Court In The West Eighties by Carson McCullers

Have you ever lived in close quarters with strangers? Perhaps you went out of your way not to know these people, but in the name of etiquette rather than aloofness. There’s something discotrmfiting about living in a stranger’s pocket. Like commuters on a packed train, we avoid each other’s gaze.

Failure to know our neighbours is said to be a modern ailment — “In the olden days communities were stronger!” we are told, as evidence of modern societal breakdown. But was that ever true of the cities?

Whenever humans are forced to live in close proximity a tacit rule plays out: we pretend to be less proximal than we really are. Desmond Morris wrote about this in The  Human Zoo (1969). In cities, we think of other people as trees. There’s no way we can stop and say hello to everyone. Yet if we were in the forest and saw another human for the first time in days, we’d stop and have a conversation.

This rule of ‘polite ignoring’ has been in play ever since humans have lived in close proximity. Try walking through a city and saying hello to everyone. People will assume you’re not right in the head.

This rule applies to our neighbours. The closer your neighbours, the more the rule applies. I bet it has always applied. In lieu of evidence from the Stone Age, today I offer evidence from the 1930s — a short story by Carson McCullers, born 1917: “Court in the West Eighties”.


  • New York, 1930s, and as the title says — in the West Eighties. This is not a story that could have been told in my home country of New Zealand, say, because 1930s New Zealand didn’t have the population density of New York.
  • The story begins in Spring — a time of new beginnings — and also warm enough to allow windows open. When the narrator says ‘I cannot understand why I was so unconscious of the way in which things began to change’ she is ostensibly talking about the changing of the seasons, but she is also describing her own gradual epiphanies about life and human nature. Epiphany is the wrong word, in fact, because an epiphany is sudden. There is no ‘epiphany’ here — more like a realisation akin to ‘the thing, sooty-gray patches of snow disappearing’. McCullers is using the seasons as a metaphor for the range of character change (not much, and slowly).
  • The narrator is living in cheap housing as a student — ‘Four walls of little rooms’. In 2018 The New York Times made a time capsule which included 1930s New York. But I’m having a bit of trouble visualising exactly how the narrator’s court and rooms are laid out.
  • The Great Depression was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world, lasting from the stock market crash of 1929 to 1939. Though the depression is not mentioned directly, it is almost certainly the reason why the husband next door is out of work. McCullers makes sure to introduce economic woes early on by mentioning the friend back home who can’t go to university (despite being a natural academic) because his father is out of work. This was a time of mass unemployment. Adults who’d never experienced starvation as children went hungry for the first time — an historically unusual form of hunger, and one which comes on the back of entitlement. Frustrated entitlement leads to anger.
  • The narrator’s eye functions as a floating camera. The ‘camera’ of the viewpoint narrator functions like a fish swimming through water. She can see stockings as close ups — enough to see that only the feet have been washed. She also sees her neighbours as long-shots, with full bodies included in the composition.

My spatial imagination thereby fails me. I end up imagining a dwelling like a painting by Cinta Vidal:

I’d like to find a photo which shows how the real apartments of the upper eighties would’ve been laid out. In the meantime, Vidal’s Escher-esque painting is actually pretty good as a metaphorical representation. As interpersonal dynamics play out, the narrator’s viewpoint shifts until she is no longer sure how the world works, or what happiness looks like for a woman.


This story is a good example of ‘main character subversion’. The first paragraph leads us to expect a somewhat eventful story about the red-headed man, but as we eventually find out, there is no real story to this guy:

During all this time I can remember seeing only a few incomplete glimpses of this man living across from me — his red hair through the frosty window glass, his hand reaching out on the sill to bring in his food, a flash of his calm drowsy face as he looked out on the court. I paid no more attention to him than I did to any of the other dozen or so people in that building. I did not see anything unusual about him and had no idea that I would come to think of him as I did.

“Court in the West Eighties” by Carson McCullers

This subversion is helped along by the fact that, in the history of storytelling, red hair marks out a character as somehow special — a person things happen to. They stand out. But this man’s red hair is ironically without significance.

It would be interesting to know how Carson McCullers would identify if she were born 80 or 90 years later. Would she be gender expansive, gender non-binary, bi romantic ace? McCullers was certainly not an uncritical follower of the strict gender binary of her era. This short story serves as a critique of accepted feminine norms, about a narrator who, looking back on herself from a slightly removed distance, sees that she was naive about gender roles when she first came to New York.


We are told directly of the narrator’s sex and age:

I have often thought that when you are an eighteen year old girl, and can’t fix it so you look any older than your age, it is harder to get work than at any other time.

Carson McCullers

The young narrator is developing ideas — or merely articulating preconceived notions — about femininity.

Julianne Newmark

When establishing the Psychological Shortcoming it’s often useful to ask what a main character is wrong about. (Julianne puts it so well):

We know [the narrator’s] situation in New York City is somewhat unique, as a young woman far away from home in the city alone for her studies, and we know that she perceives the young married couple as very much in love and “happy,” in the early pages of her story. She thus reinforces the traditional trajectory for a woman’s life: marriage and then child-rearing. These she equates with “happiness.”

Julianne Newmark

Susan Faludi wrote an entire book about this, but as it specifically applied in America after the 9/11 attacks:

when we base our security on a mythical male strength that can only increase itself against a mythical female shortcoming — we should know that we are exhibiting the symptoms of a lethal, albeit curable, cultural affliction.

All of women’s aspirations — whether for education, work or any form of self-determination — ultimately rest on their ability to decide whether and when to bear children.

Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women

However, the terrorist attacks only served to strengthen a phenomenon already in force. The Shortcoming of this narrator at the beginning of the story is the personification of a societal one: Don’t sit back and yearn for men to save whatever is wrong with the world. Failure to step up is the narrator’s Moral Shortcoming.


The narrator has been brought up to rely on men to step in and save the day.  In short, the narrator wants a man to step in as patriarch of the apartment complex.

This is so she doesn’t have to do anything herself, other than exist.

This is a cultural comment on accepted gender divisions of the 1930s, but it’s still in play today, evident less at a household level perhaps, but still most alarmingly evident in politics. I’m talking about the idea we’re seeing around the world right now — that ‘good people’ need a ‘strong man’ leader to save everyone from those foreign, evil men.


As viewpoint character, the narrator of this story is not the character involved directly in the web of Opposition. Like us, she bears witness.

