I have finally finished reading lullabies for little criminals by Heather O’Neill, and I loved it. It was so different from my normal books I read that I was surprised I enjoyed it so much. I have analyzed this book through reader response, archetypal response, and now my favorite, feminist theory! Throughout history, women have been objectified (the treatment of another person, usually a woman, as an object: typically for sexual gratification), oppressed (the mistreatment of a minority (ethnicity, sex, class) by the majority) and treated as possessions (the ownership of something) that can be passed around. Women were associated with the body, while men are associated with the mind. This is shown in my book, most predominantly through Baby and Alphonse.
Throughout this book, the female characters, though there are few, live very restricted lives. Baby, the main character, was treated like a doll by Alphonse and was objectified sexually to please older men. They did not care that she was underage: ““How old are you?” “Fifteen,” I lied. “Wow! You’re a brave little thing, aren’t you?”” (O’Neill, 219). Even after he found out her age, he still wanted to sleep with her. ““I want to have sex with you,” he said suddenly. “I’ll give you a hundred bucks.”” (O’Neill, 219). The men that Alphonse had Baby sleep with were more concerned with getting off than the fact that a 13-year-old-girl has a pimp! The male characters show their primitive traits, where they view women as objects that were placed here for their pleasure and too serve them. In lullabies for little criminals by Heather O’Neill, the purpose of women (the few that were mentioned) was to serve men sexually and then bring the money to another man, which was Alphonse. This is morally wrong because women are independent intellectual beings that do not exist to fulfill the sexual desires of men. Moreover, this is child trafficking, which is highly illegal. By treating Baby like a doll that can be passed around, this oppresses her from living out her childhood as a child. She should be going to class everyday and playing with her friends rather than turning tricks (having sex for money).
Baby wanted to belong to someone because she didn’t know that she could successfully be independent. Her mother died when she was an infant, and her father, Jules, raised her. She didn’t get to learn about how strong women can be because it was just her and her father. He was her role model and best friend. After Jules went into the hospital, then rehab, he swore he would stay clean. When Jules was a junkie, he was Baby’s best friend, and they were extremely close. Once Jules was sober, he started drifting away from Baby and blaming her for every little thing that happened. Because of this, Baby felt neglected and in need of someone new to belong too in order to fill the hole in her heart where her father used to be. “I wanted desperately to belong to someone. It didn’t matter who.” (O’Neill, 207). Alphonse became this for Baby. He provided the protection and the love she was lacking in her life. He used this to his advantage, telling Baby that she was his, which gave her someone to belong to. Alphonse was Baby’s ‘owner’ because he took her in, took away her innocence without consent; “He made us a big plate of spaghetti, sprinkling pot liberally into the sauce, it was the best I’d ever tasted.” (O’Neill, 208). Baby was intoxicated and could not consent. She is 13! This is illegal anyways. Alphonse took what he wanted without a second thought. As a result of our history and how women were viewed, Alphonse didn’t see an issue in treating Baby as a inferior. This is wrong because women in society are to be treated as equals, not inferior as they once were in the previous century. “I couldn’t move a finger on my hand or my knee without squishing against him. I felt helpless.” (O’Neill, 209). Alphonse raped Baby. He oppressed her by telling her that she could live there with him, and stop going to school because it would be unnecessary to get a job. This made her believe that she no longer needed an education because Alphonse was going to be there to provide for her. She was a 13-year-old girl, and at that age, she is very impressionable.
Baby was restricted and she had to turn tricks every night at the end of the book to please Alphonse because he was severely addicted to heroin and needed around $100 worth every day. “I had to turn tricks every night now. Since I’d started living with Alphonse, he had a shorter temper and didn’t cut me any slack in that department. I had to go to meet him straightaway with the money at the end of the evening.” (O’Neill, 288). Baby was making the money to support his addiction, which also kept her safe, because without turning tricks (Baby’s slang word for selling herself for sex) and obeying his orders, he would punish her. This would make her feel like she was worthless intellectually and only good for sexually pleasuring complete strangers. No girl should ever feel this way, especially not a 13-year-old-girl. We have advanced so far in society with women’s rights that this is taking steps back. Instead of empowering women, this tells us that we are still just objects to men and we hold no importance other than to fullfil their sexual desires.
When Baby found Xavier, she realized that she wanted to have an normal life. However, Alphonse was holding her back When she tried to live her life, and be with Xavier, Alphonse told her all of the sweet things she would want to hear in order to get her back. He apologized and told her that she had to live with him, and later added that he could not live without her, “You’re going to live here.” (O’Neill, 277). This oppressed Baby from having a normal life, which she strived towards, because she was too attached to Alphonse emotionally. She didn’t want to hurt her feelings so she ignored her own in order to please him. Not only did this oppress Baby, but this was also very demanding. Alphonse did not ask, he ordered. Women have the ability to say ‘no’, and don’t have to worry about possibly being punished for disobeying a man. This story takes place in Montreal, Canada. Not the Middle East where women are to be obedient or else they are punished. This is completely wrong because these are humans! They deserve human rights and to be treated with respect.
In the school aspect of this book, Baby’s intelligence was ignored when she was enrolled in high school again after being in the detention center. “The social worker had arranged for me to go to a high school that had a special program for delinquent kids who weren’t good at school.” (O’Neill, 202). They were ignorant to the fact that Baby was on the honour roll at her previous school (O’Neill, 202), and put her in with the other “special” students who needed the extra help. Baby’s level of intelligence is not to be determined by her gender, or her past. If the social worked had looked at her school transcripts she would have seen that Baby was an exceptional student. “I was called down to the office on the intercom. At the office the guidance counselor help up my report card. I had received a ninety-six average. She told me that I was being put in the regular stream.” (O’Neill, 231). This was redundant in Baby’s case because later on they realized their mistake and put her back into the main stream with the regular classes.
Because baby is objectified so much in her life she loses the sense of self she once had at the beginning of the book. Now Baby focuses more on how to please Alphonse instead of what will make her happy. She was fighting against this throughout most of the book, reminding Alphonse of how young she actually was by telling him that she couldn’t stay with him all of the time because she had to go to school. Homework, for her, was an escape from reality. It allowed her to solely focus on her studies and the questions in front of her rather than when her next ‘trick’ would be.
Due to the fact that throughout history women have been associated with the body, they are thought of as objects and property because they are unintelligent. Therefore, they cannot speak for themselves and it was believed that they needed a protector/owner. Now, with feminism, we are working against this to have our basic human rights back. Anything a man can do, a woman can too.
http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3ubv1p (Sexist meme)
https://www.pinterest.com/kbrown87/important-gifs/ (Feminist rants gif)