fbpx
A Deeper Look At Outside In…Didacticism and Allegory

A Deeper Look At Outside In…Didacticism and Allegory

DidacticismThis 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.

In writing Outside In, I wanted to create a modern myth of a person’s search for identity and responsibility using Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey of departure initiation, and return with the contemporary trials of alcohol, drugs, and sexual experimentation. Told in first-person present tense, Outside In was intended to enable readers to embark on Brad’s journey through his thoughts, perceptions, and encounters, thereby confronting readers with difficult questions that lie at the core of not only the individual, but society in general.

This type of literature is often referred to as didacticism and allegory. Didacticism emphasizes that the literature intends to offer something more to the readers other than pleasure and entertainment. This is a slippery slope. At its best, it gives readers a change to live vicariously through the characters and learn about aspects of life outside of their spheres of control and influence. Unfortunately, it too often reduces the literature to a boring, dull tool overloaded with information. The goal is to weave the information and instruction in and out of interesting characters and events to be entertaining as well as enlightening.

The morality plays of medieval Europe were examples of didactic literature. They were theatrical performances which used allegorical characters to teach the audience a moral lesson. Common themes included the seven deadly sins and repentance and redemption. George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the litany of Dr. Seuss stories are more current examples of didacticism.

Allegory is similar and often confused with symbolism because an allegory can use symbols, but allegory is a complete narrative which involves characters and events representing abstract ideas and events. Symbolism can be used within any work for one object to represent another and give it a particular meaning. Animal Farm, in addition to being didactic is also an example of allegory. Moby Dick by Herman Melville is another example of a classic allegory. More modern examples include the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Dune.

Following are examples of didacticism and allegory in Outside In:

  1. Allegorical Characters: As detailed in the deeper look on the characters in Outside In, each of the supporting characters surrounding Brad represent a conflicting emotion. They make up four points of a moral compass pulling him in a distinct direction through the course of the story. Astrid (hope), Haley (despair), Caldwell (Respect), and Cinch (irreverence). It is Brad’s connection to all of them — the good and the bad — that help him discover and accept the person he is.
  2. Excess and Instant Gratification: Outside In proposes identity can’t be found or fabricated but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go. This letting go for many of the characters in Outside In translates to a hedonistic pursuit involving alcohol, sex, and drugs, the vices so readily available to a person who wants to forget. These vices symbolize the modern trials people face in their journeys of becoming. What starts as recreational experimentation and the exploration of new experiences transform to obsession and complete loss of self. This descent into excess and instant gratification is meant to raise awareness of current societal issues with addiction and self-medication and pose the question.
  3. Identity As A Process: After the tragic death of a student and the loss of his teaching job, Brad loses his faith and sense of identity and has a quarter-life crisis. His reaction is to escape to the island community of Put-in-Bay on Lake Erie to rediscover who he is and what life has to offer. Along the way he learns identity cannot be found or fabricated, but emerges from within when a person has the courage to let go. This is the overall theme and moral of the novel that identity is not a fixed goal or an end but rather a process that continually unfolds and is defined by our connections and responsibility to the people, places and things around us.
  4. Island Characteristics: The unique attributes of isolation, finite resources, and the influence of water have always made islands an ideal setting for stories. They represent a mandala and symbol of the effort to unify self. Why I chose Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island for the setting of Outside In is for the Battle of Lake Erie History. Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous quote “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” from the historic battle is representative of the characters inner struggles to face and conquer their demons on their paths of self-discovery.
  5. Manifest Destiny Contrast: In the 1800’s Manifest Destiny captivated the imagination and drive of the American people by creating the belief that it was America’s mission to expand throughout the continent. By starting the journey of the protagonist in St. Louis, known as the Gateway to the West, but rather than forging west in search of a better life, he delves deeper into the middle of the country, it is a direct contrast to the concept of Manifest Destiny. With minimal external unexplored land and frontier remaining, the character’s path represents the need to look deeper in oneself to find the answers to problems and that dreams don’t lie on the horizon; they lie within.

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 Portion Of Each Outside In Sale To Be Donated To Mental Health & Recovery Board

A Portion Of Each Outside In Sale To Be Donated To Mental Health & Recovery Board

Mental Health & Recovery Board

Excited to announce that a portion of each hardcover, ebook, and audio book sale of Outside In will be donated to the Mental Health & Recovery Board of Erie & Ottawa Counties in Ohio. One of the intentions in writing Outside In was to raise awareness for societal issues with addiction and self-medication unfortunately so prevalent in modern culture. This donation bridges the gap between fictional and real life by helping people actually affected by mental health and addiction issues move toward recovery.

The Mental Health & Recovery Board (MHRB) is the local government agency charged with planning, developing, funding, managing and evaluating a range of mental health and alcohol and drug abuse and addiction services and programs. The Board ensures local management and control over planning and administering alcohol, drug addiction and mental health prevention, treatment and support services to meet the unique needs of Erie & Ottawa County residents.