The violent, surface opposition exists between the husband and his wife, then between the cat-like man and the cellist.

The married man above the cellist is perhaps using the cellist as a proxy wife upon whom he exacts his deep-seated misogyny. (It would be too much against his morals to attack the woman he married for his woes — easier to criticise some other woman, objectified as ‘loose’.)

Who is the married man avenging, really, when he yells at the cellist to be quiet even though she is in the middle of being manually strangulated? (By the way, despite what movies tell us, this often leads to real, long-term, life-changing physical injury.)

The married man’s real — though unacknowledged — opponent is a society in which men lose masculine privilege when suddenly unable to provide economically for their families due to forces beyond their control.

It’s dangerous to read too much into connections between fiction and its author’s life, but I was interested to learn that as a youngster, Carson McCullers would practice Bach fugues on the piano for five hours a day. I suspect that puts the author’s sympathies more firmly with the cello player than with the viewpoint narrator.


Directly linked to the narrator’s moral shortcoming — that she waits around for a man to save the day — is the fact that she makes no Plan. Her only plan is to observe and hope.

In this case, other characters in a story must make plans, though ‘plan’ is a bit of a weird word when describing actions that take place out of rage — or perhaps it wasn’t rage. Perhaps when the husband raped the young cellist he was undertaking a well thought-out plan to keep her in her place.


On first reading I wondered if there had been a murder, and that the sounds refer to manual strangulation. Did you think that, too?

It is soon revealed that the Battle sequence culminated in assault, probably sexual. This was carried out by the cellist’s male visitor — described only as a cat (who comes and goes in the night). The other men nearby either shout at her to be quiet (the married man) or look on, doing nothing (the red-headed man).


The narrator does not undergo a complete Anagnorisis, choosing to continue with her belief that the red-headed man will still save them all from bad in the world. But now she is actively ‘choosing’ to believe this, and you can’t ‘choose’ to believe something unless you know there’s more underneath, right? And since the narrator is telling this story herself, she must understand that the red-headed man is not going to save anyone — that no one is going to save anyone else, because we are all caught up in our own small day-to-day lives.

As Julianne Newmark explains at her blog, the narrator’s arc is shown to the reader by the motif of borders:

McCullers’s story is, though not as overtly, a story concerned with a woman’s development (the narrator is in the city to be educated), with borders (the distinctions that reverberate in McCullers’s work between North and South), and with other kinds of borders . . . such as the physical ones that separate her from her neighbors in the apartment building, such as the “age” ones that make it hard for an eighteen-year-old woman to get a job in New York City, as she says, and the class borders on which the narrator comments upon her realization that her married neighbors are becoming increasingly “poor” even though their building is not a building occupied by poor people and it does not look shabby at all from the outside. This young narrator is learning a lot about the transgression of borders and the maintenance of them in this story, even though she doesn’t comment on this directly.

Julianne Newmark

To comment on them directly would mean she has experienced a complete emotional arc. But the narrator is still young at time of writing. Carson McCullers only lived until the age of 50, so never experienced the long hindsight of old age.


The reader can extrapolate that the red-headed man will go to his next place and live in a very similar fashion. People are creatures of habit.

The young woman who was assaulted will continue living with trauma. She has already changed her habits, symbolised by the fact that she no longer dries her stockings where others can see them. (This simple detail is psychologically telling — she blames herself for the rape, at least a little. And she thinks that if she is careful enough, it won’t ever happen again. Another form of self-delusion.)

The narrator’s fate remains less clear: Self-delusion is to her huge psychological advantage, after all. I am somewhat envious of those who successfully convince themselves everything is fine even though it’s clearly not (e.g. climate change deniers, ‘egalitarian’ women who eschew ‘feminism’, believing gender equality has been achieved). There are huge penalties for seeing injustice at close range, especially if this insight leads us to action.

We are highly rewarded for conforming to gender expectations as well. There is a lot at stake for this young woman narrator if she were to fully realise and accept her own gender equality, and the idea that perhaps it was herself — not just the Jesus figure of the red-headed man — who could have done something to help the cello player that night.



I am fascinated by people’s ability to choose self-delusion. (Some better than others.) Although I only read McCullers’ story this week, I made use of the same Anagnorisis arc in our picture book app Midnight Feast (2014). The main character Roya looks out the window, sees that she is surrounded by homeless and starving people, then makes the active choice to retreat into her imagination, which includes imagining they don’t exist.


Contrast this narrator with the narrative voice of Alice Munro’s short stories, in which elderly women often look back on their younger years with a full understanding of who they were then and how they were shaped by their environments. This is then juxtaposed with the clarity of hindsight they have now. Clarity of hindsight is evident across Munro’s work even when the narration is (close) third person (rather than first, as it is here).


Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is also the story of someone quietly observing his neighbours, eventually witnessing a crime. In the trailer for this 1954 film, notice how the camera moves like a fish swimming through water. Again, this is ocean symbolism at play, showing that the city is a dangerous food chain where bad things can suddenly happen.

Carson McCullers herself was partially paralysed by strokes by the time she was thirty. I imagine this made her an acute observer of her neighbours at time, similar to the character in Rear Window, who is laid up with leg injury.


We remain fascinated by viewpoint narrators spying in on other people’s lives. The Girl On The Train was the tentpole psychological thriller of 2015, and led to many more like it.

Header photo by The New York Public Library

Her First Ball by Katherine Mansfield

Louis Haghe - The Ballroom, Buckingham Palace, 17 June 1856

“Her First Ball” is a short story by Katherine Mansfield, written 1921. Though this story is nigh on 100 years old, it’s a tale of pick up artist culture, and reminds of the ‘toolies’ who attend Schoolies Week here in Australia.


Leila has turned 18, so must now attend balls in order to find a husband. Her city cousins, The Sheridans, introduce country-girl Leila to this exciting, dream-like world.

The story opens like this…

Exactly when the ball began Leila would have found it hard to say.

… which reminds me of a classic writer’s problem: Where does this story begin? This is a problem faced by anyone who’s ever recounted an incident. What was the inciting incident? Peter Selgin writes about that here.

Mansfield decides to open “Her First Ball” in the cab on the way to the ball, which Leila shares with her cousins Meg, Jose, Laura and Laurie. Later she’ll include a flashback to Leila’s anxiety, as she sits on the bed pleading with her mother not to go at all.


Leila is at a social disadvantage because she lives in the country, and the fact that she lives in the country in itself speaks to a naivety below her years.

