Teenage Wasteland by Anne Tyler
In Teenage Wasteland by Anne Tyler we have the theme of blame, authority, fear, rebellion, trust and control. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Tyler may be exploring the theme of blame. Daisy in many ways blames herself for the bad attitude that Donny has and the bad grades that he is getting. Though this might be natural for a mother to be blaming themselves. Daisy has done nothing wrong. As far as the reader can ascertain Donny (and his sister) have grown up in a normal household and Donny appears to be at the age in whereby a person rebels against everything they know. Something that Donny appears to be doing. He does not take his education seriously. Yet there is no reason as to why this should be the case. There is no mention to anybody that Donny might be experiencing difficulties in his personal life and there is some hope from Daisy that Donny is just going through a period, a natural period, of rebellion and it will end soon. However the school principal sees things as being a little more serious. Leaving the reader to suspect that Donny is on a downward spiral. One in which he has no control over.
The issue of control is an important one as Donny feels as though the adults in his life. With the exception of Cal. Are trying to control his life. Particularly his parents who Donny feels as though they do not trust him. However it may not be a matter of trust and more likely both of Donny’s parents have genuine concerns about his well-being. Though persuaded by Cal, Daisy forgoes asking Donny as many questions as she would have normally asked. It is as though Cal is becoming a major influence in Donny’s life yet at the same time Daisy may feel pressurized to trust Cal over trusting her own motherly instincts. Cal after all has been referred to Daisy by a psychologist, a person of trust. So Daisy is unsure of whether to question Cal whose methods may be considered by some critics to be a little dubious. Donny’s grades do after all begin to slip as soon as he starts seeing Cal. If anything Donny may like Cal’s place because he is allowed to do what he wants. Though any academic work appears to be outside Cal’s control.
It is also interesting how trusting Daisy is of those in authority. This may partially explain why she at times blames herself when it comes to Donny’s attitude. It is as though Daisy lacks confidence though at the same time wants the best for Donny. However Donny has been let down by Cal who at one stage in the story considers Donny to be emotionally unstable. This is something that Cal did not mention previously and only mentions it when he tells Daisy he can make no headway with Donny. Leaving the reader to suspect that Cal is attempting to clear his conscience when it comes to the matter of Donny’s education. Where previously Cal had an explanation for everything. This is not the case when Donny is deemed by Cal to be emotionally unstable. As to why Donny might try to run away is difficult to say but he may have felt beaten by the system that was imposed onto him. He remained quiet in his new school and didn’t mix with anybody. If anything Donny may have went from being an extrovert (smoking and drinking) to an introvert. In whereby he thought the world was against him.
The end of the story is also interesting as Daisy never gives up on Donny nor does she let him go. As would be expected of a mother whose son has run away. Events are life changing for Daisy who again may blame herself for the direction that Donny has taken. It is also noticeable that Daisy is living her life somewhat in fear. Afraid of what might have happened to Donny. It is also interesting that the police show little concern when it comes to Donny’s whereabouts as children running away from home may be something that they encounter on a daily basis. Other children may be as disenfranchised as Donny and like Donny they too have run away from home. Which leaves the reader wondering if Tyler is taking just a slice of the teenage population that may be disenfranchised and highlighting their decline from getting in trouble in school to subsequent expulsion. These children appear to fall by the way side without the proper back up to help them. It seems as though Donny has paid a serious price for what could only be described as teenage misdemeanors. Those he relied on people like Cal were of little benefit to him and Cal washed his hands of Donny when he was expelled from school.