Responsibilities include:

  • Creating and maintaining a system that provides for alcohol, drug and/or mental health services at the community level
  • Determining the type of services, programs and facilities that are needed based on need assessments and community input
  • Designating treatment services for those involuntarily committed to the board’s care
  • Ensure involvement and input by consumers (persons who use the services)
  • Entering into contracts with public and private agencies for the provision of services
  • Reviewing, evaluating and auditing the delivery of services
  • Administering federal, state and local funds
  • Recruiting and promoting local financial support for services

To help contribute to this worthy cause, please share this announcement and the book trailer to spread the word about Outside In. Together we can make a difference.

Luxury Reading Reviews Outside In

Luxury ReadingCheck out Luxury Reading’s review of Outside In. “Doug Cooper’s debut novel is definitely a fun and often jaw-dropping book that also made me stop and ponder how easy it can be for any of us to be in Brad’s place.”

The ultimate luxury for Vera, the writer of Luxury Reading, is curling up with a good book and a warm blanket. The next best thing is reviewing books and sharing them with others. For her latest reviews, follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

A Deeper Look At Outside In…Plot

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…Setting

A Deeper Look At Outside In…Setting

Put-in-Bay Aerial Photo

Much of what appears on the surface of Outside In is a mask concealing a much deeper and sometimes opposite meaning. Although some of the events are similar to those in my life, everything that happens in Outside In is there for a reason and has many layers of meaning. Setting Outside In at Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island in the middle of Lake Erie might seem to those who know about my background as a connection to my roots. But despite growing up merely fourteen miles away from the island in the Lake Erie coastal town of Port Clinton, I never spent much time at Put-in-Bay in my formative years except for twice. The first was a sixth grade safety patrol spring field trip rewarding us for our service in which I remember only the waves being so high on the ferry ride back, I questioned I would ever leave firm ground again. The second was a rainy, chilly day after high school when a girlfriend and I snuck over to her family’s summer condo to be alone without the fear of parents pulling in the driveway and sparking the frantic search for clothes followed by the transparent facade of composure that nothing was going on when they entered.

Not until I left Port Clinton for college at Miami University, came back to teach junior high math for a year, then left again to teach in St. Louis, and I had the serendipity of connecting with a bunch of Put-in-Bay workers on a trip to Key West that I found my way back to South Bass Island. Despite my mathematics background, I guess I never learned the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. It was during the several summers I spent there while teaching in St. Louis during the school year that the contrast, mystery and beauty of the island resonated with me. I remember standing on the porch of the Round House, the very one described in the story, as golf carts buzzed by and people flowed through the park with the lake shimmering in the background that I thought, This would be the perfect setting for a literary novel.

Using an island as a setting in a novel is nothing new. The unique attributes of isolation, finite resources, and the influence of water have made islands a popular choice in novels ranging from Robinson Crusoe to Treasure Island to Lord of the Flies. Islands are recognized as a microculture and place for escape, transformation, or sometimes even exile and punishment. The archetype of the island is one buried deep in the psyche often representing the earth’s mandala and a symbol of unification of self. In Outside In, South Bass Island plays all these parts at times. But more than just a backdrop of where the action happens, the island serves as another character in the story, one that inspires, guides, challenges, and even levies consequences.

But why this island? Why choose to set the story at Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island in Ohio? Two unique factors set this island apart from all others and make it the perfect setting for a story about a teacher, who is fleeing from the haunting death of a student due to a drug overdose, becoming lost in a haze of excess and instant gratification. These attributes are, one, the contrast to the classic Manifest Destiny theme and, two, the Battle of Lake Erie history. By starting the journey of the protagonist in St. Louis, known as the Gateway to the West, but rather than forging west in search of a better life, he delves deeper into the middle of the country, it is a direct contrast to the concept of Manifest Destiny. With minimal external unexplored land and frontier remaining, the character’s path represents the need to look deeper in oneself to find the answers to problems and that dreams don’t lie on the horizon; they lie within.

The Battle of Lake Erie history, however, is the main reason why South Bass Island was chosen over all others. It was there that Oliver Hazard Perry led a decisive naval battle in the War of 1812 which secured the North shore for the US forces and established peace between US, Canada, and Great Britain. Commemorating the victory, which celebrated its bicentennial on September 10, 2013, stands the world’s tallest Doric column at 352 ft (107m) known as Perry’s Monument. The monument, which is the setting of many scenes in the novel, serves as a protective and comforting figure. It represents the conflict that took place there so long ago with Perry sending his famous message to William Henry Harrison following the battle, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”, but it is also symbolic of the inner struggles the characters are having and contrasts the difficulty in the modern search for identity of knowing exactly who the enemy is.

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.

Pin It on Pinterest