Another iconic New Zealand writer, Frank Sargeson, didn’t think much of this story. He didn’t accept the overarching shortcoming of Leila:

… the title by itself almost tells the story. A young country girl is staying with her town cousins who take her to a drill-hall ball. It is all very much indeed in the feminine tradition. Dresses, gloves, powder, flowers — and all the similes come tumbling out: A girl’s dark head pushes above her white fur like a flower through snow … little satin shoes chase each other like birds…. But later on we come to the point of the story. The girl, Leila, bewildered and enchanted by it all, is breathless with excitement. How heavily, how simply heavenly! she thinks. She dances with young men with glossy hair—and then with an older man who is both bald and fat. He perceive stat it is her first dance and tells her that he has been doing this sort of thing for thirty years. Then he goes on and pictures Leila herself in years to come. Her pretty arms will have turned into short fat ones, he says. And she will be sitting up on the stage with the chaperones while her daughter dances down below. And his words destroy her happiness. The music suddenly sounds sad. And she asks herself an agonising question: Why doesn’t happiness last forever? ‘Deep inside her’ we read, ‘a little girl threw her pinafore over her head and sobbed.’ And of course she hates the bald fat man.

Now I don’t know how my listeners will feel about this story, but for me it just doesn’t come off. It is, no doubt, tru e enough of many young girls, but for my part I’m afraid I can’t help making some comparisons. For instance, had any of Shakespeare’s young heroines (wonderful ones, say, like Perdita in The Winter’s Tale, or Marina in Pericles)—had they encountered that elderly bald fat man, and had he told them that shocking truth—well, I don’t know, but I fancy they would have just laughed and asked him why he wanted to say anything so obvious. In other words, young female character can be made of somewhat sterner stuff, and there is something in my make-up which refuses to accept the suggestion that that particular trying moment in the girl’s life was really so important and significant as it is intended to be.

Frank Sargeson, Conversation in a Train and Other Critical Writings

Sargeson seems to have forgotten the final paragraph of this story, in which Leila forgets all about it, but he taps into something that’s been a more recent conversation among bookish and film-loving types: Why do female characters always have to be so kick ass and confident? Lack of diversity among female characters is a big part of the problem with the phrase ‘strong female character’. Why do girls always have to be so damn strong? This is the problem boys have faced since forever… Is it girls’ turn now?

I can’t say I’ve had the exact experience Leila had. But I can give you two personal examples which resonate:

The first is from watching TV. Most of TV is forgettable, and the vast majority of TV dating show interactions are equally forgettable, but a few years ago I was watching that Chinese dating show on SBS when one bachelor rejected an interested young woman by telling her, “I can imagine what you’ll look like when you’re old.” She seemed taken aback and replied with something like, “I can see what you’ll look like when you’re old, too.”

I took a close look at this young woman and I really couldn’t see what he was seeing. Of all the insults hurled on that show, the accusation that she already, as a young woman in her prime, masked the shadows of ageing, seemed to me about the worst thing someone could say to another person in a dating context. (My take on it: She reminded him vaguely of someone he knows in real life who is actually old, and he blurted it out awkwardly.)

When I was in my mid-twenties, a guy who worked as an artist in the shed attached to my rented converted barn (long story) turned up one night when I was making a funny video starring my workmates. I was doing some last minute editing because I had to show it to my audience the following day. But I had run out of storage space on my laptop and I showed him what I was doing. He volunteered to pop down to the supermarket and pick up a spool of CDs.

First, I showed him what I was doing. I’d taken a video of my boss — an experienced, capable and very kind French teacher, who was speaking to her class at the time of filming, in what I assume was a fairly boring vocabulary exercise — one she’d done a thousand times. She wasn’t exactly animated. She sat hunched on her stool, with a look of middle-aged concentration.

I was the other languages teacher in our department, about 25 years younger than my head of department. Alistair next door was a young looking 39, but 39 nevertheless. Whereas women consider ourselves old around the time of our 30th birthday, he considered himself well-and-truly in his prime. “Oh. You’re hot,” he mused, looking at the video I’d made, “but I guess you’re gonna look like her one day. Such a damn shame.”

It’s worth pointing out, though Frank Sargeson was not your stereotypical privileged macho man owing to his being gay in an anti-gay era, he did not experience life as a woman, either. He wasn’t a product of a culture which tells young women that the most important thing about us is the beauty which comes only with healthy, fulsome youth, and that when our beauty is gone, there’ll be nothing at all left to replace it. (In fact, Frank was well-known for his lack of attention to aesthetics. His house was a hovel — he cared only about his vege patch.)

Having been on the receiving end of comments like that, I have more empathy for Leila than Frank did.

What about you?


By today’s standards, Laurie’s a little weird with his sister Laura, calling her ‘Darling’ and possessively telling her he’ll dance the usual two dances with her. Meanwhile, country-cousin Leila is noticing every detail, wanting to keep the rubbish tissue paper out of Laurie’s new gloves as keepsake.

Leila doesn’t know what to do, so she follows her cousins. Once at the ball, the girls go straight to the toilet/dressing area, where young women crowd around the mirror. This is exactly what it’s like:

And everybody was pressing forward trying to get at the little dressing-table and mirror at the far end.

I once wrote a short story in which this happens at a school ball, and a male critique partner expressed his skepticism, not believing that women’s toilets are like that at all. I’ve since concluded that “Her First Ball” is a particularly feminine story, more generally relatable to woman readers.

Mansfield herself sees the ridiculousness of the dressing room situation:

“How most extraordinary! I can’t see a single invisible hair-pin.”


Henry Gillard Glindoni - Title Unknown
Henry Gillard Glindoni – Title Unknown

Meg introduces Leila to her friends in a rather condescending way, turning herself into a mother hen. The girls respond with etiquette but are obviously more interested in the men, standing on the other side of the room. The men are the romantic opposition, and one man in particular.


Though Leila hasn’t got a clue what the formal proceedings are, the men all cross the parquet floor at once and fill up the girls’ dance cards. Failure to fill up a dance card felt like a serious rejection. The dance card culture lasted in New Zealand until about the 1950s, when dating started to become more informal. The wars changed culture a lot — women would have fun dancing with each other when there weren’t enough men to go round.

