A Strategic Essay Reviewing Valerie Laken’s Separate Kingdoms
In the story Separate Kingdoms by Valerie Laken, a family struggles to communicate with each other after Colt the father loses his thumbs to a machine. Laken’s story is arranged in a two column format. Each column represents a different viewpoint (left column is the father and the right column is the son), in order to show separation in a family between the father and son. Showing ultimately, how a lack of human connection can prevent us from understanding the suffering of others. By navigating through a series of misguided dreams, Colt and his family struggle to communicate and come to an understanding. Laken wants us visually see through her use of emotional language and the interpretation of space with sound, how a family can be divided in dealing with a traumatic experience. With how Laken uses parallelism between sounds, language and actions we can also see how families are torn apart by lack of communication. This is a well devised way of showing us the readers how lack of communication and physical can keep us divided and separate us from our own family members.
She starts her essay with a scene where the wife Cherie is about to go in the basement to kick herself silly (1) doing Tae-bo. Although the essay is about the father and son being emotionally separate from each other, it also shows how the mother disconnects herself from the situation of Colt’s accident by removing herself and using exercise to release her stress. Laken chooses to introduce separation immediately as she began this essay. While showing that the mother has a disconnect in the parallel paragraph, we see the son, Jack, coming home from school and he sees his father “still back there in the reject room. Five days he has been living there, in his habitat” (1). By the choice of words given to describe Jack’s thoughts, we begin to see that the son has disdain for his father’s choices. Laken’s selection of words also helps to visually picture what a reject room may entail without giving us a description of what exactly is in the room. We are left with the impression that this is a location that Jack does not want to be a part of. In our own homes we experience similar division. We may resort to our bedrooms when faced with issues we don’t want to deal with, put on headphones to drown out others and even leave a location all together to not have to relate to the issue or issues at hand.
In helping us to create a visual picture of how Colt connects to his situation, Laken introduces in Mike Teak who is a British host of an animal show. She says here that he, Mike Teak, “approaches animals like an inquisitor. But Colt harbors a vicious belief that one day the animals will win, one day the sharks or alligators will bite off Mike’s arms and legs, leave him screaming (2).” Anger is detected in her choice of words. She uses unparallelism to create a connection in contradicting what Colt should be thinking. Teak appears to be a person who is trying to understand the animalistic tendencies of the animal kingdom, however, Colt, a human, is thinking like an animal, and wants to attack. By drawing a comparison to how it would have been better for Colt to have lost an entire limb than just his thumbs, Laken uses the expression of screaming to draw out a visual scene. Simultaneously in the parallel paragraph, she talks about “zombies come out at me from all sides. I shoot and shoot. Their limbs fly off, arm, hand, foot, but they keep coming.” This is a scene description of Jack tearing limbs of zombies in a video game. By Laken superimposing technology through a video game gives us another look at how savagely body parts can be taken off of someone is acceptable. Then Cherie, the mom, addresses Jack as “Hey killer,” (2). We see with the right choice of words, gives visualization to how we are like animals. Laken’s use of this visual technique allows for us to further understand how what we see and do can be interpreted as an animalistic tendency. The language used appeals to us visually. By attracting us, luring us with the use of a video game, we can further understand how our actions impact interpretations. This gives us insight towards what Colt is emotionally feeling and thinking. We begin to better understand how our actions affect others. This forces us to look at how we interact with each, with our families and ourselves.
As the essay goes on to further influence us into believing that separation exists, Laken speaks of Jack as “a boy with imagination but he doesn’t understand the animals, those bumbling, lost-in-the-suburbs moose, or the baby tiger sharks using their fins to walk across the sand. Jack doesn’t understand the envy that swells in Colt every time he watches them (3).” Here her use of animals being able to adapt to their surroundings is of importance. For Jack who cannot visually understand the connection between the animal’s ability to adapt and Colts inability to adapt creates a wall, a barrier that Jack cannot seem to see around. What is oddly occurring in the parallel paragraph is Colt is watching another animal show through Jack’s eyes. Colt wants to “stick his hand through the screen, grab one of those exotic trees, and pull himself right through the jungle, the river, the ocean. Leave me and mom behind to fend for ourselves” (3). From Jack’s standpoint, his father, if he could, would rather abandon them and escape into a world that would be more accepting of him than to continue to deal with his familial responsibilities because of his disconnect. Visual perceptions, gives us the correlation needed to understand how feeling inadequate affects our ability to relate. Feeling inadequate and having the inability to relate forces us to seek a way to escape. However, escaping, isolating and locking ourselves away are not positive forms of communication. This further divides us and separates us from those whom we need support from.
Throughout the essay, Laken uses parallel space to interpret the tone, sound and cadence of what is simultaneously occurring. It is during these moments that separation is actually through sound, a representation of father and son coming together in their separate kingdoms. One moment is when Colt is dealing with the lawyer and he says “It’s too much. All too much.” Colt kicks away the afghan and upsets the dogs and rushes through the kitchen to the front room. “Listen,” he shouts. “We’re not interested, OK? Do you get it?”(14). He is frustrated. He wants to be left alone to deal with his personal consequences of what brought him to this point in his life. All the while this is occurring; Jack is playing his drums, to a pater pater pater pat beat in the basement. Here he can be by himself and alone to deal with what he feels he is not a part of. Each in their own way is trying to drown out the stress of the situation of dealing with the loss of Colt’s thumbs. Each understanding that they have to drown out what reality is by doing what they each do best. Colt gets angry and puts himself in the place of an animal and Jack uses his drum playing skills to escape his father dealing with reality. Although they are separate they use their own escape routes to as a form of release. This shows that they are not as separated from each other as we may think. Here we can feel their frustrations and we can visualize them in their actions. Tone, sound and cadence is emphasized throughout the entire essay. These devises were used in conversations, in drum beats and in motions over and over. Body language says a lot when our mouths are not moving and if we are not careful we can end up conveying the wrong message.
A final example of the young boy, Jack, who has an imagination but he does not understand or connect to the animals, unites his kingdom with his father’s animal kingdom. When he and his mother choose to tape their thumbs down purposely, to be able to sympathize with Colt is proof that Jack wants to be a part of his father’s life. He wants to understand where is father is mentally by removing the use of his thumbs and trying to function without them. Laken in the parallel paragraph talks about the attorney addressing Colt, telling him, “You’d be surprised how often it happens, Colt. You’d be surprised. Funny as it sounds, people even do it on purpose every once in a while. And it’s not even unwinnable.” There are gears going around in this guy, pistons hammering, and steam coming out of his mouth (18). The attorney is explaining why people are willing to jeopardize their health to satisfy an expectation. He is letting Colt know that that he has placed himself in an impossible to win situation. That even though you may prevail at winning the law suit, you still are losing out on a part of life. Was it all worth the loss of his thumb? To Jack and his mother was the experience all worth the loss of their thumbs? Situations come about in our daily lives that we have to choose the lesser of two evils. Although we do not always chose the best options we still have to deal with the consequences. The consequences for Colt were dual. He has to deal with the separation of his thumbs and loss of his thumbs affecting how he communicates and deals with his family.
By navigating through a series of misguided dreams, Colt and his family struggled to communicate and come to an understanding on dealing with the loss of Colt’s thumbs. Laken used visual analysis to walk us through situations to express use of emotional language and the interpretation of space with sound. By using specific language and sounds affected how we as readers interpreted the essay. Her choice in language also helped us to picture, how a family can be divided in dealing with a traumatic experience.