White Oleander Book Review Example
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
The main character Astrid is a 15 year old girl, raised by her mother Ingrid. Ingrid was a very independent woman who taught Astrid not to depend on men. However, this independent woman fell in love with a man named Barry Kolker. Ingrid was deeply in love with Barry, when she found out that he was having an affair. As a result of jealousy and feeling of betrayal, Ingrid killed Berry with ‘white oleander’, which is a toxic plant and, at the same time, Ingrid’s favorite flower. Because of the committed murder, Ingrid was sentenced to life imprisonment. As a result of Ingrid’s murder, a 15 year old girl Astrid has to go through foster home and shelters.
While Astrid was experiencing different shelters and foster homes, there were several characters throughout the story that have impacted Astrid’s life. Starr was a former stripper recovering from an alcohol addiction. Astrid had to leave this home because Starr suspected Astrid of having an affair with Starr’s live-in boyfriend. Astrid’s suspicion turned out to be true and because of her jealousy, Starr shot Astrid. After the gunshot, Astrid was sent to the child service shelter called McKinley Hall, which turned out to be a violent group foster home. Astrid had some hard time at McKinley hall, but she also met this fellow artist Paul who lived at McKinley hall. Paul and Astrid got into a relationship and Astrid was send to foster parents. Since Astrid was sent to a new foster family, it seemed that her relationship with Paul came to an end. However, they get together at the end of the story.
New foster care home seemed like a very nice place (Fontana, 2004). The former actress Clair is a sweet and nice person who provided Astrid with good care and made Astrid more emotionally stable. However, after Clair met Astrid’s mother, Clair’s ongoing worry about her husband got worse. As a result of that, Clair commits suicide by overdosing pills and alcohol because she thought that her husband is having an affair and might divorce her. After this had happened to Astrid, she chooses to live with Rena, who is a Russian immigrant, thinking that her foster children will form a cheap labor. Astrid spends her adult life in New York with Paul.
As mentioned before, Astrid is a 15 year old girl. She was born a female and her gender reference is female. Her health, illnesses and diseases were not mentioned in the movie. She had to suffer from some emotional difficulties, however, her physical health was mentioned in detail, besides that she got gunshot wound from her first foster care provider, Starr. As a biological factor, she got an attractive appearance from her beautiful mother (Flanagan, 2011). It is this beauty and involvement with Starr’s boyfriend that landed her a shot from Starr. From my point of view, this beauty can be her strengths because I believe this can make it easier for Astrid to find a foster care provider, as seen throughout the movie. She is able to find another home after losing one and life goes on. The white attractive girl might have a better chance to find care provider than other minor race children. Also, consider two caregivers among three with a white causation population, Astrid’s biological factor influenced her in a much better way.
Astrid experienced several mezzo level systems throughout her adolescent life. Astrid had an unstable family even before she lost her mother. Before Ingrid went to prison, Astrid and Ingrid lived together as a family. Astrid’s father left Ingrid when Astrid was very small. The movie clearly states that Ingrid used to abandon her daughter Astrid. Ingrid did not attend to the parent’s night, even though Astrid mentioned it to her. Also, the one thing that made me doubt Ingrid’s parenting skills was when Ingrid went to Barry’s house. Ingrid left Astrid in a car alone and had sex with Barry at his house. Possibly, the reason Astrid did not try to stop her mother from killing Barry, even though Astrid knew that it might happen, was that Astrid was abandoned by her mother. At school Astrid was not performing very well. However, when Astrid’s teacher asked if her mother is coming to the parent’s night, Astrid had to make excuses. This shows that Ingrid is a strong self-centered person. Also, this shows that Ingrid did not have settled goals for her daughter. She was a parent with lack of parenting skills. According to the article by Suizzo (2007), “Parents have goals for their children that include the types of values and qualities of life they hope their children will have as adults. These long-term goals motivate parents’ daily child rearing and socializing practices”. Astrid is very talented at art and she became an artist. Since Ingrid is an artist, I think she influenced Astrid in some way.
