A Deeper Look At Outside In…Literary References

BooksThis is another installment in my “A Deeper Look” series peeling back the layers of Outside In to better understand the meaning of various aspects and characteristics of the novel. Warning! This article contains spoilers of events in the novel. 

Although on the surface, Outside In may appear to be simply a hedonistic pursuit of the endless summer, as the title suggests, one must look past the appearance to get to the true meaning at the core. Just as the characters wear masks and put themselves in situations to be the people they think they should be rather than letting go and allowing the person they really are to emerge from the inside, many of the events and actions have a  deeper meaning through their connection to other literary works.

Following are some of the literary references in Outside In:

1) A Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Both Scarlet and Outside In deal with sin, legalism, and guilt as major themes and the main characters are motivated to create a new life devoid of the shame of past experiences. One direct reference is in Chapter 11 when Brad, Cinch, Stein, Griffin and Birch are at Heineman’s Winery in the back courtyard playing the Name Game. After a trip to the restroom to balance their escalating alcohol buzz, the suggestion is made to join the others in the front bar. Griffin says, “You go ahead. I’m way too amped to be around those folks. I might as well tattoo a big red C on the end of my nose.” This is referencing the scarlet “A” Hester Prynne is forced to wear on her dress after being found guilty of adultery in Hawthorne’s 1850 work of romantic fiction. Just as Hester was cast out to live with the shame and guilt of her sin, Griffin fears he would be discovered and face consequences for his indulgence.

2) The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe: From the rhythmic passages to the supernatural atmosphere and frequent descent of the lead character into monomania and paranoia similar to Poe’s narrators, Outside In is loaded with references to The Tell Tale Heart and The Raven. During his drug-induced delusions and hallucinations, Brad suffers from the same “over-acuteness of the senses” that Poe’s narrator does in Tell Tale Heart. The opening and closing of doors to investigate and block out painful feelings is another connection between Outside In and Poe’s works. The smile Cinch hides behind when confronted by the police on the way back from the monument after being up all night and the one Brad casts into the night at the invisible surveilance team once he realizes there is nothing in the apartment to incriminate him allude to the narrator’s smile when the police come to search the place in Tell Tale Heart. One of the most glaring similarities is at the end of Outside In as grief-stricken Brad laments the loss of Cinch, the faint tapping and consistent gentle rapping from Cinch’s room that awakes Brad pays homage to the similar sounds in The Raven: “While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.”

3) Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce: Similar to Joyce in Portrait, Outside In contains certain autobiographical facts from my life. By using factual details in Outside In, I am paying tribute to Portrait as Joyce did the same in his creation of Stephen Dedalus, his fictional alter ego, and also having fun with the tendency of first novels to be autobiographical, leaving it up to the reader decide what actually happened and what is fabricated for the story. Both stories incorporate the pursuit of sensual pleasures to initiate the awakening of the protagonist after a self-imposed exile and extensively use free indirect speech. Brad’s first visit to the top of Perry’s Monument is a direct reference to the classic Daedalus myth for which Joyce names his protagonist. At the top of the monument, Brad feels imprisoned by his family, the events of his past, and his culture in general. He contemplates how easy it would be to jump from the deck: “At the edge of the observation deck, only a four-foot concrete wall separates me from an attempt at flight. In just one motion I could be over the side. It would be so easy—too easy. I have to step back.” This alludes to how Daedalus, the father of Icarus, was imprisoned in a tower to prevent the knowledge of the labyrinth from spreading, and he created a set of wings for him and Icarus to escape. Also paying homage to Portrait are the boat ramp and cliff diving scenes in Outside In. Just as the leap from the rocks into the water in Portrait represented a rite of passage to freedom and independence so does it in Outside In. As the characters emerge from the water and Brad muses, “The moonlight reflects off the water on their skin, radiating a soft glow.”, this is a reference to how Dedalus remembers how they “gleamed with cold wet lustre” and “their bodies were heavy with cold seawater”.

These are just a few of the references to other classic works in Outside In. Others exist from William Blake to René Descartes and many more. Comment via Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads to offer your suggestions.

A Deeper Look At Outside In…Plot

the_heros_journey1This is another installment in my “A Deeper Look” series peeling back the layers of Outside In to better understand the meaning of the setting, themes, characters, plot, and style.

