family be more intolerable than the Grapes? When you feel you cannot stand your family any more, think of Gilbert, and you will find your courage back. Perhaps if everyone had a family this close, the world would be a better place.
The book tells us how to say goodbye, how to love, and how to cry. Above all this, it tells us to understand other people, and to view them with more empathy, and more compassion. Before reading the book, I tended to look down upon ¡°abnormal¡± people just like those depicted in the book. Now I begin to understand that they are also human beings, just like us, and they are able to live and to love. I believe that everyone who has read the book will have the same feeling.
What¡¯s Eating Gilbert Grape is a book with vivid characters, a unique language style, and a touching theme. It is a novel worth reading, and worth reading again.