In 1921, the girls don’t have much say in who they get to dance with. If they don’t want to dance with someone, they’re unable to decline:

“Let me see, let me see!” And he was a long time comparing his programme, which looked black with names, with hers. It seemed to give him so much trouble that Leila was ashamed. “Oh, please don’t bother,” she said eagerly. But instead of replying the fat man wrote something, glanced at her again. “Do I remember this bright little face?” he said softly.

Because in this social milieu, it is men who do all of the choosing. It’s not up to Leila to make any plans. Instead she is swept along with the proceedings, on a treadmill (the first step on the moving walkway towards boring middle age). The ‘whirlpool’ sensation we get from Mansfield’s imagery, with ribbons flying and streamers and elongation describes most literally the sensation of being spun around during a dance, but it also symbolises being swept up into a culture of matrimony which begins with one’s first ball and ends with the women dressed in black (as the chaperones are — as a clear sign they’re not ‘on the market’ — but this is of course symbolic of death). By going to your first ball, you’re now on that inevitable decline. For Mansfield, beginnings are reminiscent of endings. She can’t enjoy a beginning without also thinking of its ending.

There’s a flashback to Leila’s boarding school, where she learned to dance but under completely different conditions — staid and without the sexual tension Leila had not anticipated.

In the brief moment where her designated partner doesn’t come to collect her, Leila thinks melodramatically that she’s going to ‘die’. But then he does come and they make small talk as they dance. This hooks into the ‘treadmill towards death’ idea.

The second dance partner also opens with a comment on the floor. Leila wonders if this is customary. Like the previous one, this young man asks if Leila had attended a certain party the week before. The conversation with the second young man is revealed to be exactly the same as that with the first. This is significant. The night now has a fatalistic feel to it — as if everything is playing out according to some supernatural rulebook — the characters might be automatons, and there’s something creepy about robotic behaviour. (That’s why they’re used so often in horror.) Within the world of the story, these boys attend many balls, saying basically the same thing to most of the girls, and are bored by it. This juxtaposes with Leila’s excitement at the novelty, serving to emphasise it. (This boy takes her to eat an ‘ice’ — a novelty people had fridges and freezers in their homes. Such products had to be delivered right before they were consumed.)

Now that Leila has experienced two identical interactions, she’s expecting the same again. So are we, due to the Rule of Three in Storytelling, but at the same time, we know our expectation of sameness will be subverted.


Leila’s third dance does not go as the first two did. The old fat man turns out to be even older than she thought.

As reader, I am annoyed with this man. What the hell is he doing, inserting himself into a social event designed for young people? He reminds me of the 29 year old men who insist on attending Schoolies Week year after year after year. (Here in Australia these men, mostly men, often in their 40s, are known as ‘Toolies’.)

This guy seems to get off on shit-talking to young women — the younger and more naive she seems, the more he enjoys it. These days there’s a word for it: Negging. In its most basic form, a man insults a woman hoping to elicit a strong reaction, because a strong reaction is — for him — better than no reaction. He then has something to ‘work with’, and his next task is to simply flip that negative strong emotion into a positive one, which according to pick up artists, actually sometimes works.

Because Leila has been culturally conditioned to be nice to men, she looks at his bald head and feels ‘quite sorry for him’.

Sensing this, the middle-aged man negs Leila by pointing out that the rules are different for women, who must modify their behaviour as they hit middle age, unlike himself, who continues to dance, since he feels like it:

“Of course,” he said, “you can’t hope to last anything like as long as that. No-o,” said the fat man, “long before that you’ll be sitting up there on the stage, looking on, in your nice black velvet. And these pretty arms will have turned into little short fat ones, and you’ll beat time with such a different kind of fan—a black bony one.” The fat man seemed to shudder. “And you’ll smile away like the poor old dears up there, and point to your daughter, and tell the elderly lady next to you how some dreadful man tried to kiss her at the club ball. And your heart will ache, ache.”

The middle-aged man has been doing this for so long, he knows the exact kind of scripted small talk Leila has already been exposed to. He mentions the floor, but points out her feelings will have changed towards it, almost as if he’d been listening intently to Leila’s first two conversations:

And you’ll say how unpleasant these polished floors are to walk on, how dangerous they are. Eh, Mademoiselle Twinkletoes?” said the fat man softly.

The man’s omniscience almost turns him into a kind of evil fairy godfather — a ghostly figure whose only purpose at the ball is to ruin Leila’s night.


Leila takes him at his word, and laments:

Oh, how quickly things changed! Why didn’t happiness last for ever? For ever wasn’t a bit too long.

Leila has had one of those epiphanies like Sun of “Sun and Moon”, in which the much younger Sun also realises that perfect evenings can never last forever.

Leila continues to smile, because that’s what you’re required to do at a designated ‘happy’ occasion, but her feelings on the inside are quite different:

But deep inside her a little girl threw her pinafore over her head and sobbed. Why had he spoiled it all?

Then the middle-aged man pulls out a classic pick up artist (and also a classic schoolyard bullying) technique — he tells, “you mustn’t take me seriously, little lady.” He was just joking, see! JOKES! If Leila took him seriously it’s all on her! Why can’t young ladies grow a sense of humour? Sheesh.


The ending is similar to that of “The Doll’s House“, in which the underdog girl has something horrible happen to her, but almost with determination, she’s resolved not to let it bother her. Like Else Kelvey, Leila forgets all about her dance with the horrible, middle-aged man, but the reader knows that even if she’s ‘forgotten’ the incident, the epiphany remains with her.

I expect one day, when Leila sits up on the stage watching her daughter, she will recall her first dance and she will recall that man.

What do you make of endings in which the character ‘forgets’ the bad thing and moves on?

We now know that the brain can go back in time and change how an event is perceived. Psychologists call it ‘postdiction’ (riffing on PREdiction). There is also a Latin term for it:  vaticinium ex eventu (foretelling after the event).

This is probably an adaptation to help us get on in life after horrible things happen.

Lucien Davis The Washington Post 1898
Lucien Davis The Washington Post 1898


In-flight Entertainment” by Helen Simpson is a much more modern story but the underlying structure is the same.

I use the same epiphany sequence in “Midnight Feast“. Roya sees the impact of climate change when she finally takes a peek out of her own kitchen window, but she’s unable to sleep until she forgets she’s ever seen it.

Header painting: Louis Haghe – The Ballroom, Buckingham Palace, 17 June 1856

About A Boy Film Study

About a Boy

About A Boy is a 2002 British transgression comedy based on a Nick Hornby novel of the same name. In its own way, About A Boy is also a kind of buddy comedy, though the buddies are vastly different in age.