Astrid had tough environments around her, not only at home. The school seemed to not really care about her. The only scene that the school seems to come out was when the teacher was trying to collect her test. Right after the teacher collected her test, the teacher sighed deeply and asked Astrid if her mother is coming to the parent’s night. I think a public sigh towards Astrid was not an appropriate action. After Ingrid left to jail, Astrid moved on to several different mezzo level systems. However, most of the institutes and facilities that she visited were not very welcoming. For instance, at Starr’s place, Starr’s daughter was not really nice to Astrid and Astrid ended up hurt by gunshot from Starr. Even though it was very tragic that Astrid got a gunshot, I think it was even more tragic that Astrid did not know where she was send to after the tragic incident in Starr’s place. Astrid did not have a place or a person to go back to. According to Sprang, Katz, and Cooke (2009), “The pain of the physical abuse was less injurious than the fear that future assault might be worse and that he had no safe haven and no person to protect him”. As soon as Astrid’s wound got cured, she had to suffer from the fear of what will happen to her in future. After she had been through such rough times, she went to McKinley hall, which was a very violent group foster home. At this home, other people hit Astrid and cursed at her, making her even more unstable. It is scientifically proven that minors who are sent to refugees or shelter home are more unstable than other children. According to Carlson, Cacciatore, and Klimek (2012), “Refugee children are often exposed to various traumatic experiences, including mass murder, rape, extreme deprivation, and torture”. They also state that these conditions or situations might cause mental diagnoses to children. Astrid is not an exception, as this condition kept on affecting her, as she moved from one home to another with little or no change.
To a 15 year old girl, her mother was her culture, ethnicity and everything. Even though it seemed that Ingrid abandoned Astrid, Ingrid tried to control her in the way that she wanted her to live. Through the influence of non-religious Ingrid, Astrid did not have any religious beliefs. However, when she was sent to Starr’s home, since Starr was Christian, Astrid went to church with Starr. As Astrid started to believe in God, she visited her mother in jail who, unfortunately, states that a Bible as a ‘trash’. She vehemently tells Astrid not to believe in God. After the quick visit to jail on her way home, Astrid broke the cross necklace and threw it away. This can be probably presumed as coming from the influence of her non-religious mother in jail who still condemned religion or rather the Bible as trash. There is no right or wrong answer for the religion. It is a personal issue to believe in something or not. However, in Astrid’s case, it is a problem that she got confused by other people. Astrid did not know what she really wants to do with her religious status and she was confused in what other adults said to her.
Also, in terms of culture, every different family shares its own. Astrid had to face this with several culture shocks every time she moved to new places. She had to figure out the air of different environments and fit herself into new places every time she moved in. This puts Astrid in a risk of great confusion throughout the movie.
Astrid and Ingrid are family members that deeply got involved with macro-level system. Ingrid was living in jail and because of that, her daughter Astrid had to move to different foster cares, seeking for help. The couples lived in an environment where the law regulates the actions of individuals. This indicates that the rule of law prevails in this society, something that led to the jailing of Astrid’s mother when she killed her boyfriend Barry. The law equally provides for the adoption of children by foster parents. This enables the parentless children to have an access to a better life even when their biological parents are not there for them. In terms of macro-social environment, it is evident that Astrid lived in a society, where culture was eroded fast by the hype culture. This is evident from one of Astrid’s foster parent who was a drug addict and stripper. More so, it is evident that she lived in an environment where women despised men. Her mother was single and Astrid ends up being adopted by a single striper. Astrid lived in an economically poor environment, where people engaged in stripping to make ends meet. Her family equally lacked sufficient funds that could have been used to sustain her, rather than for her being fostered by strangers.
Even people who at first look perfect have at least one stress factor. In this movie, all the characters have several stress factors but, mainly, almost everyone had big stressor which was loss. Ingrid attempted murder because she was mad about the loss of her boyfriend. Starr shoots Astrid because Starr got jealous towards Astrid because she lost her boyfriend over Astrid. Clair attempted suicide because she was afraid to lose her husband. Finally, Astrid suffered from loss all the time. When Astrid visited her mother, she said that she always waited on Ingrid but she was not there for her. Astrid’s long journey starts with loss of Ingrid; therefore, we can clearly see her largest stressor was loss. Furthermore, Astrid really liked staying at Clair’s house and Clair was a good care provider but she died. This added up on Astrid’s big stressor of loss.
According to an article called “bringing basic research on early experience and stress neurobiology to bear on preventive interventions for neglected and maltreated children”, it says that “early neglect and abuse increases risk of behavioral and emotional problems” (Gunner). In the movie, Ingrid used to neglect Astrid even while they were still living together and Ingrid admits that she left her when she was very little. Ingrid said that she was not ready for a baby, so she left Astrid with a babysitter who helped her with laundry and other housekeeping chores. One of her other big stressors was neglect. Besides loss and neglect, Astrid had many other stressors in her life. After Clair died, Astrid chose to live with Rena and she had to sell all the cloths that Clair bought for her. Astrid did not want to sell those but Rena forced Astrid to do so. This is another stressor, which is poverty.
