Thursday, 18 November 2010

Mr. Bump: An Arraignment Of Undiagnosed Melancholy

Published on August 10th 1971, Mr. Bump is the sixth book in Roger Hargreaves' Mr. Men series. The series follows a selection of characters whose surnames define their characteristics. Mr. Bump is accident prone, causing himself continuous injury while undertaking everyday tasks.

When we first meet Mr. Bump he summarily walks into a lamp post. The tragic story continues as he endeavors to fix the chimney pot on his house, which has sustained damage in a storm. While retrieving a ladder, he smashes 2 windows on his house, worsening the situation. We are then given an employment history for Mr. Bump, in the past he has worked as a farmer, a bus conductor, a carpenter and as a postman. He has been dismissed from these roles for negligent behaviour, disregard of Health & Safety guidelines and an inability to perform tasks without accident.

Disenchanted with employment, he then takes a holiday to the beach. While there, he falls off a boat, gets his foot stuck in a bucket and falls in a hole. Finally, Mr. Bump finds a job that suits his talents - walking around and bumping into trees on Mr. Barley's orchard, making the apples fall off the trees.

Mr. Bump is the story of an individual's struggle to deal with an undiagnosed medical condition caused by a neurochemical or hormonal imbalance, a certain style of thought process or, in some cases, as a result of traumatic experiences: Clinical Depression.

Through close examination we can surmise Mr. Bump exhibits many of the symptoms of clinical depression from the inception of the biography. Although it is often classed as 'mental illness', clinical depression often has as many physical components as mental, and the feelings or emotions that are depression symptoms can actually begin to cause the physical effects.

For instance, Mr. Bump feels miserable and sad due to his continuous failure to sustain gainful employment. He is exhausted, with no energy (deciding to take a holiday to relax), he doesn't want to interact with people, yet he is scared to be left alone - falling in a hole or off a boat as soon as he is in isolation. Social activity is hard or even impossible to Mr. Bump. He is of the opinion that even the smallest tasks, such as maintenance of a chimney pot, are impossible. He is anxious and finds it difficult to think clearly, getting distracted by the narrative and walking into a lamp post.

Mr. Bump considers himself a failure and/or feels guilty a lot of the time, he thinks of himself as a burden to others, has no confidence and sees no future. There is a distinct loss of hope. He suspects all he has ever done is make mistakes and that's all he will ever will do, a belief partially fuelled by the Narrator who conveys Mr. Bump's inner monologue to us.

Mr. Bump spends a lot of his time thinking about what has gone wrong the "little accidents" that have befallen him. He worries about what will go wrong or what is wrong with him as a person/Mr. Man, assuming life is unfair and is passing him by. His career choices are desperately varied, he is trying to find something he can succeed in, but falters as his attention span is reduced and his mind can no longer function. Mr. Bump wishes to instigate major change in his life, be it as a Postman or a Farmer, but his own lack of self-belief and self-destructive tendencies subconsciously attack his desire for success, ultimately he consistently fails.

One of the symptoms of depression is feeling you have physical aches and pains which appear to have no physical cause, the bandages encasing Mr.Bump's torso and head suggest this to be the case. Worryingly, Mr. Bump is at a high risk of self harming. His bandage covered body could suggest that this is already the case, that Mr. Bump is crying out for help and attention by cutting or injuring himself, even subconsciously causing these "little accidents" to occur.

Mr. Bump is frustrated and lost, yet the Mr. Men around him do not see the problems he faces mentally. They do not know he is at risk. Mr. Bump wears a permanently forced smile, his attempt to cover his problems with bravado and good humour. He is ashamed of his condition, he hates himself. Ultimately he is making his own problems worse, by assuming a contented role, his friends will not suspect he is self harming, they will not offer him the help and support he needs and there is a serious risk he could attempt to end his life.

Post traumatic stress disorder can lead to depression due to the continuing emotionally arousing thoughts it creates. Quite apart from the results of having your life interrupted on an ongoing basis by horrific memories, the emotional arousal they create can cause depression. Mr. Bump is undoubtedly plagued by the memories of failure. He cannot overcome this, suggesting he has failed in a dramatic and traumatising event in the past. Perhaps an unrequited love, or a problem such as alcoholism tearing apart his family. He may have witnessed a crime and been unable to prevent it, or seen a loved one perish without being able to rescue them. Something has happened which subconsciously haunts him, and it is something he hasn't dealt with on a psychological level.