The boy in this title refers to not one but two boys — one is young but the other is 38 years old and still behaving like a child. The title tells us there’s a boy, singular, and at first tricks us into thinking it’s about the young boy. We will soon realise that the young boy is mature beyond his years and that the boy in the title refers to the grown man.


A cynical, immature young man is taught how to act like a grown-up by a little boy.

Notice how the premise involves a contrast, or at least an irony: grown up/little boy. We can see from the premise who the main character is, because the main character is the one who changes the most over the course of the story. The star was always Will Freeman.

(The best premises always contain some kind of irony.)


Show that manhood is independent of age by presenting a man-child in contrast to a child with emotional literacy beyond his years.


comedy, drama, romance >> coming-of-age

Discontent: The hero Will Freeman (a symbolic name) can’t get adequately laid without investing some emotional commitment.

Transgression with a mask: Will poses as a single father so he can meet up with single mothers, who he perceives as emotionally unavailable in the long term but good for a few weeks of shagging, mainly because he seems wonderful in comparison to the terrible fathers who have abandoned them.

Transgression without a mask:Via a woman he is interested in from S.P.A.T (Single Parents Alone Together), Suzie, Will meets up with a boy called Marcus Brewer who decides he’s going to be Will’s friend, because he would like a father in case his mother tries to kill herself again. Marcus starts stalking Will and realises he doesn’t in fact have a 2 year old called Ned. He uses this information as a ransom — Marcus will keep quiet about the deception if he goes out with his depressed mother.

Dealing With Consequences: When Marcus’s mother discovers her 12-year-old son has been spending time at a grown man’s flat, she is suspicious. But then she stops being suspicious and guilts Will into spending further time with Marcus, who he never really wanted to spend time with in the first place. Now he is stuck being the mentor for a weird 12-year-old. 

Spiritual Crisis: After spending afternoons together watching crappy TV in Will’s apartment, Will inadvertently begins to care about Marcus. Because he starts to care about Marcus, he opens himself up and starts to care about forming a real connection with a woman, and when he meets Ali’s mother he genuinely starts to fall in love.

Growth Without a Mask: Will grows into a more emotionally rounded person, which is evidenced by his willingness to make a complete fool of himself on stage in order to save Marcus from complete social suicide on stage. Note that a big struggle scene precedes this growth; feeling depressed about having been dumped by Rachel, he brushes Marcus off after Marcus finds his mother crying on the couch.



About A Boy is slightly unusual in that it makes use of two storyteller narrators. Marcus and Will take turns with the voiceover. This reflects the structure of the novel, which alternates POV per chapter. Unlike the film, however, the book is written in third person. It was the filmmakers who decided to go with first person narration. The problem with third person voice over narration in films is, it can sound a bit paternalistic and fable-like, and therefore condescending. So I’m guessing that’s why that decision was made.

Another, more recent story which utilises the same voiceover switcheroo trick is End Of The Fxxxing World.


Will (Hugh Grant’s character) is the trickster archetype. The trickster is a lower form of the magician archetype and is very popular in modern storytelling. In children’s stories, the trickster and the underdog are the two main archetypes. Trickster heroes are more common in entertaining stories. Tricksters upset normal hierarchies and rules of everyday or official behaviour, either through cleverness or foolishness. They often appear as pranksters or mischief-makers.

STRENGTH: The trickster uses confidence, trickery, and a way with words to get what they want. That definitely describes Will, who tricks women into sleeping with him as his modus operandi. (The trickster is a ‘con’ artist, and ‘con’ is short for confidence.)

WEAKNESS: May become a complete liar who looks out only for themselves. Also true of Will. When he helps Marcus out, it’s mainly to assuage the pain that the audience is also feeling — we want to jump in and fix his immediate problem because it’s so painful to watch. 


He wants a never-ending line of girlfriends who will dump him after a few weeks, so that he doesn’t have to dump them first and feel momentarily bad while watching them cry.


Marcus is the inverse of a trickster. What you see is what you get, to the point that he sings to himself, thinking he’s singing inside his head. Marcus is Will’s main opponent because it is Marcus who is onto Will straight away and has information that can get Will into a lot of bother, romantically.

Will also has a series of romantic opponents, and Marcus’s mother is a similar but non-romantic opponent as well, concerned in the welfare of her son.


But it turns out that Marcus is not really an opponent.

Though Will and Marcus appear to be opponents, they learn from each other by each of them becoming a little more like the other one.

Marcus has his own fake opponent ally, Allie. (I find it really unusual for a work of fiction that one character in this is called Ellie and another, completely unrelated character, is called Ali.)


Pretend to be a single father in order to ingratiate himself to single mothers, who will think he’s wonderful for coping so well. Since single mothers are so attached to others themselves, they won’t get too attached to him, which is perfect. Will therefore invents a two-year-old called Ned and attends meetings for single parents, which he sees advertised on a flyer.


There are a number of big struggles, each taking place between Will and one of his opponents. For example, the mother he tried to shag, who has uncomfortably been invited to the same Christmas party, and the argument in the restaurant with Marcus’s mother. Then there is the important argument with Marcus himself:


This is the part where the main character (or two main characters) have an argument with each other. This is an opportunity for the writer to let the audience know the basic philosophies of each. Both characters here have a solid and conflicting worldview, but Will is going to have to learn that he does need other people in order to be happy.

But the main big struggle scene takes place on stage. There’s a big lead up, with the ticking clock being used to increase dramatic tension. Will has to make it to the school on time to keep him from going on stage with his tambourine. He loses the race, so ends up on stage memorably singing Killing Me Softly on a guitar (Chekhov’s guitar, introduced much earlier when Marcus asks him if it’s just for show).


 Three characters have a anagnorisis:

When Fiona suggests Marcus eat a McDonalds hamburger to celebrate his performance she is encouraging him to do something she herself disapproves of. We know that she has lessened her hold on her son and will let him make some more of his own decisions from now on.

We flash forward to the following Christmas. For the first time ever, Will is not hating it. He has realised he likes having people for company. Perhaps this new relationship with Rachel will really work.

Marcus has learned something too, from Will. He’s learnt to be just cool enough to fit in socially, but is still basically himself. His comment about Will’s shoes means he’s now giving thought to such things. After the concert Will has also advised that there’s no point trying to make other people happy because it’s not up to you whether someone else is happy or not. Likewise, it’s not your fault if another person is sad.


