Moon over Manifest: the Ideology of Home

3 March 2017

Who would dare think the outcast and abandoned can find a home? Who could dream that one can love without being crushed under the weight of it? A miracle cure to heal the sick? Pah. What makes us think any of this could be true? And yet all of us, we participate in this myth, we create, perpetuate it (Vanderpool 304). Miss Sadie talks about the search for a home to Abilene Tucker, the 12-year-old protagonist in the 2011 Newbery Medal winner, Moon over Manifest (Vanderpool 207). Abilene doesn’t have a home and never has.

Motherless, she is sent by her father, Gideon, to live with his old friend in Manifest, Kansas. Abilene has spent her childhood traveling the country with her father, looking for work during the Great Depression in America. Manifest holds the promise of a kind of home, as it is the place where most of Gideon’s stories take place.

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But Gideon is absent in the stories she hears in Manifest. Abilene and her father are the outcast and the abandoned. The promise of Manifest is a myth, dreary and worn out in real life, unlike the exciting place in Gideon’s stories.

And yet, as Miss Sadie says, everyone hopes that this mythical home will somehow be real. It is apparent that the myth of home is what distinguishes children’s literature from adult novels (Wolf 18). Nodelman and Reimer write that while “the home/away/home pattern is the most common story line in children’s literature, adult fiction that deals with young people who leave home usually ends with the child choosing to stay away” (197). A pattern observed, called a postmodern metaplot, starts with the child being abandoned, rather than leaving home.

Ultimately, the child’s journey ends with a modern ideal of the child leading the adults to a hopeful ending, a home. I will explore the changing roles of childhood and adulthood in children’s literature, while focusing on Moon Over Manifest. The myth of home in children’s literature thus reflects adult constructions of childhood. The emphasis on a failed home was an unexpected, but reasonable, outcome of the analysis of the novel. After discussing the ideology of childhood it’s apparent that there’s a shift from home as a place to return to home as missing or failed was provided.

In this case Moon over Manifest is an exemplar of the shift to a postmodern childhood in children’s literature. Bates looks at two different typical plots found in fairy tales and classic children’s literature (89). The plot of the fairy tale is the child protagonist separated or abandoned by the “evil” parent. The child then must make their way through a perilous world, facing all sorts of danger, in order to return home. Back home the child protagonist rewards the good parent and punishes the evil parent. An example of this journey can be found in Hansel and Gretel.

The children are abandoned in the forest by their duped father at the behest of their evil stepmother. They battle the cruel witch, ultimately killing her and stealing her money. They return home to reward their father, the good parent, by sharing their wealth with him. In some versions, the evil parent has already been punished with death by starvation. The other typical plot, the one of classic children’s literature, involves children leaving home on their own or by magic. Like the children in fairy tales, these children also must face danger on their way home.

Once home there is no reward or punishment for the parents as the separation was not the parents’ fault. One example of this plot can be found in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Carroll 64). Alice leaves home “as an indirect result of her own action” (Bates 49). In Wonderland Alice has adventures and escapes danger. She “goes home” by waking up. Home is not only the setting of most children’s literature but also the theme. The proverbial “happy ending” is when home is achieved. Readers and nonreaders of children’s literature expect this ending. It makes sense.

As Miss Sadie said, “And yet all of us, we participate in this myth, we create, perpetuate it. ” Miss Sadie ends her story commenting on the myth of home, “But what is worse—we believe it. And in the end, we are crushed by it” (304). She is speaking to Abilene and the assumed child reader as she would speak to an adult. Children are not supposed to be privy to the secret of the human condition that you can’t go home again. It is as if she is offering the reader a looking glass or a wardrobe to go through but on the other side isn’t Wonderland or Narnia but stark reality.

Children’s texts reflect a certain ideology, a system of beliefs about childhood that is shared in a culture and allows people within that culture to make sense of childhood (McCallum and Stephens 384). The traditional or modern metaplot of home/away/home encompasses a modernist ideology, one in which expectations for children and childhood are standardized (Coats 21). The postmodern metaplot, which is highlighted in Moon over Manifest, replicates a dissimilar kind of childhood, a complex one, in which home is a place the child must construct. Moon over Manifest is a timely and clear example of the postmodern metaplot.

Abilene has no home to leave. While Gideon’s love provides a kind of safety, he sends her alone on a train to Manifest to live among strangers directly after she recovers from a serious illness, signaling that he can no longer provide the shelter of love. Abilene is given no promises of help either. The fact that Gideon sends Abilene with a compass that doesn’t work; means it is almost as if he is telling her through this gift that she is now to make her own way in life. Abilene arrives in Manifest with no idea of when he will come for her. Once there, Abilene must, through her wit and endurance, discover who her father was and is.

With the help of story she constructs her own history. This history allows her to make a home for herself, one which she invites her father to join. Ultimately, Abilene provides the home. She must create her own safety and give her father back his home. Abilene’s childhood is less than ideal and not an object of adult nostalgia. When asked by a peer about her missing parents she says that her mother has “gone to that sweet by and by” because in her mind, her mother “decided being a wife and mother wasn’t all it was cracked up to be” and so joined a dance troupe in New Orleans (27).

Knowing the expectation that the only time a mother leaves her baby is through death; Abilene makes sense of her departure in a rational manner by showing an understanding of the choices her mother made. Left with her father, Abilene positions herself as his equal by consistently referring to him by his first name, Gideon. “It was like Gideon had gotten a wound in him too. Only he didn’t come out of it. And it was painful enough to make him send me away” (75). Abilene accepts her parent’s failures to provide her with a home. A postmodern metaplot provides a different way of looking at children’s literature and childhood.

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