Through analysis and understanding of Mr. Bump's continued depressive thinking styles, we can see how he forms a pattern of thinking, a cycle of depression, that creates a downward spin and so continues to fuel the depression. Mr. Men all have basic emotional needs that must be met for them to thrive and enjoy life, although some would be considered as a obsessive compulsive (Mr. Fussy, Mr. Rush, Mr. Busy, Mr. Sneeze), unhealthily antisocial (Mr. Chatterbox, Mr. Noisy, Mr. Mean, Mr. Rude) or even suffering borderline mental retardation (Mr. Clever, Mr. Quiet, Mr. Forgetful, Mr. Muddle). After the primary human needs for food, water and shelter come commonly shared emotional and physical needs. Without exception we find depressed people are not getting these needs met.

However, medical research has proven traditional communities naturally meet many 'basic needs' for emotional support. In the traditional Amish society in the USA major depression is almost unknown, as it is in the equally traditional Kaluli tribe of New Guinea. In these societies individual concerns are group concerns and vise-versa. You know that if you have a problem other people will help you and you are expected to help out when others need support. We know we are meant to do these things but it's not a 'built in feature' of modern society in the same way. These days we are much more 'self-focused'. The idea of considering the wider community to be more important than the self is almost impossible to understand for most people and Mr. Men.

Mr. Bump's story ends with delusion. This 'holiday' from his life can be interpreted as a suicide. We understand that he falls from a boat - indicating this may be related to the trauma of the past, a drowning perhaps? We are then told he gets his foot "stuck in a bucket". 'Kicking the bucket' is commonly used vernacular slang for death, or to die. Mr. Bump has jumped from the boat, not by accident, but with intent of death. We are then told he falls into a hole which "he couldn't climb out on his own". He lies in the ground in eternal sleep.

Instantly, the story takes an upbeat turn where Mr.Bump finds happiness in the simplicity of an orchard, picking apples under the watchful eye of Mr. Barley. Mr. Bump has ascended our mortal plane to his vision of Heaven, the garden of Eden, under the guidance of an all seeing presence. He is finally happy, he has escaped the confines of his mind and found comfort in death.

According to medical journals major depression is 2nd most disabling condition in the developed world. In the world of the Mr. Men, it is the 1st.

If you have been affected by any of the issues in Mr. Bump, please contact The Samaritans.

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Gruffalo: An Analogy On the Nature Of Celebrity

The Gruffalo is a children's book by writer and playwright Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler. The book was initially published in 1999 by Macmillan Children's Books as a 32-page hardback edition. It is aimed at children aged three to seven, is about 700 words long and is written entirely in rhyming couplets.

The simplistic story follows a little brown Mouse who, during a walk through the woods to fetch some sustenance, avoids being eaten by various ravenous woodland creatures by misleading them with tales of a fantastic monster which he is on his way to meet. The twist in the story is that the monster, the titular Gruffalo, appears and has designs on eating the Mouse himself. The Mouse adds to his fabrications by insisting the Gruffalo should fear him, returning to the other characters to show them the beast and watch them run in fear for their lives. The Gruffalo is not privy to the knowledge that his reputation precedes him and so is led to believe Mouse is the source of the other creatures discomposure. The Gruffalo relents in his desire to devour Mouse and returns to the woods, Mouse is left to enjoy the nut feast he had aspired to.

On the surface, The Gruffalo is an innocent tale of good triumphing over evil. On closer inspection, the story is an scathing analogy of the corrupt nature of celebrity, media and how one can ultimately achieve one's goals only through deceit.

Where Donaldson succeeds is in her creation of an everyman character in the Little brown Mouse. An every-mouse, if you will. We meet the nameless character partly on his voyage, we are given no back story or character traits. He is a blank canvas on which we, as readers, can project our own personality. We have no cognition of his motivation for the tarriance through the woods, if he has a family or even a home. We are simply told he is on a journey, on which later he sees the chance to dine on a delicious nut. The nut represents the success and stability that we all crave in life, his sojourn through the woodland can only be seen as the transition to maturity and the creatures he encounters represent the hardships of modern day life.