This is a vital life lesson for Marcus to have learned, because of his mother’s ongoing depression.

Lady Bird Film Study

Lady Bird film poster

Lady Bird is an American coming-of-age film written and directed by Greta Gerwig, who won a bunch of awards for it. I can see why.

A similar film, but underrated, is The Edge Of Seventeen. If you loved Lady Bird, watch The Edge Of Seventeen. Also, if you like Lady Bird, you like young adult fiction. Lady Bird may not feel like a YA story because this is also a story about a mother who is learning to let go. In this respect I liken it to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood.

Another film considered just as good as Lady Bird, but about a black, gay man is Moonlight. Here’s why we should be paying attention to that film, too.


Though set in 2002, Lady Bird is considered a ‘period piece’. 9/11 was a year ago, and this influences American culture at the time. Lady Bird is drawn to New York, not despite the bombings, but possibly because she’s drawn to excitement (naively).

The story is not autobiographical, but Sacramento was chosen because Gerwig knows this area so well, having grown up here and attending a Catholic girls’ school. The significant thing about this setting: It is not New York. A young woman like Lady Bird feels like nothing important happens here. This story could equally have been set in the Midwest, or in the American South.


As Steven Colbert says in his interview with Saoirse Ronan, you can tell someone the entire plot of this film and still not ruin it, because this is very much a character driven story. When listed, there’s nothing in this plot which stands out as spectacle, or ‘original’. The brilliance of this story is in the emotional impact, which is created by well-drawn, relatable characters and focus on details:

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is a senior student at a Catholic high school in Sacramento, in 2002. She lives with her parents, with whom she has a strained relationship, her older brother, who is adopted, and his girlfriend. Lady Bird is best friends with Julianne “Julie” Steffans. Lady Bird and Julie join their school’s theatre program, where Lady Bird meets a young man named Danny O’Neill. They develop a romantic relationship, leading to Lady Bird joining Danny’s family for Thanksgiving dinner rather than doing so with her own family, much to her mother’s disappointment. Their relationship is abruptly broken when Lady Bird finds Danny making out with a boy in a bathroom stall after the performance. At the behest of her mother, Lady Bird takes on a menial job at a coffee shop, where she meets an edgy musician named Kyle Scheible. He and Lady Bird begin a romantic relationship, and she begins to drift away from Julie in favour of a friendship with a popular girl named Jenna Walton.

After Jenna is reprimanded by her teacher Sister Sarah Joan, a nun, for wearing a short skirt, Jenna bonds with Lady Bird by harmlessly vandalizing Joan’s car. Lady Bird tells Jenna that she lives at an address which actually belongs to Danny’s grandmother. Lady Bird drops out of the theatre program, and is later confronted by Danny outside of the coffee shop, where she consoles him after he expresses his struggle to come out. She loses her virginity to Kyle after he falsely refers to himself as a virgin, leading her to find consolation in her mother. Jenna discovers that Lady Bird lied about her address, which essentially ends their friendship. Lady Bird is told that her father has recently lost his job, and discovers that he is battling depression.

Lady Bird begins applying to colleges, hoping to be accepted into one that is out-of-state, despite her mother’s insistence that the family could not afford it. She receives several rejection letters, but is elated to discover that she has been placed on the wait list for a university in New York. Despite her uneasy relationship with them, she sets out for her high school’s prom alongside Kyle, Jenna, and Jenna’s boyfriend but they decide to go to a party. Lady Bird asks them to drop her off at Julie’s apartment, where the two rekindle their friendship and go to the prom together. Lady Bird passes her driving test and repaints her bedroom, removing drawings, photos, and writing from her walls. Her mother discovers that she has applied to out-of-state universities behind her back, causing her mother to give her the silent treatment. Lady Bird later finds out she was accepted off the wait list and with the help of her father, is able to afford to go.

In 2003, on her eighteenth birthday, Lady Bird’s father shares a cupcake with her and jokes that he and her mother cannot afford a divorce. Now of legal age, Lady Bird buys a pack of cigarettes, a scratch-off ticket, and an issue of Playgirl from a convenience store. Lady Bird eventually leaves for New York; her mother coldly drives her to the airport, where Lady Bird heads to the terminal with her father. Lady Bird believes her mother does not want to see her or say goodbye to her, but in reality, her mother does not want Lady Bird to see her cry. While driving, she has a change of heart and rushes back in to the airport, but Lady Bird has already left.

In New York, after finding thoughtful letters written by her mother and salvaged by her father, Lady Bird decides to go by the name Christine again. She is briefly hospitalized after drinking an excessive amount of alcohol at a party. After leaving the hospital, she observes a Sunday church service. Outside the church, Christine calls home with her cell phone and leaves an apologetic message for her mother.




If you’ve seen the film Frances Ha, you’ll start to see Greta Gerwig is associated with a type (in Frances Ha as an actress, in Lady Bird as writer and director). This type is a young woman who:

  • Has artsy aspirations without the talent to match
  • Schemes her way into situations with the sorts of people she wants to mirror
  • Makes social mistakes/self-sabotaging decisions
  • Is assertive almost to the point of aggression (especially as perceived when it comes from a girl)
  • Doesn’t process consequences well

Frances Ha as a character is a softer character than Lady Bird. But for comparison purposes I’m picking a different film altogether—Diablo Cody’s 2011 film Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary. Critics and audiences alike found the character of Mavis Gary unlikeable, but not in a cool, antihero way a la Walter White — in an unpleasant ‘why am I wasting time watching this person’ kind of way.

Honestly, I think part of it is that Charlize Theron seeks roles that play down her Amazonian good looks (e.g. Monster) but because of how she looks she’ll always be the pretty girl. Studies have been done on beauty, and once you’re over about a seven out of ten your beauty is no longer beneficial to you. (Outside modelling and certain kinds of acting, I guess.) So part of the audience reaction to Mavis Gary might have been to do with Charlize Theron, and our perception that because she conforms to The Western Beauty Ideal then any other failings are absolutely her own fault.

But the unlikeability of Mavis Gary was definitely also in the writing. Female characters don’t need to be likeable. I doubt Diablo Cody was even trying to make a likeable character in Mavis. I’m sure she wasn’t. The problem is, Mavis isn’t sympathetic, either.

Below is an early clip from the movie in which Mavis tries to be a trickster character. Bear in mind, audiences love trickster archetypes.