Astrid is very good at adapting to the environment. Wherever she was placed, Astrid was merging into a new environment very well. At the Starr’s place, she made a good relationship with other people who lived there until Starr started to dislike Astrid. However, she still had a good friend who called 911 when Astrid got shot by Starr. Also, when she was at McKinley hall, there were some people who hated and bullied her. This indicates how vulnerable she was because of her mother’s actions that landed her in prison. This left her homeless. Nevertheless, we see her being very resilient and instead of giving up, she fights for her rights. However, she is brave enough to fight back toward them, and she also finds her true love at McKinley hall. Also, when she was placed at Clair’s home, she quickly adapted to the new environment. Even later, when she was treated as cheap labor by the new care provider Rena, she knows how to survive that even Rene asked Astrid to be her business partner. This indicates the high level of resilience that she had gained in her life (Carlson, Cacciatore, & Klimek, 2012). Her coping skills were of great importance. Instead of submitting to her miseries, she fights for her rights and even secures the love of her life.
Two development theories are employed in analyzing the chaotic life that Astrid went through. Under the Socio-cultural theory put forward by Lev Vygotsky, knowledge is socially constructed for children who are also active learners of the same (Bernard & Campbell, 2014). Cultural values dictate what is necessary to such children, rather than what they perceive as being important in the society. Such children tend to learn from experts who are more informed in the society. In this case, Astrid’s mother tries to create a world view for her sister Barry, something that she ends up not giving into. In the foster home, the caretakers do not trust Astrid, as her sister defied this cultural expectation. Astrid goes ahead to date in spite of having been asked not to engage with women. This theory confirms that not only do children learn from the society, but they are also expected to do so. Failure to do this leads them to being labeled as rebels and not being tolerated in the society (Suizzo, 2007).
Another development theory that could be employed in discussing and explaining the life situations that Astrid went through is the ecological systems theory brought forward by Urie Bronfenbrenner. The varied systems of the environment, as well as interrelationships in the system influence a child’s development (Erdener, 2009). In this case, the interrelationships between individuals in Astrid’s life led to hampering of her development. At an early age, her academic development was hampered by her mother who was after killing her in an effort to safeguard the society’s sexist system, where she was not expected to interact with men. The child equally ended up not getting support from her foster parents when they realized that she was abandoned by her mother due to engaging in sexual immorality. This theory similarly indicates that it is not only the environment that affects the development of a child, but also the biology of such children. In this case, Astrid suffered because she was a female. The society employs double standards when dealing with women, as opposed to when dealing with men. As a result, the relationships between men and women end up being dominated by men. At the same time, reaching teenage age shaped Astrid’s life. At teenage age, attraction to members of the opposite sex increases significantly. As a result, this led to Astrid being attracted to Paul and others. This led her to being rejected in the society, something that denied her parental care, and she ended up being homeless and abused. This was not the case if it was a male who had been adopted in foster homes.
Unlike the social, cultural theory that indicates a culture as the primary influence on the child’s development. It is evident that the ecological systems theory also emphasizes the influence of biology on child’s development. Nevertheless, these two theories make a significant contribution in explaining the circumstances that Astrid went through in the movie.
There are a number of strengths and weaknesses associated with social, and cultural theories, as well as ecological systems theory. One of the strengths of the social, cultural theory is that it recognizes the role that the culture and the society play in influencing a child’s development. It is true that children are taught the culture of their society at an early age by their parents and guardians, something that shapes their overall well being. The ways people behave have something to do with the manner in which they were brought up. The theory equally presents how social stereotypes can have devastating effects in the lives of individuals. In this case, Astrid suffered due to her mother’s stereotypes that she should have interacted with men.
The social, cultural theory has a number of weaknesses. For instance, it ignores the personal choice in life beyond their cultures. It shows that people do not always live according to their culture but also as per their choices. Individualistic societies mainly focus on personal choices and decisions, as opposed to the collective will of the society. This is evident, as although Astrid was suffering for her sister’s engaging with men, one of her foster parents was a stripper, and nobody questioned it.
There are also a number of strengths and weaknesses that are associated with ecological systems theory. This theory employs multiple influences on the development of a child. This helps in indicating that such development among children is not driven only by culture, but also by their biological making (Erdener, 2009). This is true, as culture is not in a position to end the genetic makeup of individuals in the society. The theory goes beyond the culture to indicate that the entire environment in which children are brought up does affect the well-being of such individuals’ development. For instance, technology has exposed children to other cultures over the internet; the local community may lack the ability to prevent children from using it. In terms of weaknesses, it is evident that the model provides insufficient detailed explanation on the development processes that individuals go through in the development process.
As a social worker, I think it is our job to seek for our client’s well-being. According to Fontana’s article, “Children who come into foster care with health problems are fragile and have special needs that must be recognized and addressed” (Gunnar et al., 2006). “Foster care should not be a poor system for poor children but a quality health care system that provides for and enforces a child’s permanency plans”; I strongly agree with this author. If she was my client, I would address more of her health needs and check if there is any health provider available for her (Sprang, Katz, & Cooke, 2009). Throughout the movie, it seemed like she never went to a doctor or her health status was not taken into consideration. I feel that checking up on her current health status is necessary for her well being.
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