Imagine having half a dozen people staring and judging you walking down the bus aisle because how you look. In Park’s perspective she was “Not just new – but big and awkward. With crazy hair, bright red on top of curly. And she was dressed like . . . like she wanted people to look at her. Or maybe she didn’t get what a mess she was. She had a plaid shirt on, a man’s shirt, with half a dozen weird necklaces hanging around her neck and scarves wrapped around her wrists. She reminded Park of a scarecrow or one of the trouble dolls his mom kept on her dresser. Like something that wouldn’t survive in this world” (Rowell 8) Poverty has a huge influence on adolescents. Throughout the story “Eleanor & Park,” Eleanor shows a series of examples that show how poor she is and how it affects herself and others around her. From how she doesn’t fit in with others, how she is insecure, and how guarded she is.
There’s multiple ways throughout the story that Eleanor and her family show that they are poor. They can’t even afford the basic necessities. For example a toothbrush. In chapter 12 Eleanor talks about how she rubs her teeth with salt in the school bathroom. She even considers asking her guidance counselor for one, but didn’t want her to question her home life and find out how bad it is (Rowell 54). Another example would be not having a bathroom door (Rowell 17). They hung a sheet to use as a door, but someone took it down, so Eleanor has to take baths before her stepdad Richie comes home from work (Rowell 34). Another example would be Eleanor’s clothes. Eleanor has to sew patches on her jeans when it has rips or when the zipper/button doesn’t work she has to wear longer shirts. Not that she doesn’t wear huge shirts anyways. She also, has to pin her bra together because it has rips.
It’s obvious from knowing what Eleanor looks like she doesn’t exactly fit in. From her curly red hair, to her freckles, baggy shirts, and patched up jeans. Being new didn’t help her case either. She was instantly out casted and targeted by the bullies in school. Social status can sometimes be determined on looks alone in high-school, and that’s something Eleanor experiences in this book, but what most people don’t know is Eleanor doesn’t dress different because she wants to look different. Eleanor dresses different because she is different. She is different not only because the way she looks, but because her interest, personality, and because she comes from an intensely poor family. It says in the book that Eleanor gets all her clothes from Goodwill, but in some ways all of it seems to be her style. “Park’s ultimate theory about Eleanor’s fashion sense is right on: He got why Eleanor tried so hard to look different. Sort of. It was because she was different—because she wasn’t afraid to be. (Or maybe she was just more afraid of being like everyone else.) (35.165)” (Shmoop University 2017).
Eleanor show’s several ways she is insecure about herself throughout the story. The biggest insecurity she shows would be her body. People like Richie make fun of her because of it. He even calls her “fat bitch,” but it turns out she’s not even fat at all (Rowell 153). In chapter 22 Park’s dad says, “With a nickname like Big Red, I expected her to be a lot bigger” (Rowell 135). This shows that Eleanor may be chubby, but definitely not fat. Another insecurity she shows would be how she doesn’t have money. I think this shows in chapter 12 when Park offers her a tape he made for her and she doesn’t want to take it because she doesn’t have anything to listen to it with. She says ““ I mean, I can’t. I don’t have any way to listen to it. God, just take it back.” He took it. She covered her face” (Rowell 52). This quote makes her seem frustrated because she says “God.” Also, embarrassed because she covers her face. I can see how this can be an insecurity because when I was in high-school a lot of kids had cars and money to go out. While I always had to walk home and stay in because I wasn’t that fortunate to have parents to give me a car and money. Another insecurity that shows would be her appearance. In chapter 28 Eleanor is going to parks house for the second time and as they about the get off the bus at Park’s stop she says “I’m sorry I look so stupid today” (Rowell 162). She also says “ I never look nice,” but Park likes how she is (Rowell 163). In fact he says “She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something” (Rowell 165). I would take that over “looking nice” any day.
The last way she is affected is by how guarded she is. Throughout the book Eleanor isn’t interested in talking about herself and her family to Park. This is an issue because she doesn’t want Park to realize she isn’t as mysterious and intriguing as he thinks she is now and may lose interest in her. In some ways it’s frustrating for him because he can’t get through to her. In chapter 34 it says “She didn’t think she could start telling Park the whole, ugly truth overnight” (Rowell 204). After everything he does and says to her she doesn’t realize how much he cares and loves her.
These examples affect Eleanor in so many ways. Her confidence is affected by being out casted and being insecure because she’s being bullied and constantly putting herself down because what she isn’t. Her happiness is affected because she’s guarded and can open to her feelings about Park because she’s afraid of being hurt. In reality this situation is happening to other unfortunate adolescents. This book takes real life examples and helps young children feel like they can relate. Poverty is happening all around us everyday. Though Eleanor unhappiness is caused mostly by people around her it is also because she isn’t fortunate to have the basic necessities. This book teaches people to be more sensitive to people to not only in poverty, but all people. To treat everyone with respect and kindness. You never know what people and going through in their lives.