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Violent Rite of Passage

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Joey R. Poole presents an intriguing story in “The Hand-Me-Downs.” Simon is a straight shooting kid that follows rules and does not ask many questions. But later in the story, the reader can tell that the violence surrounding Simon erodes his attitude. He begins to stand up to his brother and he begins to understand that he has free will. At the beginning of the story, the reader can tell that Simon is a typical innocent young kid but by the end of the story, the reader is convinced otherwise. Simon changes as the story progresses representing a dynamic character rather than a static character. The innocence and virtuousness that Simon possesses is shown by his thoughts and actions. It is apparent that Simon is naïve when it comes to violence in the world because he does not even know what rape means when he is told the girl that used to live in their house was raped and killed. When Simon finds the doll that his brother kills, he “turned her face-down with his toe before he shut off the spigot.”

Simon does not like violence and he tends to shy away from it. He shows respect for the doll when he turns it over because he is a kind, thoughtful person. He also shows that he follows rules when he “wait[s] exactly twelve minutes” while his brother places the body and hides. Simon is a thoughtful kid that tries to avoid trouble and maintains respectful intentions. Simon’s personality does not allow him to protect himself from stronger personalities. Simon’s brother Ricky is a strong willed person, and Simon follows his brother’s commands and does not stand up for himself. He would much rather stay inside and play video games than be outside playing the investigation game that his brother finds entertaining. Simon grows tired of the game but he does not quit, he just “accepted the doomed hunt as his lot in life.” Even with a game that includes Simon being shot, he simply waits “for inevitable pain and stinging failure to fly at him from out of nowhere.” He lets other people’s priorities overrule his own and he allows himself to be pushed around.

The violence that Simon witnesses plays a role in the change of his attitude. This violence is handed down from father to son. Simon witnesses an incident where his father “lunged at Ricky” and “grabbed him by the hair and snatched him by the hair and snatched him off the bed.” It is evident that this was not a rare occurrence since “Simon winced when he heard footsteps stomping up the basement steps.” Witnessing this violence, Simon took notice when his father grabs his brother’s hair. Simon first notices Ricky’s violent acts escalating when “he had taken to mutilating” the dolls used in the game. Both Simon’s brother and father act on their anger and Simon pays attention to how they deal with their anger. A turning point for Simon’s attitude is when he himself experiences the violence first-hand. Ricky shot Simon in the face, and although the pain from this wound does not make Simon cry, Simon loses it when Ricky “knelt over him and put his hand on Simon’s hair.” Simon’s environment has conditioned him to be frightened when someone touches his hair.

Even though Ricky did not touch him in a violent way, Simon’s reaction was of fear and he lashes out at his brother. Ricky’s wrath boils over and he assimilates violence onto Simon when he “kicked Simon in the gut” and “stood straddling him, pummeling him with [the] doll until its arm broke off.” Becoming the recipient of the violence fosters an internal change in Simon and his whole demeanor changes. After years of seeing the violence, experiencing the violence by his brother’s hand and now beginning to show signs of the same violent behavior towards the doll, Simon’s new path begins. Some compelling evidence that Simon’s mindset changes is when he interprets that the rag doll “winked at him one-eyed and seemed to laugh at some joke that only she understood.”

Instead of going back inside where Simon feels most comfortable, he stays outside sitting in briars with a wound on his cheek and begins his transference of anger onto the doll when he “pick[s] her up by the yarn of her hair and dug his fingers into her chest until the fabric tore and then began to pull out her matted cotton guts.” This leaves the reader with the understanding of what Simon’s future most likely holds. In “The Hand-Me-Downs,” what is actually being handed down from generation to generation is a violent lifestyle which will most likely affect many generations to come.

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