The Boy Who Loved Ice Cream by Olive Senior
In The Boy Who Loved Ice Cream by Olive Senior we have the theme of desire, jealousy, insecurity, innocence, control, change, conflict and coming of age. Taken from her Summer Lightning and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Senior may be exploring the theme of desire. Benjy has never had ice cream before and by the description given to him by Elsa it is something that fascinates him. So strong is Benjy’s desire to get some ice cream at the Harvest Festival Sale that he can’t focus on anything else. It is as though Benjy is totally preoccupied with the prospect of getting ice cream. This may be important as Senior may be highlighting how innocent Benjy is. Something that is further noticeable when the reader discovers that Benjy has no real understanding as to the value of money. He has never needed money before but he knows that his father has to pay for the ice cream. This too might be important as there is a sense that Benjy is somewhat under the control of his father. As too is Benjy’s mother.
It is also interesting that Benjy’s mother is open to change unlike her husband who appears to be rooted in his beliefs as to what life should be. If anything Benjy’s father keeps outside influences at bay. Something that is noticeable by his refusal to go to church and the fact that the only time he leaves One Eye is for the Harvest Festival Sale. It is as though he lives his life to a strict set of rules or that he has a regime that he must follow. Which is contrary to how Benjy’s mother feels. This may be important as it opens up the possibility of conflict between both Benjy’s mother and father. A conflict that may have been triggered by issues with regard to Benjy’s paternity. Benjy’s father doubts that Benjy is his son. Though he has no evidence he has nagging suspicions which continue to play on his mind. Something that is really noticeable at the end of the story when Benjy’s father catches Benjy’s mother taking to the good looking man in the purple shirt. Though some critics might suggest that Benjy’s father’s suspicions are credible it may also be a case that he is thinking too much about something that has never happened and that the real issue is one of trust. Benjy’s father doesn’t trust his wife.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which is important. The ice cream that Benjy desires so much can symbolise both happiness and loss. Happiness because of how Elsa has described ice cream to Benjy and loss because Benjy through his father’s actions never gets the opportunity to taste ice cream. The fact that three religious faiths are also mentioned could suggest the importance of religion to those who live in Springville. Already the reader is aware that Benjy’s mother attends church every Sunday. The good looking man in the purple shirt could also be symbolically important as he acts as the trigger for Benjy’s father’s jealousy and insecurity. Senior also appears to be using light to place an emphasis on the excitement that Benjy feels about going to the Harvest Festival Sale. As Benjy passes by the wild brazilwood branches he comes out of the semi-darkness of the path and onto what to Benjy is the broadest street he has ever seen. Covered in marl and white. It is as though Benjy’s eyes have been opened up to a world he has never seen before.
The end of the story is interesting as it becomes clear to the reader that Benjy is coming of age. Not only has he to deal with the reality that his ice cream has fallen to the ground and that he has lost out on the opportunity to taste ice cream. But Benjy’s father is so enraged that Benjy’s mother is talking to the man in the purple shirt that the reader is left to conclude that there will be a confrontation between Benjy’s father, mother and the man in the purple shirt. The root of the problem in Benjy’s father’s eyes being that Benjy is not his child. On what should have been a happy occasion for Benjy turns out to be a day of disappointment. He is to witness an encounter that he is too young to witness. One that is sure to stick in Benjy’s mind. Rather than walking back home and thinking how nice ice cream is. Benjy’s world may be turned upside down because of his father’s jealousy and insecurity. Life may never be the same for Benjy. Any innocence that he once had may soon be lost.