Fox is the first creature to cross paths with our hero. Mouse knows Fox will attempt to outwit him and, doubtless, kill him. Fox attempts to engage in conversation with Mouse, but the dialogue is laced with his personal characteristics. He is cunning, a trait we have yet to see in the innocent Mouse. However, Mouse accepts the trait into his own personality, constructing a lie about an impending synergistic encounter with a colossal beast, the fictional Gruffalo, to cause Fox to flee with trepidation. Fox has no reason to question this, as he has offered Mouse dinner in his own home, knowing full-well that he is intent on eating the rodent himself. He has lied, misjudging Mouse to be innocent and pure in heart. When Mouse retaliates with a bigger lie, Fox is conditioned to accept all he says without interrogation.

Mouse then encounters the dexterously deceiving Snake, whose consummate desires and actions mirror Fox. Mouse proactively adopts a similar strategy, concocting more prefabrication and detail to his pre-existing untruth. Mouse has realised here that the only way to acquire success and defeat your enemies is through the mastery their own skills. By turning their own character traits against them, he will always win. They are weak-minded, devious characters, who have instigated the situation by revealing their own false claims of inviting Mouse to dinner.

Finally Mouse encounters his most natural foe, Owl. Owl is a notoriously erudite creature, here he is using wisdom to prey on what he perceives to be a fatuitous mouse. Mouse's past experiences have inculated behavioural instinct, and it's through the experiences we face growing up that shape us as an individual. Mouse is the product of his surroundings, his encounters with the malicious creatures have shaped him into a cunning survivalist. He now knows that in order to gain success, he has to lie and cheat his way to the top. Mouse demonstrates the corruption of the youth and that society is built for the good to fail. Had Mouse had remained untainted and innocent, he would certainly have lost his life.

It is now that the decidedly self-satisfied Mouse encounters the Gruffalo. The monster represents the lies Mouse has told manifesting before him. The untruths we tell will always come back to haunt us.

It is here that the underlying theme shifts to the quest for fame as well as fortune. Mouse realises that he has pre-warned the other woodland creatures of the ferocity and appearance of the Gruffalo. He has created a preordained awareness in the mindset of the other animals, and thus created a need for this creature to appear. Mouse informs the creature that he himself is in fact the most terrifying animal in the wood, a terrible falsehood which the Gruffalo rightly questions, believing the opposite to be true. As evidence of his claim, Mouse returns to the woods, encountering all the foes he had met previously, introducing them to the mythical beast he subjacently informed them of . Mouse is essentially taking advantage of the fame - the beast - he has created from nothing, he has lied about his own credentials and his relationship with the Gruffalo in order to create a reputation for himself.

The animals fear the now-infamous Gruffalo and run in terror, undoubtedly to spread the legend of this monster to all the other creatures in the wood. Mouse has acted as an agent for the creature's fame, a catalyst of infamy.

The monster himself is a metaphor for the very essence and nature of fame. He is gigantic and all consuming, his size far outweighs Mouse in a figurative and literal sense. Fame, as a concept, is removed from the individual, it becomes an entity of expectation of the subject. The Gruffalo's fame precedes his actual being and he has become a celebrity because of it. Mouse markets fame to fuel his own desire. The Gruffalo is pure fantasy, but through Mouse's increasingly detailed marketing and P.R campaign he has come into being.

The lie was told so often and with such relish that Mouse, and all around him, came to believe it was the truth. The line between reality and fantasy has been crossed and Mouse has to deal with his own self promotion. This is undoubtedly a bitter attack on the nature of the Media in society. How a fabricated story, based on no hard evidence, can instantly explode beyond it's original concept to become accepted as fact. The populace trust the media and will believe what they are told, the media exploits this to create demand and celebrity.

The conclusion of the story revolves around the Gruffalo retreating to the woods in fear of Mouse. He is fearful of what Mouse has become. Mouse no-longer needs the crutch of his lies as his fiction has, to all round him, become fact. He is famous. Mouse now lives in a celebrity world of his own creation and to the victor, the spoils. Mouse is left to enjoy the success he craved when first we met him, the nut.

"And the nut, was good".