Notice her trick fails. Mavis Gary now comes across as a bit simple, and also unkind. My sympathy is with the young woman checking her in, and I don’t think it’s just because I’ve worked in customer service. But Lady Bird is also a trickster who fails.

  • She gets caught stealing wafers from church
  • She pranks the nun’s car and gets caught.
  • She whispers something outrageous during an anti-abortion talk and gets herself suspended from her Catholic school.
  • She cracks on she’s living in a flash house and is caught.

The difference is that the audience is already on side with Lady Bird. As my daughter put it, “I don’t like Lady Bird but she’s funny, so I like her.” Lady Bird is a lovable rogue. An interesting aspect of human psychology: Just because someone is rude doesn’t mean we don’t want to be around them. Especially if that person is a fictional character. And in real life: Rude people secretly impress us, even if we don’t really like them.

  • The audience is primed to hate self-appointed dobber girls like the one who catches them eating wafers.
  • The nun finds the prank funny. The nun obviously likes Lady Bird.
  • Most of the audience of this particular film would be sympathetic to Lady Bird’s reaction to the anti-abortion lady, if not to Lady Bird’s way of protesting.
  • Lady Bird is caught out lying about her house, but apologises immediately. Her vulnerability is transparent as she asks if they’re still friends. The popular girl looks into her mobile phone and we know this is going to get around. We also understand Lady Bird’s reasons for wanting to appear rich. There is a huge difference between her home and the homes of her private school classmates and most people feel uncomfortable in the company of people vastly more wealthy than ourselves.

Objectively though, the character of Lady Bird is — all things considered — just as self-centred, just as dismissive of people around her and just as rude as Mavis Gary — most of the time. The wonderful thing about writing YA characters is you can legitimately show a number of sides to them as they try to figure out who they are.

Lady Bird is given zingers in her dialogue — the kind of zinger we would like to carry up our sleeves. The audience loves characters who speak the truth, or their own truth, without duplicity.

“Lady Bird. Is that your given name?”

“Yes. I gave it to myself. It was given to me, by me.”

We have also seen Lady Bird throw herself melodramatically from a moving vehicle in order to make a point to her mother. This kind of self-sabotaging slapstick is funny to watch.

She sees the funny side of situations, like when she’s caught by her brother stealing a magazine. The screenwriter has chosen the unexpected reaction here. The more expected reaction is mortification or fear or embarrassment. But no, Lady Bird is an original. She laughs. Later, she laughs when the goody-two-shoes church girl tells her off for eating the wafers. We like characters who drift through a story able to laugh at things. I think this is because we, as audience, are able to see the lighter side from our seats, and this pushes the amused character closer to us, almost breaking the fourth wall. In contrast, Mavis Gary does not have a sense of humour.

Another reason we’ll happily follow Lady Bird: She knows exactly what she wants and she goes for it, even when she’s nervous. Even when it’s ridiculous. We like characters who know what they want and go for it.

Here she is expressing interest in a boy. Lady Bird doesn’t wait around to be asked.

That particular scene does double duty—she feels misunderstood by her boss who accuses her of flirting. “I wasn’t flirting.” And it’s true. She wasn’t. Flirting is a passive thing that girly-girls do. Lady Bird was expressing directly and assertively interest in a boy and setting up a rendezvous. When characters are misunderstood by other characters, we empathise with the side who is misunderstood. We don’t like Mavis Gary in Young Adult because the other characters peg her correctly and treat her possibly better than she deserves to be treated.

Other characters love Lady Bird. It’s clear her mother loves her very much. Her father loves her in a more demonstrative fashion. Lady Bird’s teachers love her, even after she pranks the nun (harmlessly).  I call this the Gone With The Wind trick. We only put up with Scarlett O’Hara because she’s surrounded by people who love her. In contrast, Mavis Gary has no one. The character of Gemma is a mirror character to Lady Bird — Gemma is not supposed to be liked by us. Gemma is the Popular Teenage Girl trope, though she’s written a bit more subtly than most characters of this trope. She is acted beautifully with an absolutely vacant face. In the pool scene it is clear that Gemma doesn’t want for much in life — she just wants her popular high school life to continue along a rich girl track, in the same suburb. As mentioned above, it’s harder to empathise with characters who don’t have a strong desire line. This might be because without a strong desire, characters are boring to watch.

Surrounding your main character with laughable tragic stereotypes is another way to make the main character the likeable one. Lady Bird’s brother and girlfriend are getting into the vegan, hippie movement but their logic doesn’t hold water (at least, for much of the viewing audience).

But this particular story isn’t all about the teenage daughter. This is also the mother’s story. I really felt for Marion McPherson, driving away from the airport, then circling back because she didn’t want her daughter to see her crying. This moment reminded me of the heart-wrenching moment in Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood, where the mother realises that her child’s childhood has come to an end, and that she’ll be entering a new phase of her life as a distant advisor parent rather than as a manager parent.


Lady Bird  establishes the Desire Line of our main character very early on — in the opening scene. This diatribe could sound on the nose, but because it’s an argument the scriptwriter gets away with more. (A truism about argument dialogue in fiction.)

The desire for something more, something big, something MAGNIFICENT! is not original to Lady Bird. This is an old desire, seen in classic literature:

Lucy never knew her desires so clearly as after music. She had not really appreciated the clergyman’s wit, nor the suggestive twitterings of Miss Allan. Conversation was tedious; she wanted something big, and she believed that it would have come to her on the windswept platform of an electric tram.

A Room With A View, E.M. Forster

Note that in older classics, the functions of story come much more gradually. Lucy displays no real desire to the reader until the beginning of Chapter Four. Forster’s novel is described on the cover as ‘The tender story of a young girl’s awakening’. (I wouldn’t call a young woman a ‘young’ girl but that’s by the by.) The wanting of Something Big But Don’t Know Quite What Yet is characteristic of coming-of-age stories. (And though I haven’t done a study on it, I suspect it’s especially common with young female characters, because of the cloistered environment they’re brought up in.) It also describes Thelma in Thelma and Louise. The desire to be something else isn’t even necessarily noble.


Lady Bird’s mother is her not-so-secret ally opponent — on the surface this mother/daughter relationship is antagonistic, but underneath the mother is wholly supportive. Shouty-arguing juxtaposes tender moments such as lying in bed together, asleep. Marion is wholly justified in being annoyed with her daughter for insisting on going to New York to study. She works so hard as the only income earner and now her husband is taking out a second mortgage on their house, when Lady Bird could have had an education nearby.

