Adults often say teenagers don’t know what love is, usually when talking about some relationship the teenager may be in. Eleanor didn’t understand what love was in any sense. Park was important for her understanding of love, and he tried to make sure that Eleanor was comfortable during the different steps in their relationship that they took, such as holding hands. But because Eleanor had been without love for so long, she didn’t really know how to act in response to Park treating her with love. The abuse occurring in Eleanor’s household and the trauma she faces at home makes it hard for Eleanor to know how to behave with Park as a girlfriend. There’s so little love in her home that she doesn’t know how to react to receiving love.
Eleanor had not experienced love in her life since her parents were still together. Then, her father left and got a new family. Her mother eventually ended up marrying Richie, unfortunately for all of them. Richie is a very abusive person, who is not kind to anyone. One night, Richie got very angry and was shouting at Sabrina, Eleanor’s mother. The next morning, while cooking breakfast, she was “standing more still than usual. You couldn’t not notice that bruise on the side of her face.” (Rowell 49) Not only does Richie hit Sabrina, he calls Eleanor names, including “a bitch in heat” after Park came to her house. (Rowell 67) Her mother did nothing to defend Eleanor, likely out of fear of Richie, who provides for the family. While Richie was not as physically abusive toward Eleanor as he was toward Sabrina, his actions were still traumatic for Eleanor.
Richie also was responsible for kicking Eleanor out of his house for a year. She had been using her typewriter and he was angry about the noise it made, so he started yelling, they argued briefly before Eleanor had to run out of the house and ended up staying with the Hickmans’ for a year while she was still in high school. Even when she stayed with them for the year, they didn’t treat her like family or really show her love.The Hickmans’ often considered taking her to child protective services, because she was not their child or responsibility.
Eventually, Eleanor got to go back with her mother, her siblings, and Richie. When she got back after a year of being gone, she thought her siblings would have missed her, that “it would be a big hugfest.” (Rowell 16) But when she walked inside, the kids weren’t excited except for Mouse who ran to hug her. She was alienated from her own siblings, whom she used to watch when her parents were still together, and had to share a small bedroom with now.
But while being at home was bad, being at school was awful as well. The other kids called her “Big Red” and “Raghead,” and in gym they even pulled pranks on her. They stuck an entire box of Kotex pads on her gym locker, and had written Raghead and Big Red on some of them. (Rowell 54) At another point, someone had taken Eleanor’s clothes and stuck them in a toilet during gym. (239) Her only support there came from the counselor, Mrs. Dunne, and two girls in her gym, DeNice and Beebi. However, they couldn’t protect Eleanor from the bullies and her life at home, especially because she wouldn’t tell them about it.
On the bus while on the way to or on the way from school, she could just hide in the seat next to Park. They would read comic books together, discuss the comic books and music, hold hands, and she felt safe when she was with Park. While the other kids continued to pick on Eleanor, she didn’t mind when she was with Park. Steve was one of the kids teasing her, but then Park kicked him in the face to show Eleanor he loved her, despite Eleanor having told him that she didn’t want him to fight anyone for her. When she stayed at her dad’s house and talked to Park on the phone, he told her he loves her. Her dad was walking in at that time so she pretended to be asleep and did not respond. However, even on other occasions she never said “I love you” back to Park. She would say that she missed him but never that she loved him.
If Eleanor had experienced more love in her home growing up, she may have been more likely to say it back to Park now. According to an article by Zoe Reyes, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, childhood trauma can lead to different attachment styles, including Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment, which Eleanor seems to have developed. Someone who has developed Dismissive-Avoidant Attachment may “place high value on independence and autonomy and develop techniques to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and defend themselves from a perceived threat to their ‘independence.’”For example, they may shut down, avoid “saying “I love you” even though their behaviors indicate that they do.” (Reyes) Eleanor behaves as though she loves Park, or at least that she cares about him and wants him in her life. But, as stated before, she doesn’t tell Park she loves him.
Eleanor could have developed a secure attachment style and told Park she loves him, if she’d had a different childhood. If Eleanor had been raised “in a supportive environment where [her] parents were consistently responsive to [her] needs,” she would be more “comfortable with being open about [herself], asking for help, and allowing others to lean on [her] at an emotional level.” (Reyes) Eleanor had tried asking for help previously and it didn’t work, so she stopped asking for help when Richie was hitting her mother. But because of her childhood experiences, developing a secure attachment style is difficult.
Reyes, Zoe. “How Childhood Trauma Affects Adult Relationships.” Psych Central. World of Psychology, 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.
Rowell, Rainbow. Eleanor & Park. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016. Print.