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Just Kids: Classical Structure, Atypical Story

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Just Kids, by Patti Smith, is the true story of Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith’s growth together as artists and friends. Patti Smith uses the classical structure of a short story to organize her memoir. Because of this predictable organization, she leads her reader to expect a traditional coming-of-age story. However, Smith’s choice of detail and character development often leaves readers feeling shocked or rattled. Her approach juxtaposes traditional story-telling techniques with bizarre plot points, and the result is an uneven piece of writing.

At the beginning of the rising action, Smith uses the classical structure to entice the reader and make the reader feel comfortable. The reader thinks the book is easy to follow and well organized. She gains the readers trust, so to speak. The introductory line on page 4 saying, “I was born on a Monday, in the North Side of Chicago during the Great Blizzard of 1946” is very organized and precise. It gives us a date, location, and event. There is nothing unusual, but it is a pleasant introduction to her story. As she grows, she moves to New York City, where she meets young Robert Mapplethorpe. The novel continues as Smith and Mapplethorpe are becoming closer and are discovering more about themselves. They admit to have fallen in love.

Later on, though, as the plot develops, she shocks us by Robert suddenly voicing his homosexual tendencies. During this time she has departed from the classical, short story structure. On page 74 Mapplethorpe threatens Smith, “‘If you don’t come [to California], I’ll be with a guy. I’ll turn homosexual.’” The line is dropped out of the blue and leaves the reader doing a double take. To add on to that, after Mapplethorpe discusses his gay “sex-capades” in California, Smith still decides to sleep with him upon his return. The ambivalence that Smith may feel is caused by Mapplethorpe’s influence over her. A large portion of the memoir is Smith placing him on a pedestal as she repeats how much she looks up to him. The choice she makes to sleep with him confuses the reader. One doubts Smith’s decision making skills and is completely unsure of Mapplethorpe’s sexuality.

Patti Smith also takes the time to introduce and develop characters, but then she will suddenly drop names that only seen once, briefly. Tinkerbelle is a great example. She drops the name earlier but become more important at a later point in the story. Smith writes, “…I received an unexpected call from Tinkerbelle. She told me abruptly that Robert and David were having an affair.” Tinkerbelle is a divisive agent in the memoir, because this is the impetus of Smith and Mapplethorpe’s gradual break up, and yet we know nothing of this Tinkerbelle. The reader has only heard her name mentioned briefly before, so how does the reader know she is telling the truth.

Tinkerbelle could very easily have her own motivations. And then the reader wonders why Smith believes her so completely. This confusion could have been cleared up if Smith chose to give us more of an introduction to Tinkerbelle. Smith and Mapplethorpe finally go their separate ways when Smith’s career begins to take off. Although Mapplethorpe was cheating on Smith, the real reason for this break up could actually be Mapplethorpe is slightly irritated because for so long he was the teacher in his relationship with Smith, but now Smith has surpassed him. It is extremely chaotic time in the memoir, but once the climax is reached, her style changes again.

The climax of the memoir is Robert Mapplethorpe’s death. For the climax, Smith returns to the traditional story telling after the majority of her rising action jumped back and forth between plot point and plot point without much transition or explanation. When Mapplethorpe dies, Smith sounds very calm and collected. She writes, “Robert died on March 9, 1989. When his brother called me in the morning, I was calm, for I knew it was coming, almost to the hour.” Smith gives us an event, then the setting, then her reaction. It is a very organized structure. She continues on to describe how she recovers from the news.

During the falling action, she sticks with the classical structure to give the reader closure. Robert has died and she is attempting to handle the situation. She even says to herself, “You will see him. You will know him. You will know his hand. These words came to me and I knew I would one day see a sky drawn by Robert’s hand.” She is showing us how she is coping with the death and how she has matured. This reasonable and calm mindset is drastically different from the chaotic mindset we saw earlier in the memoir.

Also, she discusses Mapplethorpe’s desk as the conclusion. She sold the desk in an auction, but after successfully located the desk, there is a picture attached of a young girl, Delilah, working on his desk, and she writes, “Seeing the photograph of Delilah, working so diligently, as I had dreamed I might, filled me with great happiness.” The desk is the symbol of Mapplethorpe’s influence over Smith. Mapplethorpe throughout the memoir pushes Smith to reach her fullest potential in the arts. Smith is hoping that Mapplethorpe is also helping to develop young Delilah through his desk. At this point she is giving bother the reader and herself closure. It is well organized and structured, indicating the more traditional story telling.

Patti Smith writes a memoir, Just Kids, about her and Robert Mapplethorpe’s developing relationship. For certain parts of her memoir she uses the classical structure of a short story to organize the plot, and to lull the reader into false pretenses of a normal story line. When Smith departs from the classical structure, she gives and bizarre plot points and does not develop characters. This leaves the reader shocked and results in a disordered memoir. During the very beginning of the rising action she uses the classical structure, but she quickly leaves that structure behind. It is showing the reader how hectic Smith’s life is during that time.

After, for the climax and falling action she returns to the classical structure to represent how she has matured. In my own life, I could dramatize my middle school career this way. In sixth grade, I was a well behaved child with excellent grades. But for seventh and the majority of eighth grade my life was chaotic with the crazy decisions I was making, such has dressing in all black and not studying or listening to my parents. I also changed drastically by becoming interested in the arts, music and theatre in particular. But finally, by the end of eighth grade I got my act together and matured from the experience, but continued a more appropriate relationship with music. This type of organization for a memoir is an effective way to shock and rattle the reader with an unusual plot.

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