Lady Bird finds herself a romantic opponent, which seems to go remarkably smoothly until she realises he’ll never be into her. The next boy also goes well, until it turns out he has maybe lied to her about his virginity. Or maybe Lady Bird imagined an alternate scenario. The latter is probably more likely, because we’ve already seen that Lady Bird is prone to flights of fancy. The post-coital scene works well because Kyle Scheible isn’t being all that unreasonable. I can see the writer has sympathy for his own worldview.

The more interesting peer opposition is between Lady Bird and her best female friend, Julie. This is ultimately a love story between a girl and her best friend and between a girl and her mother. The boys come and go. When they dance together at the end, it is clear that beats from the romantic genre have been overlaid onto the friendship between two girls. Bicker bicker, kiss kiss, only it’s platonic.


The desire mentioned above is no help to the story until your character makes a plan. Lady Bird’s plan is to:

  • Do some things to bolster her college applications
  • To her this means being in the school production
  • Get into one of the best East Coast colleges
  • More immediately, her plan is to find a high school boyfriend
  • And when that doesn’t work out, her plan is to get with the cool band boyfriend
  • In order to do this, she needs to ditch Julie and get in with the popular girl, who knows him.

It’s all of a piece. Unfortunately, as part of this plan to Be Someone, despite coming from ‘the wrong side of the tracks,’ Lady Bird loses herself to her goal. The goal itself is not the problem — her plans to get it are terrible. She’ll need to come to this realisation over the course of the story, and she does.


Because this film covers several relationship dynamics, there need to be an equal number of Battle Scenes.

  • With the first break up: Walking into the toilet cubicle, followed by crying with Julie in the car
  • With the rock band boyfriend: Sitting at the end of the bed, after unspecial sex
  • With Gemma: In her real kitchen, her lie uncovered
  • With Julie: In the school yard, in which Lady Bird accuses the friend’s mother of having fake tits
  • With the mother: It’s to pick ‘a’ big struggle scene because every scene between mother and daughter is full of conflict. This is the genius of the screenwriting here — the big big struggle scene is very quiet and contracted. The mother doesn’t say much at all and Lady Bird ends up slamming the car door. This is the scene that leads to the anagnorisis (for the mother), so that’s how I am confident that this is Their Big Battle. Note also that relationships aren’t like movie sex — two characters in a big struggle aren’t going to have their anagnorisis simultaneously. Lady Bird does not have any anagnorisis at the airport. This is not her scene. It’s only later, once her father gives her the mother’s trashed love letters that she realises how much her mother loves her. Speaking of which anagnorises…


The film could have ended with Lady Bird leaving at the airport. But it didn’t. If it had ended there, the airport scene would have had to be from Lady Bird’s point of view. Instead, this wrapped up the mother’s character arc. The mother has learned that she needs to let go of her daughter.

Instead, the story follows Lady Bird to New York, where she settles in, slowly, and starts to appreciate some of what she had back in Sacramento. This is symbolised by her wandering into a Catholic church after a real bender of a weekend. Not religious at all in Sacramento (she was only sent to Catholic school because the state school was considered too dangerous), she now embraces some of what the church has to offer. Or perhaps it mostly reminds her of home. Lady Bird’s anagnorisis takes place as she watches the singers in the church. We only know she’s had some sort of epiphany when she calls her mother afterwards. The function of the New York scene sequence is to show Lady Bird’s anagnorisis.

Another coming-of-age film which could have ended in a boy’s hometown but actually followed him as he began his new life in New York: Adventureland. Some reviewers thought the film would have been better without that final sequence. This is not something that has been said of Ladybird. This is because the ending sequence of Adventureland ends with the main character joining his love interest in New York. The audience didn’t need to know whether that relationship was going to work out or not. A feature of teenage-hood is falling in love and then quite often needing to move on from that person, even though things might have worked out if both characters had been thirty and ready to commit.  Moreover, there is nothing ironic or surprising about the New York scenes of Adventureland.

This is not the case with Lady Bird. We need to see her make a big mistake, getting herself hospitalised after drinking too much. We do need to see her reclaim her birth name, because that tidies up her character arc — she is comfortable to be herself now. Being away from Sacramento makes her proud to be from (and of) Sacramento. We need to see her wander into the church. Now we know that Lady Bird has fond memories of her high school years.

Here’s what makes Lady Bird rise above other, similar films: Greta Gerwig has pulled off a a story in which both mother and daughter experience a self-revelation, each because of the other. This creates a powerful story with a moving ending.

As The ScreenPrism states, what helps Lady Bird deliver its unique, emotional punch is that it is a story from “the perspective of the teen and the parent learning to let go.” Yes, Marion is over-bearing and often unfair but Lady Bird is selfish and often acts in disregard of those around her. Without one perspective, we wouldn’t be able to see the other in a sympathetic light. Together, both mother and daughter prove that there is no easy way around growing up, no way to ensure that you won’t get hurt and no way to be the best person you can be. It’s all a process of gradual understanding. Gerwig’s Academy Award nominated screenplay uses multiple perspectives to show that just because you feel sad, doesn’t mean that it’s all about you and just because it’s not all about you, doesn’t mean that you can’t feel sad.

Movie Maker

I’ve treated Lady Bird as the main character, but to backtrack, Marion’s character arc is set up more subtly but set up nonetheless. There’s almost a Save The Cat scene in which Marion gives a baby present to a work colleague who has just become a new father. Later, in the clothing store, she comments on some other acquaintance’s new baby (or perhaps it’s the same baby). What’s the interest with babies? Babies are so full of potential. When you have a new baby, that baby could be anyone. Marion is losing her younger baby. Her interest in other people’s says a lot about her mindset. She still wants to mother. She makes eggs for Lady Bird who ungratefully complains they’re undercooked. “Make your own fucking eggs, then,” Marion says. She wants to mother, but it’s now unappreciated. This is something all parents go through. It’s highly relatable.


We know Lady Bird is going to be okay in New York. I suspect she’ll be really proud of coming from Sacramento after a little while, though the previous night she lied that she came from San Francisco, repeating an old pattern.

Her relationship with her mother will improve with geographical distance between them, but whenever she visits home for special occasions they will continue in their old, established dynamic of bickering I bet. Lady Bird might even return to Sacramento after she graduates. I hope she did!