The path of the lead character twenty-eight year old teacher Brad Shepherd in Outside In is Joseph Campbell’s archetypal hero’s journey of departure, initiation and return. Brad did everything he was supposed to: he graduated from university, got a teaching job, coached after school, even attended graduate classes in the evenings. But after the overdose death of a student on the parent’s pain medication in Brad’s classroom, the parents sue and the school district lets Brad go to mitigate the lawsuit.

By losing his job and everything he had been working toward for the past ten years, Brad loses his sense of identity and induces what psychologist Erik Erikson referred to as a Quarter-Life Crisis, triggering doubt of the life decisions made and the steps to take going forward and inducing feelings of betrayal, isolation, and loneliness. This loss of self and the resulting confusion sends Brad away from his home in St. Louis to Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island in Lake Erie to rediscover who he is and hopefully return with what matters in life.

On his journey, Brad encounters many new experiences and people, often centering around alcohol, drugs and sexual experimentation, which are meant to represent updated  trials in Campbell’s monomyth. Working as bouncer at a popular island nightclub, Brad initially loves his new carefree lifestyle and friends, like Astrid, a hopeful Norwegian waitress, Cinch, an affable party boy and local drug dealer, Haley, a forlorn, alcoholic bartender, and Caldwell, a mysterious, mandolin player. Not always the best influences, these new friends represent opposing points of a compass pulling Brad in different directions, and he becomes more lost than ever.

It is often unclear in Outside In who the antagonist is that is preventing Brad from achieving his goal of a rediscovered self. Is it these supposed friends leading him down a destructive path for their own gains, is it life itself that he is battling, or is it himself and his own internal demons that thwart his quest? The uncertainty regarding the true enemy in the modern search for self is shown in the story when Brad visits Perry’s Monument and hears the famous quote Oliver Hazard Perry sent after winning the the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812: “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” and he muses how we wishes he could meet his true enemy.

The events and actions of Outside In intentionally wander and unfold in a way to represent the lost and searching aspect of the characters. The characters talk more about passion and living life to the fullest rather than doing anything except escaping to whatever to whatever vice is available. To watch the flawed characters make the same self-destructive choices time after time can be quite frustrating, but it is meant to represent the excess and instant gratification so prevalent in contemporary society and elevate the discussion of addiction and self-medication. Before judging the characters, actions or events, take the time to peel back the layers and examine what they might mean in the context of your own inside and outside worlds.

Stay connected to this website or follow me on Facebook @ByCooper, on Twitter @ByCoop, or on Instagram @dougiecoop for more deeper looks at aspects of Outside In.





A Deeper Look at Outside In…Style

This is another installment in my “A Deeper Look” series peeling back the layers of Outside In to better understand the meaning of the setting, themes, characters, plot, and style.Outside In is literary fiction in the emerging category of new adult focusing on characters in their twenties to thirties confronting issues with identity, career and relationships. It is a bildungsroman (novel of becoming), also know as coming of age story, but focuses on the moral and psychological growth of the protagonist ten years later in life than the traditional works in the bildungsroman genre.

Delaying the coming of age suggests becoming is not restricted to a specific time period and also to thrust more complex issues upon the main character than would be possible at an earlier period in life. Individuals mature at different rates and continue to become throughout their lives based on a multitude of factors, such as family background, emotional and mental capabilities, situations experienced, and cultural surroundings.

As was mentioned in the deeper look at themes, twenty-somethings are spending extended periods in higher education and living at home with parents for longer periods of time than previous generations due to the abundance of choices and the lack of maturity to make the increasingly complex choices required to transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Outside In is told in first person present tense similar to the popular Hunger Games and 50 Shades trilogies. This allows readers to embark on the protagonist’s journey through his or her thoughts, perceptions, and encounters as they happen. Although the first person limits the perspective to only one character’s view, it creates a much more visceral experience and allows readers to live vicariously through the protagonist feeling the experiences at a much deeper level.

Often on-the-nose, the dialogue is another distinctive style characteristic, meant to represent another shield the characters use to protect themselves. They talk about passion and living life to the fullest rather than doing anything except escaping to whatever vice is available. This also connects with the main theme of the story about how people live from the outside-in, wearing masks and veils and putting themselves in an environment to create the image of who they think they should be instead of trusting who they are and allowing their true selves to emerge.

Although there are serious messages and topics like addiction and self-medication in Outside In, it is intended also to be humorous and satirical, leaving the reader to discern the meaning. One person’s hackneyed phrase is another’s kernel of wisdom. Nothing should be taken at face value. The descriptions, characters, actions, and dialogue are meant to function as a mirror of modern culture and emphasize knowing what to do often results from learning what not to do.