Monday, June 11, 2007

Module 1: The Pull of the Ocean

Mourlevat, Jean-Claude. 2006. The Pull of the Ocean. Translated by Y. Maudet. New York: Delacorte Press. ISBN 0385733488.

Plot Summary
Yann is a smart ten year old boy, but he stands out among his six older brothers since he can only communicate with facial expressions and hand gestures and is only about two and a half feet tall. He wakes up his brothers one night and tells them that they have to leave immediately since he overheard his parents say they are going to hurt the boys. All of the brothers set off on a journey to the ocean. They endure many hardships along the way, only to be locked into a house when they do make it to the ocean. In the end the older brothers are reunited with their parents, who were never going to harm their children. Yann goes missing, but it becomes apparent that this was his plan all along.

Critical Analysis
The Pull of the Ocean is an interesting book since it is told from the point of view of multiple characters. Readers are allowed to experience the story from the angle of the brothers, their parents, and the different people they encounter along their journey to the ocean. Another interesting factor is that the individuals telling the story are reflecting back on what already happened after learning of Yann's disappearance. The reader begins to expect the worst, thinking that Yann has somehow died. Hope reappears in the end when Yann is discovered on a ship.

The boys come from a poor, rural household. They are expected to help out on the farm, but Yann would rather concentrate on his school work. Yann's parents seem to despise him for this, and his mother speaks as though Yann deserved to be hit and mistreated. It is a relief to learn that the parents were going to kill the kittens, not the children, but the accounts of the parents make it clear that life for Yann would have been difficult had he remained at home.

Many characters in the book comment on the way the brothers look. The first description of Yann comes from the social worker. She says, "I can still remember him...his funny little baby hands, red and plump. Dressed in a suit jacket and gray cotton pants, he seemed to have come from another century. Who would dare dress a child this way, if not to humiliate him?" A student who encounters one of the brothers at the train station comments on his bad scent then adds, "it was sad to see how he was dressed: a brown parka that no longer closed, threads of wool hanging from the sleeves of a sweater. The only acceptable item was a cap with earflaps that made him look like an airplane pilot of the past."

The Pull of the Ocean was originally written in French, but the only indicators of France within the book are the names of characters and cities and the descriptions of the places. Yann's family sometimes uses phrases that seem to indicate their rural lifestyle. One of the brothers comments on Yann's missing book bag by saying, "It's the father threw it swimming." In the second chapter Yann's mother says, "If only stupid Corniaud had torn out a piece of her calf, but all he done is bark that yapper." Another interesting aspect of Yann's family is how they talk about each other. Yann and his brothers only refer to their parents as the parents, the mother, and the father. In the end they say that they are shocked when the parents call them children since they have never been called children before. This aspect appears to be more of a comment on the family's relationships rather than a cultural indicator.

Review Excerpts
"The details of the brothers' journey are plausible and realistic, yet Yann remains a deeply mysterious character. Genius? Victim? Manipulator? Saint? Equal parts "Tom Thumb" and Truffaut's The 400 Blows, this story/fable/fairy tale is a powerful portrait of poverty and sibling solidarity, at once tragic and oddly joyful." -The Horn Book, November/December 2006

Share Tom Thumb by Charles Perrault since The Pull of the Ocean is based on that story.

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